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How to Make Creams and Lotions

Making Lotions and Creams Instructions

© 2004  Rebecca Midkiff  DIY Cosmetic LLC

Creating Lotions and Creams that suit your own individual needs can be most rewarding. Once you get the basic steps down it is quite simple and takes just a short period of your time. Here are some basic instructions to get you started.

Lotions and Creams have 3 components

  • Water
  • Oil
  • Emulsifying Agent which allows them to combine.

Most formulations have what we call "Phases" or “Parts”:

  • The "Oil Phase" includes all your oil-soluble ingredients.
  • The "Water Phase" includes all the water- soluble ingredients
  • "Final phase" consists of all the ingredients you want to add after the emulsion has cooled to 50 degree C or less.

An emulsion is comprised of little droplets of one phase surrounded by another.
A stable emulsion is the key to a good lotion or cream. Most formulas need primary and secondary emulsifiers to create stable emulsions that won't separate over time.

The Emulsifiers we provide at DIY are combination contain no ethoxylated ingredients.

Other typical emulsion systems include the following primary and secondary emulsifiers.

  • Palm Stearic (vegetable based Stearic Acid) and Cetearyl Alcohol (vegetable based emulsifying wax)
  • Palm Stearic, Polysorbate 60, and Cetearyl Alcohol
  • Sorbitan Monostearate, Polysorbate 60 and Cetearyl Alcohol
  • Sorbitan Monostearate, Polysorbate 60
  • Beeswax and Borax
  • Lecithin and a secondary emulsifier

The combinations are many and what you use is up to you. Starting simple is recommended. As you gain confidence you may start formulating your own recipes and add what you have in your own garden. Since all the components you are dealing with are chemicals (including your plants and oils) one may react with another. For this reason start with a minimum of ingredients until you know what you like. Here are some basic guidelines when formulating your own:

  • Emulsifiers 5-8%
  • Oils 12-20%
  • Water, Additives, and Botanicals to 100 %.

This means that if your emulsifiers and oils add up to 30 then you add 70 of water. Formuals with less emulsifier and more water are generally lotions (2-4%) Higher levels of oil and emulsifer and less water are generally Creams or Ointments.

Fragrances, Essential Oils, Botanicals and Actives  are gernerally mixed in last when your lotion or cream has cooled.

Important Points to Remember

You must heat both your water and oil phases separately and they must be at least 65-70 degrees C. If it is not hot enough your emulsifiers will not dissolve properly and you may land up with a "gritty " lotion. For this reason it is important to have a thermometer to measure the temperature of your liquids.  Our own emulsifier sold by DIY does not like to be overheated and tends to get gritty.

You will need a scale to measure your ingredients with. Cosmetic formulas are measured by weight rather than volume. When measuring under 4 grams I usually measure up to 10 grams and then convert it to teaspoon or Tablespoons to get an accurate measurement. The total weight of the ingredients should add up to 100. You then multiply them by the amount you want to make. (For example to make 1500 grams multiply each weight by 15.

After you combine the oil and water phase, mix by hand, with a stick blender or a juice blender till the emulsion has cooled to 50 degrees. You may then add your vitamins, fragrances and preservatives. Before your cream or lotion has completely thickened put it into your sterile containers. If you are using a new container it is generally not necessary to sterilize them. If you are recycling containers they should be washed well and then rinsed in a 25% bleach solution or wiped down with alcohol. The creams and lotions will thicken as they cool. If you are using a hand blender use a container where your beaters are fully immersed to keep as little air from being incorporated as possible.

Never cap your products before they have completely cooled. Condensation collects on the lids and provides a lovely growth medium for fungus. I like to spray the inside of my caps with alcohol.

Work Clean

Beginning in a clean work- space will give your preservatives have a chance to work. Wipe your counters down with a bleach solution before starting. Sterilize your equipment beforehand as you would when you are canning. Some ways of doing this are put them all into a dishwasher, or by using 1 part bleach to 4 parts water as a rinse.

  • Use glass or stainless steel to mix in.
  • Never use wood or plastic utensils as they harbor bacteria
  • Use sterilized or bottled water  If you are using bottles water make sure it is Distilled water and not regular drinking water or spring water.
  • Package quickly and avoid touching the product
  • Avoid fresh botanicals/use dry
  • Always use preservatives or refrigerate.


There are several methods that you may use to prolong the shelf life of your products.

Anti-oxidants prevent rancidity which resulting from oxidation of fixed oils and citrus essential oils. Anti-oxidants need to be added to the oil phase to be effective. (Antioxidants include Vitamin E oil, Grapefruit seed extract and Rosemary Oleoresin)

Preservatives are needed to defeat bacteria, yeast, and fungi growth. Bacteria will not grow in "oil only" products. They need water to proliferate. If you have no water in your formula you need not use an anti-bacterial preservative. Since micro-organisms can only grow in water, the active form of the preservative is best incorporated into the water phase. There are exceptions to this rule. Several chemical preservative can only be added after the emulsion has been cooled to 40 degrees C or lower.. For more information on how to you're the various preservatives read our section on preservatives and how to use them.

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