How Is Lotion Made?



I thought this might be a great time to talk to you about what a body lotion or cream actually is. Some lotion/cream cosmetic makers do not create from scratch, they purchase a commercially made “lotion base” to which they simply stir in fragrance. Nothing wrong with this, but I do not consider this an Artisan-made product for which I’d pay top dollar. I create my lotion from scratch in 30 bottle batches.

In a nutshell: Water + Oil + Emulsifier + Preservative = Lotion or Cream.

Both “lotion” and “cream” are made using the same process, the differentiator is in the percentage of water used in the recipe, which determines its viscosity.

Less water = thicker product, a cream.
More water = thinner product, a lotion.  

Handcrafted lotion makers add all sorts of goodies to the above formula, and commercial lotion making companies add all sorts of chemicals and cheap filler oils, so read labels my friends. Bottomline: lotion can be as basic as water, any oil, emulsifying wax and a chemical preservative.

Now let’s take a look at each of these ingredients:

Oil means any oil or butter, from inexpensive soybean oil to the luxury oils like hemp, meadowfoam and argan. My favorite oil for skin care products and the oil I use is hemp seed oil which is referred to in the cosmetic world as “natures perfect oil”. It contains the full chain of fatty acids and absorbs quickly and completely. Hemp oil cost me $8 more per pound than olive oil, and is $10 more per pound than coconut oil. The cosmetics industry is the exception to the rule that “you get what you pay for” If you read labels, you will quickly conclude for yourself what is valuable to you and what it is not.

An emulsifier is a product that binds the water and oil. It's needed because as we all know, water and oil do not mix together. You can blend them together and shake them up in a bottle to use immediately (like vinegar and oil salad dressing) but without an emulsifier to create an "emulsion", the water and oils will separate back out and you will never have lotion. This blog is about lotion, not emulsifiers. But for the sake of this blog, I will tell you that an emulsifier works by attracting both water and oil to different places in the formula but at the same time.

Yes, the preservative is absolutely needed because any product that is made with water must have a preservative added to it or it will grow nasties. Vitamin E and ROE are not preservatives, they prevent oxidation and therefore can extend shelf life, but they do not inhibit the growth of mold or bacteria. It makes me crazy when I see and hear handcrafters who claim their water-based product is "all-natural" because it does not contain a preservative. This is simply an inexperienced, misinformed maker who is not following FDA guidelines. She has not done her homework.

I use Optiphen Plus in my lotion; its a highly effective broad spectrum antimicrobial preservative with no formaldehyde donors and is the only Paraben-free preservative on the market. Look for Optiphen on a label if that’s important to you but there are many other preservatives available as well.

As you can see, you do not need to be a biochemical engineer to make lotion but there are many and varied raw materials that go into making that product. Read labels and decide for yourself the value of the product based on the water content and the actual type of oils that the lotion contains.

If you prefer to not have a preservative in your moisturizer, use Body Oils, which have no added water and therefore do not need chemical preservation.




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Hi Lisa I love your writing that you did


thanks for the lesson.

Omang Prescilia

The first ingredient listed after water which is the primary active ingredient is not an oil at all, it’s glycerin, an inexpensive alternative. For example, glycerin sells for $0.09 an ounce and hemp oil, which is what I use, is $0.96 per ounce. The third ingredient there is coconut oil. There’s all kinds of other stuff that I have no idea why they were added .. I see that there are thickeners and silicone added. Google the preservative that in there – Phenoxyethanol – and decide if it’s something you want to put on your skin. The word “organic” gets tossed around a lot in the cosmetic industry, as does “all-natural”. Read what the FDA has to say about both of those terms and decide if you think they belong on this label. All-natural is suppose to mean it grows up out of the earth or has a mother. This label reveals that this product is NOT all-natural, not by a long shot. Is this a “handmade” lotion or commercially made lotion? I suspect its a handmade lotion, made using a manufactured lotion base that’s then had scent stirred into it. Reading labels – on the BACK of products -is intersting, isn’t it? What’s on the front of the label is marketing information and what the maker of the product is hoping the consumer makes her buying decision based on.

Lisa (C9SC)

Hi Lisa,

This was a really interesting read! Which got me thinking . . . I have a bottle of lotion that says “all natural,” but the list of ingredients is LOOOONG. Can you tell me, if you know, is this truly good stuff? Or is this filled with some icky stuff?


Purified water
Vegetable glycerin
Organic cocos nucifera oil
Glyceryl stearate
Caprylic/Capric triglyceride
Cetearyl Glucoside
Sorbitan olivate
Stearyl alcohol
Organic sesamum indicum seed oil
Cetyl alcohol
Cetyl esters
Hydrolyzed rice protein
Xanthan gum
Sodium phytate
Citric acid
Benzyl alcohol
Potassium sorbate

Oh, and an organic herbal blend, as well as an essential oil blend, too!

Jenna C.

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