Making lotion at home is simple but requires precision and a few unfamiliar ingredients. The process may seem strange at first, but once you do it a few times you will see how easy it is.
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Essential ingredients for homemade body lotion
Body lotion is mostly made of water (70%-80%) Most pumpable lotions are between 70% and 80% water. A lighter lotion can be made up keeping the percentage of water high, closer to 80%. A thicker, more cream-like lotion will be closer to 70%, whereas anything below that will be more like a cream that would be stored in a jar.
The other main ingredient in lotion is oil. The types of oil you choose will have a big effect on the feel of your lotion. As a general rule, anything that is solid at room temperature (coconut oil, shea butter, etc.) will feel heavier on the skin. The lightest lotions will use only liquid oils (sweet almond, apricot kernel, etc.). By tweaking the am out of water and the oils used, you can achieve the level of richness that you want.
Since oil and water don’t mix, lotion also contains emulsifiers. (6%-18% total) Two emulsifiers are needed to keep the lotion of separating. You will need one emulsfier and one that is called a coemulsifier. There are dozens of choices, but the most common are polawax as the emulsifier and stearic acid as a coemulsifier. They are inexpensive and readily available. They also thicken the lotion and give it body and volume (almost like how an egg will whip up and add volume to a batter.). If you are interested in the science of this (I am not), this goes into emulsification further. But for practical purposes, just know that you need an emulsifier and a coemulsifier,
Finally, homemade body lotion must contain a preservative. (Added at 1% of the finished product) If you whip up your ingredients and don’t add a preservative, your lotion will last for 1 week in the fridge. Beyond that, it will start to mold. No, essential oils will not adequately preserve it, nor will vitamin E. The most commonly used is called ophipen, and it is not expensive. (There are some more natural alternatives that will only work at a certain pH, which you must test. You can read more about natural preservative options here.)
Optional ingredients for body lotion
Now there are also some fun things that you can add to your lotion. They are 100% optional, unlike the ingredients listed above.
Fragrance is frequently added to body lotion, and either fragrance oils or essential oils will work. Essential oils do not work well in soap making because they don’t really “stick” as the soap cures. But lotion does not have a curing process, so the fragrance from essential oils will still be there. Just remember that they will be staying on the skin so be aware of any effects like sun sensitivity.
Color is a less common addition to homemade lotion, but it is certainly fine to do so.
Herbs or flowers can be infused into the oils to add healing properties to the oil you use. This takes a bit of advanced planning, as it takes weeks or months to infuse oils, but it a very fun addition.
Finally, there are many commercial additives to lotions like deodorizing chemicals, silkening agents, etc. I have not personally worked with them, but they are an option.
I get all my supplies at Brambleberry. They carry the oils, emulsifiers, and preservative.
Creating a custom lotion recipe
So how do we turn all these ingredients and percentages into a workable recipe with measurable amounts? Lotion has to be calculated by weight, and the easiest measurement to work with is grams. To create a recipe, you calculate your desired percentage of water, then your emulsifier and co emulsifier, and then you make up the rest with oils to get to 100%. To that, you add preservative at a rate of 1%.
If we start with 100 grams as the amount we want to make, it is very easy to calculate percentages. To get 78% of our recipe to be water, we easily know it is 78 grams. But…a 100g recipe will only make a few ounces. I typically make a 200g recipe and put in a half pint jar.
Working through an example homemade lotion recipe
Let’s say we want a light lotion for summer that will pump out easily and not be greasy. We know we want a lot of water, like 78%.
So 78 grams of water
We want to use our inexpensive emulsifiers. They are used at a percentage of 3% to 8% each. I usually just go in the middle unless I have a specific reason not to.
5 grams of stearic acid
5 grams polawax
Then I add in my oils or butters to get up to 100 grams
78 + 5 + 5= 88, so I need 12 grams oils to get to 100.
I want an easy recipe and light oils. So 6 grams almond oil and 6 grams apricot kernel.
Does this make sense?
This is a complete lotion recipe except for the preservative. For a 100 gram recipe, I need 1 gram opiphen as it is added at 1% of the finished product weight.
Fragrance is personal preference, but 1% is a good starting point.
Now I am going to double the amounts to get a half pint or so of lotion. So our final recipe will have:
- 156 grams water
- 10 grams stearic acid
- 10 grams polawax
- 12 grams almond oil
- 12 grams apricot kernel oil
- 2 grams polawax
- 2 grams fragrance
The lotion making process
Yay! We just created a custom lotion recipe!
Now how do we make it?
Basically, we measure the ingredients, heat everything up, and then blend.
The microwave is the absolute simplest way to do this, but you can use a double boiler if you want to. I use Pyrex cups and heat up my water for 1 minute in the microwave and my oils and emulsifiers for 90 seconds.. Both should be 160 degrees. The oils and waxes should be fully melted and hot.
Pour the oils into the water and pulse for about 20 seconds. Things are going to start cooling down and the emulsifying will go easier. Every minute, blend for about 20 seconds. It may seem like it’s taking a while. After about 3-7 blending sessions, you will see it become “lotiony”. You did it!
Add the preservative and the fragrance and blend for another minute. Pour it into jar or pump bottle. I use a small mason jar and these mason jar pump tops.
There is no cure time needed, but you may want to leave the lid off overnight so there is no condensation. There is a printable recipe below and video tutorial to show you the process.
Beginner non-greasy Lotion REcipe
Beginner Homemade Lotion
- 156 grams water
- 10 grams polawax
- 10 grams stearic acid
- 12 grams apricot kernel oil
- 12 grams sweet almond oil
- 2 grams preservative such as phenonip
- 2 grams orange oil or fragrance of choice
- Measure out water in large Pyrex cup using digital scale
- Measure out polawax, stearic acid, almond oil, and apricot kernel oil in separate Pyrex cup using digital scale
- Heat water in microwave for 60 seconds, or until it is 160 degrees
- Heat oils and waxes in microwave for 60-90 seconds, until 160 degrees.
- Pour oils into water cup and blend with stick blender for 20 seconds (if the mixture seems to be splattering too much, pour it into a wide mouth large mason jar or drinking cup)
- Blend for 20-30 seconds, then take a 30 second rest. Do this until the lotion emulsifies. It will increase in volume and look thick instead of watery.
- At the. preservative and fragrance if using. Blend another 60 seconds.
- Pour into a clean container. Let the lotion cool before topping.
- Use within 6 months.
Homemade Lotion FAQS
Is making lotion difficult? No! If you can weigh out ingredients on a scale, you can do it. In fact, if you are familiar with soap making (please try making your own soap), you will find that it is actually easier than making soap.
Can I use beeswax or another natural wax as an emulsifier? The official answer is “no.” But many people will say that they have used beeswax as the emulsifier with success. I’ve never tried it, but it may be worth experimenting.
Do I really need a preservative? Yes! It’s not a big deal. It’s just a little bottle of liquid. Any store bought lotion contains a chemical preservative.
Do I really need to use distilled water? All lotion recipes will call for distilled water. Since water is the primary ingredient in lotion, it is important to have a high quality water. I have always used filter tap water, which comes from our well. But distilled water is recommended and is best.
Should I sanitize my equipment? Technically, all equipment ( stick blender, cups, measuring spoons, etc.) should be sterilized before using them. This can be done by soaking briefly in a solution of water and 5% bleach. I have personally never done this. I make one small batch at a time and have never have a problem.
You May Need
Besides the oils, water, preservative, and emulsifiers, you will need a few tools.
- A digital scale that measures in grams
- A stick blender
- Two glass or Pyrex measuring cups (bowls are too low and will splatter)
- A container for your finished product. You can buy special lotion bottles or use a mason jar with these mason jar pump tops.
Making lotion at home is simple
Despite this post being super long, making lotion is very quick. Don’t be afraid to customize a recipe based on your skin’s needs and your personal preferences. If you have any questions, leave me a comment and I will do my best!