Water and Oil don't mix on their own. When it comes to creating a cream or a lotion, something must be done to water and oil based ingredients in order for them to combine. Emulsion occurs when water is allowed to encapsulate oil molecules with the help of a stretchy ingredient called an emulsifier. Lecithin is a common emulsifier found in nature. In cooking, the lecithin contained in egg yolk allows chefs to create luscious emulsified sauces such as mayonnaise or hollandaise. Creams and lotions are created in a very similar way. Only when it comes to lotions and creams, other ingredients must be used to maintain a stable, long term emulsion. Emulsifying Wax is an ingredient that has been especially formulated for this purpose. It contains just the right amounts of wax and emulsifier to maintain a stable emulsion in most simple cream or lotion formulas. For beginners, I often recommend this ingredient. It is very easy to use, even when you are creating your own recipes from scratch.
You can also create an emulsion with the help of natural ingredients. However, unlike Emulsifying Wax, natural emulsifiers must be used in conjunction with each other in order to work. The best combination to start with is Beeswax, Liquid Lecithin, and Borax. Together, these ingredients can help to create a stable emulsion of fats and waters.
To create a basic emulsion formula, try working with this simple formula:
- 1 part Emulsifier
- 3 parts Oil / Vegetable Butter
- 6 parts Water or Hydrosol
The emulsifier part can be 100% Emulsifying Wax, or a combination of 80% Beeswax, 10% Borax, and 10% Liquid Lecithin. Try experimenting with the amount of water, oil, or emulsifier you have to create unique textures. You can also try switching Beeswax for other waxes, such as Candelilla, Carnauba, Bayberry, or Floral Wax.
To create the emulsion, start by heating the waxes and oils/butters together, along with the lecithin, if you are using it. In a separate container, heat the waters along with the borax, if you are using it. When both phases have become hot, and the waxes have fully melted, begin whipping the water phase. Slowly pour a very thin stream of the oil/wax mixture into the water phase while continually whipping. After the ingredients are fully combined, continue to whip the mixture for at least a full five minutes. The mixture should become thick and opaque.
Depending on your ingredients your mixture can vary in texture and appearance wildly. Achieving a stable emulsion may also require some tweaking of these ratios depending on the ingredients you choose. Becoming an expert on making creams and lotions is an adventure! Embrace experimentation, and don't lose heart when formulations break or fail. It is all part of the learning process. For a more in depth look into handmade emulsions, check out Making Aromatherapy Creams and Lotions by Donna Maria, an indispensable guide to cream and lotion making.
Do you have a favorite emulsion recipe to share? If so, please share it with us in the comments below!