Anhydrous Products: Whipped Butters, Balms, Lotion Bars, and Sticks

[Versione italiana]

[Before reading this article, I recommend the “Fat side of the cream” series about emollients]

What are anhydrous products?

We typically speak of “anhydrous products” referring to solid butters and sticks, that is, solid products that do not involve a water phase. 

Actually, the picky chemist in me wants to point out that the term “anhydrous” refers to anything that does not contain water, so technically also fluid oils and solid shampoos and conditioners would be anhydrous, if there is no water in their formulation. 

But ok: we already spoke about emollient blending and oil formulation in the “Fat side of the cream” series and we already saw solid shampoos formulations, so here we will speak about the types of products I haven’t analysed yet: butters and sticks. 

Let’s see which products we can formulate, from the “softest” to the “hardest” one:

  • Whipped butters
  • Jar butters
  • Lotion bars
  • Non-decorative butter sticks: lip balms, nail butter sticks, body butter sticks
  • Decorative sticks: lipsticks, eye shadow sticks, concealer sticks, blush sticks, etc.

These formulations are prevalently made with hydrophobic ingredients, that is, substances that are not water-soluble. 

These products are more or less always made with the same kinds of ingredients,  especially for DIY formulators interested in organic and vegetable-derived cosmetics, but the balance between them is different according to the hardness and the desired performance of the product. This means that if you are a hobbyist with a “green-oriented” formulation philosophy, you can formulate all these products with the same bunch of raw materials, if you know how to combine them. Sounds great, right?

Ingredients for anhydrous products

Let’s see the categories of ingredients that we should use for these products:

Structure ingredients (solids)

  • Dry: waxes, esters, fatty alcohols. Examples: beeswax, bellina wax, carnauba wax, candelilla wax, cetyl palmitate, cetyl alcohol, stearic acid.
  • Greasy/emollient: butters. Examples: cocoa butter, shea butter. Coconut oil would be an oil, but in anhydrous products I consider it as solid. 

Emollients (liquids)

  • Oils: high, medium and low viscosity oils. Examples: castor oil, caprylic capric triglycerides, jojoba oil. 

Dyes (for lipsticks and decorative products)

  • Inorganic pigments: black oxide, red oxides, ultramarines, etc.
  • Other vegetable-derived pigments (not food dyes!)

Other excipients:

  • Glossy stuff for lipsticks
  • Fragrance (for body butters) or flavours (for lip products)
  • Antioxidants: example: alpha-tocopherol

Before taking a look at the formulas, let’s say something more about some of these ingredients. We already spoke about oils, butters and esters in the series about emollients. But there’s still something left to say about butters, and we didn’t speak about waxes yet. 

Vegetable butters

We already said a lot about butters speaking about emollients. When used in anhydrous formulation, butters play a very important role in the characteristics of the final product – even more important than the liquid emollients, that are the stars of the emollient blending approaches in emulsions. 

Butters are important in anhydrous products because they can have an impact on the final consistency and hardness of the product. In emulsions, they can have such influence but it’s less relevant compared to anhydrous products, because in emulsions they are present in very low percentages. In anhydrous products, they can make up to 80% of the product. 

In my DIY cosmetics I try to keep it simple and I don’t like to have too many different raw materials that do basically the same thing, therefore I have only one representative for each category of butter: a hard one (cocoa butter), a soft one (shea butter) and a very soft one (coconut oil). 

But in formulas you easily find very fancy and exotic butters that you may not know of, like murumuru, mango, cupuaçu, and many others. Honestly, they all look quite similar to me. When I find a recipe with some of these exotic names, I just check the melting points (1) and replace it with one of my three favorite butters. 

The most common butters I find in recipes are:

  • Hard butters: cocoa, illipe, kokum;
  • Medium-soft: shea, mango, murumuru, tucuma
  • Very soft: coconut oil

This is actually a classification I made myself, if you see in reference (1) the intermediate ones are classified differently. 

Waxes

Waxes are a very large group of hydrophobic compounds that can show different chemical structures. Typically they are esters of fatty acids and long chain alcohols. 

For our purpose, their most important feature is again the melting point: harder waxes (with high melting point) will make harder anhydrous products, whereas softer waxes (with low melting point) will yield softer products. You can find an interesting experiment about the different hardness of butters made with different waxes in Formula Botanica’s blog (2). 

Here are some waxes you can find in cosmetics and their melting ranges:

WaxMelting range (°C)
Myrica wax (Myrica Pubescens Fruit Wax)45-55
Berry wax (Rhus Verniciflua Peel Wax)48-54
Beeswax (Cera alba)61-65
Bellina wax (Polyglyceryl-3 Beeswax)63
Candelilla wax (Euphorbia Cerifera (candelilla) wax)68-75
Rice bran wax (Oryza sativa wax)79-85
Sunflower wax (Helianthus annuus seed cera)74-80
Carnauba wax (Copernicia cerifera wax)80-86
Waxes melting ranges

In this article, we will speak about “hard waxes”, “medium-hard waxes”, “medium-soft waxes” and “soft waxes”. This is again my own classification, that helped me analysing better the formulas I will discuss below. 

I define “hard” the waxes with melting point above 75°C, that is, rice bran wax, sunflower wax and carnauba wax. “Medium-hard” waxes are the ones between beeswax and the hard waxes. In the list above, it’s basically candelilla wax. “Medium-soft” waxes are the ones with melting point between 60 and 65°C (beeswax and bellina wax in the list above). Soft waxes are the one with lower melting point (myrica wax and berry wax). 

Waxes are very important in anhydrous products and especially in sticks, because their blend confers the desired hardness to the final product. They can be used in emulsions, too, although they are typically limited to rich body creams and are not used in face creams and lotions. 

Their touch on the skin is rather dry, similar to esters like cetyl palmitate and fatty alcohols like cetyl alcohol. 

Whipped body butters

Whipped butters are one of the simplest DIY cosmetic products you could ever make, and it’s also fun to make. It’s a blend of butters and oils (sometimes with a small percentage of waxes) with a foamy and soft texture thanks to the whipping during the production. 

I took a look at some formulas for whipped butters by different blogs (Formula botanica and Humblebee & me, plus my own formula) (3-5) and my conclusion is that, typically, the composition can look like this:

Type of ingredient% range
Wax and waxy consistency factors0-5
Hard butters0-20
Semi-soft butters40-80
Liquid emollients20-40

Among wax and waxy consistency factors we find for example beeswax and cetyl alcohol; as hard butters we can find for example kokum and cocoa butter; the most widely used semi-soft butter in whipped butters is shea butter, but you can also find tucuma, murumuru or mango butter. As liquid emollients you can use basically any oil you wish. Typically medium-viscosity oils are used. In many formulas, there is a 5% powder ingredients (like cornstarch or rice starch).  

Whipped body butter average composition

As an example, this is my formula:

IngredientFunction%
BeeswaxWax4
Cocoa butterHard butter20
Shea butterMedium-soft butter29
Coconut oilVery soft butter29
Rape seed oilLiquid emollient17
Cosmetic fragranceFragrance1

The procedure for a whipped body butter is typically the following:

  1. Weigh all the ingredients except the cosmetic fragrance (or any thermo-sensitive oil extract or the powders, if the recipe includes them) and transfer them in a beaker. 
  2. Heat the ingredients up in a water bath until all solid ingredients are melted. 
  3. Place the beaker in the fridge. 
  4. As soon as a trace is formed (=the butter starts to solidify), take the beaker out of the fridge. Add the thermosensitive ingredients and the powders, if included, then start whipping. Whip for some minutes, then place the beaker in the fridge again.
  5. After 5-10 minutes, whip again.
  6. Do this cycle for a few times again, until you reach the foamy texture of the whipped butter.

Balms in a jar

The next step in our “hardness ranking” is the balm in a jar. This could be for example a lip balm or a nail/cuticle balm or whatever-balm. I even made one for stretched lobes

Jar balms average composition.

This type of product is a bit harder than the whipped body butter but not hard enough to be packed in a stick tube. Therefore, they can be made with a higher percentage of wax – typically a blend of medium-soft and soft waxes or a soft wax, 20-25%, they can include hard butters (for example around 5%), soft butters (15-25%) and a large amount of liquid emollients (40-50%). For jar lip balms, I always recommend using a higher amount of highly viscous or occlusive emollients (castor oil, lanolin, alpha-tocopherol, tocopheryl acetate) that do not migrate and stay on the lips for a longer time. You can of course blend them with lower viscosity oils, but keep them in high amount. At reference (6) you can find a nice formula for a lip balm in a jar.

Solid body butters or lotion bars

Here is another easy cosmetic product that is also fun to make: the solid body butters, also known as lotion bars. These products are amazing to start with and they are incredibly versatile, as you can use any oil or oil extract, test different butters and butter combinations, and experiment directly how does the percentage of “structural components” (waxes and butters) influence the final hardness of the product. The worst thing that can happen is that you have to keep it in a jar. 

Again, I looked at different formulas from different blogs to understand how lotion bars are made on average (7-10), although given the versatility of these products it’s tough to make a precise estimate of the percentages. The choice and balance of the ingredients depends a lot on how you want your product to perform. 

Lotion bars average composition.

Typically, in lotion bars we can find waxes and waxy consistency factors from 0 to 30%, hard butters from 0 to 60%, soft butters between 20 and 80% and liquid emollients between 10 and 30%.  

Increasing waxes and hard butters will make the lotion bar harder, but also more difficult to use. I’ve seen formulas of lotion bars also with no waxes or hard butters at all. 

You can find formulas for lotion bars in the references cited above and in this blog: check the solid body butter and the solid feet butter!

Stick Balms

We’re slowly approaching the really hard part of this article, but we’re not there yet: stick balms like lip balms, nail butter stick, or whatever stick balm you want to make are not so difficult, as long as they are not decorative products. Their only big requirement is that they are hard enough to keep the form of a stick and that they melt upon friction against the skin to release a bit of product.

To do this, we have to balance again the ingredients of the previous preparations in order to make them harder: typically, stick balms have higher percentages of waxes, and if needed, we can add little percentages of waxes that have a higher melting point than beeswax. 

Stick lip balms average composition

So on average (11-13), in stick balms we find blends of hard and medium waxes or medium waxes (10-20%), hard butters (20-35%), soft butters (15-35%) and liquid emollients (40-60%). Again, for stick lip balms I recommend to prefer highly viscous and occlusive emollients like castor oil, lanolin, tocopherol, or tocopheryl acetate, that do not migrate and stay on the lips for a longer period. 

In my formulas, I keep stick lip balms as simple as possible: my favourite basic formula is beeswax 20%, a hard butter (cocoa) 20% and a high viscosity emollient (castor oil) 60%. You can find it here (in the same article you find variations of the formula and tips about lip stick tubes). 

If you’re interested in a different type of stick, here you can find the stick nail/cuticle butter, that includes a hard wax, a medium-hard wax and an ester in the formula, as well as a blend of high and medium-low viscosity emollients. 

Lipsticks (decorative sticks)

And finally we are here, to the toughest anhydrous product – at least in my opinion. 

Decorative lipsticks are not as easy as one might think (14, 15). The problem with the lipstick is that it should not only meet the same requirement of the stick lip balm (being hard-but-not-too-hard), but it should also give a good performance in terms of color intensity, glossy/matte effect, and should not migrate on your face. It should also not “sweat” (that is, the oils should not come out to the surface of it), it should be uniform, and have no crystals. It’s really a messy job. 

Typically, lipsticks are made with blends of waxes with different melting points. The most popular mixture in natural cosmetics is beeswax-candelilla-carnauba wax. The ratio among them can vary, but typically carnauba wax is present in lower quantity compared to the other two. 

Lipstick average composition.

I found that on average (16-20) lipsticks are made of 15-20% wax, 60-70% liquid emollients, 0-10% soft butters, 0-10% hard butters, 3-15% pigments. Moreover, there could be 0-5% additive to give the glossy appearance to the lipstick, 0-5% functional ingredients, and 0-1% antioxidants. In some procedures, the ingredients are divided into:  base (waxes), diluent (liquid emollients) and color (pigment dispersed in a part of the liquid emollients of the formula). 

Average wax blends in lipsticks.

While in stick lip balms it doesn’t really matter how you blend waxes and emollients, as  long as the stick is hard/soft enough to keep the stick form, in a lipstick the blend of waxes and emollients can have an impact on the final performance. However, the blends I found are not very consistent among each other. The hard wax (ex. Carnauba wax) ranges from 18 to 28% of the wax blend, the medium-hard wax (ex. Candelilla wax) from 27 to 50% and the medium-soft or soft wax (ex. Beeswax, Bellina wax, Berry wax) ranges from 30 to 54% of the wax blend. Some examples of ratios of beeswax-candelilla-carnauba waxes are: 40%-31%-29%, 55%-27%-18%, 44%-28%-28%, and 30%-50%-20%. As you can see, the only constant parameter is that carnauba (the hardest wax) is always the one present in lowest amount. 

Average emollient blend in lipsticks.

Concerning the emollient blend, the prevalent type of emollient is always the high viscosity one (castor oil, lanolin, tocopheryl acetate or tocopherol, 65-85% of the emollient blend). However, there is often a variable percentage of medium-low viscosity emollient (ex. Jojoba oil, caprylic-capric triglycerides, 15-35% of the emollient blend). 

References

  1. Plant butters: hardness & melting points, LisaLise Blog
  2. Natural cosmetic waxes, Formula Botanica
  3. How to make a whipped body butter, Formula Botanica
  4. Chocolate cherry whipped body butter, Humblebee & me
  5. Cranberry orange whipped body butter, Humblebee & me
  6. Amazonian lip balm, Formula Botanica
  7. Sugar plum body butter bars, Humblebee & me
  8. How to make a body melt or lotion bar, Formula Botanica
  9. Lotion bar recipe, Soap Making Resource
  10. Formulating lotion bars, Swift Crafty Monkey
  11. Moisture-locking lip balm stick, Personal care magazine
  12. What’s in a lip balm and why, Chemist’s Corner
  13. White chocolate peppermint vegan lip balm, Humblebee & Me
  14. Lipstick formulation is not as easy as you might think, Foreverest
  15. A touch of color: historical and contemporary lipstick formulation, Prospector
  16. Basic moldable lipstick base, Humblebee & me
  17. Cosmetic formulating basics: Lipstick, Chemist’s Corner
  18. Lippenstift “Classic”, Olionatura
  19. Lippenstift “Soft berry” (vegan), Olionatura
  20. Mercado and Krog, Lipstick formulation and method, US Patent 4,996,044, 1991
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