How To Make Shower Gel Using Natural Surfactants – Recipe Without Lye

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Here’s how to make DIY shower gel, you can whip this up at home and use it in minutes. I’m using mild, natural, and easy-to-use surfactants, that are suitable for even the most sensitive of skins.

I love liquid soap. I recently rediscovered how much fun it is to make! However, there is one problem, it takes so long to make! It’s a lot like a traditional soap-making method in that way. But surely there’s an easier way to whip up a bottle of my favorite smelling liquid soap? There is, using natural surfactants!

Watch How To Make Shower Gel

Super easy diy shower gel


While I know surfactants have earned a bit of a dirty name over the last few decades, stay with me here. Natural surfactants are readily available nowadays. No need to use that awful SLSA powder anymore! 

This recipe makes a perfect homemade shower gel and can be adapted to suit your own needs. However, if this is your first time making soap with surfactants I’d advise sticking to the recipe below. No need to fix what isn’t broken, you know? Experimentation can come later.

Ingredients I’ll be Using For This DIY Shower Gel

Most of the ingredients I’ve chosen for my shower gel recipe are simple, fairly inexpensive, and easy to source. I’m using distilled water rather than a hydrosol (floral water) and reasonably priced essential oils. The essential oils can, of course, be substituted for another blend or even a fragrance oil if your budget is really tight.

Funny thing is, most store-bought shampoos, shower gels, and bubble baths are made using this method. Manufacturing traditional lye-based liquid soap is expensive and time-consuming, so it makes sense. Until the synthetic ingredients in them start to irritate your skin!

So I say enough of the store-bought stuff. We can save time and money by mimicking what the big players in skincare do, but spend a little more time making sure our skin gets the tender love and care it really needs. Let’s take back control of our skincare! But first, let’s chat about the ingredients we’re using today.


Step 2: Weigh out the coco glucoside and add the essential oils, stir slowly to prevent foaming

There are tons of reasons why you may prefer to use a surfactant to create your liquid soap. Chief among these is that it only takes around 20 minutes to knock up a fantastic cleansing shower gel. It also cuts out the risk of handling the lye (potassium hydroxide).

Lye is a super-strong alkali, but it is necessary if you want to make liquid soap from scratch the old fashioned way. But it can be an intimidating ingredient for an inexperienced formulator. Surfactants allow us to bypass this ingredient and this method entirely.

I like to think of surfactants in the same way you would a melt and pour soap base, only you need to add things to them to be able to use it. A bit of distilled water, a sprinkle of a thickening cosmetic gum, and a dash of a humectant are all you’ll need to do this.

The surfactant I’m using in my pink grapefruit shower gel is coco glucoside. It’s totally accepted in natural skincare formulation, is one of the mildest and easiest to work with and gives a good lather. So basically, it ticks all my boxes. If you are unable to get hold of it you can substitute it for Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside or Plantapon TF. Any of these will work well.    

Cosmetic Gum

Step 4: Add the gum to the glycerine

A cosmetic gum, in this case xanthan Gum, is used to thicken our shower gel. It can be a bit tricky to use and needs to be blended into the glycerine thoroughly, otherwise you may end up with white specks floating in the gel.


how make green tea and cucumber eye gel step 3: In a seperate beaker, add the glycerine

A humectant is an ingredient used in skincare that draws moisture to a product once it’s applied to the skin, leading to lovely skin-softening benefits.

I’m using glycerine in this recipe. It’s readily available and probably the easiest to use. I add it to lots of my products, as it really helps to plump out the skin and make it appear and feel much more supple.

Apart from all the obvious benefits to the skin, the glycerine keeps everything nice and slick, helping the gel to glide easily and evenly across the skin. It also has a way of helping the xanthan gum dissolve quicker, making the whole process a little easier.

Essential Oils

Essential oils make amazing bath oils on their own

This diy shower gel has a lovely aroma that smells fresh and citrusy. It really smells amazing in the shower! The grapefruit and bergamot essential oils also have great cleansing and antibacterial properties. Both are excellent stress-relieving oils that can help to balance your mood and energize the mind. Great for your morning shower!


how to make a natural face moisturizer: Add your preservative using a pipette
Add your preservative using a pipette

As this is a water-based product, it absolutely needs a preservative. A simple broad-spectrum preservative at around 0.05-1% should do the job.  If you are using an oil-based preservative it will need to be added to the surfactant after incorporating the essential oils (see step 2).

A water-based one should be added later in step 5. If you are not sure you can test your preservative by stirring a little into some water to see if it floats around the top (oil-based) or disburses into the water (water-based)    

Something To Note

Okay, one more thing to keep in mind (I promise) before we make a start. The essential oils must be added to the Coco-Glucoside first.

The surfactant works as a solubilizer to absorb the essential oils so that they can be mixed with the remaining water-based ingredients.

If you were to add them at the end, they will separate and float around the top just as they would if you were to drop them into water.   

Super easy diy shower gel

How To Make Shower Gel At Home Without Lye

My super easy diy shower gel recipe that you can whip up and use at home in literally minutes. I'm using mild, natural, and easy to use surfactants that are suitable for even the most sensitive of skins. 

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5 from 14 votes
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Prep Time: 5 minutes
Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Yield: 200 grams (aprox)
Difficulty Level: Easy
Author: Angela Wills

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  • Place the glycerine into a jug or beaker, then add the xanthan gum to it. Mix well until the xanthan gum has completely dissolved into the glycerine.
    20 grams Glycerine, 2 grams Xanthan Gum
    Step 1: Add the glycerine and xanthan gum to a beaker and stir thoroughly
  • Weigh the coco glucoside into a small beaker and add the essential oils. You will need to stir the coco glucoside to fully disperse the essential oils within it. This needs to be done carefully so to prevent unwanted foaming.
    If you are using an oil-based preservative you will also need to add and blend this in now. A water-based preservative should be added later in step 5.
    25 grams Coco Glucoside, 0.5 grams Grapefruit Essential Oil, 0.5 grams Bergamot Essential Oil
    Step 2: Weigh out the coco glucoside and add the essential oils, stir slowly to prevent foaming
  • Pour the coco glucoside into the glycerine and gum mixture. Once again you will need to make sure you combine this well, whilst being careful not to foam up the surfactant too much.
    Step 3: Add the surfactant/essential oil mixture to the glycerine/xanthan gum and stir slowly to prevent foaming
  • Whilst stirring, slowly add the distilled water to the gum mixture. Stir gently until it has fully combined and has thickened.
    150 grams Distilled Water
    Step 4: Add the distilled water to the mixture and stir slowly to prevent foaming. Liquid soap dye should also be added at this stage
  • Once the gel is nice and thick, stir in the preservative then add a couple of drops of liquid soap coloring (if using).
    2 grams Preservative, Liquid Soap Dye
    Step 5: Add the preservative and stir slowly to prevent foaming
  • Coco glucoside can have a high PH level so it's good to test your shower gel using a PH strip. This needs to fall slightly onto the acidic side with a range of between 4 and 6. If it’s a little too high, you can use a PH modifier to bring it down. You can use Lactic acid or Citic acid.
    To test the PH, dip one of your universal indicator strips into your body wash mixture. Compare this to the scale that comes with your strips. If it’s a little too high, you can add a couple of drops of lactic acid to bring it down.
    If you are using citric acid as a PH modifier, it will need to be diluted in a solution of 10% citric acid to 90% distilled water. Make sure to add small amounts at a time and then test again, repeating until you reach a reasonable PH. You don't want to risk wasting your entire batch by adding too much of your PH modifier.
    Because this recipe contains a surfactant, it is highly unlikely that your body wash will test lower than a 4 on the PH scale, so don’t worry too much about needing to raise it.
    PH Modifier
    Step 6: Test the PH level of your soap, it should be slightly acidic between 4 and 6. Add lactic acid to lower it and bicarbonate of soda to increase it
  • Transfer to a PET plastic bottle with pump or screw cap lid to store. Keep out of direct sunlight, especially if your bottle is clear plastic.
    1 Pump Bottle
    Step 7: Transfer to a PET plastic bottle with a pump or screw cap lid


This homemade shower gel contains a preservative so should last around 9 Months
Category: DIY Bath & Body
Cuisine: N/A
Difficulty: Easy

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Final Thoughts

As I mentioned before, this is a great starter shower gel recipe that can help you master how to make liquid soap using simple surfactants. There are loads of surfactants on the market that all bring something valuable or new like extra foaming, creaminess, cleansing, or emulsifying. So feel free to tinker with it once you become more confident. 

There are other ways to customize your shower gel. Perhaps you could use a hydrosol instead of water? Peppermint hydrosol and peppermint essential are a great combination for some much needed morning invigoration.

The bottom line is that this doesn’t have to be just ordinary when you can make it extraordinary!        

Discussion (62 Comments)

  1. Hi, Angela! I made up a batch of this today and the recipe was so easy to follow! I swapped 50 g of the distilled water for Orange Blossom water and used sweet orange and vanilla oleoresin essential oils instead of the grapefruit and bergamot. As I was making this, I wondered about making it as the recipe calls for, then adding it to a 16 oz foamer bottle and topping it off with more distilled water. I think that would make the lather much creamier. What do you think?

    It’s a fantastic body wash, though. It lathered up nicely and, more importantly to me, it washed off well with no residue! The orange and vanilla add a great scent, although I think I would like a stronger scent. Since it’s a rinse off product, do you think it would be okay to up the essential oil to 3-4 grams, and reducing the distilled water accordingly. I appreciate your thoughts on these questions!5 stars

    • Hi Deb
      You can use up to 4g in this recipe. I often steer on the side of caution in my recipes just in case someone has sensitive skin or prefers a mild aroma. Like you, when I make it for myself I also up the essential oil.
      If you are adding extra water it would be wise to make a note of how much extra you are adding as you may need to adjust the amount of preservative in the recipe.

  2. Hi,

    Is it possible to just use distilled water, coco glucoside, preservative and the essential oils?
    I don’t really mind the texture since I’m used to using castille soap but I’m wodnering if the gum and the glycerine are needed other than for texture and mositure?

    Thank you!

    • Absolutely you can!

      The only thing I can see happening is there might be a change in viscosity, but then it just means you may need to make a small adjustment to the xanthan gum (less if it’s too thick, more if it’s too thin). Maybe make a half or quarter batch and call it a prototype until you know how it’ll behave.

  3. Hi Angela
    Thank you for sharing this recipe. I have a normal kitchen scale and am worried that it won’t measure such small amounts (like 1 or 2grams) accurately. Is there any other measurement method you have for this recipe? Or must i just get the right scale? Do you use a normal kitchen scale?
    Thank you so much.

    • Hi Laura,

      It’s funny you bring this up, because I had this exact experience about 25 years ago! At the time, I was trying to get into lotion making by reading books from my local library (this is before we could hop on the web and google just about anything), and my kitchen scales were… well… garbage! The only solution for me was to buy a set of jewellery scales because any other method of measuring, such as drops, cups, tsp, tbsp etc., are not at all accurate enough when we’re making DIY cosmetics and skin care. Same goes for pounds and ounces – they’re too large!

      Jewellery scales aren’t that expensive, and you can find them on amazon for under $15. The only annoying thing about them is they don’t last forever you’ll to buy a new one from time to time (every few years).

      Hope this helps!

      • Thank you so much 🙂 It definitely helps but now I’m disappointed I have to wait until I get the right scale 😉

  4. Hi Angela,
    Besides the ingredients, what’s the difference between your shower gel and your liquid soap? Couldn’t you use the liquid soap in the shower or is it just for hand washing?


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