Learning how to make natural skincare products is one of the most rewarding and empowering skills you can master. Being able to whip up your own fluffy body butter, or blend your own botanical toner, or mix together your own organic serum will see you start to turn your back on store-bought formulations. In fact, you may never again buy a cleanser, once you know how much fun and easy it is to make your own natural skincare products from scratch!
But if you’re reading this step-by-step guide, then there’s a good chance that you’re worried about following many of the DIY instructions that you can find online when you’re learning how to make natural skincare products.
After all, you don’t want to create unsafe, unstable (or potentially unsellable) skincare formulations based on a recipe you’ve found on the internet; instead you want to formulate professional organic skincare that actually works.
So what are the steps required to learn how to make safe and stable natural skincare products?
Step 1. Choose your Botanical Ingredients
One of the most exciting parts of learning how to make natural skincare products is getting to work with the vast array of botanical ingredients available to skincare formulators. Every formulator we’ve met gets excited by the opportunity to work with herbs, leaves, stalks, roots, petals, buds, barks, seeds and flowers.
There is a global movement towards combining beauty with wellness, where people want plant-based ingredients in their beauty products, because they feel that we have rejected the knowledge about plants passed down by our ancestors. Many traditional remedies are now being rediscovered and used, which is why we want to incorporate those amazing plants into our natural skincare products.
However, not every botanical ingredient should be used on the skin and some should be used in low percentages, so you need to start researching to find out which botanical ingredients work best when you’re choosing the right ones for your formulation.
Growing Skincare Herbs
Firstly, are you growing your botanical ingredients? Here at Formula Botanica, we have many graduates who have set up large herb gardens with the purpose of using their harvest in their formulations. If you are, you’ll need to make a plan to grow the right skincare herbs, such as:
• Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
• Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis or Matricaria recutita)
• Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
• Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)
• Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis)
Then you’ll need to figure out how best to harvest your skincare herbs, dry them and turn them into extracts. The easiest way is probably to macerate herbs such as calendula, chamomile and lavender into carrier oils, while aloe vera can be used directly from the plant (but should then immediately be preserved) and marshmallow has gel-like qualities so can be turned into a decoction (which should, again, immediately be preserved when you make natural skincare products).
Buy Skincare Herbs
If creating your own extracts is a step too far, then don’t worry because there are dozens of cosmetic ingredient companies around the world who are ready to sell extracts to you. When buying extracts, make sure you investigate the following 4 steps:
Always start by looking up the cosmetic name for your chosen extract. The beauty industry uses a naming system called the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI – pronounced ‘inky’). Your extract should list everything in the bottle, including any preservatives or solvents, which sometimes have to be added to extracts to give them a shelf life. When you’re armed with this information, you should know exactly what’s in the ingredient you’re buying.
Now that you’ve decided to make natural skincare products, you want to make sure you choose the right ingredients to benefit the skin. Quiz your suppliers on what your plant-based extracts can do for your skin and make sure the science stacks up.
Oil and water don’t blend. Oil floats on top of water. If you plan to make an oil-based serum, then you won’t be able to incorporate a water-based plant extract in it. Similarly, if you’re making a toner and plan to add essential oils, then they will float on top of the toner. Make sure you find out the solubility of your chosen extract.
In a world where we are rapidly losing our biodiversity and destroying habitat after habitat, we need to be extremely careful about the origins of our botanical ingredients. Huge demand from all sorts of industries, including the cosmetic sector, is seeing certain plants being overharvested. For instance, certain aromatic trees in particular are facing wide-scale ecological pressure. When you decide to make natural skincare products, always make sure you check the sustainability of your ingredients by quizzing your suppliers.
Choose Skincare Herbs
Now that you’ve decide whether you’re going to grow or buy your plant-based extracts, it’s time to choose the ones you want to work with. Be inspired by your surroundings, your interests, your environment.
We encourage our students at Formula Botanica to approach skincare formulation as an art as well as a science – taking inspiration from anywhere: colours, flavours, countries, music, nature, words, emotions and seasons. Some skincare companies create ranges based around the beauty traditions of a particular culture. Others are influenced by foods, emotions, or geographical regions.
We recommend choosing a few ingredients that really appeal to you, researching them and then starting simple.
Also, and this is very important, please don’t ever buy very expensive ingredients when you first start to make natural skincare products. You will likely experience plenty of formulation disasters, so it’s best to start as simple as you can.
Step 2. Make Natural Skincare Products
Now that you have a rough idea of the types of ingredients you want to work with, it’s time to decide which natural skincare product you’re going to make. The world is your oyster: you can choose to make butters, balms, lotions, serums, gels, masks, scrubs, oils, cleansers, creams, toners, moisturisers – or branch out into haircare and start making natural shampoos, conditioners, or styling products. (Need inspiration? Enrol for our award-winning Diploma in Organic Haircare Formulation)
Start Simple and Anhydrous
If you’re new to making natural skincare products, we always recommend starting simple and safe. The best way to do this is by making anhydrous skincare formulations, which don’t contain any water, so won’t need any preservation. Examples of anhydrous formulations are body butters, face oils, balm cleansers, lip balms or powdered masks.
The reason we encourage you to start anhydrous is because oil-based formulations aren’t breeding grounds for microbes and don’t need to be preserved. They do however require an antioxidant such as Vitamin E or Rosemary CO2 extract, which will slow down the process of your oils and butters going rancid.
Experiment with Inexpensive Ingredients
It’s easy to get carried away with your botanical skincare ingredients when making natural skincare products. The first time you open a delivery and find yourself confronted with luxurious carrier oils, fragrant essential oils, delicate hydrosols, exciting emulsifiers and exotic plant extracts, you might immediately find yourself designing a formulation that contains all of them.
However, as any formulator will be able to tell you, you will inevitably experience disaster. And this is a good thing, because you will learn more from your mistakes. Particularly once you move beyond anhydrous formulations, you will find that emulsions, gels and foaming products can be tricky to get right.
Never start experimenting with your most precious ingredients. Instead, make that emulsion with water and a cheap vegetable oil and once you’ve mastered the technique, start to trial your gorgeous plant-based ingredients and get to know how they behave.
Practise, Practise, Practise
Finally, you will only be able to make natural skincare products that are safe and stable if you practise. For instance, emulsification is a technique that comes through trial and error (or, as our Education Team sometimes says at Formula Botanica: “trial and horror”!).
Get yourself set up in your artisan lab and set aside time to make the same skincare formulation several times in a slightly different way. Treat the process of making natural skincare products as a fun experiment, where you see how your ingredients behave at different percentages or when blended with other ingredients.
Initially, your balms might be grainy, your emulsions might split, your essential oils might not blend with your toners and your cleansers might not foam, but practise makes perfect and before you know it, you’ll have a gorgeous thin lotion to use for yourself or to give to friends & family.
Step 3. Learn about Natural Preservation
When you decide to make natural skincare products, you need to have a plan for making safe formulations and that means deciding whether or not you want to use preservatives.
The choice is simple: you either make only anhydrous formulations, which don’t need a preservative, or you make natural skincare products that contain water, which will need a preservative if you want them to have a shelf life of longer than a week. You should also consider how you will preserve products that will have water introduced to them, such as an oil-based salt scrub that you might keep in the shower.
We could point you towards thousands of unsafe recipes online, which ask you to blend together water-based ingredients without a preservative, which could go mouldy and encourage microbial growth within a matter of days. You simply do not want to be rubbing microbes all over your face, which is why it’s so important to get the safety right.
Be Proud of Preservation
Our ethos at Formula Botanica is that we need to be proud of preservation, because natural preservatives protect your skincare formulation and, if you’re planning to sell your natural skincare products, your customer and your business.
And let’s not forget that the risk of using preservatives is significantly lower than that of using unpreserved water-based cosmetics.
The good news is that it is still possible to make natural skincare products that contain gorgeous botanical ingredients that are based on water, such as hydrosols or aloe vera gel, and you can still make sure that those formulations are safely and naturally preserved.
Please remember that Vitamin E, grapefruit seed extract and rosemary extract are NOT preservatives. These ingredients are added to natural skincare formulations in order to extend the shelf life of the oils and butters contained in them. Antioxidants delay oils and butters from going rancid. As we saw in Step 2, you can extend the shelf life of an oil by adding an antioxidant to it.
Our Natural Preservation Checklist
The best way to choose a natural preservative is:
• Check that your natural preservative has broad spectrum activity against bacteria, fungus and yeast. Does it need to be paired with another preservative to fully protect your formulation? You don’t want to use a preservative that only works against one type of microorganism and lets another type proliferate in your lotion.
• Make sure that your natural preservative is compatible with your formulation. Does it have the right solubility? Does it have the right pH range? These are all trickier components of making natural skincare products, but an online formulation course such as Formula Botanica’s Diploma in Organic Skincare Formulation can help explain many of these concepts in detail.
• How long a shelf life does it give your natural skincare product? If you intend to keep your lotion for over a year but your preservative only works for 3-6 months, you may need to consider changing your choice.
• How easy is it to work with this natural preservative? Does it require boosters or need to be dissolved at a certain temperature? Try to make your life as simple as possible when choosing the right preservative.
Step 4. Set up your Workspace
Even if you’re making formulations for your own use, you want to make sure that you have a sanitised and clean workspace, so you can prevent contamination from occurring. After all, you don’t want to order lots of beautiful botanical ingredients, spend ages learning how to create your own serum and then contaminate it with the kitchen dishcloth!
In other words, if you want to make natural skincare products at home, you’ll need to set up a workspace, which really shouldn’t be your kitchen unless you can properly sanitise your entire workspace and keep it clean each time you formulate.
The most important points to remember are:
Implement Good Hygiene
Keep your working area clean, tidy, well ventilated and free of food, drink, smoke and any illnesses or infections. Check, clean and maintain the equipment you use before and after every time you make natural skincare products. And always wash your hands!
Be safe in how you handle skincare ingredients, equipment and products in your workspace. Although natural skincare products will contain ingredients that are generally very safe on the skin, you may occasionally be working with ingredients that could cause sensitisation if they were applied neat, such as many essential oils. Make sure you always use proper personal protective equipment such as aprons and gloves, which are inexpensive and easy to buy on Amazon.
Maintain good storage for your ingredients, as well as your finished natural skincare products. Store your ingredients in the fridge or in a cool, dark space (follow the storage conditions set by your supplier). Keep your finished formulations stored in a sealed and safe environment away from direct heat and light and labelled properly.
Step 5. Turn Your New Skills into a Natural Skincare Business
Once you discover how easy and fun it is to make natural skincare products, you might decide to turn your new-found skills into a beauty business. After all, if you love your formulations, who’s to say that you might not be able to sell them? The world has never been more receptive to natural skincare and predictions are the global organic personal care market will reach $54bn by 2027.
Creating a Natural Skincare Products Range
When designing a beauty products range, your natural skincare formulations should all work together to benefit your customer and you should make sure that each formulation has the same big goal in mind. For instance, if your ethos is to make gentle skincare with only a few ingredients, then each of your formulations should be based on that philosophy. Think about your products’ features and benefits – these will play a large role in the overall success of your beauty brand.
You should also consider how your formulations complement each other. Try to think about the way that your customer could use each of them. If you create a range of 5 shampoos, then clearly you’re going to need 5 different customers to buy them, or wait for your first customer to use each bottle and return for another one. There is nothing wrong with this approach, but you’ll need to find more customers to sell to.
On the other hand, if you create a cleanser, toner, mask, moisturiser and serum, then 1 customer can use each of your products simultaneously. You then also have the opportunity to try and sell more products to the same customer. (Want to learn how to start your own beauty business? Enrol for our online Diploma in Beauty Brand Business Management).
Get the Right Formulation & Business Education
Ultimately, you need to take your skills in making natural skincare products and take them up a level to be able to create any type of formulation. In other words, you need to progress from being a DIYer to a formulator.
After all, a DIYer can follow a recipe, but they will then always remain a DIYer and won’t be able to create something unique, unlike our amazing graduates, who can now create any beauty product they want with the knowledge they received by studying how to make natural skincare products with Formula Botanica.Learn how to make safe and stable natural skincare products with @formulabotanica #beauty #skincare #formulation Click To Tweet
If you want to receive an award-winning online education, with an international accredited teaching institution that caters for thousands of students in 150+ countries, then Formula Botanica’s 5-star courses will give you exactly what you need. Before you know it, you’ll learn how to make natural skincare products and sell them successfully to the world.
Want to learn how to become an organic skincare formulator? Enrol or pre-register now for Formula Botanica’s award-winning Diploma in Organic Skincare Formulation.
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Lorraine Dallmeier is a Biologist, Environmental Scientist and the Director of Formula Botanica, the award-winning online organic cosmetic science school. Read more about Lorraine and the Formula Botanica Team.