surfactants and viscosity

I really want to make shampoo that actually works and is ph balanced but I'm having issues with understanding surfactants and viscosity.  I started off trying to use emulsifying wax nf because I had no idea about the differences in properties (anionic and cationic for example).  Then I tried boiling soap nuts because I read that they foam with water and are natural surfactants but that didn't work either.  Now I have coco betaine and can't figure out why it's not working.

If oil gathers on top does that mean I need more water or no?

How do I thicken it?

How do I know if I added too much water, surfactant or oil?

How do I know what I need more of to fix the problem?

Not a chemist but I'm trying my best to research and not waste too much.  I have never taken a chemistry class before but I think I have a very basic understanding of some parts of it.  I've been trying to stick to organic/natural or at least somewhat natural ingredients but at this point I'm frustrated and frankly I don't care as long it works and won't catch my arm on fire or make my leg fall off if I use it.


  • There are so many things to say  here but I'll limit myself so I don't overwhelm you

    1. Shampoo shouldn't really have any oils, they should be  basically water+preservative+surfactants because the goal is to cleanse and remove oils.

    2. What do you mean by 'actually works'? There are plenty of shampoos that I can promise you will clean your hair, but you sound like you have a specific goal in mind.

    3. Since you are just starting out, you should really take a look throughout Perry's site, he's got great information on starter formulas. Personally I think starting by trying to replicate an established formula will be a better stepping stone than trying to come up with a formula on your own.

    4. When you do start working on more formulas, you're gonna have to post ingredients and at least some range of percents(w/w % is typical) or it will be hard for people to help you.  All the questions you asked will depend on what you already have added and how much. Reading + thoughtful experimentation  will help you grow much faster and you'll be able to ask  'better' questions 
  • Not a chemist but I'm trying my best to research and not waste too much.  
    Than why are you even trying? These things can be dangerous.
    I have never taken a chemistry class before but I think I have a very basic understanding of some parts of it.  
    I don't understand how are you able to evaluate yourself?

    Just buy a product from the market and move on. Don't waste your time in formulation. It is not something you can learn within a few days.  
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    The problem with internet "research" is that there is a huge amount of misinformation out there. And the motivated student has no way of knowing what's good information and what is wrong.  The first thing you need to do is to unlearn all the things you learned.

    Then go read this.  

    For shampoos, read this.

    Next, forget about "natural" or making something using things in your pantry or out in your yard. Cosmetics are not natural. 

    Attempts to create cosmetics from natural things is advanced science & not something you can pick up by watching Youtube videos or reading blogs written by hobbiests. Most natural products perform terribly even when created by the most competent formulators in the world.

    Follow the advice given by @EVchem above. Find a starting formula, make that first, then you can start experimenting from there.
  • @ninjahamlet

    This is a detailed guidance on how to formulate shampoo without a degree in chemistry.

    1) Analise LOIs of minimum 15 commercial products (the more is better)
    2) Find ingredients that are showing in most of them - write notes
    3) Research every single of them and understand what they do -write notes
    4) Go to, find all shampoo formulas that they have. Analize formulas - make notes.
    5) Go to ulprospector, or a supplier that you use and understand the recommended use of every single ingredient. 
    6) Compare 5) with your notes.
    7) Read as many articles about what is pH as you can find. Don't stop until you find an article that explains that  pH scale is logarithmic. Understand what it means.
    8) Get yourself a pH meter. Not strips. 
    9) Google an article about zein test.
    10) Figure out what size of micells have to do with how gentle surfactant is. Make notes.
    11) Read about Anionic, Cationic, Non-Ionic and Amphoteric surfactants. Don't stop researching until you know when Amphoteric surfactant becomes cationic.
    12) Analise all your notes and write a formula with percentages, total of which is equal 100%.
    13) Post this formula here and ask for an advice.
    14) Analise responses. Make notes.
    15) Update your formula.
    16) Get youself a pack of disposable plastic gloves.

    After these steps you will have what is called a basic understanding. Go and make your product. You will probably mess it up (because this is how it works). Come back with a description of a problem and a formula. And we will help.

  • @em88 What I mean is that I'm doing more research than experimenting at this point so I'm not throwing tons of ingredients and money out the window on full scale attempts that would never have a hope of working.

    @Perry I've spent hours upon hours studying formulas, theories, what ingredients are, what ingredients do, how ingredients work, and how ingredients are created. I did start out following good-intentioned misinformation at the very beginning but that didn't last long. I am somewhat adept at research which led me away from diy recipes and into formulating luckily. I have read quite a few of the pages you've written on this site and that's actually where I've discovered a lot of the mistakes I've been making. I plan to take a chemistry course in the spring and at some point I want to get some of the cosmetic specific chemistry books you suggested in one of your posts. I have pretty much given up on the natural aspect of it all. I have been reading up on controversial ingredients like PEGs and SLS and that has sort of changed my mind and I've decided that probably everything is going to be declared carcinogenic someday so I don't really care one way or the other as long I'm not going to get cancer from looking at it funny.

    @EVchem ; Thank you for your input. I get the whole oil thing but what about 'oil cleansing' shampoos? At one point towards the beginning of my cosmetic formulation adventure I added oil to my store bought shampoo and that seemed to do a good job. It got really runny when I added the oil to it but it still got the grease and dandruff out of my hair as far as I could tell. I used it severy times before deciding I wanted to try making my own. I noticed that since I started with my attempts of shampoo and oil together my hair doesn't get greasy as fast and it is smoother and doesn't tangle as easily. I haven't changed anything else about what I do with my hair so that's the only thing I can think that would have made the difference. I haven't been using conditioners, rinses or any other hair products of any kind to try and limit possible influencing factors on the results. I also have been using the same pillowcase, comb, and hat the entire time and I don't apply heat of any kind to my hair so pre sure the shampoo is the only thing that's changed. Do the 'oil infused' shampoos in the store have such an insignificant amount of oil that it doesn't really make much difference in the shampoo but they can still write it on the label?
  • Do the 'oil infused' shampoos in the store have such an insignificant amount of oil that it doesn't really make much difference in the shampoo but they can still write it on the label?
    You will know the answer after you analyze LOIs of 15 commercial products.
  • @ngarayeva001 I have done about a third of that already so is it safe to assume that I'm at least on the right track? I have been working with the pH scale using strips but I've been eyeing pH meters for a bit now. Are the thin, junky, plastic gloves okay? I have been working with % equalling 100% and generally I convert over to 100g batches when I test formulas. I have been keeping notes on formulas, procedures, changes, and anything else I feel needs noted. I have 2 notebooks, one designated for procedures, observations and formulas, the other designated for a scratch pad, calculations, research, notes, ideas, lists and anything else. I have been studying LOIs and researching ingredients but I've sort of been doing it backwards apparently because I've been starting out by researching the ingredients and then finding LOIs that list the ingredients and then looking at where they place them on the list and what similarities and differences they have with other similar LOIs. When you say "recommended use" do you mean % or what it can be used in or both? I use the recommended % to help figure out formulas.
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    Putting oil in a shampoo essentially dilutes the shampoo and makes it less effective. This type of formula sets up a situation where the shampoo detergent has to not only surround the oil on your hair and scalp, but it also has to surround the oil that's in the formula.

    So, if you have a formula with 10% detergent. When you use it, all 10% of the detergent goes to cleaning your hair.  If you put oil in the formula, some of the 10% detergent now goes to emulsifying the oil in the formula and rinses down the drain.

    As far as effects, personal experiences are useful for knowing what works for you, but it is not useful for knowing what is actually working. We are just not good at evaluating products unless you do a blinded test and you have no motivated reasoning for making a choice. If you want to use personal experience to decide how something works, you'll need to do a completely blinded test.

    As to your question of oil infused shampoos, in most cases the answer is yes, it's a claims ingredient used at a very low, insignificant level.
  • @ninjahamlet any plastic gloves are ok. You don’t want undiluted surfactants on your hands. Ok, recommend % of all surfactants in your product: 10% face product, 10% baby products, 15-25% shampoos, showegels, handwashes, around 30% bubble bath. Open INCI decoder website and start researching products that you like and analyze them. 
  • Okay, thank you all for your help and input. I will definitely follow the advice and get better at all of this. Thanks for your patience as well, much appreciated.
  • ozgirlozgirl Member, PCF student
    You could also sign up to swiftcraftmonkeys blog ( for a minimum of $1/per month. She has scientific studies to back up the information she provides and lots of formulas from basics through to more advanced products.

  • ozgirl said:
    You could also sign up to swiftcraftmonkeys blog ( for a minimum of $1/per month. She has scientific studies to back up the information she provides and lots of formulas from basics through to more advanced products.

    Swiftcraftymonkey is great for beginners
    OP can also check the formulas at pilotchemical as they're simpler and more straightforward.
    He needs to check to see what chemicals are available locally.
  • It really depends on what you want to do. If you want to develop a commercial line, then it would be better to base your product on a tried and tested commercial blend and add any marketing ingredients you want. That way you avoid the time consuming and tedious and expensive experiments to develop a custom formula. Our most successful product is a blend; I only have to mix two surfactants, because one of them already is a blend of four ingredients.
    Cosmetic Brand Creation. Concept to name to IMPI search to logo and brand registration. In-house graphic design inc. Pantone specs. Cosmetic label and box design & graphics.
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