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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!
Now it’s time to understand what kind of equipment and material you need, before you can start.
- Reagents (O/W creams)
Always remember: you are working with chemicals. Always read the data sheet of any reagent you buy, even those that look harmless to you.
Pay particular attention to acids, bases, preservatives and powders. The first three because they can be corrosive and irritating, the powders because you should never breathe them.
With that being said, you will need:
- Lab gloves
- Protective eyewear
If you plan to work with solid surfactants, I suggest to find a proper dust mask. Those like the one in the picture are okay-ish, but if you can find a more specific one it’s even better. I plan to get one as soon as the masks will be available again.
In principle, you could make cosmetics with the same equipment you already have in your kitchen (pots, spoons, scale, cooker/hotplate).
However, if you’re serious about this hobby, I strongly recommend to get real lab equipment, at least concerning beakers and stirring accessories. In any case, if you use kitchen supplies, don’t use the same ones you use to prepare food.
You will need:
- Stirring accessories: I recommend glass rods and spatulas (including the flat ones)
- Scales: you will need a scale with graduation of at least 0.1 g, and if the limit capacity is <100g (like most of the cases), another scale with graduation 1 g and higher capacity.
- Beakers: I recommend having beakers of different sizes (500 ml, 250 ml, 150 ml, 25 ml)
- Equipment to heat the cream phases in the beakers: there are several options.
- Double boiler (water bath) made with pots filled with water and heated on the cooker
- A lab double boiler (water bath! not oil bath!)
- Electric hotplate (if the beakers are in borosilicate glass)
- Equipment to mix the emulsion at high speed: since we don’t want to spend thousands of euros in an IKA stirrer, as hobbyists we have to settle for an immersion blender. There’s no need to buy a super expensive one, however if you want to invest some money, I suggest the Bosch Clevermixx 600W that comes with a big “foot” and with a “mini-foot” which is super useful when you make small amounts of creams. In addition, you get a grinder that you can use to smash solid surfactants.
- pH measurement strips and the solutions you need to adjust pH
- Jars, bottles, stick tubes… You can either buy new ones (typically sold by the shops that sell reagents for cosmetics), or wash and recycle packaging of other cosmetics.
- Molds: you will need soap molds both for soaps and for solid shampoos and conditioners, if you plan to make them.
- Deionised water
- A thickening agent: Xanthan gum, Guar gum, one of the polyacrylate thickeners (Carbomer, Carbopol, Tinovis, etc.)…
Oil phase + Emulsifiers
- An emulsifier of your choice: methylglucose sesquistearate, Olivem1000, Montanov68, Phospholipon 80H, Ceterareth-25…
- One or more consistency factors: cetyl alcohol, cetyl palmitate, cetylstearyl alcohol…
- A wax: even if you don’t use it in a cream, beeswax is always useful
- One or more butters: I recommend shea butter and cocoa butter
- High viscosity oil: tocopherol and/or castor oil
- Medium viscosity oil(s): basically most of the vegetable oils (olive, rapeseed, sunflower, almond, coconut…)
- Low viscosity oil(s): jojoba oil, dicaprylyl ether, dicaprylyl carbonate…
Cooling down phase + Extras
- A broad spectrum preservative: benzyl alcohol/dehydroacetic acid (to be combined with potassium sorbate), phenoxyethanol…
- Some functional ingredients that you like: sodium lactate, allantoin, panthenol…
- Cosmetic fragrance(s)
To balance the pH of cosmetics:
- Citric acid: it is a crystalline solid; you will use it as 30% solution in water (=70 g of deionised water, add 30 g of citric acid).
- Sodium hydroxide: it is typically sold as pellets; very corrosive, can be very dangerous. To balance the pH of cosmetics it is used as 30% solution in water (= 70 g deionised water, 30 g of sodium hydroxide added carefully, without breathing the fumes, wearing gloves and protective equipment). Alternatively, the 30% solution is also sold by the reseller as ready-to-use solution!
This is the basic equipment and reagent list that you could need if you want to make a simple cream.
For more complicated creams, you should refer to the specific formula requirements. Same if you plan to make lipsticks, lip balms, solid shampoos, solid conditioner, etc.
Where to buy this stuff? I talked about it in this article.