Whether you’re motivated by saving money or intrigued by the idea of creating a product that is fully catered to your skin, DIYing your skincare can be a fantastic way to not only learn about the ingredients that are being used in your cosmetics and personal care items, but discover more about the structure and anatomy of skin and how you can improve the health and appearance of your own. I’ve been personally formulating my own skincare products for a few years now, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. I hope that this is informative as well as inspiring to many of you — I promise it isn’t as difficult as it seems! In this article, I’m going to outline the basic components of what goes into to planning and creating your formulation, as well as some basic formulation structures.
Please take the appropriate precautions before beginning to experiment with your own formulations! I get that we can get caught up in the “holy crap I can formulate my own serum/cleanser/face paste!” but it’s important to remind yourself that your own well-being comes first.
- Research. Before formulating, research the ingredients that you are interested in using, making sure that they are compatible with one another.
- Patch Test. Before going all gung-ho and slathering yourself in your new creation, will want to make sure your skin doesn’t have any adverse reactions to it. Trust me, I’ve made the mistake in the past (it was bad, kids.), and I fully advise you to test it out beforehand!
- Use Clean Equipment. Make sure the equipment you are using is sanitized, and used only for your formulations. Please don’t use the same bowl you use to mix brownies in, it’s just a terrible idea.
- Wear Protection. You always want to wear gloves/protection when handling chemicals, and always read the formulation guidelines on the ingredients you are using (generally found wherever you purchased said ingredients).
Preservatives = Protection
Now that you’ve thought about the possibility of formulating your own beautiful serums and potions, you’ll want to know how you can keep your hard work around long enough for the benefits to kick in. Unless you are going to be using your creation up within a very short window of time (for most formulations that means no more than threedays), it is always a good idea to use a preservative. “But Merrill,” you might say, “that sounds horribly complicated and counterintuitive!” In all honestly, preservatives exist for a reason: protection.
Think about it this way: would you trust food that’s been sitting out overnight? Say I cook up a beautiful quiche, but then neglect to put it in the refrigerator and left it out until the next morning. Would you feel comfortable eating it? Just like it isn’t safe to eat non-refrigerated food (which prevents bacterial growth), it isn’t particularly safe to use a preservative-free formulation on your skin if it isn’t fresh. Just because your formulation looks visibly fine doesn’t mean that there isn’t a smorgasbord of bacteria growing everywhere!
Another point I’d like to address is the idea of “getting away” from preservatives when formulating so that your product is more “natural.” I’ve had questions before wondering why I use preservatives as it’s “counterintuitive” to the idea of creating your own recipes. Most DIYers (myself included) create cosmetic formulations in order to avoid some of the ingredients that a lot of companies use, such as fillers and ingredients that may not agree with your skin; sometimes preservatives fall into this category for people. The only way to safely not use a preservative in your creations is to use the three-day rule and make a fresh batch after every rotation. I personally use a preservative, as I don’t have the time nor patience to make a batch every three days, and I would rather be able to use my formulation for a longer period of time and feel confident that I’m not putting contaminated products on my skin.
In order to make these wonderful creations, you will need some supplies for the actual creation step that keep your formula safe, stable, and free of contamination. The basic necessities you will need for formulating are:
- A heatproof glass mixing container (that you only use for formulating) for use in a standard double boiler. If you don’t own a double boiler you can easily make one yourself.
- A digital scale — this is especially important as you want your measurements to be as accurate as possible, as some ingredients you may be working with may only be stable at certain percentages. I purchased mine from Amazon.
- Disposable pipettes (you can get them in packs of 10, 50, and 100—I get mine from lotioncrafter).
- Disposable measuring scoops— I usually buy the 1cc size in packs of 10 (equivalent to 1ml, also from lotioncrafter).
- Disposable cups/containers— I like to use these on my scale as it makes measuring ingredients extremely easy and relatively mess-free. (Make sure you zero out the balance before actually adding your ingredients! I learned the hard way.)
- A mixing implement of some kind. (I use a small hand mixer, but you can also use a crystalline rod or something similar).
- pH test strips. These are especially important as you want to make sure your final product won’t damage your skin’s barrier and acid mantle — I typically like my products to have a pH of 7 or lower, as the higher end of the pH scale can compromise your acid mantle, potentially leading to dryness and damage. For reference, your skin typically has a pH of 4.0-6.0. I purchased my pH strips from Amazon.
Now you’re probably wondering “where the heck do I purchase all this stuff?!” There a dozens of retailers on the internet specializing in skincare and cosmetic ingredients that can be found with a quick search, but here are a few that are my personal favorites:
- Lotioncrafter— tons of ingredients as well as equipment needs, as well as quick shipping.
- Garden of Wisdom— another great source for ingredients, as well as DIY kits and formulation ideas. Their oils are great quality!
- BulkActives— has a lot of interesting ingredients that are hard to find elsewhere.
Basic Recipe Structures
Here are a couple quick “bare bones” structure recipes that you can use to get started!
For a cream formulation:
- 58% water soluble ingredients (your distilled water, hydrosol, aloe vera, and water-soluble ingredients)
- 30% oil soluble ingredients (basically a carrier oil as well as any oil-soluble ingredients)
- 7% emulsifier (needed to bind the oil-based ingredients and water-based ingredients)
- 3% stearic acid (needed to stabilize your emulsion)
- 0.5%-1% of an appropriate preservative
For a serum formulation:
- 65%-75% water soluble ingredients (your distilled water, hydrosol, aloe vera, and water-soluble ingredients)
- 5-10% glycerin (used as a humecent— draws moisture to your skin)
- 1%-2% sodium carbomer (used as a thickener for your serum)
- 2% hyaluronic acid (used for water retention and thickening of your serum — amazing for dehydrated skin; it holds 100x it’s weight in water!)
- 0.5%-1% of an appropriate preservative