Information About Creams & Lotions


Generally Accepted Definitions

There are three main types of creams and lotions. They range from 'heavy' to 'light' and their differences are basically as follows:-
Heavy Cream A heavy cream is almost always a cleansing cream. It is designed to help in the removal of make-up and is the highest in oil content. It tends to sit on the skin a long time, so is unsuitable as a general moisturising cream as it is slow to absorb and leaves an oily appearance. It has good skin-softening ability and as such is often described as a 'night cream' or 'cold cream' (a term originally refering to the oils, not the temperature). Heavy creams are generally packaged in jars as they are too thick to dispense from a bottle.
Cream A cream is a lighter product and generally a good face, hand or body cream. It tends to have a higher water content and is loaded with emolients, so generally is described as a 'moisturising cream'. Easily absorbed into the skin, it offers an excellent 'vehicle' to enable skin-friendly oils with many properties to be absorbed to their benefit. This is the most common type of cream generally used and they come in a wide variety of textures, some more suitable for certain uses than others, i.e. generally a body cream will have a slightly lighter texture than a face cream. Light creams are generally packed in jars as they are thick enough to remain a semi-solid.
LotionA lotion has an even higher moisture content, which makes it easier to dispense from a bottle. Again, they are generally used to apply moisture to the face, hands and body, but they are far more viscous and therefore quicker and easier to apply than a cream, so they tend to be used as light moisturisers, suitable for 'all over body', or as carriers for products such as sun screens.
More about... It is worth mentioning that there are a great many recipes you may find, which claim to be for creams and lotions, but which don't have any water content. It is generally understood that a cream or lotion is an emulsion of oil/s and water. There are also a great many which appear to have both oil and water in their ingredients, but no 'emulsifier'. Again, it is generally understood that to be effective, any water-and-oil formula must have some form of emulsifier to bind the ingredients together, otherwise the ingredients cannot work effectively, so for the purposes of this website, we are only going to be concentrating on proper, stable emulsions, which have the familiar appearance of a cream or lotion. They are not difficult to make so there is no reason for the home-user to settle for less effective recipes.

Emulsifiers and their Differences

An emulsifier is the ingredient which binds the water and oil in a cream or lotion together permanently. We all know what happens in a salad dressing, when it's left to settle. The ingredients separate into oil and water-based and need shaking to mix before using. With cosmetic creams and lotions, this problem is solved using an emulsifier.
The most common emulsifier in traditional, older recipes is Borax. Borax is a widely available mineral which these days is probably best known for it's use in cleaning or for the manufacture of glass and ceramics. Borax is a toxin to plants and animals when used in higher doses (around 20g when ingested in one go is enough to poison a human), but is extremely useful as an emulsifier in traditional creams etc. Used in very small amounts and not ingested, this substance is safe to include, but you will find that it is no longer considered suitable for use in cosmetic products for commercial sale, so this is for recipes for home-use only. Dissolves easily in the water phaze of any appropriate recipe.
More recently, Emulsifying Wax is the preferred ingredient. There is a lot of confusing information about emulsifiers and emulsifying waxes on the web. Having now sourced what is readily available from within the UK and compared this with information on the web, which is mainly from American sites, and used these products extensively, I can recommend the following products as being suitable for most applications.
Steareth-20 (or 21) This is a Polyethoxylated Alcohol, which is a fatty alcohol derived from natural oils and fats and is known by it's INCI name, Steareth-20... This is a simple and effective emulsifyer. It binds oils and water together to form an emulsion and is essential in the manufacture of lotions and creams. It is not a combination of products and does not contain any thickening agent. Used on it's own it will effectively make light lotions and creams, the texture of which will rely on the saturation of the oil/s used. It is one of several ingredients within Emulsifying Wax NF, which is widely quoted as being the most popular emulsifying wax for crafters. The problem with this is that NF means National Formulary and it refers to American standard formula. It is not recognised in Britain or Europe and so has to be imported, which can be expensive and is unnecessary. A European alternative to Emulsifying Wax NF would be Emulsifying Wax BP.
Cetearyl Alcohol.>! A fatty alcohol also known as Cetyl/Stearyl Alcohol. This is not an emulsifyer, but a thickener and stabiliser. On it's own it will not bind oils and water at all, but in combination with Steareth-20 (or Ceteareth-20), which are emulsifiers, it will effectively thicken the final product. The thickening action is proportionate to the amount used. Again, it is an ingredient in Emulsifying Wax NF and is also listed on some sites as an emulsifier, which is confusing. !!<
Cetearyl Alcohol/Ceteareth-20.>! This is a combined product which offers emulsifying and thickening properties and is widely quoted and an ingredient in recipes and formulas for creams and lotions. Because it contains Cetearyl Alcohol, it will thicken a product proportionally to the amount used. These ingredients are also the basis of Emulsifying Wax B.P. which is the recognised formula for emulsifying wax in Britain.
Polysorbate-60 (20, 60 or 80 are common versions).>! (Polyoxethylene sorbitan fatty acid ester). This is an effective emulsifier/solubiser and is another ingredient in Emulsifying Wax NF or BP. On it's own it comes as a semi-solid of yellowish colour with a texture similar to Vaseline and needs warming before use. It is a food-safe emulsifier and within the toiletry indusry is recommended mainly for rendering essentail oils and fragrance oils soluble in water. On it's own it is not generally suitable for emulsifying oils and water into lotions and creams. It is very useful in getting fragrances into water before emulsifying into lotions and creams using a suitable emulsifying wax. It is generally recommended as a simple solubiser in the manufacture of room sprays and skin cleansers although the resultant mixture loses clarity. Polysorbates also come in other varieties, i.e. Polysorbate-20 or Polysorbate-80, which can also be used in various emulsifying applications either on their own or in combination. !!<
Hydrogenated Castor Oil.>! This is an effective emulsifier for rendering essential oils and fragrance oils soluble in water. It comes as as semi-solid, pale whiteish-to-transparent in appearance with a texture similar to Vaseline and requires warming before use. The advantage of using this product over polysorbate-60 (or other polysorbates) is that the product remains clear or nearly clear rather than slightly milky in appearance, which makes it extremely suitable for products where clarity is important. It is the main functional ingredient in fragranced waters and fabric sprays etc. !!<
Uses and Quantities. The emulsifyers and related products above can be used as follows...
Steareth-20 (0r 21). (or Ceteareth-20 (21)). Use between 2% and 6% of total ingredients for emulsifying the oil and water phazes of creams and lotions.
Cetearyl Alcohol. Use between 1% and 25% of total ingredients to thicken a product from a light lotion consistency to a rich hand cream consistency and between.
Cetearyl Alcohol/Ceteareth-20. Replaces the above 2 products. Use between 2% and 6% of total ingredients to emulsify and thicken a product. Important to note that using separate products will usually offer more versitility.
Polysorbate-60. Use between 1:1 and 1:2 (1 part polysorbate-60 to 1-2 parts oil/s) with fragrance or essential oils to solubise in water. Excellent for pre-preparing fragranced water phazes for use in lotions and creams. Also good for the preparation of room sprays, skin cleansers etc. but final product loses clarity.
Hydrogenated Castor Oil. Use between 2:1 and 5:1 (2-5 parts hydrogenated castor oil to 1 part fragrance/essential oil) for the preparation of room sprays, fabric sprays and fragranced waters. This product forms the main functional ingredient in solubisers such as Ressasol, which are specifically designed for the manufacture of these types of products. The main additional ingredients being antioxidents and antimicrobials.
Important. When making lotions, creams, fragranced waters etc. it is important to minimise the possibility of deterioration mainly due to microbial presence in water. None of the above functional ingredients offer any preservative effects. If making for sale, a suitable preservative system should be used. Many recipes and formulas from American sites recommend adding 'Germaben II' This is a trade name for what is basically 'Mixed Parabens'. Parabens are a recommended preservative system for water/oil preparations. A suitable Mixed Parabens preservative is available from our shopping site called 'Liquid parabens'. We also offer paraben-free alternatives.

Procedures (Creams and Lotions)

There are 2 main methods of making creams and lotions.
The first being the most widely documented method, with separate water and oil phases, brought together in an emulsion from 2 pans.
The second, which I have only found suitable for recipes using an emulsifying wax, is a simple 1-pan method, where all ingredients are weighed and measured into one pan, which is then heated until the ingredients melt and emulsified at that point using a whisk.

Procedures (Creams and Lotions)

There are 2 main methods of making creams and lotions.
The first being the most widely documented method, with separate water and oil phases, brought together in an emulsion from 2 pans.
The second, which I have only found suitable for recipes using an emulsifying wax, is a simple 1-pan method, where all ingredients are weighed and measured into one pan, which is then heated until the ingredients melt and emulsified at that point using a whisk.

Method 1

Can be used for all creams and lotions, whether using older borax-based recipes or modern emulsifying wax based recipes. Basically, whether using a recipe from this site or from another source, you measure the water and all water-soluble ingredients into 1 pan (which would include the borax if using this as the emulsifier), then measure all the oil-soluble ingredients into another pan (which would include the emulsifying wax if using this as the emulsifier). Heat the water until gently steaming and all (if any) additions are dissolved fully, then remove to one side.
Meanwhile, heat the oils and any other additions until completely melted. Merge them all together with a whisk (electric whisk on a fairly low setting is suitable), then remove from the heat.
Immediately and slowly pour, a little at a time, the water phaze into the oil phaze, whisking all the time. If using a hand (baloon type) whisk, you'll need to be vigorous. Continue whisking until the mixture cools and becomes a thicker, creamy solution. The exact consistency will depend on the ingredients, and whether it is designed to be a cream or a lotion.
Pour or spoon into a suitable container and leave to cool completely, stirring from time to time if instructed to do so.

Method 2

Can be used for most more modern recipes that use an emulsifying wax. Suitable for creams and lotions. This method is not widely documented but from experience I find it works perfectly well and is very simple.
Weigh and measure all the ingredients into a single pan. Place the pan over a low heat (precise heat will vary with different ingredients, i.e. beeswax will need more heat to melt than shea butter). You will see all the ingredients start to melt at different stages. Start whisking, preferably with an electric whisk on a low setting when semi-solids like coconut oil, shea butter etc are almost completely melted and the emulsifing wax and any more saturated oils are beginning to melt. Continue whisking on a low setting until all the ingredients have melted and emulsified, then, remove from the heat and continue whisking gently until the liquid thickens to a more creamy texture. Do not whisk too briskly, as you will simply start to add air to the mixture as it begins to thicken. After a few minutes, pour into a suitable container and leave to cool fully, stirring from time to time if instructed to do so.

Turn a Lotion into a Sun Screen

A little research will confirm that if you want to make as-natural-a-sunscreen as possible, you can easily do so and avoid many of the unwanted chemicals in many commercial brands. We should stress that commercial sun screens undergo rigerous testing to ensure their effectiveness and that this alternative approach cannot reproduce the highly effective products that are commercially available. We would not recommend this as a product to make for commercial sale.
Firstly, you need to establish what active ingredient acts as the sun-screen. Generally, if you want to avoid more harmful chemicals, you should opt for a mineral sun screen and the most widely used minerals for this purpose are either Titanium Dioxide or Zinc Oxide (or a combination of both). These appear as a main ingredient in many commercial sun screens, along with other UVA/UVB absorbing chemicals, which are the chemicals many of us wish to avoid. Titanium Dioxide alone will act as a very effective and natural active ingredient in your home-made sun screens or sun blocks to simply reflect harmful rays from the skin. Zinc Oxide will reflect as well as absorb a wide spectrum of UVA and UVB rays.
Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide are extremely widely used products in a whole raft of toiletries, from toothpastes to soaps and everything between. Basically they are white pigments that are harmless and are therefore used to add whiteness and opacity to all manner of toiletries. They add whiteness and opacity by reflecting light very effectively and in the case of Zinc Oxide also absorb wide spectrum UVA and UVB light It's these abilities to reflect light and absorb harmful rays that makes them effective in sun screen or sun block.
To turn a lotion or cream into a sun screen or effective sun block, simply add a little Titanium Dioxide and/or Zinc Oxide to the formula. From a home-user's aspect, there is not an easy way to determine a 'factor', but simply, the proportion of Titanium Dioxide and/or Zinc Oxide in the product determines how 'white' it becomes and how much it will reflect/absorb the harmful rays when applied to the skin.
As guide, make a light protection sun screen by adding just 1/16th tsp of Titanium Dioxide and/or Zinc Oxide to a recipe with similar weights of ingredients to our simple lotion recipe. To make a sun block, add up to 1/4 tsp to either the simple lotion or simple cream recipe. When applied to the skin, the whitening effect is immediate and when effectively rubbed into the skin, the propection is surprisingly effective. Creams being heavier, are often better for facial application, but lotions make better all-over-body applications.
You can easily vary the skin-softening and nourishing properties of your sun screen by choosing a lotion or cream recipe as a base which offers the ingredients you consider match your requirements. You can also add water-resistance to a sun screen to help it remain on the skin after swimming or showering with the addition of a little film-former to the lotion or cream.

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