Question: How to formulate a DIY recipe?

Good morning! And welcome back! Today we are going to go through one of the most important basics of making your own cosmetics.

How to formulate your own recipe.

Formulating and creating a formula from scratch is truly an art-form. It is like anything; cooking/baking, surgery, painting, knitting, teaching, woodworking or even growing a garden. Everyone can do anything with some schooling or training and be ok at it. But there are those with the patience and drive to become proficient and good at what they choose to do with their lives. Then there are those with the passion and natural talent for their chosen field who can see things no one else can. Just because I can paint within the lines does not make me a competent artist. Building an IKEA shelving unit does not make me a carpenter or a woodworker. And just because I can cut up a chicken, a surgeon it does not make me. And just because you can whip up a lotion or a batch of soap and enjoy it, doesn’t mean your products are suitable for retail. It also doesn’t mean that your products are safe, reliable or functional. It just means, you can pop into the kitchen and whip up something from base ingredients. Hey, I can make a fantastic and amazing lasagna, it doesn’t mean my lasagna is suitable to sell. It’s fantastic to me, but to others? 

Anyone can follow a recipe. Few, have the patience needed to create an original recipe.

This post will have many many many questions for you to think about. Each question is important and can help you to figure out what you plan to make and how you plan to make it.

So, first things first. What are you making? Soap? Lotion? Cream? Shampoo? Toothpaste? A wishing well? Now that you’ve figured that one out, have a think about all the following questions, and we’ll discuss each one of them further down. With more questions. 

function, what do you want your product to do? 

1. Function: what do you want your product to do? What do you want your product to look like? What kind of container are you thinking of putting this in? How do you want this to feel?

2. Ingredients: I think this one is simple to explain. What are your star/key ingredients? Can your ingredients be safely combined? Have you reached the maximum usage amount for your individual ingredients in all your products combined? Does your formula need a preservative?  Do you have all the information when you begin working with a new ingredient? In my world at the moment the only question I ask is, can I use sea buckthorn oil?

3. Base Recipe: is there already a product out there that you can refer to for ideas? Is there a formula you can refer to? Is there a blogger who made a lotion you really like who shared a recipe and you can swap this ingredient for that ingredient and have a whole new recipe? How big a batch do you want to make?

4. Tools: do you have the tools necessary to make your own product? Do you have the necessary safety gear? Did you have your morning cup of tea or coffee (yes, that in my opinion is a very important tool!) Do you have the scales? Your notebook?

5. Testing: Does your product work like it’s intended purpose? How does it feel while applying? Immediately after applying? 5, 10, 20 minutes later? An hour or two later? A month or two later? How does it smell? How does it last? How is the emulsion (if there is one)? Is it shelf stable? Will it last? Can you duplicate your results? Which preservative system do you plan to use? Is it effective in your products ph range? 

6. TTDRT: Tweak, Test, Duplicate, Remove, Test. And put this one on repeat.

Humble Rose Quench 1
Ingredients and some of the tools needs to make a body spray

Let’s go through them in further detail:

1. Function: This is probably the second hardest part. You look at your ingredients you have and think, huh, lotion or cream? Maybe soap! Then you begin to think of what you need. Then you think about your container stash. Do you have a container for what you plan to make? For me, I always want my emulsified products to feel like silk or water going on my skin, and then I want them to make my skin feel dewy and plump. Yup. From head to toe. That’s my goal when I make products for my personal use. I just really like the feel!

2. Ingredients: This is the more difficult part. In my opinion at least. Choosing your ingredients. There was a woman who had a blog who told her readers that an emulsified lotion would last over a month in the fridge without a preservative. Another woman said that by mixing raspberry seed oil with coconut oil and shea butter would provide her whole family with adequate sun protection on their trip to the equator. And yet other people tell you that eating a cup of cinnamon is a fun challenge. And others think applying glue to their face is a god idea. So yeah. The internet is a great place, but it’s filled with a bunch of bad information. So be sure to take a good gander at some research to get the full scope of the information you need.

I love sea buckthorn fruit oil these days. Love the colour, and that fruity tarty almost nutty scent. Kind of reminds me a little of passion fruit in an indescribable way. And it can be used at 100% neat up on my skin. But just because I can, doesn’t mean I will.  I don’t want to be looking like a fake tan gone wrong Oompa Loompa. Think of your ingredients like a house. All you really need are those four walls. But to make it a home, you need heating, water, beds, couches, a fully functional kitchen. Having supporting oils can be beneficial as they can penetrate deeper and help the final product feel better. Or better yet, think of a oil used neat (just it by itself) on your skin like a slice of fresh bread. Sure its delicious, but to make it even better? Some good butter. Maybe some jam. Having some supporting ingredients can help your product stand out!

What additives/actives do you want to add into your product? Your vitamins? Do you want this to be a high performing product? Do you want to include anti-aging ingredients? Do any of your ingredients not play well together (AVC and electrolytes for example)? What liquids do you want to use? Do you want to use liquid extracts? Hydrolyzed proteins or powders? Hydrosols? Water? Are any of your ingredients known sensitisers? Do you want aloe? Various extracts? Vitamins? Cosmeceuticals? If you are working with hair, you need to have a cationic ingredient otherwise it doesn’t do the job. Do you use the right ingredients for the job you want your product to do? 

What kind of preservative will you need? Will your product even require a preservative? If you are working with lots of clays in a product you need a specific type. If your product’s ph is too low or too high there are another types of preservative to be aware of. I had a woman ask me the other day if my bar soap had preservatives in it as she refused to use unsafe products. 

As a formulator, you are always going to be working against public misconceptions based on various people on the internet trying to make a buck by spreading fear mongering. It is always going to be your job to check your ingredients, test your ingredients and products for stability, function, and how the ingredients work over a period of time.

what kind of performance ingredients do you want to add?

3. Base Recipe: Here you go new DIY’ers. CheatSheet’s awesome starting points. Then Susan from SwiftCraftyMonkey states, that a lot of the emulsion recipes are kind of the same and swapping one liquid oil for another is okydoky. Swapping one liquid oil in some recipes for a butter or a wax will still work. BUT that these swaps might (yeah, will certainly) change the viscosity of the end result, but that they will still work “chemistry wise”.

I mentioned up there in the Ingredient section about some of the blogs I used to read, and that is one thing I need to point out again. Just because some yahoo (that’s me included!) on the internet said it was ok, does not mean it is always ok. Do some research of your own, and check out the ingredients and test them out if you are new to formulating. Learn about your ingredients. Learn about how they interact with each other. 

Now if you are just trying out a new recipe for giggles, I’d suggest starting no bigger than 100g. 100g of say a body lotion should last you for about three weeks to a month. 100g of a face lotion will last you for about three to six months. If you can find yourself the right tools, I’d even suggest making products in the 25g to 50g range. 

4. Tools: I’m not sure what else I can say any more than what I wrote above, so I’ll just repeat it! Do you have the tools necessary to make your own product? Do you have the necessary safety gear if it is required? Do you have the scales? Your notebook? And coffee/tea? Check?

I beleive builders say you need to have the right tools for the job. And this is 100% accurate. Making sure you have heat resistant containers, stirring tools, mixers, containers, measuring equipment, will help you create the best product you can make.

testing out your ingredients to find the right ones for the job

5. Testing: This is the hard part when you just begin making things. You have no idea how anything you make will feel. Should that body butter feel rubbery/spongey after a week? Should that lotion absorb as fast as it did? Why is there mould in there? My lotion turned a funny colour! My soap colour morphed! This face lotion caused my face to turn into one giant grease pool. Why is my skin blue? Did preservative A do a better job over preservative B? 

When you go to share a product, you’ll want to test it out before sharing. You want to make sure that it passes a home stability test. I leave all my creations on a shelf labeled and all pretty looking in their rows so I can see if anything begins to grow within one month. Generally, if a product hasn’t grown any fur, I deem to safe to share for testing. Selling on the other hand, I leave it on a shelf for at least a year. Have you any idea how much dust grows on a container you’ve forgotten about in 10 months?

If you are lucky enough to get your hands on a product you are duping, how does it compare? Since I didn’t always have the luxury of comparing the products I make to much of anything, I take it and try it out on one side of my body. So if I make a new face cream, I test it out on the one side of my face for a week. If I don’t have any adverse reactions, I do the whole face for about a month to see if there are any results or differences. 

Then there is the test of, how does it work after a week? A month? Three months plus? Just because something you make works beautifully for a couple weeks, doesn’t mean it will work long term. Granted, one might have to change up their skin care products depending on the season and climate, but your products should still continue to work.

TTDRT on an insane repeat. Love this photo as it reminds me of that! 

6. TTDRT: This is probably the worst and the hardest one of them all. Tweak, Test, Duplicate, Remove, Test. And put this one on repeat. Like a broken record. Like a child wanting to watch Moana. Again. And again. And Again.  

In all honesty, this point seriously deserves its own blog post it is that important. This step is vitally important if you are planning on gifting a product or selling. I’ve mentioned in the past that some lotions the moment I use them I know they are missing something, so go back to the recipe, tweak it and try again. If a lotion doesn’t glide over my skin the way it should, that could be that there is not enough of ingredient A and too much of ingredient B. If my soap doesn’t bubble the way I want it too, that means, there is not enough of ingredient C in there. So tweak at it till you get it right. THEN move onto Test. Tweaking a recipe could take one tweak or could be a thousand or more tweaks to get it right. 

Each product I formulate and create for this blog, gets used for at least a period of a month. Exceptions are: lip products and powdered masks.

Testing a product. This one is probably the worst if you live in China and there are no people around to test it out on. The way I test out a recipe is I introduce it on half my face for one week. So I walk around sometimes with half my face having reacted to an ingredient whilst the other half is awesome! But it is what you gotta do. If the product causes me to react, I have to figure out why it is causing me to react. Is it ingredient or environmental? Is it hormonal? If the product causes no problems on half my face for a week, then I apply it to the whole face for a month. Or my whole body. 

Duplicate. I usually only make 50g to 100g of a product at a time to play with. And 100g of say a body lotion doesn’t last all that long. 100g of a face lotion on the other hand can last a ridiculous amount of time. But once you know a product you’ve made is awesome and doesn’t need any more tweaks, it’s time to make it again to see if it was a one time deal or if your results really can be duplicated. This is why you always need to keep track of what you do and how much you add into your product whilst making it. Maybe the humidity and temperature of your kitchen caused your product to be awesome one day, but because it was too dry the next time you made it it failed. Can you make that batch of soap to be exactly the way you made it before? 

Remove. This one is fun. And I toyed with the idea of making a blog post about it because it is so much fun! Maybe later! To put it simply, this is really one vital step if you are planning on selling a product. You remove a single ingredient from your formula, say silk, and make your product. You use it. And you then learn what silk brings to the table in your product. Then you put silk back in and remove maybe glycerine or aloe and see what happens. When you are creating your label or a customer asks you what does such and such an ingredient do in the product, this is how you learn to answer them. You get to experience first hand how each ingredient works in the overall product. It’s kind of neat! For example, glycerine. Some of my newer recipes actually don’t include any glycerine, but contain more proteins.

Test. Again. Then test some more. 

Screen Shot 2018-03-22 at 19.04.31
and then go back and do it all over again; even after countless years of soaping, I am always learning something new from each batch of soap! 

And then, go back and do it all over again. 

Creating the perfect recipe is truly an act of passion and patience. If you are not loving what you are doing, then you’ve wasted a year or two. Or longer. Not to mention, all the years of learning about the ingredients you are using. And then the small fortune you spent on ingredients, products, and containers. Dabbling is grand! Formulating your own recipe on the other hand… trail and error to get it right! 

Formulating a great recipe takes hard work and dedication. Your expectations will need to be high because your readers and customers will be trusting your with their skin and their families skin. Having a product that is, “good enough” is not good enough. Your level of expectations must be higher than everyone else’s or else, it’s just going to end up in the trash bin.

Citrus Burst Face Line 2
to create products for sale, takes countless years, an infinite number of tweaks and tinkers to get a product near sale worthy. 



6 thoughts on “Question: How to formulate a DIY recipe?

Add yours

  1. OMG, GREAT POST! Thank you — this is going to help SO many people! There is so much wisdom in this post! It is SO important to do this testing, especially the long term stability testing. You never know what changes the product will undergo over time until you do. I have had a few lotions separate. One discolored (I suspect due to the vanillin in the fragrance), and textures can change as well (they can turn foamy, rather than creamy, for example). For the most part I don’t have these problems anymore, but when just starting out with new recipes you never know what will happen until you test. LOL, I have shelves full of “aging” products in various rooms of my house. Just found one the other day that is almost 2 years old. Still looks great, but of course, the preservative is probably not effective anymore, so I would not ever use it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. See! Exactly what I was talking about. The lotion that discoloured probably due to the vanillin, is awesome to test with!

      And I LOVE it when a butter heavy product turns spongey. I do it on purpose now because that feeling is wicked! I’ve a few posts lined up where the intent is spongey lotion. Weird. I know.

      Thank you for reading this missive by the way! I was trying to figure out how many questions were in this one the other day. The next big Question post is all about expectations. And I am banging my head about it!

      Liked by 1 person

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