How to Formulate with Food: Part 1

Since going roots with my own cosmetics and cutting back to the barest of basics (read more here, and here), I have found local health food shops and supermarkets to be great sources for fresh ingredients and creative inspiration.

Food in Cosmetics? Is that OK?

Formulating with food is not only do-able, but opens up a world of possibilities that allows you to experiment and create while honing your formulating skills.

Some get a little nervous about using food grade anything for their cosmetics — I’ve even heard some say they would NEVER consider using ANY foods as cosmetics ingredients.

If you want to follow that path, you are of course quite welcome to, but you’re not only cutting yourself off from a world of wonderful and beneficial ingredients, you're also going to have a bit of a job sourcing plant-based ingredients.

We Already Use Many of the Same Ingredients in Cosmetics and Foods

Many plant-based oils and butters commonly used in cosmetics are also widely used in the food industry. Take cocoa butter - a fabulous ingredient for skincare as well as a major component of chocolate. Olive oil brings benefits with both internal and external use. So does hempseed oil, almond oil, and nigella seed oil – to mention a few. Shea butter — famed for its skin loving properties — is also used for cooking.

The lines can seem to get a little blurry between food grade and cosmetics grade, and it’s understandable. There are numerous overlaps: xanthan gum, beeswax, carrageenan, carnauba wax, guar gum, glycerin, and aloe vera are all listed on the ingredients label of cosmetics as well as foods.

In many instances (but not all), food grade is interchangeable with cosmetics grade.

Getting it Right 

Perhaps those who hesitate about formulating with foods are nervous about getting it wrong. And if that’s the case, then here’s a tip: it’s ok to experiment and it’s also ok to get it wrong — especially if you allow yourself to have fun and learn from your experience.

My bet is you will end up making something unique and amazing.

So, if you’re a little bit curious about how to start including foods as ingredients in your own cosmetics, then allow me to show you how I ‘vet’ common food items as possible cosmetics ingredients.

Let's Go Grocery Shopping!

Prepare to visit your local grocery store with a completely different (and exciting) perspective.

Here's a little something I picked up at my local supermarket. Because my skin seems to love everything coconut at the moment, this package of coconut cream practically jumped off the shelf all by itself.

Check The Label

The first thing I generally look for is whether or not the product is organic (this one isn’t). OK, it passes anyway because I’m a little coconut crazy right now.

The label reads UHT coconut cream. The UHT stands for ultra high temperature processing or ‘ultra pasturization’. This process consists of heating liquid food (often milk) to a temperature above 135 C / 275 F for a few seconds. This kills bacterial endospores and sterilizes the product.

Next thing I check for is additives. The ingredients list (in both Danish and German) is quite short: coconut cream (99.9%), stabilizers E407, E412, E415.

Check the E Numbers

In Europe, food additives are listed with ‘E numbers’.  Thanks to Uncle Google, checking E numbers is not very time consuming. A quick search reveals  E407 is Irish Moss, also called carrageenan. E412 is guar gum (cyamopsis tetragonolobus), and E415 is xanthan gum.

All of these ingredients are commonly used in cosmetics (I happen to have all of them in my own stock), so my conclusion is I am quite comfortable using this product as a component  in a cosmetic product.

Checking the ingredients list again, it’s pretty clear that all three of the listed stabilizers make up only 0.1% of this product.

This product is preservative free, and the directions on the package say to use within 3 days after opening.

So, it will either need to be part of an immediate-use product (like a fresh-mixed mask), or we are going to need the addition of a preservative.

Basic information: check!

Now We Get Acquainted By Employing Serious Methods of Scientific Examination

Because I bought this product without having a specific idea about what I want to use it in, the next step is to get acquainted with it.

As this product should be used within 3 days after opening and was very modestly priced, I purchased 2: one to get acquainted with and one to formulate with.

Getting acquainted with this product consists of feeling, sniffing, applying to skin, seeing if it will tolerate heating or if it is best used in a cold-mix situation, and just generally getting comfortable with how it reacts, smells, and feels while keeping notes on my observations.

Some might call this playing around but I like to call it 'serious scientific examination'.

(insert winking emoji)

Oftentimes, getting acquainted with an ingredient without having a specific product in mind gives me the best basis for creating a formula. Some ingredients will ‘show’ me how me how they might function best.

If you do this ‘getting acquainted with ingredients’ thing for a while, you get practiced at letting the ingredients speak to you. They really do — some are even quite loud and bossy about how they want to be used.

And as lofty as this all may sound, sometimes, what seems like a brilliant idea when you add a product to your cart ends up as a major fail.

The takeaway here is: you’ll never know until you try.

Up Next

Next time we revisit this product I’ll go into a few details about what happened after the box was opened and whether it was a coconut cream dream come true or a massive fail.

Speaking of formulating with food, my latest e-book is all about just that. 

Do Tell

Have you ever ventured into formulating with ingredients from your supermarket? Please share in a comment below. 


Donna Maria said…
Hi there! I was referred to you by one of the Indie Business Network members, Susan Varga. I am so excited to discover your work, I'm feeling like I must be blind for not knowing about it until now. I have made products with fresh ingredients for quite some time. It's fun. I have never tried coconut milk before though, and that sounds delicious. I bet it would be great in a clay mask, creamy and smooth. I'm enjoying perusing your blog, hope we can connect sometime! Have a great day and stay safe.
LisaLise said…
Hello Donna Maria! Thank you kindly for your lovely words. Your inspiring suggestions about using coconut are already being tested. (spoiler alert: it’s fabulous in a mask) :)
Akansha said…
Can we also use fruits in skin care and how
LisaLise said…
Hello Akansha - The short answer is yes, but there is also a long answer with a lot of 'it depends'. If you search on this blog for formulating with food you'll find a few posts I have written on this subject