Newbie Tuesday: Formulating lotion bars

I love lotion bars. They’re super easy to make and you can customize them in so many ways! But what is a lotion bar, exactly? These are generally solid-ish, anhydrous products made with oils, butters, and waxes. The basic recipe is generally 1/3 butter, 1/3 oil, 1/3 wax, but you can make loads of modifications to this ratio. (From this post…)

What does this mean? This means that you place your heatproof jug on the scale and measure out 33 grams of your favourite butter, 33 grams of your favourite oil, and 33 grams beeswax. Heat it up until it melts, add up to 1 gram fragrance oil, then put into a mold of some kind and allow to cool until solid. (I like to put it in the fridge or freezer.)

That’s it! Seriously? That’s it?

Yep. Seriously? I said, yep!

It’s amazing how simple it is to make these anhydrous or without water containing products. Whipped butter required two ingredients, and lotion bars require three. But making the product isn’t the hard part in most recipes. It’s coming up with the skin feel you really want in a product. The fun is experimenting in the workshop with the oils and butters you love! Let’s take a look at each component of the lotion bar.

If you want to skip ahead, here’s my really detailed post on making lotion bars from the Back to Basics series. This post is more about choosing your ingredients. 

The kind of butter you choose will determine what other ingredients you’ll want to use, so this is the logical place to start. If you choose something like cocoa butter, you’ll have a harder and less greasy than you would with refined shea butter.

If you came up with a whipped butter-oil combination you loved in your whipped butter, I suggest using those as the base of the lotion bar. I love a mango butter – sunflower or soy bean – rice bran oil combination for my slightly oily skin when I’m using them as a foot or chapped skin bar, but I really like mango butter with lanolin, lecithin, hazelnut or soy bean oil for my cuticle balm.

The colour will also depend upon the type of butter you choose. I can make my all white lotion bar using mango butter and white beeswax or the slightly beige kokum butter bar, all coloured by the butter. (Click here for a post on other butters…)

How much wax you’ll use will depend upon the type of butter you chose. Cocoa butter is a harder butter, so you’ll use less beeswax (as low as 25%). Mango butter is in the middle, so you can use 28% to 33%. Shea butter will vary, but I generally use 33% with my refined and ultra refined shea butter because it’s so soft. The goal is to keep the bar solid when it is in the container or your hand, but to have it melt when it hits your skin. The beeswax will increase the melting point and drag on your skin, so you don’t want to use more than you need.

There are other waxes you can choose – click here for a list – and you’ll have to play around with them to see what works with your oil and butter combination. In general, carnauba and candellia require about half the amount you’d use for beeswax and soy wax will require a little more than beeswax. It really is something you have to try in the workshop.

Choose an oil that goes with your skin feel. Again, if you found a combination you love for the whipped butter, go with that and add the beeswax to it in the right proportions.

Because your oil amount is larger, you can play with oil combinations. Try 10% of one thing and 23% of another or 16% and 17% or 10%, 10%, and 13%! Spend a bit of time reading up about your emollients if you want to get creative.

As usual, feel free to alter pretty much anything in the recipe to match what you have in your workshop.

33% beeswax
33% butter of choice
33% oils of choice
1% fragrance or essential oil

33% beeswax
33% refined or ultra refined shea butter
33% oils
1% fragrance oil

Consider non-oils like cyclomethicone (2%, cool down), dimethicone (2%, cool down), IPM (up to 5% in the heated part), and so on. Cyclomethicone makes the bar feel drier and adds some silkiness to it. Dimethicone will offer some barrier protection and a glidy feeling. And IPM helps reduce the feeling of greasiness that might come from the oils.

28% beeswax
30% mango butter
31% oils (16% sunflower oil, 15% rice bran oil)
5% IPM

1% Vitamin E
1% fragrance or essential oil
2% cyclomethicone
2% dimethicone

Can you predict what this lotion bar might feel like? 

28% beeswax
30% mango butter
10% lanolin
10% lecithin
20% oils of choice – hazelnut or soy bean are good choices
1% Vitamin E (optional)
1% fragrance or essential oil

Melt everything except the Vitamin E and fragrance or essential oil in a heat proof container in a double boiler. When the ingredients have melted, remove from the heat and add the Vitamin E and fragrance oil. Pour into mold or container and let set. Rejoice.

I don’t recommend you make more than 100 grams the first time you make lotion bars for two main reasons. (In fact, may I suggest trying 50 gram batches?) One, you are experimenting, and you don’t want to make a ton of them so you have a cheap excuse to play further. And two, 100 grams makes a lot of lotion bars.

If you’re putting them in lip balm containers, consider that the ones I bought from Voyageur hold 4.5 ml, a little less than a teaspoon, so 100 grams is going to make more than 20! If you’re putting them in these little deodorant containers, consider you can make something like 10 of them with 100 grams. If you’re putting them in little tins, consider that the the little chocolate molds held about 12 grams, so you can make 8 of them! I love lotion bars, but I can make them last a really long time!

There are many ways to store your lotion bars. Lip balm tubes, deodorant tubes, little tins…or you could go with plastic chocolate molds, silicone ice cube trays, soap molds, massage bar molds, and so on. Just have something you can put the non-containered lotion bars into when you’re done. I like little tins or cellophane bags.

You can make quite large lotion bars – think of massage bars, for instance – but I really do suggest you start small and work your way up in size once you find a recipe you really like.

I regularly say you can use 1% fragrance or essential oil to fragrance your products…be careful with essential oils, and read up on them before using in your products. Some have lower than 1% suggested usage rates, some aren’t suitable for leaving on the skin (citrus might make you photosensitive, for instance), some aren’t suitable for some applications (peppermint might not be the best choice for a bath bomb), and some aren’t suitable for some conditions, such as pregnancy.

Well, what are you waiting for? Get into the workshop and make some lotion bars! And post your results here so we can talk about it next week! (As usual, posts will be eligible for a random draw for your choice of an e-book!)

I’ve created a visual tutorial on SnapGuide to help you make lotion bars! 

Posts on lotion bars:
Back to basics: The basic recipe
Back to basics: Lotion bars – tweaking the waxes
Back to basics: Lotion bars – tweaking the butters and oils
Back to basics: Lotion bars – let’s get complicated
Back to basics: Lotion bars – wrap up and link-o-rama
The chemistry of our nails: Lotion bar with lecithin and lanolin

Want to join in the fun? Check out the previous posts in the Newbie Tuesday series!
Newbie Tuesday: Learning about oils and butters – an introduction
Newbie Tuesday: Testing the skin feel of our oils
Newbie Tuesday: We’re pushing the schedule back a week (great discussion here about the skin feel of our oils!)
Newbie Tuesday: What did you learn about the skin feel of your oils?
Newbie Tuesday: Creating a body oil
Newbie Tuesday: Creating whipped butters – choosing your butters
Newbie Tuesday: Creating whipped butters – recipes to try
Newbie Tuesday: What did you think about your whipped butters?
Creating whipped butters: A visual tutorial (Snapguide)

Join me next week when we take a look at your questions, comments, and recipes for awesome lotion bars!