As I’m sure you can tell, I’m not much for following recipes—I’d rather make up my own. Sometimes it works, sometimes it sort of works, and sometimes it’s a catastrophic, err, “learning experience”. Over the last few years I’ve learned some lessons when it comes to developing recipes, and I thought I’d share them with you.

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Read up on your ingredients.
Learn about ’em. Learn what they do, what vitamins they have, what they’re good for. How do they feel—sticky, smooth, slimy? What temperature do they melt at, and what state is it at room temperature (liquid, soft, solid, brittle)? What do they do when added to a formulation—soften it, thicken it, harden it? Know your ingredients on their own so you know how they work in teams.

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Categorize your ingredients by purpose.
Most ingredients will have one or two purposes. Waxes are generally hardening, but waxes like beeswax can also contribute scent. Essential oils are for scent and assorted aromatherapy/health benefits. You can break carrier oils down by absorption speed, scent, and any special benefits. Knowing what each ingredient does helps you know what it’s for—thickening, fragrance, absorption speed, etc.

Take note of the proportions in your recipes, and how those proportions effect the final product.
What do you want the final product to be like? Think back to something you made that was similar. Need your new product to be softer? Use less wax. Absorb faster? Use a fast absorbing carrier oil instead of a slow absorbing one.

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Build yourself a set of basic recipes
Your starters will be body butter, body bar, a soft salve, lip balm, and lotion.

Learn which traits go hand-in-hand
These are usually pretty obvious. Concoctions that are soft at room temperature usually melt quickly; ingredients that absorb quickly are generally quite smooth to the touch, etc.

Most suppliers provide recommended usage rates. Know those.
Recommended usage rates are a great place to start. New Directions Aromatics is really good about providing them. They’re generally a guideline. Read up on the ingredient to ensure it’s not a common irritant before going above and beyond.

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Know the different ingredients do in different amounts.
For instance, beeswax thickens, then hardens, then makes things really sticky and skiddy. Once you know that, you won’t be tempted to add tons of beeswax to something in an attempt to save it.

Understand the properties of each ingredient in relation to the properties you want your final product to have.
Think about what you want the final product to be, and then choose your ingredients. Do you want it to absorb quickly? Choose a carrier oil that absorbs quickly, and make that your primary ingredient. Want it to be great for hair? Oils like camellia seed and argan are great for the hair—make those the focus of your recipe. Super moisturizing? Look at ingredients like shea butter, avocado oil, and capuacu butter.

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Note the pH of your ingredients
You should have at least a vague idea of the pH of your ingredients, so if you combine baking soda and citric acid, you know it’s going to bubble up like mad, or if you put straight vitamin C on your face, it’s going to buuuuuuurn.

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If you’re making a copycat product, remember the ingredients on the original are listed in order of proportion in the final product. Also, watch out for cheap filler ingredients.
Ingredients are always listed in order of descending quantity. For instance, the ingredients on my naked lip balm would read “sweet almond oil, coconut oil, beeswax, cocoa butter, vitamin E oil.” That gives you somewhere to start when you’re duping a recipe. Combining that list of ingredients with a previous similar recipe you’ve had success with will usually yield good results. Be sure to watch for cheap filler ingredients—things like maize oil, mineral oil, and microcrystalline wax. You can replace those with something nicer 🙂

Take notes.
Write down what works, what doesn’t. If you have to go back and add more beeswax, take note of how much beeswax made it soft, and how much more it takes to make it hard.

Work slowly.
When you’re adding essential oils, go a drop at a time. When your adding ingredients, pour slowly. Pay attention to what happens.

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Work in small amounts.
Resist the urge to make a big batch of anything the first time around. I like to work in 100g batches because then I can work in percents very easily—1g=1%. Voila.

Give it time.
I’ve said this before, but watch your concoctions over time. Give them time to set up fully. Let them cool before you decide if the scent is great or downright awful. Give them a week to see if they turn into a mouldy mess. Note anything that changes, and work it into future experiments.

You can always add more of something, but it’s hard to take it out.
If you’re not sure if you need 5g of beeswax or 10g, start with 5g.

Ok, those are my tips—what are yours?

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