How to make an Organic Oil-in-Water Emulsion with Olivem 1000

2017-05 Emulsifying with Olivem 1000

Every other month Formula Botanica runs a formulation challenge for its student and graduate community – this month we launch our challenge to make an organic oil-in-water emulsion with Olivem 1000. During our formulation challenges, our students submit their photos and formulations for products that they’ve made, using our guidance. We then choose a winner at the end and showcase all of the formulations on our social media accounts.

In the past we’ve covered formulation challenges such as: 

These collages show you some of the fantastic formulations made by our talented student community.

Our Formulation Philosophy: Keep it Silly Simple

One of our golden rules at Formula Botanica as a progressive and science based online school for organic skincare and haircare science is that we must follow the KISS principle when we start formulating: Keep It Silly Simple. In other words, when you first start out, keep your formulations incredibly (and even boringly) simple.

Yet despite all our efforts and repetitions, we still see many enthusiastic students receive their precious parcels of ingredients from remote parts of the world and then create formulations that contain 25-30 ingredients in their very first trials. We are completely aware that your fingers are itching to add that beautiful CO2 extract, exotic oil and superfood powder to your formulation all at once (we have been in your shoes many years ago) but this isn’t the right way to get to know your ingredients and to master a formulation process.

Imagine something goes wrong with your formulation (which is probably true in 99.5% of the cases). Aside from the frustration of wasting your precious ingredients, how are you going to find the culprit and diagnose the problem? It is true that we all learn from our failed experiments and failures but in such a case, you can not even identify the cause of the failure.

To bring you back to reality and spare your hot tears poured over your failed emulsions, I’m going to share with you the way I start working with a new emulsifier. By following this approach, as boring and silly as it may look, you’ll master each emulsifier/ingredient you start working with in a short time and then you can indulge yourself in the luxury of adding all your extracts and active ingredients to your complicated formulations.

How to make an Organic Oil-in-Water Emulsion

When you start to make an organic oil-in-water emulsion, the supplier of your emulsifier should provide you with basic information on how to use it and some sample formulations for you to try out. But what should you do if your supplier or retailer isn’t as generous with sharing information as we are? What if (as is often the case), the sample formulations they sent you are full of synthetic ingredients and stabilisers that you would never use in your organic products?

If this happens to you, you need a simple approach to testing out your emulsifier and making a simple skincare or haircare formulation. In this tutorial, I share my approach to testing out an emulsifier by using an ingredient that might be very familiar to you if you are a Formula Botanica student: Olivem 1000. This is the emulsifier we start all of our students with because it’s easy to use, easy to find and meets most natural and organic criteria (although it is not palm oil free).

If you want to learn more about working with emulsifiers, you should also read our article on everything you’ve ever wanted to know about organic and natural emulsifiers.

Learn how to formulate an organic oil-in-water emulsion with Olivem 1000 #GreenBeauty Click To Tweet

Olivem 1000

How to work with a new Oil-in-Water Emulsifier

Here are my rules for working with a new Oil-in-Water Emulsifier such as Olivem 1000:

1. Unless it is otherwise specified by the supplier, I choose an oil phase concentration between 15-25%. This range works best with most emulsifiers and generally sees most emulsifiers give their best performance.

2. Unless it is otherwise specified by the supplier, I set the emulsifier to oil ratio between 1:4 to 1:5 (emulsifier:oil).

3. If you are following a traditional formulation approach, then the emulsifier is added to the oil phase. The oil and water phases are heated separately, where the water bath temperature is 5-10 degrees Celsius higher than the melting point of your ingredient with the highest melting point – you should never heat and hold your ingredients. Please ignore any advice given to you by DIY blogs or DIY courses online where this is encouraged. It will only lead to you degrading your ingredients, promoting oxidation and evaporating your water phase.

The oil and water phases are then heated until both phases are homogeneous and your solid ingredients have fully melted. At this point the oil phase is then slowly added to the water phase. There are of course exceptions to every rule and there are indeed emulsifiers that work better if you add them to the water phase, or if you add the water phase to the oil phase. However, for simplicity we will ignore these exceptions in this tutorial.

4. After adding the oil phase to the water phase, add your viscosity modifier (such as a natural gum) which you’ve pre-blended in glycerine for a better dispersion throughout the organic oil-in-water emulsion.

5. Now you can start cooling down the emulsion and continue stirring during the cool down phase.

6. At temperatures lower than 40 degrees Celsius, you can start adding your sensitive ingredients and continue stirring while the emulsion cools down.

7. As the emulsion reaches the room temperature (if you are working in a hot laboratory, this should be max. 30 degrees Celsius), it’s time to measure the pH. The pH of skincare products for everyday use should be between 4.5-5.5. The optimum pH of your products is also determined by the preservative system you are using. Read our article on what can go wrong if you don’t control your formulation’s pH.

Prepare a 10% dilution of the emulsion in distilled water. Measure the pH either with a pH indicator strip or with a glass electrode attached to a pH-meter. Adjust the pH as it is recommended by your preservative supplier. In order to reduce the pH you need to add an acid (such as citric acid or lactic acid). If you want to increase the pH, you need to use a base such as sodium hydroxide, sodium bicarbonate or arginine. Please note that you should never use a powder to adjust the pH when you’re working at laboratory scale. You will need to make dilutions of the acid or base in distilled water and then add the solution to the emulsion.

After adjusting the pH, add the preservative and blend for a few minutes. Most preservatives either increase or decrease the pH and you need to re-measure and probably readjust the pH to its optimum level once again.

9. Continue stirring the organic emulsion for a while and then divide the sample for your stability and microbial tests. Fill the rest in a suitable container. You have now created a simple oil-in-water emulsion!

Our Sample Formulation: Emulsifying with Olivem 1000

  • INCI name: Cetearyl Olivate (and) Sorbitan Olivate
  • Solubility: in oil – add to your oil-phase
  • Process: hot process
  • Dosage: 3-8%

When I start formulating with a new emulsifier such as Olivem 1000, I usually use only distilled water (no hydrosols), one oil with a very neutral inherent colour and scent, glycerine, one gum (or gum blend), antioxidants and a preservative system. I prepare one sample with gum and one sample without the gum.

That’s it. It seems silly primitive and dead boring I admit, but this is the only way I can figure out the best way to apply the emulsifier, the optimum emulsifier and oil phase concentration and most of all, the stability of my system. What if the emulsifier or the preservative causes a colour change in the system? Do you think I would see this colour if I used my beautiful buriti or acai oil with their amazing orange and green colours? What if the emulsifier or the preservative causes a scent change in the system? Do you think it is easier to identify a change in scent when the product is neutral in scent or when it is loaded with extracts and essential oils?

By making this silly simple formulation, I can easily identify unwanted changes in colour, scent, consistency of the emulsion over time and I can go ahead and make my formulation more luxurious and complicated after my simple formulations have passed their cosmetic stability tests.

Follow @FormulaBotanica's sample formulation to make an organic oil-in-water #emulsion Click To Tweet

Phase A

25.0% – Organic poppy seed oil 25.0%
5.0% – Olivem 1000

Phase B

Up toto 100.0% – Freshly boiled distilled water
0.1% – Dermofeel PA-3 (chelating agent, antioxidant)

Phase C

4.0% – Organic 99.8% glycerine
0.4% – Solagum AX (a proprietary blend of acacia and xanthan gum)

Phase D

0.5% – Natural Tocopherol

Phase E

A few drops of 25% NaOH solution
1.3% – Versatil TBG (our preservative with INCI Name: Triethyl Citrate (and) Glyceryl Caprylate (and) Benzoic Acid)

Method of Manufacture

  • Heat phase A and B separately in a water bath at 75 degrees C.
  • As the emulsifier melts stop heating and slowly add the oil phase to the water phase while blending the water phase.
  • Homogenize for a few bursts with a homogenizer such as Kai Blendia (you can manage small batches up to 100 grams with a spatula or a mini hand whisk)
  • Blend glycerine and gum in a small beaker and add this to the emulsion. If you use a homogenizer, apply it again for a few bursts.
  • Start cooling while stirring the emulsion.
  • Add the tocopherol at about 40 degrees C.
  • Continue stirring and cooling. As the emulsion reaches about 25 degrees C prepare a 10% dilution of the emulsion.  In my case, the pH was 6.1. I know from my experience that my preservative reduces the pH. I added a few drops of 25% sodium hydroxide solution to increase the pH before adding the preservative.
  • Add the preservative and blend. Make another 10% dilution of the emulsion and re-measure the pH. Readjust the pH if necessary. In my case, it was 5.45 which is exactly in the range I need for my preservative.

Olivem 1000

I made one sample with 0.4% gum and another without gum (the left sample is without gum). The sample at the right (with gum) has a slightly higher consistency. Both samples show a kind of soapiness which is typical for Olivem 1000. Both samples have a suitable viscosity for a lotion pump.

I also ran some thermal stability tests on both samples. The sample without the gum does not show the same satisfactory long term stability (particularly at higher temperatures) as the sample with the gum.

Now it’s your turn! Either try making our sample organic oil-in-water emulsion with Olivem 1000, or design your own formulation. And if you are curious to find out how Formula Botanica teaches organic cosmetic formulation in our courses, register now for our sample class.

If you are a Formula Botanica student or graduate, the Formulation Challenge for May/June 2017 will soon be emailed to you and posted in our online classroom. If you’re not a Formula Botanica Community member, leave us a comment below and tell us your experiences in formulating with Olivem 1000.




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Dr. Elham Eghbali | Formula Botanica

Dr. Elham Eghbali was Formula Botanica’s Cosmetic Chemist between 2014 and 2018. She has over 20 years’ industry experience and is based in Bavaria, Germany. To read more about Formula Botanica’s team, visit our staff page.


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