Jan 20, 2022 update: I’ve removed the section about heating and holding. After much research and trial, I don’t believe 20 minutes at 70C makes a significant difference in microbial presence. Disinfecting all your tools, practicing clean lab practices, and using a broad-spectrum preservative are more than enough to ensure a safe, microbe-free product.
As I’ve gathered from the feedback on some of my more involved recipes, like the Skinceuticals knock-off Vitamin C serum,
I am a literal crazy person that version of DIY can be a tad overwhelming to those just dipping their toes in the rarified waters of homemade skincare.
So to those of you who want to get into DIY but don’t know where to start, I’ve put together a beginner’s shopping list and sample recipe. For the tools, I’ll link to items I use, but feel free to do your own research and get whatever tool fits your budget and desires.
The Recipe: Centella Calendula Miracle Essence
This recipe only has six ingredients and doesn’t have separate phases, the way an oil and water emulsification would. It’s a lightweight, fast-absorbing essence that hydrates, brightens, and heals. Let’s take a look at what’s in it.
The titles are linked to the product pages on Lotioncrafter.com, my favorite supplier; if you buy the cheapest option for each, it’ll run you about $27 plus shipping and you can make about 7oz of essence. (The hyaluronic acid is the one you’ll run out of first – buy the next size up and you can make about 25oz.)
Centella asiatica extract: Centella is one of the two miracles in this miracle essence. The Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences called it a “potential herbal cure-all“. It’s high in saponins, which have amazing wound healing abilities; it also features sterols, flavonoids, and fatty acids. It’s often used in acne-fighting products for its great antibacterial properties. I love it for its ability to soothe and heal my skin.
Calendula extract: the other miracle. Like Centella asiatica, calendula is high in free radical-fighting flavonoids and has bonkers wound healing powers. It’s soothing and anti-inflammatory, and partners perfectly with centella.
Niacinamide: my heart, my soul, my everything. One of the most studied skincare ingredients, niacinamide does everything: smooths fine lines and wrinkles, increases ceramide and fatty acid synthesis, regulates skin cell turnover, fades hyperpigmentation, evens skin tone, and has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Use it up to 5% in your creations to kick everything up a few levels.
Hyaluronic acid: this is a skin-identical ingredient (meaning your body synthesizes it naturally) so it’s generally well-tolerated and you’re unlikely to have a bad reaction to it. It’s a powerful humectant, drawing moisture to your skin’s surface, and can plump, hydrate, and smooth your skin. For us DIYers, it has another great benefit: when combined with water, it forms a beautiful thin gel texture that serves as a fantastic base for toners, essences, and serums. **NOTE: In my recipe, I use 1% hyaluronic stock – in a glass bottle, combine 1% hyaluronic acid, 98.7% distilled water, and 0.3% Liquid Germall Plus. Let it hydrate overnight, and then you can keep it for up to a year and use it in any creation you want.
Liquid Germall Plus: if you’re creating DIY with any water or water-soluble ingredients (basically, anything that isn’t just a mixture of oils), you need a preservative. This is non-negotiable. You need a preservative. Preservative systems are tricky, so I tend to go with premade systems that feature multiple preservatives. Liquid Germall Plus is my favorite – it’s a powerful, broad-spectrum preservative that protects against just about anything you’d need to worry about.
Distilled water: you can buy a jug of this stuff from your nearest drugstore for $2. (Look for distilled/purified water, not just bottled water – you don’t want the minerals and stuff they put in Evian.) It not only serves as an important base for your DIY, it’s actually a fantastic skincare ingredient on its own – your skin needs water. This is a hydrating product we’re making, so we want as much water getting to your skin as possible!
To make this easier, I put the recipe and instructions into a Google Sheet:
The Shopping List
We’ve covered the ingredients, but you can’t just toss it all in a bottle and shake. You’ll need products to 1) disinfect your workspace; 2) measure out the ingredients accurately; and 3) put it in when you’re done.
You need one of each of these. I’ve linked to the product I use on Amazon, but feel free to shop around for one that speaks to you. These are non-negotiable for DIY.
From left to right:
70% isopropyl alcohol wipes: these’ll do the trick for just about anything you need to disinfect.
A borosilicate beaker: I got the linked three-beaker set. It’s great for more complex recipes with separate phases.
Disposable gloves: powder-free, so you don’t get powder in your DIY.
A glass stirring rod: this could also be plastic or metal, disposable or not. I linked a 12 pack because I’m clumsy and break stuff a lot.
A spoon: I’m pretty sure you already have one, so I’m not linking to spoons on Amazon. This is to measure out your dry ingredients.
Disposable pipettes: for measuring out your wet ingredients.
A bottle for the end product: I switch between 1oz bottles like this and 0.5oz bottles.
A digital scale that measures to 0.1 grams: you wouldn’t believe how useful this comes in outside of DIY, too.
If you buy everything on that list as I’ve linked it, it’ll run you about $81.
These help a lot, and you’ll need them eventually if you keep going with DIY, but if you’re just trying DIY out, you can keep these on the wish list.
From left to right:
A hot plate: as you continue your DIY-ing, you’ll eventually need to heat your phases in order to dissolve or melt certain ingredients.
A digital meat thermometer: to get the temp of the water when you heat and cool. I’ve heard of some people using a candy thermometer.
A trivet: while heating, this simple silicone trivet keeps your beakers up off direct contact with the hot plate. It’s the same concept as a double boiler.
A large glass bottle: I pre-make my 1% hyaluronic acid stock in one of these 4oz bottles. It takes about 6 hours for hyaluronic acid to hydrate, so I just do this the night before and then I have HA stock for dayz.
A hand mixer: oh lord, this makes mixing SO much easier. It’s crucial for emulsions, where you need to really mix your shit, but it’s not as important for this recipe which doesn’t have an oil phase.
Disposable plastic boats: I measure out dry ingredients into this. If you don’t want to get these, you can put little squares of wax paper or tin foil on your scale and measure onto that.
A large, heat-safe container: you need something to hold the water you’ll heat in. I use this borosilicate tub, but you can easily use a microwave-safe bowl or something that you already have for this beginner recipe.
Making the Recipe
You’ve placed your orders, you’ve received your hauls, you’re raring to get going. What now?
- Disinfect EVERYTHING. Wipe down the surface you’ll be cooking on, your spoon, your stirring rods, your scale, the inside and outside of your beakers. If you want, place down clean paper napkins on your surface.
- Follow the instructions in the Google Sheet. If you haven’t premade a 1% hyaluronic acid stock, then combine 1% HA, 98.7% distilled water, and 0.3% Liquid Germall Plus in your beaker, cover it and let it hydrate for 6 hours. (For this 1oz recipe, that’ll be 0.14g of hyaluronic, 13.32g distilled water, and 0.04g Liquid Germall Plus.)
- Weigh out the niacinamide by using your spoon to scoop bit by bit into a plastic boat or little square of wax paper. Weigh out the other ingredients by using a clean pipette to add it slowly, drop by drop, into the beaker.
- Stir, baby, stir. It make take a while for the niacinamide to fully dissolve; to speed it up, you can place the beaker in a bowl of hot water.
- When you’re done, put it in your bottle either by pouring or using a clean pipette to transfer it over. (You don’t need to disinfect your bottle – it should come to you disinfected.)
- Label the bottle with the name of the product and today’s date.
Enjoy, and welcome to the wonderful world of DIY! See you at the poor house.