How to make great creams and lotions?

Have you noticed the internet is full of DIY recipes for homemade cosmetics, and none of them resembles any commercial product? All DIY cosmetic recipes are so similar in appearance and structure so at one point you may ask yourself what the difference is and should you just use the old, well-known coconut oil. The answer to this question is not simple, and I have asked myself so many times why we mix different carrier oils in various cosmetic products that feel the same way. The truth is that the different oils have slightly different structure and properties. So even our final cosmetic products feel the same greasy way, they may have some different benefits. It will also depend on what else you will add to the body cream like hydrosols or essential oils. All you do will impact in a way the properties of your final product but not really the structure and the inevitably greasy feeling. If you follow most of the homemade-stuff-blogs, don’t expect to create wonders. You will end up with the same oily product. This happens because all the homemade cosmetic creams are based only on carrier oils.

Carrier oils

The carrier oils are derived from plants and used in cosmetics and cooking. We tend to address them as carrier oils because they are used to dissolve essential oils. Probably it is not the most proper way to call them, so I prefer the term natural oils. Those are oils such as the coconut oil, olive oil, shea butter, almond oil, and so on. Natural oils are referred very often as good skin and hair moisturizers, but is this true? To be clear, the natural oils are not moisturizers. They are emollients that will sooth and soften the skin and will seal the moisture preventing the skin from drying. Oils however are not moisturizers as they don’t bring moist to the skin. The only true moisturizer is the water. Rosewater for example is a wonderful moisturizer but is not able to seal the water into the skin without preventing subsequent drying. This is the reason the cosmetic companies combine water and oils for their best products. If hair oils are added to the hair without adding water or a water-based moisturizer first they will sit on the hair follicles simply coating them and only adding shine. In order to moisturize your hair and skin you need to add water based moisturizer. This is the main reason why emulsions between water and oils are the best cosmetic products and you should avoid using pure oils.

Many people would use just coconut oil, and they would swear that this is the best skin and hair moisturizer. Coconut oil is good cosmetic oil for regular skin and combines important fatty acids and the vitamin E. One study also claims that it has a positive effect on the hair by reducing the protein loss. It is a good product indeed if you have a relatively normal skin. However, coconut oil is too greasy and has slow skin-absorption rate, so it is not a good solution for people with oily skin. It also doesn’t penetrate the skin deep enough and tend to clog the pores, so it has a limited moisturizing effect on a dry skin as well.

Another recommended oil, for example, is the shea butter. Opposite to the coconut oil it has almost no greasy feeling and absorbs fast. Olive oil is greasy with slow absorption but doesn’t clog the pores like the coconut oil. And again, it is perfect to protect your skin from drying off but is not a moisturizer as it doesn’t bring water to the skin.

Some less traditional oils like the grapeseed, apricot kernel, or jojoba have very fast absorption rate without clogging the skin pores. They also don’t leave any greasy feeling which makes them preferable for a normal and oily skin.  So when you choose you carrier oils, there are many factors to decide on like skin absorption rate, comedogenic rating, greasiness, fatty acids profile, and some other ingredients like vitamins and antioxidants.


What else than oils would you like to use on your skin and hair?

Essential oils of course. We call them oils due to the oily behavior (viscous, insoluble in water) but they are not really oils because they don’t contain fatty acids. The essential oils are obtained from plants by steam destination and are highly concentrated. They have superior healing properties and are widely used in the medicine. Imagine a cup of intense, healthy herbal tea concentrated into a single drop.  So usually, 1-3% of essential oils are added to the final product. Essential oils are easy to dilute in carrier oils but not in water.

Hydrosols. There are many water-based products with beneficial properties for the skin and hair. For example; Rosewater, chamomile hydrosol, sandalwood hydrosol, grape juice, apple juice, coconut milk, aloe vera juice, and so on. Wouldn’t it be great to add them to our final body cream or anti-aging face cream? Hell yes, it would be. This is what the cosmetic companies do. This is the way some of the best cosmetic products are made – by combining oils and water phase – oils are emollients and hydrosols are moisturizers. How to mix oils and hydrosols?

Water and oils don’t like each other. They stay separated and don’t mix easily. So we need to force them to stay together. An emulsion is a mixture of two or more liquids that are normally unmixable like the water and oil. There are two basic types of emulsions: oil-in-water (O/W) and water-in-oil (W/O). The type of the emulsion will depend on the water and oils ration. A perfect example of natural O/W emulsion where the oils are dispersed in water is the milk. To mix the water and oil, you need to break the oil into microscopic droplets which are surrounded by the water. As smaller the droplets are the smoother will be the emulsion and longer they will stay together. Due to this inconsistent mix of two phases that don’t naturally mix the emulsion has a cloudy look and most often whitish color. This is the reason most of the cosmetic creams (is not all) to have a white color. You can make an emulsion in two ways: using mechanical or chemical emulsification.

Mechanical emulsification:

To create water in oil emulsion is a very natural, easy, and safe process. To do that you will need as powerful stick blender as you can get. I prefer the one that comes with its own container for blending as it best fits the blender size. First, you need to melt the oils together and start mixing them when they are at 170F (80C). When you start blending the oils, they will begin breaking into small droplets and become white from the previous transparent stage. Then you have to start slowly pouring into the oils the preheated water (170F; 80C) while still blending. Pour the water slowly into a thin stream. The emulsion will become even whiter and harder than the oils alone. You will have water in oils emulsion where you will have not more than 50% water phase of the total volume. I would recommend even not to exceed 40% water if you want to keep you emulsion stable. You break the water and oil into very tiny droplets that are mixed together. This, of course, will not prevent them from separating at a later stage and going back to two separate oil and water phases. One trick to avoid this is to use some hard oils like the coconut oil, shea butter, cocoa butter. Your hard oils need to be 50% of the total oils to allow the suspension to harden and thus preventing (or, at least, delaying) subsequent separation. In this case, I would use 5-6% of natural wax as beeswax or stearic acid to harden the emulsion and prevent separation. For smoother and more stable emulsion an addition of 4-8% of cetyl alcohol (a natural ingredient derived from plant oils) will do wonders. All those ingredients are not expensive and easy to find.

To summarize; mechanical emulsion will work if your water phase is less than 50% of the total volume, you have a very powerful stick blender, and at least 50% of you oils are hard oils or use another hardener such as beeswax. You will be able to make some good cosmetic creams, but they will still feel greasy.

Chemical emulsion

This is the way to make a real cosmetic cream, lotion, or conditioner where you will have a perfect and stable emulsion with little to no greasy feeling. You probably think that it is too complicated for a DIY cosmetic product, but I will prove you wrong. To make a perfect chemical emulsion is easier and faster than making a mechanical emulsion. Then why, for sake, all the DIY recipes use only oils or mechanical emulsions for their “super awesome” body lotions? Well, this is because of the term chemical, which terrifies the DIY cosmetic fans. Isn’t the principal idea to stay as natural as possible? Yes, it is my dear natural nerds, but nature exists in constant chemical reactions.

To make chemical emulsion we need to use emulsifiers. They are ingredients (chemicals) that will surround the oil droplets and will not allow them to combine and separate back into the oil phase. The emulsifiers will also allow breaking the oil phase into even smaller droplets which will help to create smoother emulsion that will not separate. By using emulsifiers you can make an emulsion using only liquid oils and mix them with hydrosol where the oil part can be as less as 10% of the final product. This will allow you to make leave-in hair conditioners, light, and creamy body lotions, and so on; products that will moisturize and rejuvenate your skin and hair without leaving any greasy feeling. Isn’t that wonderful?

Emulsifiers can be very often synthetic such as the sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) which, together with the parabens are some of the biggest enemies of the homemade natural fans. However, SLS is probably the most used chemical in the commercial cosmetics but it is also regarded as a dangerous ingredient, and I advise you to avoid it. There are other synthetic emulsifiers that are irritant and regarded as dangerous like PEGs, Polysorbates and so on. There are also naturally derived emulsifiers that are not only safe but bring different benefits to the skin and hair. A good natural emulsifier that is absolutely safe is BTMS (Behentrimonium Methosulfate). It is not only safe but has excellent hair conditioning and skin emollient properties. It is considered to be the most promising hair-detangling ingredient ever. BTMS is cationic self-emulsifier, naturally derived from Colza oil and is noted for its exceptional mildness. There are some other natural emulsifiers derived from olive oil that are also absolutely safe. I have another article on cosmetic emulsifiers.

Today there are many natural emuslifiers widely used in organik skincare products. Such products are the facial creasm of PhytoEssence.

How to use emulsifiers?

You will start the same way as you would for making a mechanical emulsion or simple whipped body butter: melt your oils together with the emulsifier. The quantity of emulsifier is usually between 1%-10% of the total volume (including the water phase.) To melt the oils and the emulsifier use a double boiler to avoid overheating. You need to preheat also your water phase. Both oils and water should be heated at 170F (80C) before mixing. Once the oils and the emulsifier are completely melted pour them in the stick blender container and give them a good blend for 30-40 sec to emulsify them well. Start pouring the preheated water phase slowly as you continue blending. Leave the mixture to cool down to 120F / 50C and add the essential oils. Once it is fully cooled, you can immediately use it.

Here it is a good recipe for body lotion and one for hair conditioner.

So you see it is simple and not expensive because the quantity of emulsifier you need to use is quite small. Also, you can use the same emulsifier for a large variety of recipes. I, for example, use mainly BTMS 25 for most of my hair and body recipes.

Your first, professional, non-greasy, coconut body cream.

I couldn’t stop myself from giving you one very easy, fast and simple recipe for a lovely body lotion. Use it as training to create your first professional cream. I bet you will be proud of it.

All you need for 6.5oz of body cream is:

Water phase

2oz / 57g rosewater or aloe vera juice,

2oz / 57g Distilled (or filtered) water

Oil phase

2oz / 57g sweet almond oil (or virgin olive oil)

15g BTMS 25 (it is easy to find and is sold even from Amazon)


20 drops lavender essential oil (mmm smells so nice)

Heat in a double boiler the oil phase until completely melted. Leave it to cool at 170F / 80C. Meanwhile, preheat the water phase to 170F. With a stick blender blend the oil phase for 20-30 sec and slowly start pouring in the water phase. Continue blending for few more seconds until a smooth white emulsion is achieved. Leave it to cool to 120F / 50C and add the lavender essential oil. Give it another short burst with the stick blender to mix the essential oil and leave to cool down in the fridge. Once completely cooled it is ready to use. You will be surprised how excellent this simple lotion feels on your skin. When you apply pure oils too often on the skin, they can also have adverse effect. This is the reason why, some of the most expensive creams and conditioners are well balanced between oil and water phase. Remember that the oils are not moisturizers. They soften the skin and may prevent the water from evaporation, but hydrosols are the real moisturizers. So you need a good combination.

If dont feel like you want to kake your own organic moisturizer you can try my favourite moisturizing night cream with pomegranate from PhytoEssence.


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