Traditionally, aqueous cream is very light, well absorbed and fragrance-free. This light cream is achieved by using – as the name aqueous suggests – mostly water. Many people prefer to use aqueous creams for their sensitive skin, eczema or for their children’s skin. Therefore, the key to achieving a good aqueous cream is to formulate an oil-in-water emulsion which uses hypoallergenic carrier oils.
Having said that, don’t expect this cream to be richly nourishing. If that is what you’re looking for, rather make my rich winter body cream recipe instead. This recipe will definitely moisturise your skin, but it’s so light that it won’t feel greasy and rich like most creams and body butters. If you have never made a cream emulsion before, please refer to my basic lotion recipe for step-by-step photos.
If you want to make a bigger batch, you may multiply the quantities. For example, multiply all ingredients by 5 to make one kilogram of lotion.
Xanthan gum substitutes:
You can use guar gum instead of xanthan gum in this recipe.
Vegetable glycerine substitutes:
You can use any glycerine in this recipe. I just prefer using vegetable glycerine, because it is sourced from plants. Some glycerine is sourced from animals.
Natural vitamin E oil:
You can use the contents of Vitamin E capsules, which typically contains vitamin E acetate. However, this form of vitamin E will only provide benefits to your skin, but it won’t prevent the oxidation of your carrier oils. Only natural vitamin E oil, also known as d-alpha tocopherol will prevent oxidation.
Distilled water substitutes:
You can use deionised water or a hydrosol as a substitute for the distilled water in this recipe. You cannot use tap, filtered, spring or bottled water when making cosmetics, as these types of waters are not pure enough and may contaminate your cream. If you’d prefer not to use essential oils, but you want a fragrance, then I highly recommend using a hydrosol instead. Hydrosols are like flavoured distilled waters that are significantly milder, safer and cheaper than essential oils. Rose water is an example of a hydrosol.
You may substitute the oils in this recipe with any other oils as long as you use the exact same weight. I recommend using a liquid oil, and one that is hypoallergenic like hemp, sunflower, sweet almond, apricot kernel, canola or jojoba oil. Generally when you substitute oils in formulas, you want to match the viscosity and melting point, so that you can achieve a similar texture. Avoid using sweet almond and apricot kernel oil if you have a nut allergy though. If you do substitute, I cannot guarantee that it will have the same texture, colour or scent as my recipe, since each oil brings different properties to lotions.
Adding essential oils:
After your cream is completed, you may stir in up to 4ml of additives like essential oils, glycerine and vitamin E oil. Lavender essential oil is a good choice for sensitive skin, and is considered a safe essential oil for children. I recommend using a maximum of 1ml (~20 drops) of essential oils.
You may choose to exclude the citric acid solution if your cream tests to at least a pH6. However, if it tests to pH8, like mine did, you must lower the pH in order for the preservative to work. Geogard 221 and Euxyl K903 are only effective within pH 2-6 range. So, at pH8 you will have an unpreserved product. Citric acid is strongly recommended also because it lowers the pH of this lotion from pH8 (neutral) to pH5.5 (slightly acidic), which is the natural pH of our skin. You may also use your own pH strips / meter to measure the pH of your lotion, and add a few drops of citric acid at a time until you reach a pH5.5. If you adhere to my exact recipe (without substitutes), you should require approximately 1ml of a 25% citric acid dilution to achieve this desired pH. To make a 25% dilution, dissolve 1 part of citric acid in 4 parts of distilled water (in weight).
When I make this recipe, I use the preservative Geogard 221 (which is dehydroacetic acid diluted in benzyl alcohol). Euxyl K903 is the best substitute, because it’s basically identical to Geogard 221 except that it also contains Vitamin E. The manufacturer’s instructions are identical.
Geogard 221 is a golden liquid, whereas Geogard Ultra (used in my other recipes) is a powder. The names are similar, so don’t get confused.
You may use any cosmetic preservative you wish, but I recommend looking for broad spectrum preservatives that are permitted in certified organic products like Geogard 221, Geogard Ultra and Euxyl K903.
Remember that each preservative has its own directions for use, so simply adjust the instructions in this post about when to add the preservative and how much of it to use according to the manufacturers instructions.
To illustrate how a different preservative can change a recipe, let’s use Geogard Ultra as an example. If you use Geogard Ultra powder instead, this is what changes:
- Usage rate: You’ll need to use more Geogard Ultra in this recipe, because it’s recommended usage rate is 1%. Therefore you’ll need 2g of Geogard Ultra in this recipe for a preserved product.
- pH adjuster: Geogard Ultra will cause the pH of your product to test too low, which means that you’ll need to add an alkaline solution like sodium bicarbonate or sodium hydroxide to bring the pH upwards, instead of the citric acid solution.
- Solubility: Since Geogard Ultra is a powder, it will take longer to dissolve when you add it in step 13, despite it being water-soluble. Therefore, you should probably give the product a good blend again right at the end and check to make sure that there are no undissolved, powdery grains.
- Temperature: Geogard Ultra is not as heat sensitive as Geogard 221. Due to this, you can technically add an alkaline pH adjuster into the hot water phase in step 7, then followed by Geogard Ultra powder.
- Effective pH range: Geogard Ultra is effective within pH 3-6, whereas Geogard 221 is effective within pH 2-7. A small, but important difference to ensure that your product is within the safe range.
See how much can change when you change the preservative! Please consider all these factors when substituting preservatives.
Cost & Shelf Life
Cost Price: R 18.90 per 200g excluding essential oils (at the time of writing in 2020).
Lasted me about: 1 month using twice a day for my face and hands.
Estimated shelf life: 3 months if you include the preservative, use sterilised equipment and store away from direct sunlight. Without the preservative, this lotion only has a shelf life of 1 day when stored in the refrigerator. Please note that ingredients like vitamin E oil and anti-bacterial essential oils will not effectively preserve your product.
Preservatives: Some people may be weary about including a synthetic preservative. However, all preservatives are synthetic. They have to be, in order to kill microbes. If you use any emulsion product, even organic creams, they all contain synthetic preservatives. But some preservatives are worse than others. Therefore, all preservatives used in my recipes are ECOCERT and SOIL Association approved to be used in certified organic products, and have no evidence of being toxic when used as instructed by the manufacturer. If you’d still prefer to avoid preservatives, please browse my preservative-free recipes instead.
Cherry on top
- No Petroleum and Paraffin (also known as mineral oil). Yes, that’s what is inside popular aqueous creams.
- Achieve moisturised skin, without the oily residue.
- Ideal for sensitive skin and eczema.
- The texture is just like the aqueous cream you buy in-store, except it’s completely natural.
- Works out cheaper than buying natural aqueous cream brands, and is about the same price as ordinary retail brands.
- Deionised / Distilled water: is a pure form of water without additional minerals, salts and other deposits which typically shorten the shelf life of a lotion. You can find distilled water at most pharmacies. Don’t confuse distilled water with filtered, spring or purified water – they are not the same thing. (Buy here)
- Vegetable glycerine: moisturises the skin and retains moisture in the skin by acting as a protective barrier that locks in moisture. It is also necessary to hydrate the xanthan gum in the recipe to prevent clumps from forming. (Buy here )
- Xanthan gum: stabalizes the lotion so that it does not separate or curdle in heat. Xanthan gum is a sugar derived from either corn, soy or wheat. (Buy here)
- Castor oil: is a hypoallergenic oil with a low comedogenic score, making it ideal for sensitive skin. It is rich in fatty acids, especially high in ricinoleic acid. It is used to treat dry, irritated skin and wrinkles, and is also reputed to boost collagen production. If you are pregnant, please speak to your doctor before using castor oil topically. (Buy here)
- Grapeseed oil: is a hypoallergenic oil with a low comedogenic score, making it suitable for all skin types. It is one of the lightest and best absorbed carrier oils, and it lacks fragrance. Grapeseed oil contains vitamin E, and has been shown to improve skin tone, and help the vitamin C and E in your skin to be more efficient. (Buy here)
- Eco E-wax: is a vegetable-based emulsifying wax which allows water and oil to combine without separating. It is also known as Glycerol Monostearate SE, and is ECOCERT and SOIL association approved for use in natural and organic products. (Buy here)
- Geogard 221 / Euxyl K903: are synthetic preservatives composed of benzyl alcohol and dehydroacetic acid as an amber liquid. It is ECOCERT, NATRUE and SOIL association approved for use in natural and organic products. (Buy here)
- Natural Vitamin E oil: An antioxidant that protects the skin from further sun damage, treats damaged skin, and it helps decrease the signs of lines and wrinkles. In this recipe natural vitamin E oil also protects the oils from oxidation, thereby improving shelf life. (Buy here)
- Citric acid: is an organic acid that occurs naturally in citrus fruits and is a common additive in foods. In this recipe, citric acid is used to lower the pH of the neutral lotion to the natural pH of human skin, which is slightly acidic at pH 5.5. (Buy here)
Need help finding these, or other ingredients? My shopping guide may help you.
Recommended retail option
If you don’t want to make it yourself, then Oh-Lief Natural Aqueous Cream is a really good product that I recommend. I have bought and used this product myself. It contains simple ingredients, and is also fragrance-free. This product also has the best reviews on Faithful to Nature for aqueous creams. It is, however, more pricey than making it yourself. It also contains the same emulsifier and preservative as my recipe.
Do you think that this is an effective aqueous cream for sensitive skin? If you’ve tried it, please share your feedback in the comments below.