9 cosmetic ingredients for beginners

Jan 4, 2022 | The basics

With lots of ingredients out there it is very easy to get lost and distracted. Which ingredients are worth buying and which ones are not? Here you will find my list for the cosmetic first ingredients for beginners to look for. 

From those you can make lots of interesting anhydrous (without water) products such as lip balms, body butters, lip scrubs, hair masks and so much more. And using these you can easily advance to making lotions.

9 cosmetic ingredients for beginners

So, to get started with the formulation journey I would suggest making some anhydrous things first. However, if you want to make something more complicated like shampoo or lotion – give it a go. I actually started with lip balms and lotions as I really wanted to make these products.

However, now I can definitely see the fun of formulating oily products as well. They can teach you a lot about the feel, slip, staying time, absorption into the skin. 


I would start looking at the carrier oils which are oils obtained from nuts, seeds or from the whole fruit. They can be cold pressed or expeller expressed. After this, they can be used as it is or treated further to get rid of the smell and other substances.

So, basically they are found in virgin form with every primary substance, deodorized form or in a refined form where scent and other chemical molecules are discarded.


The most basic use of a carrier oil is to use it as it is for massage, face serum, hair mask or a body oil. They are usually used for diluting essential oils and act there as a base. 

Each carrier oil has a different fatty acid composition and therefore has a different feel on the skin, absorption rate, scent. I would suggest to start with one oil, maybe two but with different skin feel oils. The most versatile oils are those that absorb fairly quickly into the skin and these oils are:

  • Apricot kernel oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Fractionated coconut oil
  • Rice bran oil.

There are many more oils but these are inexpensive oils that can be found everywhere. Choose one or two different oils up to 300 ml. I usually buy 3 different oils of 125 ml and depending how much I have time for formulating they last me from 6 months to a year. Though oils should be good for up to 2 years (depending on the oil itself).

You can always buy more expensive ones such as argan oil, passionfruit oil, kukui nut oil, sea buckthorn oil and many more. But it is usually very hard to throw away bad formulations with expensive ingredients. So, for the start I would suggest buying cheaper oils. If you really want them – 100 ml is more than enough for a start.

If you want to make lip balms, I definitely recommend buying castor oil which is very sticky and has an extremely slow absorption rate, but gives shine and staying power on the lips. I just love it in lip balms!

2. butters

Cosmetic butters are obtained from various vegetable sources and as carrier oils can be sold as virgin, deodorized or refined. Due to more unsaturated fatty acids in their chemical composition they have this buttery consistency, however some can be hard like cocoa butter, some can be soft like mango butter.

They also have different skin feel, but I recommend buying virgin cocoa butter (has a wonderful scent), mango butter (has a nice consistency and absorbs quickly into the skin) or shea butter (has a distinctive scent which I am not a fan. However there is a deodorized option for those who do not like the shea butter scent).

For other soft butter options you can try cupuacu or murumuru butters, however they are usually a bit more expensive. Harder, brittle butter options are kokum and tucuma butters. 


It is good to start with 1 soft and 1 brittle butters up to 500g. You can make lots of different formulations such as body butters, lip balms, salves, cleansing balms, lotion bars and much more. So if  you are into make these type of formulations, buy more of them, if not – up to 200g of these butters is enough.


You can also find ‘pseudo‘’ butters which are hydrogenated vegetable oils. You should find this information in INCI section with a word ‚hydrogenated‘. If you really want them – try them. However, these butters can vary greatly when ordered from different suppliers but they are usually a bit easier to work with and should not cause graininess in your formulations.

3. waxes

The most versatile and best known wax is beeswax, however we are not into this, right? Luckily, we have a lot to choose from. The best known waxes are candelilla and carnauba which both have very high melting points.

They are great for lip balms, body butters, salves and gives the formulation some thickening and stabilization. They also give more staying power which is great for lip balms.


Other options are rice bran wax, sunflower wax, soya wax, bayberry wax or berry wax (has low melting point).

You will not need much of the waxes, so up to 100g is enough. If you can, get 2 different waxes so you can make more observations and know which ones you really like.


You can find ‘pseudo’ waxes which are typically floral waxes such as jasmine wax, rose wax, mimosa wax, tuberose wax. All of them have some beautiful scent and be used in cosmetic formulations. However, they have been obtained in a different way than of true waxes and they are definitely pricier.

4. co-emulsifiers

They are usually found under this category, but they offer more of a texture/viscosity/feel change in the formulation without a waxy feeling. They can also be called thickeners as they offer this to formulations. The most popular ones are cetyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, stearic acid and behenyl alcohol.

Even though they have word ‘alcohol’ in them, they have extremely different properties from ethyl alcohol (ethanol). These ingredients are not volatile and do not dry the skin – in fact they do the opposite. They are emollients and moisturize the skin while thickening formulations.


All these ingredients are usually used in balms, body butters, lotions, conditioners, cleansers and other formulations. They are very versatile, inexpensive and have a long shelf life. I would suggest getting cetyl or cetearyl alcohol up to 100g.

5. Emulsifiers

So, if you ever wanted to make lotions – this is an essential ingredient to make them. However, it is very versatile and can be used in anhydrous formulations as well. You can make lotions, cleansing balms, body scrubs, cleansing bars. Depending on the type of emulsifier you can also make conditioner bars.

There are lots and lots and lots of different emulsifiers to choose from but the most popular ones and easiest to work with are Polawax, Emulsifying wax NF, Olivem 1000. These are non-ionic complete emulsifiers that most of DYI’ers love and start with.

If you want to make hair conditioners, try to get a cationic emulsifier such as BTMS-50 or BTMS-25. The cationic part will get you the easier detangling and combing of the hair.


I have several other emulsifiers, however I like Emulsan II, which is a complete emulsifier but usually needs a thickener/co-emulsifier to make stable emulsions.

You don’t need much of it – up to 100 g should last a long time.

6. powders giving texture

These are powder ingredients that give a unique feeling for the formulation. They are usually used in body butters, lotions, masks and make up formulations.

The most often used ingredients are arrowroot powder, corn starch, rice powder, colloidal oatmeal, silica microspheres, magnesium stearate. They are usually used for their ability to hold oils and make the touch of the formulation much better, silkier, less greasy. They also give a better slip, so the formulations spread better onto the skin.

As they are used in low quantities 100 g is enough.


7. Lightweight esters

Lightweight esters are made by reacting a fatty alcohol with a fatty acid or triglyceride. These are not natural ingredients as they are chemically synthesized, but they are very lightweight oils with a long shelf life and a very good skin compatibility.

In general they have lower melting points, good spreadability and give a more silky feeling to the skin and usually can be used instead of a silicones.

The most common lightweight esters are isopropyl myristate and C12-15 alkyl benzoate, though you can also find myristyl myristate, cetyl palmitate, cetyl ricinoleate, stearyl palmitate, coco caprylate and many more.

I personally have worked only with isopropyl myristate, dicaprylyl carbonate and coco caprylate. All of them give a very nice feeling to the skin making the products less greasy. They can be used in a variety of formulations including all anhydrous products as well as in lotions and even make up formulations.

I would say choose one of them up to 100 ml for a better understanding how to change skin feel of the products.


8. solubilizers

These are ingredients that help to solubilize small amounts of oils (usually essential/fragrance oils or carrier oils) into bigger amounts of water.

They can be used for making linen/mist sprays, cleansing balms, cleansing oils. Solubilizers offer a better cleanse off and can be used in addition or instead of an emulsifying wax. These can also be formulated into bath bombs for making bath tub non-slippery.

These are not very popular ingredients, but I defnitely see their usefulness when formulating. I have only worked with polysorbate 20 and polysorbate 80, but you can also get PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil which as I have heard has more advantages than polysorbates. However, if you cannot get the latter, I would recommend getting polysorbate 80.

As these ingredients are used in low quantities, 100 ml should be more than enough.


9. essential / fragrance oils

These are definitely not essential, however sometimes it is nice to spice things up with the scent. I really love peppermint scent in the morning as it wakes me up and I usually add a bit of peppermint essential oil to cleansing oils / balms.

Essential oils are very complex chemicals which have different dosage rates and can even be harmful if used in larger doses than recommended.


If you really want to get scents, I would recommend getting up to 5 different essential oils of 10 ml as you don‘t actually need many. In case you don‘t want to add them to formulations, you can always diffuse them to freshen the home. I don‘t really recommend getting a lot of citrus essential oils especially if you want to incorporate them into face/body care formulations as they can be phototoxic.

My favorites would be:

  • Lavender essential oil
  • Peppermint/spearmint essential oil
  • Bergamot bergaptene free essential oil
  • Rosemary essential oil
  • Eucalyptus essential oil
  • Tea tree essential oil
  • Mandarin essential oil
  • Lemon essential oil
  • Litsea cubeba (May chang) essential oil – could be used instead of lemon essential oil without phototoxic effects.

You can always try fragrance oils which have a much stronger scent and you would need much less of them. They are regulated by International fragrance association (IFRA) which ensure that fragrances are safe to use. Also, the supplier should include the documents or write the information how much of that particular fragrance oil can be used in different kind of products (lotions, sprays, deodorants, lip balms etc.) and whether they are compliant with IFRA or not.


Do you think I have missed something? What are your best cosmetic ingredients for beginners? Share your thoughts in a comment section below 🙂


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