I’ve been down quite the rabbit hole recently. I thought it would be easy to whip up a diy liquid shampoo from scratch. After all, I’ve made plenty of different kinds of liquid soap. But as it turns out, it’s a little trickier than I expected.
My biggest problem was trying to get my formulas to thicken properly. It’s a challenge, I’ll tell you that for nothing. But after weeks of research and plenty of failed recipes, I’ve managed to crack it!
Watch How To Make Shampoo From Scratch
This shampoo is essentially the right combination of surfactants and gelling agent, a little heat and a lot of patience. Put all this together and BOOM… my sweet orange shampoo formula is born! It has a gorgeous lather and leaves my hair feeling soft and shiny. My scalp is loving the nourishing and hydrating properties of our cooldown ingredients, too!
Perhaps my favorite thing about this shampoo is how it makes my hair smell amazing for so long! The sweet, intoxicating orange aroma of the product transfers to my hair so easily. I don’t know about you, but the smell of essential oils is just so much better and fresher than fragrance oils.
So, let’s not waste any more time and get down to business. What exactly do you need to make this shampoo? Let’s talk about it.
Unlocking The Secrets of Shampoo Ingredients
Cleanse, Lather & Solubility: The Power of Surfactants
We’ve selected our surfactants for their excellent cleansing ability, to provide lather and also lend some thickening and solubilising properties as well.
Without these ingredients, we’d be gelling just water, which wouldn’t cleanse the hair properly. Furthermore, we’d also have problems mixing a few of our other ingredients. Because the bulk of our product is water, certain oil based ingredients wont sit happily in our formulation.
This is where the natural surfactants come into play. Because of their solubilising properties, we can add oil soluble ingredients at 3-5% total. These can be carrier oils, essential oils, oil based extracts and various silicones or natural silicone alternatives.
Let’s break down our surfactants so you know exactly what each one does, and why we’ve included them.
Coco glucoside is a natural surfactant derived from coconut and fruit sugars. It’s a gentle, non-ionic surfactant known for its mildness and ability to cleanse without stripping away natural oils. It’s suitable for sensitive skin and hair, contributing to the overall gentleness of the shampoo formulation.
I’ve noticed this ingredient can be trickier to find, as it goes under different names. If you’re having trouble and LotionCrafter ships to your region, try searching for Coco-Glucoside as ‘SurfPro CG’ on the LotionCrafter website. It’s exactly the same thing!
Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate Powder (SCI)
SCI is another natural and mild surfactant that is suitable for sensitive skin and hair. It helps give the shampoo a lovely rich lather providing a creamy feel while being gentle. Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate Powder comes in different forms.
I’ve seen them come as flakes, noodles, and powder. Personally, I find the powder much easier to work with, but wearing a mask is a must here as this stuff can easily be inhaled. If you can’t get the powder, use the flakes or noodles but make sure to ground them down first.
As you’ll see in my recipe card below, this formula calls for a heated phase, and thats partly this because of this ingredient. In order to make use of this surfactant, we need to melt it down properly first. I’ve seen a lot of people have trouble with this part, but my method below is the easiest way to do it!
Cocamidopropyl Betaine is an amphoteric surfactant derived from coconut oil. It acts as a cleansing agent and helps to increase the foaming capacity of the shampoo while also contributing to its mildness. Cocamidopropyl Betaine can aid in reducing irritation and dryness on the scalp.
Lamesoft PO65 Surfactant
Lamesoft is a biodegradable, non-ionic oil-in-water emulsifier derived from plant-based raw materials. It acts as a co-surfactant and conditioner, providing a smoother, more conditioned feel to the hair after shampooing. It helps improve the overall sensory experience of the shampoo.
Thickens Like Magic: Our All Important Gelling Agent
Imagine you’re stepping into a hot shower, ready to rid that up-do of grease, grime and unwanted germs. But the soapy fun is ruined because everytime you squeeze some shampoo out, it slips right through the fingers immediately.
This is a problem with many homemade shampoo recipes. They’re just a little… watery! But this is the job of the gelling agent to tackle! Cosmetic gums can be used to increase the viscosity of many different products. You may have seen me use them in my DIY moisturizers or homemade serums.
For this formula, I’ll be using regular xanthan gum. I have A LOT of experience using it, and I find that it’s cheap and readily available pretty much anywhere. It’s super versatile too, so having it on hand is helpful for a lot of other projects.
But there is just one catch here – you can’t gel this shampoo at room temperature. It’s not as simple as mixing up a xanthan slurry and pouring it into our surfactants. No, not for this recipe. Here, we’ll have to use heat to get the thickening magic going.
But don’t worry I’ll take you through everything, step by step. But first, let’s look at our other ingredients to see why this shampoo is so great for the hair and scalp.
Our Cooldown Wonders: Actives, Humectants & Essential Oils
Because the application of heat is necessary for thickening our product, we also need to take precautions to protect some of our ingredients.
Many of our actives, extracts and other therapeutic ingredients are heat sensitive – meaning that if we add them before the heated phase, we’re essentially destroying them.
We avoid this by waiting to add these sensitive ingredients at the last minute, once the mixture has cooled and right before we bottle. While 40C (104F) is generally accepted as a safe temperature to add your heat sensitive ingredients, every one of them is different. Check with the manufacturer to ensure this is a safe temp for your formula.
However, my formula calls for the following heat sensitive ingredients. All of the following ingredients can be safely added at 40C (104F).
D Panthenol Powder
D panthenol is a powerful humectant that helps the skin and hair retain moisture for longer. This helps make hair feel softer, more elastic, and less prone to breakage. It can also add thickness and shine to hair strands.
The wheat protein helps strengthen hair, mitigates damage, and repairs existing damage by forming a protective barrier around the hair shaft. It can also add volume and manageability to hair, helping to tame frizz and facilitate easy styling.
Sweet Orange Essential Oil
Not only does it provide a beautiful aroma, sweet orange essential oil can also promote a healthy scalp. Its antibacterial properties help tackle dandruff and its stimulating properties can encourage circulation in the scalp.
While you could swap this out for a fragrance oil, I find that the real deal smells so much better. You could also swap this out for any citrus essential oil you like the sound of. Follow up with some relevant food coloring for your chosen oil, and you have a great theme for your shampoo with very little effort at all.
I say sub for a citrus essential oil because they really help to thicken the shampoo further. In fact, some other essential oils can actually make the formula very, very thin. If you want to sub for a different type of essential oil, be sure to make small test batches first.
Yup, it’s absolutely necessary here. Because we’re using an awful lot of water in this product, we have to include a broad spectrum, water soluble preservative with good pH tolerance.
I would opt for Preservative Eco. It’s a great option for natural preservation. It also goes by the brand name Geogard ECT. If you’re struggling to find either of these, try searching for its INCI: Benzyl Alcohol, Salicylic Acid, Glycerine, Sorbic Acid.
Of course, natural preservation is not absolutely necessary. You can use Liquid Germall just fine and have no problems. I would also recommend Saligard (Plantaserve P), an excellent preservative with an impressive pH tolerance range.
Surfactants: Decyl Glucoside and Lauryl Glucoside paired with Cocamidopropyl Betaine.
Note: Substituting surfactants can affect the viscosity of the finished product. It’s recommended to try a small batch first to assess the results.
Xanthan Gum: Clear Xanthan Gum or Soft Xanthan Gum.
Note: Xanthan Gum is stable and economical, but different types may slightly alter the texture.
D Panthenol Powder: The powder can be subbed for liquid panthenol, more glycerine or honey.
Note: Liquid Panthenol is less potent than the powdered form. Use at double the quantity (2% if powder is at 1%). Take away 1% from the water part (distilled water) to compensate.
Wheat Protein: Any water soluble protein suitable for hair care (e.g., silk protein, rice protein).
Note: As this is a wash-off product, the differences between various proteins are minimal.
Sweet Orange Essential Oil: Any essential or fragrance oil of choice.
Note: Citrus oils can thicken the shampoo; substitutions may lead to a thinner consistency. Consider swapping for another citrus essential oil, or a citrus blend.
Preservative Eco: Any broad-spectrum, water-soluble preservative with a pH range of 3 to 7.
Note: Always use preservatives at recommended usage levels. Check with the manufacturer or supplier of your chosen preservative for more information.
DIY Sweet Orange Shampoo From Scratch
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- Place your Surfactants excluding the SCI powder into your a heatproof container.30 g Coco Glucoside, 20 g Cocamidopropyl Betaine, 10 g Lamesoft PO65 Surfactant
- The SCI powder will need to be melted. We can do this by placing the beaker with the surfactants into a pan of simmering water. We want the water to go just above the level of the surfactants. As the surfactants heat the powder will start to melt. It usually takes about 5 minutes to fully melt.10 g Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate Powder
- Whilst the surfactants are melting, In a separate heatproof container, place the glycerin and Gum powder, and briskly stir them together until the gum has dissolved. A mini whisk is great for this.13 g Glycerine, 2 g Xanthan Gum
- Add the water to the gum slurry and give it another stir, you don't need to use a whisk here.104 g Distilled Water
- We find the surfactants and water combine better when they have both been heated, so place the beaker with the water/gum into the simmering water bath alongside the surfactants. We do not need to overheat the water/gum, just let it get nice and warm.
- Once our surfactants have melted and the water/gum has heated through, remove them from the heat. Pour the watery gum into the surfactants and gently stir to combine them, trying not to create too many bubbles as you stir. Then Leave the shampoo to cool stirring occasionally
- After the shampoo has cooled to 40c (104f) we can stir in the D-pathanol. Once again stir gently so we don't create too many bubbles.4 g D-Panthenol Powder
- Next, we can stir in the wheat protein, followed by the sweet orange and preservative.4 g Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, 1 g Orange Essential Oil, 2 g Geogard ECT
- Using a pH strip test the pH of the finished shampoo. We are looking for a pH of around 4 to 5. If it isn't (and it most likely will not be) you will need to adjust it. Bringing the pH down will also help to thicken the shampoo. See instructions on how to adjust the PH below.
- You can make the shampoo more aesthetically pleasing by adding a drop of natural food coloring.1 drop Food Coloring
- Now we can transfer the shampoo to a suitable container ready for use.1 8 oz PET Plastic Bottle
pH And Your Shampoo: Safety & Effectiveness
We mentioned pH earlier on, when discussing our preservative. But why is this important for us as DIY formulators?
pH, short for potential hydrogen, is a measurement of how acidic or basic a substance is. Many of our ingredients are sensitive to extremes on either side of the spectrum. Our preservative is a great example of this, and really the only ingredient you need to worry about in this formulation.
But pH is also important for the health of our scalp and hair. The hair has a natural, slightly acidic pH of around 5. We don’t want to disrupt this too much, as that can lead to excessive dryness and fragile hair.
Therefore, we want to test our finished product to ensure that all of our ingredients are active and it doesn’t disrupt the natural pH of hair. We can do this by using a universal indicator/pH testing strip. Once you figure out what the pH is at the outset, we can then make steps to adjust it.
You can bring the pH down with lactic acid. Simply add a couple of drops at a time, checking the pH with more strips as you go. Or you can make up a solution of 10% Citric acid to 90% distilled water, which is 1g of citric acid dissolved in 9g of water. Once again, add small amounts at a time and then test the pH again. Repeat until you reach a reasonable pH.
The reasonable pH for this product will be one close enough to the natural pH of hair, but also falls between the pH tolerance range of your preservative. For Preservative ECO, that’s 3-8. So, we’ll want to aim for around pH of 5-6 in our formulation.
How To Use Your New Shampoo
You can use your shampoo like you would your regular shampoo, with the same frequency too. Be careful not to wash your hair too often, or you’ll strip the hair of its natural oils and leave the scalp feeling dry and itchy.
Apply a liberal amount to the hair, massaging it into the roots and scalp. Then, work down to the tips of your hair for a thorough cleanse. Be sure to wash the product out fully, then follow up with a good quality conditioner.
Providing you sterilise your equipment and use a broad spectrum preservative, you can expect your shampoo to last around 6-12 months. I also strongly recommend avoiding leaving the product exposed to light and high temperatures.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my new shampoo formula today. It really is a good one, if I do say so myself. While I usually encourage experimentation, this is one of the few recipes I wouldn’t play around with too much. Unless, of course, you do your research and know what you’re doing.
Shampoo recipes are very unforgiving. It’s just their nature, they can’t really help it. But, the satisfaction of getting it right is like gold dust! It’s the dopamine rush that makes all the mishaps in diy formulation absolutely worth it.
Let me know if you have any problems in the comments below, I’ll do my best to help you troubleshoot it. I’ve had a lot of things go wrong when working on this formula, so it’s likely any issue you’ve had I’ve already seen.
But otherwise have a blessed Christmas and a happy New Year everyone! See you again with more posts, free recipes and new courses in 2024!