Making Creams III: Basic Procedure

[Qui trovate la versione italiana di questo articolo]

These articles summarise what I believe to be the basics that one should know before making cosmetics at home. I do my best to link as many references and sources as possible to confirm what I’m writing, but you should never take anything as an absolute truth. Always check facts and information on more than one reliable source, and take these articles as starting point: keep studying and gathering chemistry knowledge before you actually start making cosmetics. If you notice errors, misleading information or you think I should cover further aspects of this theme, feel free to contact me!

In this article I will briefly explain the practical steps of making a cream at home. I recommend you to read the previous articles of the Making Creams series:

I also recommend to read the short guide Before you get your hands dirty.

Now, here’s a short video to give you an idea of how it looks like when I make a cream at home:

Now let’s take a closer look to the steps. This description is valid for most of the cream formulas of my blog. If you follow someone else’s recipe, please follow their guidelines.

In some of my formulas there might be some slight changes in the procedure due to the combination of particular ingredients: if this is the case, I will write the notes along with each formula.

Prepare everything you need.

Get ready to make the cream and prepare everything you’re going to use:

  • Water bath
  • Beakers
  • Glass rod/spatula/spoons
  • Scales
  • Protective equipment for you and for the table you work onto
  • Immersion handblender
  • Reagents
  • pH stuff (stripes and solutions to adjust it)

A1. Water phase.

In my recipes, A1 is typically the just water phase. Here you will have water and eventually some active ingredients (like allantoin or sodium lactate).

To prepare A1, pour the water in the big beaker and add eventual active ingredients listed in this phase (typically: allantoin).

A2. Thickening agent.

A2 is typically the thickening agent (xanthan gum for almost all my O/W creams, guar gum for the hair mask) dispersed in glycerin. If you have another big beaker, use it to prepare A2. Otherwise, use a small beaker (25 ml or so).

Pour the glycerin first, then the thickening agent (xanthan gum or guar gum). Mix well with the spatula or the glass rod.

A. The “real” water phase.

Now you have to mix A2 and A1 to form the complete water phase of the formula.

If A2 is in a big enough beaker, add A1 while mixing. Otherwise, add some of A1 to A2 and mix well. It should become a very thick gel. Keep adding some A1 to A2 until you reach the capacity of the small beaker. Then transfer A2 to A1 and mix well. You can also mix quickly with the handblender (the bubbles will go away during the heating step and with the emulsifying process).

B. Emulsifiers and fats

Transfer all emulsifiers and fats (butters, waxes and oils) in a medium-big beaker. For beginners, I suggest using a little spoon to scale the liquids: pour a little liquid oil on the spoon and then drop it carefully while scaling it. This allows you to be more precise and avoid mistakes.

Heat A and B.

Place A and B in the water bath. If you’re using pyrex glass beakers and you have the electric hot plate, you can also heat the two phases directly on the hot plate. Heat the two phases until B is completely melted (stir both phases from time to time).

C, D, E… all the cool down phases.

While you wait for A and B to heat up, you can prepare all the extras of the cream.

In all my creams there is at least a C phase, that includes the preservatives (typically: benzyl alcohol/dehydroacetic acid + potassium sorbate). This phase typically contains also all the other components of the cream that are heat-sensitive (basically, most active ingredients).

Sometimes there are multiple cool down phases, because I divide the hydrophobic components from the hydrophilic components.

Scale the ingredients and transfer them in small beakers (25 ml size is sufficient). Put them aside, and don’t forget that they exist!

Emulsification.

When B is completely melted, take A and B away from the water bath/hot plate. Pour B into A while stirring with the glass rod. As soon as you’re done, start mixing with the hand-blender. You should see the cream appearance switching from a yellowish liquid to a white cream, that becomes thicker and denser as you keep mixing.

After a few minutes, stop mixing with the hand-blender and start stirring with a flat spatula. Keep mixing until the cream temperature falls below 40°C (basically, until it is lukewarm).

The use of flat spatulas helps getting rid of the bubbles that may form while mixing with the hand-blender.

Some home-formulators do the whole emulsification-stirring procedure in a cold water bath to accelerate the cool down of the cream. I prefer to avoid it: I have the impression that the gradual cool down yields more stable creams and avoids possible grains due to the sudden solidification of some fats (like shea butter).

Addition of cool down phases.

Once the cream is lukewarm, transfer a little portion of it into one of the small beakers containing a cool down phase. Stir it well, then add it to the main beaker containing the cream. Once the first cool down phase is well incorporated in the cream, you can repeat this procedure to add other eventual cool down phases.

Test the cream pH

Take a pH strip and dip it for a few seconds into the cream. Check the pH value. If necessary, adjust it to the required value of the cream with:

  • 30% w/w citric acid (if you need to lower pH)
  • 30% w/w NaOH (if you need to raise pH)

The typical pH range of a body and face cream is between 5 and 6.

The typical pH range of a hair mask or any product that is applied on the scalp is between 4.5 and 5.5.

(Optional) Cream coloring

If you wish to add a touch of color to your cream, this is a good moment to do it.

Beware: creams can be slightly coloured with hydrophilic dyes (typically, food dyes). These are not the same dyes used for make-up!

Colouring a cream is not equivalent to make a foundation or a BB-cream! To do that, you need to formulate a mineral foundation first, made with oxydes and other mineral makeup components!

The amount of food dye to use depends on how concentrated is the dye you have. This procedure refers to the very concentrated hydrophilic dyes by Glamour Cosmetics.

Pour some water (10-20 ml ) in a small beaker. Add one drop of concentrated dye and mix. Use one or two drops of this dilution to colour your cream.

Trust me: if the dye is as concentrated as the ones sold by Glamour Cosmetics, it will be sufficient to give the cream a touch of colour! You don’t want your cream colour to be too intense, because otherwise it will leave stains on your skin!

In addition, I recommend adding colours only to body and hand creams or to products that will be rinsed (like hair masks). Not to face creams.

Packaging and storage.

Now it’s time to pack your cream.

Transfer the cream into a jar. Keep in mind that cosmetics are not eternal products. The presence of a preservative will prevent possible contaminations for a while, but as home-formulators we don’t have the equipment to check eventual bacterial or fungal growth that is not visible to our bare eye. If you notice something weird (changes in the appearance, color, consistency, smell of the cream, weird bubbles, etc.), you have to throw it away immediately.

Even in absence of observable changes, I recommend using the homemade cosmetic creams within max. 6 months.

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