How to: Emulsified Scrub Basics

Emulsified scrubs are pretty beginner-friendly to make, fun to personalize, and wonderful to use.

Today we're going to look at how to compose an emulsified scrub that you can tweak and tailor to your hearts content.

The Secret is In the Name: Emulsify!

The 'secret' to an emulsified scrub is the emulsifier. (Not really so secret, come to think of it). The job of an emulsifier is to allow oil and water to mix.

Simple enough.


An emulsified scrub is made without the addition of water.

So, why add an emulsifier?

When you add emulsifier to an otherwise water-free formula, it doesn't start doing its emulsifying thing until water is introduced.

In short, the product isn't fully activated until it is used.

And when water is introduced, the emulsifier magically morphs the scrubby mixture into a lotion-like solution that rinses away without leaving a greasy film on either your skin or your shower floor.

Yet your skin is left feeling soft, supple, and smooth as silk.

Cool, huh?

Are you ready to make an emulsified scrub?

LisaLise's Basic Emulsified Scrub Formula

Soft-ish butter: 5%
Hard-ish butter: 4 %

Oils: 45%

Emulsifier: 5%
Co-emulsifier: 5%

Preservative: 1%
Essential Oils: 1%

Exfoliating grains: 34%

Butter Notes

Soft-ish butters are butters with a low melting point such as shea. Both refined and unrefined can be used.

Hard-ish butters have a higher melting point such as cocoa or kokum butter.

There are also in-betweenie butters such as mango, which can as such be used in either category.

Try combinations of butters you personally like, and have fun with it.

Oil Notes

You don't need pricey oils in a scrub as they are rinsed off immediately, but do feel free to use any oil or combination of oils you like.

I have had lovely results using combinations of oils such as castor, sweet almond, apricot kernel, olive, and more.

Tip: Try using your own infused oils to add a bit of personalized ingredients magic. For example, the scrub pictured above contains a handcrafted coffee-infused sweet almond oil with brown sugar as the exfoliant. It smelled absolutely delicious and was a hit with my client.

Emulsifier Notes

Feel free to experiment a bit to find the ideal combination for your personal taste.

For emulsifiers, consider conditioning emulsifiers (often recommended for use in hair conditioners) such as BTMS, or try an emulsifying wax. These are sold under numerous names and are often composed of a combination of ingredients. One example is 'olive emulsifier' which is a combination of cetearyl olivate & sorbitan olivate.

A co-emulsifier helps stabilize and thicken. Cetyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, or (soy) lecithin are possible choices.

Preservative Notes

You can choose to leave preservative out but will then need to keep the container completely free of moisture (read: dipping wet fingers into the jar is a no-no).

As I am a 'dip wet fingers into the jar' kind of person when using a scrub in the shower, I add a broad spectrum preservative.

Exfoliating Grain Notes

This can be finely ground exfoliating grains such as walnut or almond shells (be sure to use grains suitable for body scrub), or if you prefer something that dissolves completely, go for any kind of sugar or fine salt.

I've had great results with brown sugar, raw sugar, normal castor sugar, fine Himalayan salt, and regular fine salt.

You can mix and match them up to your hearts content.

Tip: Take care not to use salt that is too rough or has sharp edges of any kind. The whole idea is to exfoliate – not scratch – the skin. Fine salt gives a lovely scrubbing action without scratching.

Method For Making Emulsified Scrub

  1. Melt emulsifiers and butters slowly over low heat
  2. Add oils
  3. Remove from heat
  4. Stir and let cool until trace
  5. Add preservative 
  6. Whip the mixture until you have the desired lightness and fluffiness. This shouldn't take more than 5 minutes. If you start whipping a titch too soon, you may need to alternate between whipping and chilling the mixture. If that is the case, then this step can take up to 15 minutes.
  7. Add exfoliating grains 
  8. Add fragrance / essential oils
  9. Whip a final time to distribute everything evenly
  10. Transfer to final containers (I find using a piping bag to fill containers quite efficient)

Do Tell

You've probably made a million fabulous emulsified scrubs already and are therefore more than welcome to share tips and inspirational ideas in a comment below.


Ilhem said…
That's so cool! I've made scrubs using a sucrose laurate based emulsifier but it's a gel texture. I can't wait to try with sorbitan olivate!
LisaLise said…
Hi Ilhem - wonderful! Feel free to come back and let me know how it goes!
Anonymous said…
Hi, do you think jojoba beads suitable for this recipe? Sorry I don't have google account. My name is Pie.
MAY said…
Hello, can I also use Stearic acid as a co emulsifier?
LisaLise said…
Hello Pie - I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to use jojoba beads but then you are thinking of a scrub for face, right?
LisaLise said…
Hi May - I’ve never troed this but in theory, you could. Give it a go and see what you think :)
Unknown said…
Hi Lise, when adding sugar or salt, it will last without dissolving in the cream?
LisaLise said…
Hi Lu - There is no moisture or water in this formula, so the sugar and salt will remain intact until it is used. ;)
Anonymous said…
HI it's Pie again. Thank you for answering me. Did you mean Jojoba beads only suitable for face?
Anonymous said…
Hi, what does percentage means? Are you preparing in 100gram? - FN
LisaLise said…
Hi Pie - Jojoba beads can be used for face and body but they might be a bit too ‘soft’ for body use. Percentage can be converted to grams easily if you make 100 grams of product. Percentage is used so you know exactly how much of each ingredient is used in the total batch. I hope this helps.
Unknown said…
Hello, can we not include the soft butter in this formula?
LisaLise said…
Hi Fina,

Yes indeed you can use soft butters in this - it's all a question of preference. Have fun!
Unknown said…
How one feels after using emulsified scrub? Does this leaves your skin oily?
LisaLise said…
Hi Vandita - When you add an emulsifier to a scrub it rinses off without feeling oily. I would describe it as feeling moisturised, but then I couldn't promise everyone would describe it the same. I hope this answers your question :)
Unknown said…
can we use simulgreen 18-2 or Natragem EW as the Emulsifier?
Unknown said…
can we use simulgreen 1802 or natragem ew as the Emulsifier?
LisaLise said…
Hi Vikash — if you want to use Simulgreen you might have to adjust the formula a bit as I believe it has a recommended dosage of around 2-3%. These scrubs are pretty forgiving though so why nut try a couple of small batches and see how it works out. :)
Unknown said…
Hello and thank you.
I'm I'm the US, and was wondering what you use asa preservative? Do you find optiphen to be broad spectrum enough?
LisaLise said…
Hi Jill - I use a mix of preservatives depending on the formula. If you want to use Optiphen in a formula of this type, you'll have to adjust the formula to accomodate as it calls for up to a max 1.5%. Try a few test batches with different amounts 0.5% - 1.5%) and see how it works out. :)
Unknown said…
Hi Lise, I have a question not about this recipe but co-emulsifier. I'm new to this material. I see you said it acts to stablize and thicken the end product, may I ask if co-emulsifier can be added to make body cream?
LisaLise said…
Hi Veronica - yes indeed. Co-emulsifier is used in numerous products - among these- cream :)
staciemag said…
Hi there! Thank you for the helpful article! I'm finally trying my hand at an emulsified sugar scrub, and I'm trying to decide on which emulsifier to use. I LOVE that the Olivem is a plant-based emulsifier, but oh my goodness is it ever expensive! Are there any other more "natural" or plant-based emulsifiers that aren't quite as expensive? Also, the brand I was looking at getting already contains something called Cetearyl Olivate. You say a co-emulsifier should be added, such as Cetearyl Alcohol. Are these the same things, by any chance? Or do I still need to add a co-emulsifier? Thank you for your help!
LisaLise said…
HI Staciemag - It's a little hard for me to recommend anything specific not knowing where on the globe you are, but in my experience a ingredient is generally pricier when it's either rare or has a better quality.

To my understanding Olivem (did you mean Olivem 1000?) is a blend of cetearyl olivate and sorbitan olivate (not the same as cetearyl alcohol). You can get Olivem 1000 from Lotioncrafter at $5 for 2 oz.
Hope this helps!
Jyoti said…
Hello Lise! I absolutely love your blogs! Can we just omit butters and use only oils to make an emulsifier sugar scrub? Butters are hard to procure here.
LisaLise said…
Hello Jyoti -You will have to try tweaking the ingredients to do a butter-free version. Try increasing the emulsifiers a by a total of 5% percent and the oil by 4% - but you will not have the same texture as you would with butters. If you can source babassu oil, it might also be a useful addition. Best of luck and please post back how it works for you!
Unknown said…
Hi. Your recipe was really helpful. But i was wondering if heat (i mean summer heat) can actually melt the scrub and cause it to seperate and hence the oil spilling
Unknown said…
Hi. Your recipe was really helpful. But i was wondering if heat (i mean summer heat) can actually melt the scrub and cause it to seperate and hence the oil spilling
LisaLise said…
Hi Unknown - Great question! I did manage to melt one of my scrubs by leaving it on a sunny summer windowsill, so yes, it is possible.
Anonymous said…
Hi would this work as a face scrub?
LisaLise said…
Hey there Anon - If you use very gentle exfoliants that are suited for use on the face, then you could make this a face scrub- yes! I would probably go for jojoba beads or loofah flakes if I were to make a face scrub - Have fun!
Anonymous said…
Hi this looks great, really want to try this recipe out but just had a few questions:
1. would this be too greasy as a face scrub?
2. Could I just use Mango butter in place of the soft/hard butters?
3. Is cetyl alcohol plant derived/natural
Thanks for your help
Jan said…
Hi this recipe looks so good , just wanted to know would this be too greasy as a face scrub? Thanks
LisaLise said…
Hi Jan - This will of course come down to personal preferences, but if you use gentle exfoliants you could use this as a face scrub. You could also opt for some drier feeling oils.
Meryll said…
Hi loving your site. I live in England and just wanted to ask what is a broad spectrum preservative that you would recommend please.
LisaLise said…
HI Meryll - a broad spectrum preservative is one that covers both gram positive and gram negative bacteria, mould and yeast. These are usually a 'combination of preservatives' sold as one preservative to make it easy to use.
Kelly said…
Hi Lisa... I found this formula very helpful. Thank you!
In this recipe, you use 5% Emulsifier and 5% Co-emulsifier. If I do not use co-emulsifier and use only emulsifier at 10%, what will happen? Why do you need to use co-emulsifier in this scrub in addition to the emulsifier?
LisaLise said…
Hi Kelly.

Thanks for your kind comment. You ask a great question as in this kind of formula, it may not make much difference. I say do a small test batch and see how it performs for you. :)
Anonymous said…
Hi Lisa,
This was so so helpful, thank you!. I'm a beginner with skincare formulations and have been researching the use of emulsifiers in facial scrubs. My ingredients for a coffee scrub are Ground coffee, Dark Brown Sugar, Aztec Clay Powder, Avocado Oil, Olivem 1000, Vitamin E Oil & Sweet Orange essential oil. I have noticed that a lot of brands incorporate a small amount of water into their scrub during the formulation process, is this essential based on the ingredients of my scrub or can i not include water in order to prolong the shelf life?
LisaLise said…
Hi Anon — if you add any water your suger is going to start dissolving. The idea of these scrubs is that they are activated at use when water is introduced. I wouldn’t add any water to this formula 😊
Anonymous said…
Hi! Congrats from Mexico! sorry, my english isnt good enough
I was wondrering if can i use olivem 1000 and estearic acid like emulsifiers for my scrub?
LisaLise said…
Hello to Mexico! Yes, you can use Olivem 1000 and stearic acid although I would keep the stearic acid at a lower percent (maybe only 2%)
Anonymous said…
Hi Lisa,

Thank you very much for clarifying this. In this case would you add the emulsifier in the oil phase, then the sugar & coffee followed by the essential oil at the end?
LisaLise said…
Hi! Just follow the described method in the post :)
Unknown said…
What a fantastic recipe.
I love a good basic that can be personalized. Thank you so much for sharing .
LisaLise said…
Hi Unknown,

You are most welcome :)
Sandra said…
Hi there,
I'm fairly new to the 'all oil' scrub thing (infact I intended to find oil-in-water formulas but, hey what do you know... LOL)
Anyway, I saw you mentioned cetearyl olivate & sorbitan olivate (=olivem 1000 AND just the emulsifier I have on the shelf). What surprised me though, is that this is a O/W emulsifier that normally requires 75C to do its intended job.
By the time the above anhydrous product gets to the bathroom where water will be introduced to it, there will of course be a much lower temp. How will it still work and assist in rinse-off?

Thank you

LisaLise said…
HI Sandra - The 75C for melting the emulsifier is to incorporate it into a mixture. It emulsifies as soon as it meets water in the shower. Give it a try and see :)
Su said…
my emulsified scrub is getting hard like rock.May i know why and any suggestion would be appreciate
LisaLise said…
Hi Su — It’s hard to answer without knowing what’s in your scrub. Which oils butters and emulsifiers in which proportions?
Unknown said…
I made this scrub yesterday. I didn't make any changes.
I found it quite runny. After about 12 hours I could see oil sitting on the top. Did you think I didn't whip it enough or maybe I should tweek my oil ratio please? Felt lovely on my skin though 😍
LisaLise said…
Hi Pennie - thanks for your comment! There are a numerous reasons an emulsified scrub can do this (which emulsifiers, butter choices, temperature/climate, whipping time etc). You could actually try whipping a bit longer but I would probably be more inclined to tweak the ratio of the emulsifiers and use a bit more hard butter. Without knowing exactly which ingredients you used, I would hazard a guess that the soft butter ratio is too high. Do post back and let me know how it goes!
Unknown said…
Hi my name is Alexis and I just recently started a sugar scrub business and I’m so new to this that my first sell didn’t incorporate any of the emulsifiers and co-emulsifiers. I was just wondering if regular sugar scrubs, for example like sugar and coconut oil needed an emulsifier or if that’s only needed for whipped scrubs and also what kind of preservative do you recommend?
LisaLise said…
Hi Alexis — You can make a scrub without emulsifiers - it’s just a different kind of scrub. As for preservatives, you can leave them out if the scrub has no water content but if you are selling you will need to add a caution to your customers that they need to keep water out of the container (no dipping in with wet fingers). You can also add preservative if you choose. It should be a broad spectrum preservative.
Unknown said…
Natural emulsifier is unavailable jn my country but i want the effect it gives for a scrub will i be able to get the same effe t just by using ceteryl alcohol?
LisaLise said…
Hi Unknown -- cetearyl alcohol is a co-emulsifier.. do you not have access to any emulsifying waxes at all?
Jessica said…
Hi Lisa, is it possible to add Castile Soap to the emulsifying scrub? If so what proportion do you suggest?
LisaLise said…
HI Jessica - This is a good question and I understand how one could be tempted to add a surfactant of sorts to an emulsified scrub, but if you want to do that here, you will need to reformulate the whole thing. Short answer: in this formula, I don't recommend it.
Julie Kimberlin said…
Hello! Thank you so much for this recipe. What preservatives do you recommend? I get worried with the salt scrub because of PH and most of the ones Iv seen have a PH requirement. :/
LisaLise said…
Hi Julie, Not knowing where on the planet you are and what you have access to, I can only answer by saying a broad spectrum preservative is your best option here. All preservatives have pH requirement for optimal function. Remember your scrub doesn't have a pH as such as it is anhydrous. The pH comes into play when water is introduced and that is at the time of use :)
Anonymous said…
Hi! I'd love to try this formula. What do you mean by emulsifier, do you mean beeswax? If I wanted to incorporate beeswax and stearic acid what percentage would each be?
LisaLise said…
Hi San — when I write emulsifier I mean a product that is sold as an emulsifier — they have so many names as there are thousands of emulsifiers on the market. You could use an emulsifying wax such as Polawax, Xyliance, Olive Emulse, Emulsifying wax NF, Creammaker Wax, etc. Beeswax is not an emulsifier and won’t work in this formula. Stearic acid is a thickener — not an emulsifier. Co emulsifiers are listed above. Hope this helps :)
Anonymous said…
Hi Lisa, thank you for responding, I had a typo and didnt notice until I got your response. I meant to ask what do you mean by "co emulsifiers". I'll be using emulsifying wax NF. But not sure what to use as co emulsifier. I see a few recipes with beeswax, to help with hardening, is the beeswax necessary if I will be using stearic acid?
LisaLise said…
Hi San — neither beeswax nor stearic acid are going to be useful in this as neither of them have emulsifying properties— In the post I list a couple of possible co emulsifiers :)
Unknown said…
Hi There! Quick question, I am formulating a foot scrub with dead sea salt, pumice, coconut oil, maybe another oil, touch of shea butter, glycerine, perservative. I am wondering what would happen if I used an emulsifier in the recipe? How much would you recommend for a batch of say approx. 2500 grams. I am going to use Candelilla Wax (Vegan) in my lip balm recipe so I could use it here as well if you think it might work?

What will it do for the scrub? Make it less greasy? Just not sure if it would be beneficial in a foot scrub. Please let me know you thoughts!!!

My body scrub base is a shea, I sometimes feel like it is a bit greasy after. Would adding an emulsifier cut that down a bit? Again, wondering how much per about 2500 g. My body scrub recipe is 1 KG shea, to just over 1 KG of a mix of sugars with oils accounting for another approx 1/2 cup.

What happens when you just use a co-emulsifier without a main? Pointless????

Thank you for any advice!

LisaLise said…
HI Kelly - This is a multifaceted question that causes me to want to ask you for more details. These kinds of formula specific questions is something I am happy to help with in a consultation. Visit for more info.

As to using a co emulsifier without a main emulsifier - this can work with some co-emulsifiers in some formulas.

Unknown said…
Hello Lisa! I'm so glad i found this post. Even the comments were so informative! I was just wondering, what is the purpose of whipping the scrub - Won't it introduce air and encourage oxidation? If i wish to package it in a squeeze tube for friends, should i omit that step?

Also, i wanted to make a strawberry-scented version with strawberry powder... it's water soluble though, any suggestions on how to incorporate it? Glycerine?

Great thank you from Australia!! :-)
LisaLise said…
Hi Alicia - I understand you concern of whipping air into the product, but this is mainly a concern with aqueous products. I suppose you dan't have to whip if you donate want to, but you will need to stir while cooling to keep an even and homogenous mixture. Adding water soluble ingredient is possible in this instant as it is dry and will just melt away when it meets water.
Unknown said…
Hello Lisa, I have tried many body scrub formulations & this by far is the best one!!!!Have had such good feedback from those I sell to. they tell me it feels like a high end scrub from a spa!!!Perfect formulation.
Thank you, can't wait to try more
LisaLise said…
HI Michele - Thanks so much for your feedback! Happy to hear you are enjoying it!