Fun with DIY: Moisture Barrier Serum

UPDATE: My moisture barrier creation is now for sale as Liquid Gold in the Stratia store!

Back to the original post:

I was one class away from a chemistry minor in college and, as has been established, I’m a big old nerd, so I’ve gotten very, very into DIY skincare. My version of skincare is less of the Pinterest, make-a-scrub-out-of-things-in-your-fridge variety, and more of the latex-gloves-and-borosilicate-beakers, my-living-room-looks-like-a-meth-lab variety.

I’ve recently been working on a serum geared toward moisture barrier repair. Quick refresher: the outermost layer of your skin, the stratum corneum, has a bricks and mortar structure. The bricks are skin cells called corneocytes, and the mortar is a fatty matrix that seals your skin, keeping the bad guys out and the good guys in. That fatty matrix is crucial to the health of your moisture barrier. It’s mostly made up of ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids.

Skin with a damaged moisture barrier (also known as dehydrated skin) is prone to acne, redness, and irritation, and looks sallow and lax. Severely dehydrated skin will sting when any product is applied, and it will turn red with just light contact. It’s bad news all around.

The inspiration

This paper was a total lightbulb moment for me. It’s a study on the proportions in topical applications of ceramides, cholesterol, and various types of fatty acids, and which proportions, when applied to the skin, stimulate the most healing of the moisture barrier. Here’s your SCIENCE IS SO FUCKING WEIRD AND COOL fact of the day: the ideal proportion for ceramides, cholesterol, linoleic acid, and palmitic acid is 3:1:1:1 – but it doesn’t matter which one is the 3. As long as there’s 3 parts of one ingredient to 1 part of each of the other three, moisture barrier repair goes through the damn roof.

So, with that in mind, I created a recipe for a serum (emulsion? Essence oil? Not sure what to call it) that has 1 part ceramides to 1 part cholesterol to 1 part palmitic acid to 3 parts linoleic acid.

(Full disclosure: I have no way of knowing what percent of my oils are free fatty acids, so I had to estimate. Based on my testing, it’s working really, really well.)

The recipe

This will make about 1 ounce.

Ingredient Percent Weight (g) Phase
1% HA stock 35.00% 9.91 Water
Ceramide complex 10.00% 2.83 Water
Distilled water 20.10% 5.69 Water
Medical-grade honey 2.00% 0.57 Water
Propylene glycol 6.00% 1.70 Water
Xanthan gum 0.20% 0.06 Water
Cholesterol 0.20% 0.06 Oil
Evening primrose oil 6.00% 1.70 Oil
Jojoba oil 3.00% 0.85 Oil
Polysorbate 80 1.25% 0.35 Oil
Sea buckthorn berry oil 2.00% 0.57 Oil
Sorbitan Oleate 3.75% 1.06 Oil
Tocopherol 1.00% 0.28 Oil
Green tea extract 2.00% 0.57 Final
N-Acetyl Glucosamine 2.50% 0.71 Final
Niacinamide 4.00% 1.13 Final
Optiphen 1.00% 0.28 Final

There are three main components to this recipe.

The barrier repairers: as I mentioned, the stars of this recipe are the ceramides (in the form of ceramide complex, which are about 2.5% ceramides by volume), the cholesterol, and the fatty acids – palmitic acid from sea buckthorn berry oil, and linoleic acid from evening primrose oil.

The other good stuff: this recipe has 4% niacinamide and 2.5% n-acetyl glucosamine, which work synergistically to increase cell turnover, fade PIH, and increase epidermal thickness. Green tea extract is antioxidant rich and can prevent collagen degradation. Tocopherol, or vitamin E, is another antioxidant that also extends the shelf life of the product. Jojoba oil is a non-comedogenic oil that’s most similar to our skin’s natural sebum out of any oil. Hyaluronic acid (1% HA stock) is an incredible, skin-identical humectant that plumps and hydrates skin like crazy. Honey has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, soothing properties and I put it in everything.

The backstage players: If I didn’t include these, I’d be left with a disgusting, un-mixable, bacteria-ridden sludge. They’re not sexy, but we need them. Polysorbate 80 and sorbitan oleate are emulsifiers – we’re combining oil and water, and those two things don’t want to be combined, so our emulsifiers talk them into it. Propylene glycol helps it penetrate our skin and keeps it from feeling too thick and gluggy. Xanthan gum gives it a nice, thick, gel-like texture (although I’m still on the fence about whether I want to keep this in there). Optiphen is our preservative and it is non-negotiable.

Cooking with the Acid Queen

  1. At least 6 hours before you make this, make up a 1% hyaluronic acid stock. Combine 1% regular molecular weight hyaluronic acid in a sealable bottle with 98% distilled water; mix it up a little bit and then add 1% Optiphen. It won’t mix very well, because hyaluronic acid is really slow to hydrate. Just seal the bottle and leave it to absorb for a few hours. When you come back, you should have a nice, even gel.
  2. Disinfect your working station, two beakers, the beater for your electric mixer, and any other supplies you’ll be using. I just use 70% alcohol wipes to disinfect most things, and 70% alcohol liquid for the beakers (I let them soak in alcohol for a while then rinse them with distilled water). setup
  3. Get your supplies all together. To measure, I have a bunch of disposable plastic pipettes and boats that I got off Amazon, plus a scale that measures to 0.01 grams. I also use a regular kitchen hand mixer with only one beater, a hot plate, a borosilicate tub wide enough to hold 2 beakers at once, a clay triangle, and an electric meat thermometer. ingredients
  4. Combine the entire oil phase in one beaker. I carefully measure, drop by drop, directly into the beaker; I run the risk of going over, but I never have by more than a drop, and I’d lose a ton of product if I put it in a plastic boat first and then scraped it into the beaker. Mix the oil phase for a minute or two. oil phase
  5. Combine the ceramide complex, honey, 1% hyaluronic acid stock, propylene glycol, and distilled water (your water phase) into a beaker big enough to fit your one-beater hand mixer. Mix it up.
  6. While you’re mixing, sprinkle in your xanthan gum. It’ll gel up real nice. Keep mixing for another minute or so.
  7. Put your clay triangle and some water in your larger glass tub and heat it on the hot plate. You want to heat and hold your two phases separately at 70C for 20 minutes; this kills off any pathogens that might be in there, plus makes their eventual emulsification much, much easier. My hot plate sucks and can’t hold a constant temp, so I heat it to about 75 and then unplug it; it cools to around 65 over the next 20 minutes, and that’s good enough for me. (The clay triangle keeps your beakers from sitting directly on the hot plate.) heating
  8. After you’ve heated and held your phases separately, pour your oil phase into your water phase and beat the shit out of it. I mean it. Keep the beater in there on medium-low for about 5 minutes. Bonus side effect of this intense emulsification process: it’s now cool enough to add the heat-sensitive ingredients! emulsified
  9. Add the niacinamide, n-acetyl glucosamine, and green tea extract. Beat it for another minute.
  10. Add your optiphen and give it a final mix. You’re done! Pour it into a sealable dropper bottle, label and date it, and then crack yourself a victory beer. finished

So how is it?

It’s either a thick serum or a runny cream; it’s a little heavy going on and takes a few minutes to absorb, but once it does, holy crap. My skin is firm, glowing, and has been much less flaky. Plus, since I have so much of it, I’ve been using it on my much-neglected neck, and it is night and day. In a couple of weeks, my neck went from dry, red, itchy, and irritated all the time to firm, soft, and glowing. I am a big big fan of this recipe.

A call for volunteers

There’s only one thing I don’t like about DIY: I only have one face and I can’t use up my creations on it fast enough. I often want to tweak my recipes or try new ones, but I don’t want to throw away 7/8 of a bottle of perfectly good DIY.

If you’re interested in trying out my DIY, fill out this form. As I create more things, I’ll send out previous creations to people who have expressed interest (at this point, I’ll probably send out 1-2 a week, max). It’s completely free, but in exchange, I ask that you tell me how you like it! What you liked, didn’t like, how it made your skin feel, anything you’d change, how you prefer to use it.

Another request

Can anyone think of a good name for this? I’ve been calling it Palisade Serum, because a palisade is a defensive wall, and this serum helps your defensive moisture barrier. I dunno. I’m sure there’s something way better out there.

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40 thoughts on “Fun with DIY: Moisture Barrier Serum

  1. The “looks-like-a-meth-lab variety” is much more intriguing to me! I learned so much just reading this. And thanks for the reminder that we should not neglect the neck; I actually really needed that.

    Also, I have read that anything more than 5%(?) niacinamide isn’t going to really “stack” and add to its effect on your skin. Does something similar apply to using honey and green tea extract as well? I’ve been interested in those ingredients lately.

    The only names I can think of are pretty dorky. Serum of Fortify Moisture Barrier? The Great Wall of Ceramide? Okay, I’ll head out now…

    Liked by 1 person

    • You can use honey straight on your skin, so there’s no upper limit there; I use so little because it’s sticky and can make recipes feel gross in higher percentages. The green tea extract I use has a recommended usage rate of 0.5-2% – it’s pretty concentrated. You can use plain green tea straight on your skin, though.

      And oh my god, “Serum of Fortify Moisture Barrier” warms my nerdy little heart.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This post is so timely for me! I’ve been looking at barrier repair serums but most of them contain silicones, which I can’t use. I was just thinking of DIYing something. Thanks for the post!

    As for a name, the first thing I thought of was: The Great Barrier Reef Serum. Because the Reef is the single largest structure made of living things and our skin is our largest organ…made of living things? 😀 I don’t know! But, I like Trinity Serum, too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ohh, and that ties in the sea buckthorn berry oil, too! I’ve been contemplating replacing the evening primrose oil with sea buckthorn seed oil (despite coming from the same plant, those two oils have super different profiles) – that would make a sea-based name even more appropriate 😀

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  3. The Great Barrier Reef Serum is great. Teehee.

    When you get around to maybe send something abroad, I’m totally game! In Norway our custom is so insanely strict that we can’t import any goody skin stuff like niacinamide or ascorbic acid, as it’s viewed as medical grade stuff – separately that is. Cosmetics containing these little miracles are allowed. So even if I really want to DIY myself, you can’t get hold of anything here. Therefore, me, totally game! 😀

    With that said, love your blog, love that you DIY! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh my god this serum sounds amazing! I’m also super willing to be one of your guinea pigs! The 3:1:1:1 insight is really neat! If only someone could put together a shortlist of moisturizers and such that meet that ratio!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This sounds awesome! I’ve been looking for ceramide things to strengthen my barrier. Unfortunately, the cholesterol is probably sourced from animals, right? Otherwise I would love to try it. –Angela

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      • Thanks for looking. I just know that cholesterol is naturally only found in animals. I suppose it’s possible that it can be made synthetically for cosmetics, but I haven’t been able to find anything saying so. 😦

        Like

      • I just looked up the INCI term for the product I’m using (C10-30 Cholesterol/Lanosterol Esters) – it’s actually derived from lanolin, which is extracted from sheep’s wool (and doesn’t hurt the sheep in process). Not sure if that changes anything for you!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for looking it up! I stay away from lanolin because wool-shearing on an industrial scale isn’t exactly gentle on sheep. But it’s a very common ingredient, and no judgment from me for using it. I do love these DIY posts still.

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  6. Just signed up for your samples. I’m I think I may have actually drooled a little when you describe what is in this! I would be so grateful to get a chance to try it. I am in awe of people who do this type of diy because I am the opposite of sciencey and am completely intimidated. Your serum sounds amazing. Where in your skincare routine do you apply it? As an active or more like a moisturizing serum?

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  7. This serum looks amazing and your process is so fascinating–what they say about cooking being so much chemistry is really true! I signed up for the DIY, too, I’d love to try it. It has so many wonderful ingredients!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for posting this, I love reading DIY blog posts and I think it’s awesome you posted your recipe. I’m sorry if I missed it, but how long have you been testing this? I’m crap with names but I think you should incorporate the bright yellow color of this stuff into the name 😉

    I just have no time with my little one running around (well crawling rapidly and walking slowly so far) to do something so intensive but I did sign up to be your guinea pig!

    Like

    • Thanks! I’ve been testing it for about a month – I’m prepping for my fourth iteration of the recipe (trying rosehip seed oil instead of evening primrose) and I think I’m getting close to finalizing it. And yeah, I keep trying to come up with a name that references the color but I got nothing 😦

      Like

      • Which oil have you liked best? See you could totally customize your serum if you were ever to sell it just by changing the oil… something high in linoleic acid like passion fruit maybe for acne prone skin, an oil high in antioxidants for aging or sun damaged skin. I’m getting ahead of myself though, haha.

        Yeah, I got nothing. All that popped into my head was BANANA SERUM. Followed by SUN SOMETHING SOMETHING SERUM. I’ll keep thinking lol. The only potential problem I see is you don’t want to be misleading, like if you chose idk marigold as part if the name and people thought there was marigolds in it.

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      • I’ve only tried evening primrose and sea buckthorn seed oil as my linoleic source; I think I like sea buckthorn a little better, but they’re both great. And yeah, that’s what I ran into when trying to name it after its color – it makes it sound like whatever name I come up with, that’s an ingredient in the product. 😦

        Like

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  11. Hi there! Since I’ve filled out the Google form twice hopingto get chosen without any luck, is it possible to simply purchase it? That would make me so happy 😀

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  12. Thanks for posting this, it’s great information. Quick question: do you use powdered or pre-dissolved cholesterol? I’ve heard some people have solubility issues with the powdered stuff.

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  13. Thanks for posting this! I love reading your blog and comments on r/diybeauty! I have 3 questions. I know the optimal mixture of ceramides is 50% ceramides, 25% cholesterol, and 15% free fatty acids. My questions are:
    I’m buying ceramide complex from lotion crafter and I noticed it has cholesterol in it, so can I substitute the cholesterol in this recipe another oil for it, or will that lower the effectiveness of the ceramides?
    Also I’m having a hard time finding Sorbitan Oleate, what would happen if I leave it out?
    Can I substitute another oil for the sea buckthrone berry oil and the evening primrose oil or will that interfere with the fatty acid ratio?

    Thank you!

    Like

    • Im also looking at the same ceramide complex. On LC the max recommended rate is 5%. So I was planning on using 6% just to play it safe and still reach the 50% quota. It would also reach the cholesterol quota. Since it seems that youre also purchasing from LC, I would look into Sorbitan Stearate, which also goes well with Polysorbate 80. I dont imagine youll have a problem replacing the cholesterol with another oil. Its such a small amount and theres already jojoba oil in there which alters the fatty acid ratio. Im probably going to replace it with water.

      Like

    • Hi Rayhaana! You can leave out the cholesterol and rely on what’s included in Ceramide Complex, but I think an extra cholesterol boost does good things for the skin, so I choose to include it.

      Sorbitan Oleate is a low-HLB emulsifier that works with Polysorbate 80 to make an emulsification system. If you want, you can omit both ingredients and use an all-in-one emulsifier like Polawax or CreamMaker Blend.

      If you use different oils for the sea buckthorn berry and evening primrose, be sure to get a linoleic-heavy oil like rosehip seed oil to substitute it with.

      Let me know if you have any other questions!

      Like

  14. Thank you, Shelby! If I use polysorbate 80 or emulsifying wax, do you think I’ll have a hard time emulsifying if I skip the sorbitan stearate?

    Like

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