How to make a lotion: EMULSIFIERS pt.2 – THEORY

In the previous post about emulsifiers we talked about their HLB which, at the end of the day, only tells us wether an emulsifier is more lipophilic or more hydrophilic.
What we, more importantly, need to know about our emulsifier is
– how to use it (hot or cold process)
– and at which percentage.

This is not same for every emulsifier. Even with the same HLB, the ability of an emulsifier can be totally different (and therefore we might need to add to our cream more or less of it).

These information we can collect easily in the moment we purchase our emulsifier: who sells them know the percentage of use and usually posts it on the page of the product (if it is not written there, you could always send them an e-mail and ask for more details about their product. If they don’t know or don’t reply… well, change supplier and buy from a well informed one 😀 ).

However I have decided to put together a small guideline about emulsifiers.

The biggest difference is wether the emulsifier has to be used in hot process or cold process.
An emulsifier which needs to be heated up to 70° is usually solid, normally sold in pearls and his ability to emulsify is only at 70°C. If the two phases we are trying to emulsify do not reach this temperature… well, the emulsion will separate soon enough. So bear in mind to properly check the temperature of your two phases before you mix them (you don’t want to waste precious ingredients nor time, do you? 😀 ).
Since the highest number of emulsifiers work at 70°C, you have to simply follow the process which I already explained in the beginning: you heat up the two phases, you pour the phase B into the phase A and mix with an immersion mixer, once it looks emulsified very well you keep stirring with a spatula until the lotion cools down completely and eventually add your phase C.
There is an huge number of these emulsifiers.

Always remember that these emulsifiers can be more lipophilic or more hydrophilic… or can even be self-emulsifying (which means they already contain both lipophilic and hydrophilic emulsifiers) so always check their composition to find out if they need a co-emulsifier or not (you can, once again, find this specific information from the website where you order your supplies!).
Just to make an example of the two most easily found emulsifiers:
– Methyl glucose sesquistearate – needs to be used at 3%, needs to be heated up to 70°C to work and is more hydrophilic so it needs a co-emulsifier which will be lipophilic (for instance cetyl-alcohol at 1% will do).
– Montanov 68 – this is a self-emulsifier. If you read its composition it already contains both the lipophilic and the hydrophilic emulsifiers: Cetaryl alcohol,Cetearyl Glucoside. It is usually added at 4% to a cream and needs to be heated up to 70°C.
Even if it might sound more difficult, having to mix your own two emulsifiers gives you better results in your cream (at least once you get the grip of it and realize what is the effect of each emulsifier in the final lotion).
If you want to follow a good advice, you should make different experiments with just water (gelled water) and a very cheap oil in a fixed amount and different emulsifiers, if you do this, you will be able to experience the different effect each emulsifier gives to your cream. This is a very important experiment if you want to be aware of which emulsifier does what… (and in the moment you decide to formulate a cream these notions will be very important!).

The “no heat” emulsifiers, instead, are usually liquid (normally very dense). They simply need to be added to phase B and, unless you are using rather difficult active ingredients (meaning that these active ingredients should be added alone in the end of the process), the phase A might contain also the phase C.
Once again you simply pour phase B into phase A and you mix with your immersion mixer until the lotion is formed.
Just one note: usually creams made with “no heat” emulsifiers are not very emollient and rich. This is due to the fact that, since the emulsifier cannot be heated up, you cannot use butters in your cream.
However SOME “no heat” emulsifiers (that, let me repeat again, just mean that the emulsifier will have emulsifying power even at normal temperature) DO bear heating. If you use such an emulsifier you can heat up the phase B in order to melt the butters (let’s say shea butter for example… which doesn’t need a high temperature to melt!) and then you can combine phase B to phase A and normally create your lotion.
If you want to do so, you should be able to get information about your “no heat” emulsifier, once again, right from your supplier. 🙂

This is all about the emulsifiers.
Let me know if you have any more specific questions about them.

Have a great day! 😀


15 thoughts on “How to make a lotion: EMULSIFIERS pt.2 – THEORY”

  1. Just read through the entire series of the formulating posts – thanks a lot for great ideas and explanations!

    I am just starting to learn how to make emulsified cosmetics, and your posts have been very very helpful!

    All the best,


      1. Hey and thanks for replying so fast! Yes, it’s all pretty clear so far! I’ve been reading Point of Interest, too, but I liked some of your explanations better (like about the Grease-Fall, for example). So far I’ve made a jar of really really thick (I wanted it that way for Finnish winter) body butter with almond and coconut oil and some sea buckthorn oil and vitamin E on rosewater base, emulsified with e-wax which contains some cetyl alcohol. It is lovely but it took forever to thicken – more than several days.

        I am planning to make a facial cream next, so I might well be back here with silly questions! Hm, speaking of one – what do you use to test pH? I don’t have a pH meter at home (I’m a food biochemist, so I have used it at work but they are bloody expensive).


      2. Oh I simply use pH stripes!
        Not those which are all yellow (they are not precise) but those which have at least 4 different colors to check! (I hope I explained myself decently 😀 )

        For the body cream… it always works this way: if you want an almost liquid cream which can be poured through a lid, it will 99% come out a thick cream 😀 if you want it thick, it will remain quite liquid! 😀 It is THE MURPHY EFFECT! 😀
        But ok, lately also the cetyl alcohol which I have been using is of this kind: it takes many days to thicken and unless you keep the cream in the becher, it won’t thicken in a homogeneous way.

        ps. Finland! I am going to Finland in few days (I used to live in Oulu but now it’s already three years I am not back there and I was missing it too much!) 😀


    1. Thanks for your Posts. They are very helpful to me. I’m trying to make a Lipophilic Niacin
      cream, and I didn’t take much Chemistry in school. I want to use the cream on my Bald Head,
      LOL……. Niacin Tablets can be bought at the Drug Store. I don’t know how to formulate the Cream and to mix in proportions of Niacin or how to make Niacin Tablets liquid.
      Any suggestions, like what type of cream to use, etc, you could give me would be greatly appreciated.


      1. Hello Abe! 🙂
        A cream is neither lipophilic nor hydrophilic in the way that it is an emulsified compound 🙂 it both contains emulsified lipophilic and hydrophilic heads.
        This said 🙂
        For the tablets you buy, you must be sure of their composition: probably they are not 100% niacin and therefore it won’t be easy to calculate how much to use in your cream (or even to know IF it is possible to “melt” the tablets in water).
        The easiest thing you could do is to buy it pure (online for example).
        However I suggest you to first learn to make a simple cream and THEN try to use Niacin.
        This is because it is not so simple to formulate with niacin since it can become an acid and it actually does the opposite of what we use it for.
        But why would you put a niacin cream on the head? 🙂


  2. Aha! Thanks, I should check amazon or pharmacies for those!

    As to body cream – it thickened up beautifully after I went on vacation and came back 2 weeks later, uniform and totally gorgeous and I will make a bigger batch next time. It’s just that I have no idea how long it took – more than 3 days but less than 2.5 weeks? I will try to be patient next time, and not assume I’ve failed till I gave the product enough time to ‘settle’.

    Oh, you are coming to visit? Where from (if you don’t mind me asking)? Are you planning to buy sea buckthorn oil while you are here – it’s cheaper and better than any I’ve seen anywhere else! We are in central Finland because my bf got a job here teaching in a university, so we moved here from Stockholm. It’s really nice, though mid-winter it does get pretty dark. And this winter was awful with no snow that stuck around so far – I am hoping it improves soon!

    My in-laws gave me a bottle of (the ridiculously expensive) Rose de Mai absolute for Christmas. I need to figure out a good facial cream recipe to use the precious stuff in!


    1. I am from Italy but at the moment I am in Germany 🙂

      I will look for the buckthorn oil definitely! And thanks for telling me as I didn’t even think about it! 🙂

      In making face creams I think one gets always tempted to add ALL the good active ingredients one can find… But often it is best to add only those few which combined will work in synergy! 😀

      Ps. NO!!! If you thought you did something wrong, not at all: some creams take even 10 days to thicken! 😉


  3. First off, thank you so much for all your quick replays. Your comments and website have been incredibly helpful! Sometimes I learn even more just by reading through all the comments. I’m a jeweler in the states I used to make body products and sell them and now my boyfriend wants to! Haha.
    Anyway on to my question. I didn’t see any waxes on your emulsifying list. I always thought that mediums such as beeswax or vegetable wax were emulsifiers. No? Yes? Because I try to stay more “natural”, I’d prefer to continue using those two items if they are emulsifiers. I’d like to be sure I’m using them correctly, tho! Also, I have some liquid lanolin, and it’s considered an emollient. What is the difference between an emulsifier and an emollient, and how can I use them together in the same product?
    Sorry for all the questions, you are the best!


    1. Hello Lauren.
      No, beeswax is not an emulsifier.
      It is merely a thickener.
      It can keep a small amount of water together with a great amount of oils/butters but what happens is mostly a mechanical effect (you keep mixing until cool down and what happens is that the water particles are eventually trapped and kept separated… but it won’t last for long) and it is not a real emulsification.
      There are many real emulsifiers which are ecocert and you could use those.

      “Emollient” is not related to emulsification, it simply means that it softens the skin. Usually oils and butters are emollient… which is different from moisturizing (oils and butter cannot moisturize) and that is why we emulsify oils/butters with water: to create a cream that is both emollient and moisturizing! 🙂
      I have never used liquid lanolin but I guess it can be used in the oil phase (just keep in mind the density of it and make a balanced grease-fall).
      Hope this helped!


      1. I have never tried a specific ecocert emulsifier (usually they are self emulsifying, which means that they are already a combination of two emulsifiers: hydrophilic and lipophilic) so I cannot really suggest you any. But they are quite easy to find: maybe purchase a few (in small amount) to make your experiments and pick the one you like the most! 🙂


  4. Hi, thank you for running this site, it has been very helpful to me. I am making my own lotion for my face. I have found that I am allergic to many ingredients and I have come across this which looks ok to me. I have bought it and made a cream but I was allergic to the preservative I used (I think!) so have bought a new more natural preservative and I’ll give that a go. I just wondered if it this emulsifier is fine just to add? I am reading a lot about needing to match the HLB values. BioGreen has a HLB value of 15 and I am using MCT oil as my the only oil in my lotion, which has a HLB value of 5. But I can’t seem to find the need to balance these with BioGreen. Have I got that wrong? Should I be adding something else to lower the HLB value? Any advice would be really helpful to me.



    1. Hello Matthew!
      I have never used the HLB theory too much to be honest: the calculations are correct only if you use ethoxilated emulsifiers and if you don’t you need to be able to evaluate the results (too complicated for the interest i had in it).
      However HLB 15 means that the hydrophilic-lypophylic balance of the ingredient is highly towards the hydrophylicy (if that’s a word 😀 ).


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