Welcome to part 2 of Ten DIY Ingredients for Beginner Formulators! In part 1 we covered five anhydrous ingredients that will allow you to create all kinds of awesome anhydrous products—balms, whipped body butters, lip balm, and more. Today we’re adding five more ingredients that will further broaden your list of concoction possibilities to include lotions, creams, and some cleansers!

Ten DIY Ingredients for Beginner Formulators: Part 2

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Basic starter ingredient principles

This is repeated from part 1, but it’s important!

The biggest basic principle to keep in mind when you’re buying ingredients as a new formulator is to keep it inexpensive. How inexpensive? My rule is that you want your ingredients to be inexpensive enough that you won’t be too upset about throwing away failed formulations. I’m definitely not trying to encourage wastefulness, but dangit, I forced myself to use up so many utterly garbage concoctions in my early making days because they contained expensive ingredients that really had no business being in a first-time formulation. You can always buy the alluring, expensive ingredients later!

Part of ingredient cost is also (usually) shipping. If possible, stick to ingredients you can order domestically as international shipping fees, duties, and currency conversion can add up very quickly. It definitely can make sense to order from abroad, especially if your currency is quite strong, but do the math before you place the order and get smacked with a giant brokerage/duties bill when your package is delivered.

I also can’t encourage ingredient research enough. It is so, so important. I’ve written a two-part blog on how to research your ingredients and I highly recommend reading through both parts!

Distilled water

What it’s for

Distilled water is the basic wet, watery ingredient for all your hydrous formulations. We choose distilled water rather than tap or mineral water as the distillation makes for fewer variables in our formulation. That’s because distilled water is just water with no added minerals or metal ions that can turn up in tap, mineral, or well water. Distilled water is also mildly acidic because it absorbs CO2 from the air, and this helps ensure our formulations are mildly acidic unless we’re introducing some high-pH ingredients.

Learn more: Different Water Used in Cosmetic Formulating

How much you’ll need

I buy my distilled water in 4L jugs, and often pick up two or three at a time as I also use distilled water in my iron and clothing steamer! It’s useful to have on hand and doesn’t expire.

What I recommend

Distilled water is distilled water; get it wherever it’s cheap and easy for you. If you can’t get distilled water where you live please read this article for information on alternatives.

Want to make your own distilled water? Learn how here!

As you learn and grow as a formulator you can start swapping out some of the distilled water in your formulations for fancier watery ingredients like beautifully scented hydrosols, soothing aloe vera juice (not gel!), or astringent witch hazel.

A complete emulsifying wax

What it’s for

You’ll use your emulsifying wax in all kinds of formulations—lotions, creams, cleansing balms, and more! Emulsifying waxes bring together oil and water and make creating stable emulsions really, really easy.

Sample formulation: Super Simple Moisturizing Lotion

How much you’ll need

Around 100g (3.5oz) will last you quite a while.

What I recommend

I’d start with a self-thickening non-ionic emulsifying wax for ease of use as a beginner. Emulsifying Wax NF (INCI: Cetearyl Alcohol [and] Polysorbate 60) is usually the easiest option. If you want a natural alternative, Olivem 1000 is a good option that will work as an alternative to Emulsifying Wax NF or Polawax.

If you also want to make hair conditioners I’d look at BTMS-50 or BTMS-25; both are cationic and can be used to make lotions and creams, but their cationic-ness means they also make beautiful hair conditioners (creamy and bar form!).

Another emulsifying wax I love is Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-100 Stearate. It doesn’t thicken our emulsions, so you will need to pair it with a fatty thickener to create stable emulsions. The fact that it doesn’t thicken means it’s much more versatile, though—think of it a bit like driving manual instead of automatic. There’s a bit more to think about, but you also have more control. To learn more about how to use Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-100 Stearate in formulations that call for something like Emulsifying Wax NF, please read this post. If you’ve got some cetearyl alcohol you can absolutely choose to buy Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-100 Stearate instead of Emulsifying Wax NF, you’ll just have to remember to modify and formulations that call for self-thickening emulsifying waxes.

If you’re thinking about buying more than one emulsifying wax I’d prioritize them in this way:

  1. A self-thickening non-ionic emulsifying wax (Emulsifying Wax NF, Polawax, Olivem1000)
  2. A self-thickening cationic emulsifying wax (BTMS-50 or BTMS-25)
  3. Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-100 Stearate

A broad-spectrum preservative

What it’s for

Broad-spectrum preservatives keep gross, fuzzy, slimy lifeforms from taking up residence in our formulations. As a general rule: you’ll need to include a preservative in your formulations that contain water, and in formulations that are likely to be contaminated with water as they’re used. There’s a lot to know about preservation, and there are exceptions, but that’s a pretty good starting rule of thumb.

Learn more: Do I need to add a preservative to this recipe? How long will it last?

How much you’ll need

30g (1.06oz) is a good place to start.

What I recommend

Liquid Germall™ Plus (INCI: Propylene Glycol, Diazolidinyl Urea, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate) is a very easy preservative to start with. It has a broad effective pH range, is compatible with the vast majority of formulations, and in my extensive experience working with it, it performs very well. You are unlikely to need to test (or adjust) the pH of your formulations solely because of Liquid Germall™ Plus.

I think it’s a great idea to branch out to different preservatives as you learn and grow as a formulator, but I recommend starting with Liquid Germall™ Plus because it’s practically fool-proof. With Liquid Germall™ Plus you won’t really have to worry about your creations spoiling, giving you one less thing to worry about as you work on learning other elements of formulation.

If you cannot get Liquid Germall™ Plus, Optiphen Plus would be my next choice. Learn more here.

Learn more: How do I know my preservative is working?

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A humectant

What it’s for

Humectants hold onto water. In our formulations, they help keep ’em from drying out, and on our skin, they slow the evaporation of the water in the formulation for longer-lasting hydrating. They’re good moisturizing ingredients and I love them!

Read this: Is there a humectant tipping point where they dry out the skin?

How much you’ll need

100mL (3.3fl oz) or so is a good starting point if you’re mostly planning on making lotions. If you want to make body washes and hand washes I’d start with 500mL (16 fl oz).

What I recommend

I highly recommend vegetable glycerin. It’s inexpensive, widely available, and very effective. Glycerin can be tacky, but I’ve had great success formulating with up to 30% glycerin in lotions without creating body glue 😆 It’s worth remembering that perceptions of tackiness are a lot like perceptions of spiciness—one person’s mild can be another person’s unbearable.

September 2021: Formula Botanica is currently offering a free (all-new) formulation masterclass! You can sign up here 🙂 I highly recommend it, especially if you're wanting to see how Formula Botanica works.

Ingredient #10

I’m providing two different options depending on what you’re thinking you’d like to make… or get both if there’s room in your budget!

A blended surfactant product

What it’s for

Easily creating foaming/lathering cleansing products. When working with surfactants it is generally recommended to blend surfactants of different charges for a milder finished product, but this means you end up needing at least two or three different surfactants, and that can be more than you might want to invest in as a new maker. Blended surfactant products already contain a combination of different surfactants with different charges so you just need to buy one thing!

You can use this to create foaming face washes, body washes, and hand washes.

How much you’ll need

250mL (8 fl oz) is a good starter amount.

What I recommend

There are quite a lot of blended surfactant products out there, and I certainly haven’t tried them all. I’ve enjoyed working with Innospec’s Iselux® Ultra Mild (INCI: Aqua (and) Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isethionate (and) Cocamidopropyl Betaine (and) Sodium Methyl Oleoyl Taurate (and) Lauryl Glucoside (and) Coco-Glucoside), Stepan’s STEPAN-MILD® BSB (INCI: Aqua (and) PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate (and) Sodium Trideceth Sulfate (and) Cocamidopropyl Betaine (and) Disodium Lauroamphodiacetate (and) PEG-150 Distearate (and) Sodium Laureth-13 Carboxylate (and) Quaternium-15 (and) Tetrasodium EDTA (and) DMDM Hydantoin), and BASF’s Plantapon SF NA (INCI: Sodium Cocoamphoacetate (and) Glycerin (and) Lauryl Glucoside (and) Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate (and) Sodium Lauryl Glucose Carboxylate) and would recommend any of those.

As selection varies around the world, you will likely find it easiest to navigate to the “Surfactant” section of a domestic online ingredient supplier. Look through the products, keeping an eye out for ones with marketing-department sort of names. Straight surfactants have rather straightforward names like Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside and Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI), while blended products often have names that include words like “mild” or “surfactant blend”. Read throguh the descriptions; you are looking for a product described as a surfactant blend containing amphoteric, non-ionic, and/or anionic surfactants (at least two categories at minimum). Whatever you find with that description is likely to work beautifully—just be sure to read up on the blend so you know how much to use as some will be more concentrated than others.

A solubilizer

What it’s for

Dispersing small amounts of oil-soluble ingredients (generally carrier oils, essential oils, and/or fragrance oils when you’re a new maker) into large volumes of water. This can show up in all kinds of ways—I include a solubilizer in my bath bombs so the carrier oils and nice-smelling oils in the bath bombs self-disperse into the bathwater so the tub doesn’t get really greasy. A solubilizer can also be used as the rinse-off ingredient in cleansing oils and cleansing balms (instead of or in addition to an emulsifying wax). Solubilizers are also useful in things like toners and room/linen sprays if you want to solubilize a small amount of fragrance oil or essential oil into otherwise watery things.

How much you’ll need

100mL (3.3fl oz) is plenty.

What I recommend

Polysorbate 80 or PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil—out of the two, I prefer PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil.

Honourable mentions

An antioxidant

I really debated if this should be item #10 or an honourable mention, but in the end, I decided it was an “honourable mention” because the top-10 list doesn’t include any ingredients that will oxidize very quickly. Antioxidants help delay rancidity a.k.a oxidization: anti-oxidant 😉 I recommend getting an oil-soluble antioxidant when you start buying fancy carrier oils as you’ll really want to keep those fresh for as long as possible. Vitamin E would be my top choice; 30mL (1fl oz) will last you quite a while.

Cocamidopropyl Betaine

If you’re just going to buy one stand-alone surfactant, Cocamidopropyl Betaine is a good choice. You can add it to lotions and creams to make them more of a cleansing cream, and you can add them to creamy hair conditioners to make a cleansing hair conditioner. It also blends well with all other surfactants, so it’s a great first surfactant to own. 250mL (8 fl oz) is a good starter amount.

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And that wraps up my “Ten DIY Ingredients for Beginner Formulators” list! Do you think I forgot anything? Would you swap any of these ingredients for something else? Why? Let me know!

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