Article by: Perry Romanowski

Click here for a complete list of the the Cosmetic Formulation Basics series.

Since skin care represents the largest market in cosmetics and oil soluble ingredients are often the best performing skin materials, it’s helpful to learn to make emulsions.  We can’t teach you that in this short post, but we can give you the basics behind skin lotions.

How a skin lotions work

A skin lotion is a pseudo-stable mixture of oils and water.  The oils are used to provide moisturization to skin.  This can happen in a variety of ways including changing the feel, attracting water to the skin, and blocking water from escaping the skin.  When put on the skin, lotions interact with skin proteins and immediately soothe dry feeling hands.  Over time, the occlusive agents in the lotion prevent water from leaving the skin which helps build moisture in the surface.  This additional moisture ultimately mitigates the problems associated with dry skin.

Skin lotion ingredients

The primary ingredient that make lotion include both water soluble ingredients and oil soluble ingredients.  To hold them together requires an emulsification system.

Moisturizing ingredients

The most common moisturizing ingredients are occlusive agents which create a barrier that blocks water from escaping the skin.  Ingredients like Petrolatum, Mineral Oil and Dimethicone can all be used as occlusive agents.  Humectants, which are ingredients that attract water, are also added to lotions.  Glycerin is the most commonly used humectant.  Finally, emollients are added to improve the feel of the lotion on the skin.  They can reduce the tackiness and greasiness caused by the other moisturizing ingredients.  Common emollients include coconut oil, cetyl esters, and certain silicones.

Other ingredients

In addition to the moisturizers, skin lotions must also contain emulsifiers that can help combine the oil materials with the water.  Glyceryl Stearate and Stearic Acid are commonly used.  Other ingredients such as thickeners help keep the formula stable and make it more appealing to use.  Raw materials such as fragrance, preservative, and colorants are also included to make a well-rounded formulation.

Here is a typical lotion formula.



Click on image to enlarge it.



About the Author

Perry Romanowski

Perry has been formulating cosmetic products and inventing solutions to solve consumer problems since the early 1990’s. Additionally, he has written and edited numerous articles and books, taught continuing education classes for industry scientists, and developed successful websites. His latest book is Beginning Cosmetic Chemistry 3rd Edition published by Allured.


  1. Avatar

    i made above formula but got a thick cream, i again made it without carbomer but still the final mixture is a thick cream, what changes should be applied to make it a free flowing lotion of low viscosisty.

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    Hi Is there a way for us to be able to formulate lotions and foot scrubs without using a thickener like Carbomer? What other alternatives can be used as thickener for lotions and foot scrub?

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      Perry Romanowski

      That depends on what else is in the formula. But you could use Xanthan gum or Hydroxyethylcellulose.

  3. Avatar

    I dont have a job for now after my degree course, so am really thinking of going into formulating face cream,because this is what I have passion for and I don’t know which step to take.

  4. Avatar
    D. C. Mbadugha, PMP

    I am working on a formula for Lotion and Moisturizer, which I would like to add lemon ingredients. The purpose of the lemon is to bring out the natural ingredients. What percentage of lemon do you advice, and what would be the formula?

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      Perry Romanowski

      Well, if you are just putting it in there to claim you have a natural ingredient, 0.1% is probably enough.

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    Hi I am wondering if its possible to mix a hydrosol with other oils for a skin care product that I am formulating, or will the formula mold? Thank you

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      Perry Romanowski

      If you don’t have a preservative, microbes will grow.

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    what is the suitable ph of water is better for formulating and manufacturing cream

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      Typically, you want to keep the pH from 5.0 – 6.0 but it depends on the other things in the formula (e.g. preservative system)

      1. Avatar
        rahul sawant


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    Thanks for this information. Where can I obtain those ingredients from?

  8. Avatar

    Sir hello,
    I want to know about formulation and ingredients for body lotion.
    Thank you

  9. Avatar
    Andy Pazz

    We are formulating a new skin spray product where the ingredients are Aloe-Vera, NA-PCA, Peppermint oil, Tea tree oil and our own special water. Do we need to add either and/or citric acid, castor oil? also what will be needed as a anti bacterial agent preserving agent?

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    Thanks Perry, very informative post.
    I would like to know what alternative preservatives can I use instead of the parabens

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      Natsuki Smith

      Optiphen and Optiphen ND are preservatives that are paraben free and formaldehyde free. It’ll give your lotions and creams a long shelf life. Also Vitamin E & Grapefruit Seed Extract will prevent oils from going rancid. I use all 3 in my lotions.

  11. Avatar

    image aren’t showing of lotion formulation

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski


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    why it is said to be a sample formulation of lotion then on the image it says moisturizing cream. Confusing tho.

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      lotions and creams are interchangeable in the cosmetic industry.

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    my skin is so dry. i want to make good cream and use it. pls conduct me

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    Very interested in the typical lotion formula but there isn’t anything there. When I click on it, the page is an error. Thanks!

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      I updated it and you can get the formula again.

  15. Avatar

    Described the ingredients of this lotion

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    images arent showing up for any of the formulations anymore.

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      I finally fixed it.

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    How come for some formulas perservatives are added early and for others its the last thing or the one just before fragrance

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    Kc wealth

    Thanks 4 this info. It’ll help me go a long way.

  19. Avatar

    Do you have a typical water-in-oil approach with beeswax/borate for skin care?

  20. Avatar

    Wow thanks for this post! It is very helpful.

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