shampoo formulation

Article by: Perry Romanowski

On the forum there was a question about a shampoo formula and how to make it more conditioning.  The question is a good one because it helps illustrate a point that many formulators miss. When you are creating a formula, start with a simple system. shampoo formulation

The formula listed in the discussion was a reasonable one and contained all the proper ingredients you need for a good conditioning shampoo including

  • Detergent system
  • Conditioning ingredients
  • Adjustment ingredients
  • Pearling agents
  • Preservatives
  • Fragrance
  • Solvent

The formula also contained 14 ingredients (with no claims ingredients) which makes it rather complicated.  Stripped down to bare essentials you should be able to make a conditioning shampoo with 8 or 9 ingredients.  And this is where you should start.

Create a base formula

When creating a shampoo, body wash or any other cleansing formula you should begin with a simple formula. In this particular case you can create a formula using the solvent, detergent system, adjustment ingredients, preservative and fragrance.  You shouldn’t include any conditioning ingredients when trying to create a conditioning shampoo.

Add new ingredients one at a time

This will give you a base formula to which you can add conditioning ingredients to determine if your formula is being made more conditioning.  The base formula gives you the baseline of everything. Then when you  want to add a feature (say conditioning) you can add one conditioning ingredient to see if it has any effect versus the base formula.  You can do a triangle test to determine if there is a noticeable difference.  If there is, great!  That is your new baseline.  If there isn’t, that’s great too. You know you haven’t used enough of the ingredient or that it doesn’t do anything.

Once you get your new baseline you can add the next conditioning ingredient. And every time you add a new ingredient you should do a triangle test to see if you can tell a difference. If adding a new conditioner makes no noticeable difference, don’t use it.

Formulating does not have to be complicated. By using a system of adding a few ingredients and testing their effect you can more quickly come to an optimized, effective formula.



  1. Crystal Such

    What is the purpose of solvents in shampoos?

    1. Perry Romanowski

      To dilute the detergents and make them more efficient and less harsh.

  2. michael ogbe

    hi sir my name is Michael am a holder I study in industrial chemistry. I wanna be cosmetic chemist. in school I wasn’t taught, I need some formulation and procedures to make soap, detergent, bleach, lightening cream. shampoo. body bath etc. and how do I start one, in d area of equipment s, packaging marketing please I need ur assist, and please send me some videos and formulation so I can learn more

  3. BC

    Hi! I’m a senior high school student and I’m so interested in chemistry. I have a project at school and I want to formulate a hair conditioner (leave-in conditioner/ no-rinse conditioner). Would you like to tell me how to formulate it for the best result? Thank you.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      See our post on hair conditioners.

  4. taha

    simple emulsion formulation for this will be ,
    1.cetostearyl alcohol 7%
    2.cetomacrogol stearate 3%
    3.polysorbate-20 4%
    4.mineral oil 10%
    5.extract ————
    6.potassium sorbate 0.3%
    7.soium benzoate o.45%
    8.purified water q.s
    adjust pH within 4.5——5.5
    i will help you , if you need. i am pharmacist & am in R&D department of formulating medicines.
    this website is great work by its administrator

    1. Brett

      Thank you Taha! I will try this emulsion formulation. I cannot find cetomacrogol stearate as an ingredient – Is it the same as Cetomacrogol 1000?

  5. Brett

    Thanks Perry. My wife and I find your website extremely useful. We found a plant extract that works great on our children’s troubled skin, and we are working through the process of bringing it to market. The simple creams we have made to date really help their skin (despite our initial amateur errors of ph levels etc), however, and equal to your observation, we are certainly finding it difficult to keep the emulsification stable outside of refrigeration, as well as the preservation. Thanks for the citric acid tip, we had come across that and I had failed to include that recent learning in the formula. Just as an FYI, we have tried to replace the herb extract with essential oils of the same herb however they don’t have any of the effect of the fresh plant extract. I have two extra questions if I may:

    1) Is there an emulsifier you think may work better for this sort of scenario, which is emulsifying fresh plant extract with oil, rather than plain water with oil?

    2) If we find the preservatives are not enough for the fresh plant extract, and we instead replace the 100% herb juice (which is 60% of the current formula) with a tincture which is 3 parts herb juice and 1 part 99% alcohol, (which would mean the herb juice is 45% of the formula, and alcohol is 15% of the total formula) – would we then remove, or use less, of the potassium sorbate and Phenoxyethanol? Secondly, are there any other parts of the formula which we should change or remove due to the presence of the alcohol? I’ve researched quite a bit and tried to answer the question myself, I couldn’t find any conflicts with the alcohol, but thought best to ask this forum as well.

    Many thanks for your help. We will of course seek lab testing once we have a stable formula, but your help with the above questions will be really useful, as well as any other advice you think may be relevant.

    1. Perry Romanowski

      Hello Bret – Thanks for your questions.

      1. I don’t know maybe Glyceryl Stearate could emulsify it. It really depends on the HLB requirements of your oil.

      2. I don’t see any good reason to reduce your preservative level. If it is functional at that level and not harmful to skin then I would leave it at that level. Being over-preserved is better than being under-preserved. To your second part – nothing that I can see.

      I’d suggest you post this question in our forum for more answers.

  6. Brett

    Hi Perry, we have started with a simple formula to bring a fresh macerated herb juice into a cream, and now we have the following formula, can you tell me if it looks realistic or are some parts unecesary:

    Cococnut oil 15%, OliveM1000 7%, Shea Butter 5%, Bees Wax 3.5%, Lecithin 3%, EDTA 0.2%, Hydroxyethylcellulose 2%, Xanthum Gum 0.15%, Glycerol 3%, Potassium Sorbate 0.3%, Fresh macerated herb juice 60%, Lavender oil 0.2%, Phenoxyethanol 1%.

    Im not a chemist, and initially we only started with cocnut oil, olivem1000, and the herb juice, but in an effort to preserve the cream and stabalize it this is the recipe we have come to so far. What do you think?

    1. Perry Romanowski

      It looks reasonable although I’m not sure your emulsifier will keep the formula stable. You’ll have to test and see. Also, you’ll need to include an acid (like citric acid) to keep the pH below 5.0. Above this pH level the potassium sorbate won’t have much preservative effect.

      1. Brett

        Hi, I found your “Cream Separating” August discussion and see that it has alot of relevance with regards to my question about your note regarding the stability of the emulsifier. I will try Marks advice re using glyceryl stearate and xanthum gum to help stabalize, and if that doesnt work I’ll try the emulsifers Bob points too, or the one reccomended by Taha in this post.

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