If you’ve been wanting to make an all-natural lotion but haven’t been sure where to start—start here! You’ll need just six ingredients to make this Super Simple Natural Lotion. It’s a lightweight, pumpable, moisturizing lotion that makes a great hand and body lotion. This post is mostly about the ingredients and formulation structure, while the partner video is more about how to make it and technique tips and tricks. Please make sure you’re checking out both parts for the best possible learning experience 😄 Let’s dive in!
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Blog note: I’m trying something a bit new with this formulation; I’m releasing the formulation with this blog post and partner video, and then in about a week and a half I’m going to release a second blog/video pair that will be a curated Q&A on this formulation, answering questions I get from readers that aren’t answered in today’s post or video. When I shared 2020’s Super Simple Moisturizing Lotion I did a follow-up livestream to answer questions, but as live streams tend to be it wasn’t very streamlined, meaning most people lose interest in the replay before getting all those answers. So! If you’ve got a question you’re certain isn’t covered in this post or the partner video, leave it as a comment and it might be included in the follow-up post! The idea is that by making answering questions an entire post I can devote a solid chunk of time to it (rather than squeezing it in between preparing another formulation) and do a better, more thorough job 😊
Water is a key ingredient in a lotion; without water, it’s not an emulsion, and if it’s not an emulsion I wouldn’t call a formulation a lotion (I reserve “lotion” for emulsions and prefer terms like “body butter” for anhydrous formulations). Water not only hydrates the skin but also dilutes the oil in the formulation, making lotions far lighter than their anhydrous skincare counterparts. I’ve found that most people are thinking of lighter, faster-absorbing products when they think of “lotions”, and the high water content is the number one reason emulsified lotions are lighter than anhydrous formulations.
When formulating, we choose distilled water it’s one less variable in our formulation. Distilled water is just water with no added minerals or metal ions that you typically find in tap or well water. Learn more here! If you don’t have distilled water, tap water is generally fine if you have no other options (assuming your tap water is pretty boring). I buy my distilled water at the grocery store in big 4L jugs.
To switch up your formulation you can swap out some of the water for something like a beautifully scented hydrosol, soothing aloe vera juice (not gel!), or astringent witch hazel. I don’t recommend swapping all of the distilled water for a fancier water alternative; 20–30% is fine.
Vegetable glycerin is a humectant; it helps slow the drying-out process, both for the formulation and for your skin, because humectants hold onto water. There are lots of humectants out there (examples include hyaluronic acid, propanediol 1,3, sodium lactate, and many, many more), but I’ve selected vegetable glycerin because it’s inexpensive and widely available. You can often get it at pharmacies if you don’t have ready access to an online DIY supply store.
Some people avoid vegetable glycerin because it can be tacky; while this is true, I’ve had great success formulating with up to 30% glycerin in lotions without insane levels of tackiness! In my experience, 10% really isn’t too much. That said, perceptions of tackiness are a lot like perceptions of spiciness—one person’s mild can be another person’s fire alarm. Learn what you like and go from there 🙂
L-Arginine is included purely to raise the pH of the formulation; the preservative we’re using causes the pH of the formulation to drop into the more-acidic-than-I’d-like range, so a bit of basic L-Arginine helps bring it back up to the 5–5.5 range.
I’m using a 10% solution for easier measuring—you’ll need to weigh out 0.8g for a 100g (3.5oz) batch instead of 0.08g. If you don’t have a super-precise scale, 0.8g is easier to reliably measure—and if your scale isn’t super precise, the dilution is much more forgiving than the pure powder if your scale is off by a fraction of a gram.
To make a 10% L-Arginine solution, simply weigh out 1g L-Arginine and add 9g hot distilled water. Stir to dissolve, and that’s it! I make and store mine in a 15mL (0.5 fl oz) glass bottle with a dropped top so I have it on hand when I need it. This solution will have a pH of 10.5–12, so treat it with respect.
If you don’t have L-Arginine, this formulation becomes a bit more complex. You’ll still need to adjust the pH, but you’ll need to use a different ingredient to raise the pH of the lotion (read the L-Arginine Humblebee & Me DIY Encyclopedia entry for suggestions). Different ingredients will require different amounts to get the pH to where it needs to be, so you’ll need to be able to test and adjust the pH yourself rather than following my “as-written” formulation.
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This is our natural emulsifier! Emulsifiers bring oil and water together as they aren’t inclined to be friendly on their own. You need an emulsifier to make an emulsion. This particular natural emulsifying wax is the first natural emulsifying wax I used, and I still love it a decade later. It creates thick, silky emulsions with a slightly powdery dry-down. Ritamulse SCG both emulsifies and thickens our formulations, so we don’t need to include a fatty thickener like we would with a non-thickening emulsifying wax like Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-100 Stearate. You certainly could, but we’re trying to keep things super simple today!
The INCI for Ritamulse SCG is Glyceryl Stearate (and) Cetearyl Alcohol (and) Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, and it’s really important to look at the INCI as you’re shopping as there are quite a few products with this INCI, but different names. Clariant makes Plantasens® Emulsifier HP 30, which has the same INCI. You can also find products named Emulsimulse, ECOMulse, and NatureMulse, all with the same INCI. I recommend dropping the INCI into Google rather than searching by tradename; it’s far more likely to turn up results.
Ritamulse SCG has two key limitations; the first is that it can only emulsify oil phases up to 25% (ours is 19.5%, so no worries there). The second is that it doesn’t work if the pH of the emulsion is too low. RitaCorp lists 5 as the lowest recommended value, Clariant lists 4. I’ve made some stable emulsions with it that test around 3.5 (which is pretty dang low!), but much lower than that definitely causes emulsion failure.
You cannot use beeswax, candelilla wax, carnauba wax, etc. instead of an emulsifying wax! Please read this FAQ for more information, and watch this video to see what’ll happen if you do. It is possible to make an emulsion using a combination of beeswax and borax as the emulsifier, but that’s an entirely different formulation style and structure—you can’t just swap an emulsifying was like Ritamulse SCG for beeswax and a pinch of borax.
How much Ritamulse SCG we need in a formulation is determined by how large the oil phase is. You generally want to use it at 20–25% of the oil phase; our oil phase is 19.5%, and at 4.5% Ritamulse SCG is used at 23% of the oil phase, which falls into that 20–25% range. The size of the oil phase (the inner phase, as this is an oil-in-water emulsion) is what determines the viscosity of this lotion. If you want to make the lotion thicker, increase the size of the oil phase (though not past 25% with this emulsifier). If you want to make the lotion thinner, decrease the size of the oil phase. You can learn more about how to do that here!
Sunflower oil is the rich, fatty ingredient in our lotion. I chose it because it’s inexpensive and reasonably widely available, but if you don’t have it there are lots of easy alternatives. Don’t stress about this ingredient too much—as long as you’re using an inexpensive light-to-midweight liquid carrier oil, that’s great.
Don’t overthink the oil blend in your lotion; just choose something inexpensive that you have on hand and get started!
And last but not least—our natural preservative! This keeps our product stable and safe from microbial spoilage. The INCI for Geogard® ECT is Benzyl Alcohol (and) Salicylic Acid (and Glycerin (and) Sorbic Acid. Much like our emulsifier, it’s sold under quite a few different names like Geogard ECT, Preservative Eco, Mikrokill ECT, and Plantaserv M, so make sure you are looking at the INCI for whatever you are purchasing. Thanks to the benzyl alcohol content, Geogard ECT smells ever-so-slightly of almonds/marzipan, which is rather neat! The manufacturer recommends a pH range of 3–8 for finished formulations using this preservative.
Geogard ECT is acidic and causes the pH of our products to drop. This is generally helpful as we want our skincare to be mildly acidic, but depending on the formulation we can end up with an end product that is a bit too acidic (especially when working with an emulsifier that doesn’t work well if we get much below 4). This was one of those gets-too-acidic formulations, hence the inclusion of the 10% L-Arginine solution.
If you want to use a different preservative you will have to test and adjust the pH of this formulation yourself. If you’re looking for a simple lotion formulation that doesn’t require pH testing, please check out my Super Simple Moisturizing Lotion; it uses a preservative with a very broad effective range.
Relevant links & further reading
- Vegetable Glycerin in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- L-Arginine in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- Ritamulse SCG (Emulsimulse, ECOMulse) in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- Sunflower Oil in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- Can I use a different preservative than the one you’ve used? in the Humblebee & Me FAQ
- How do I know my preservative is working? in the Humblebee & Me FAQ
- How can I make this thinner/softer/less viscous? in the Humblebee & Me FAQ
- How can I make this thicker/harder/firmer? in the Humblebee & Me FAQ
- Why didn’t my lotion emulsify? in the Humblebee & Me FAQ
- How can I incorporate X ingredient into a formulation? in the Humblebee & Me FAQ
- How much essential oil can I add to this recipe? in the Humblebee & Me FAQ
- Can I use an essential oil or fragrance oil instead of a carrier oil? in the Humblebee & Me FAQ
- A Guide to Carrier Oil Substitutions
- Why did my emulsion fail? How can I make a lotion thicker or thinner?
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Super Simple All Natural Lotion
Prepare a water bath by bringing about 3cm/1″ of water to a bare simmer over low to medium-low heat in a wide, flat-bottomed sauté pan.
Weigh the heated water phase into a small heat-resistant glass measuring cup. Weigh the entire lot (measuring cup + ingredients) and note that weight for use later. Weigh the heated oil phase into a second heat-resistant glass measuring cup. Place both measuring cups in your prepared water bath to melt everything through.
After about 20–30 minutes the oil part should be completely melted and the water part should be thoroughly dissolved. Remove the water bath from the heat and weigh the water phase. Add enough hot distilled water to the heated water phase to bring the weight back up to what it was before heating, and then pour the water part into the oil part. Stir with a flexible silicone spatula to incorporate.
Grab your immersion blender and begin blending the lotion, starting with short bursts so the still-very-liquid lotion doesn’t whirl up and spray everywhere. Blend for about a minute, leave to cool for ten, blend for another minute or two, and repeat this blend-cool-blend cycle until the outside of the glass measuring cup is barely warm to the touch and the lotion is thick and creamy.
When the lotion is cool it’s time to incorporate our cool down ingredients. Because cool down ingredients are typically present at very low amounts you’ll need to use an accurate scale—preferably one accurate to 0.01g. As these more accurate scales tend to have fairly low (100–200g) maximum weights you won’t be able to put the entire batch of lotion on that scale without blowing it out. So—grab a smaller dish. Add a scoop or two of lotion, and then weigh the cool down ingredients into that, using the more accurate scale. Stir to thoroughly incorporate, and then stir all of that back into the master batch of lotion. Doing it this way minimizes the amount of cool down ingredients lost to the secondary container.
Before packaging, we’ll quickly test the pH to ensure it’s correct. Create a 10% dilution by weighing 2g product and 18g distilled water into a small bowl or beaker and whisk to combine (wondering why?). Check the pH with your pH meter (I have this one [USA / Canada]). Depending on the shape of your bowl/beaker you may need to tilt it in order to fully submerge the sensor on your pH meter. The pH should come out to right around 5–5.5, which is great—no need to adjust. (Please read this article to learn more about pH adjusting.)
All that’s left at this point is to bottle up the lotion! This lotion is thin enough to package in a pump-top bottle or a soft squeeze tube. A 120mL (4 fl oz) package is a good choice. I used this 100mL (3.3fl oz) one from YellowBee (gifted). Use as you would any lotion. Enjoy!
Shelf Life & Storage
Because this lotion contains water, you must include a broad-spectrum preservative to ward off microbial growth. This is non-optional. Even with a preservative, this project may eventually spoil as our kitchens are not sterile laboratories, so in the event you notice any change in colour, scent, or texture, chuck it out and make a fresh batch.
As always, be aware that making substitutions will change the final product. While these swaps won’t break the recipe, you will get a different final product than I did.
- As I’ve provided this recipe in percentages as well as grams you can easily calculate it to any size using a simple spreadsheet as I’ve explained in this post. As written in grams this recipe will make 100g.
- To learn more about the ingredients used in this formulation, including why they’re included and what you can substitute them with, please visit the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia. It doesn’t have everything in it yet, but there’s lots of good information there! Please read the blog post (there’s a lot of information about substitutions in there!) and look up the ingredient in the encyclopedia before asking about further substitutions.
- If you’re like to use a different preservative, please review this page.
- If you want to incorporate an essential oil, please read this.
- If you want to incorporate anything else, please read this.
The green pump-top bottle and vegetable glycerin were gifted by YellowBee.