Cosmetic Formulation,  Personal Care Products

Formulating a Shampoo

This post is to continue on from my other post about formulating detergents, which you can read here.

What is the difference between each product?

When I first started my research, I could not figure out the difference between a shower gel, face wash, body wash, hand wash, shampoo etc.

They were all ‘washes’ / cleansing products and were all detergents made up of at least 3 different surfactants.

So what was the difference?

I think it is possible to have one recipe that can be used for all – but you would make subtle changes in terms of surfactant concentration and skin loving ingredients. For example:

  • Face wash will be a gentler mix of surfactants than a shower gel and may include ingredients like witch hazel or aloe vera
  • Shower gel, hand wash and body wash might include conditioning agents and maybe oils to prevent a dry after feeling
  • Shampoo will include ingredients that are great for the hair which you will not need in a shower gel.

The differences will also be related to the consistency. You might want a gel face wash or a foam face wash. The shower gel might be a bit thicker than the body wash etc.

So the general things to consider with your formulation are:

  • What will it be used for – (for example shampoo for hair)
  • What consistency / look would you like – (gel shampoo, cream shampoo etc.)
  • What ingredients would you like to use – (witch hazel in a face wash)
  • How will these additional ingredients interact with the surfactants (will they make the mixture thin?)


Let’s have a look at the ingredients in a Loccitane Shampoo

Sodium Laureth SulfateSurfactant
Cocamidopropyl BetaineSurfactant
Decyl GlucosideGenerates an exceptional foam for a nonionic surfactant, whatever the conditions.
Rosmarinus Officinalis Rosemary Leaf Oil
Juniperus Communis Fruit OilJuniper Berry Essential Oil
Cananga Odorata Flower Oil Cananga Essential Oil
Cupressus Sempervirens OilCypress Essential Oil
Cedrus Atlantica Bark Oil Cedarwod Essential Oil
Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein PG Propyl SilaneTriol Proven to be an extremely powerful hair strengthening complex. Has dual action, penetrating the hair shaft to increase moisture content and plasticity of the hair, and coating the hair to lubricate and reinforce the cuticle.
Coco-Glucoside + Glyceryl OleateIt is a co-surfactant, that supports moisturization, used as lipid layer enhancer
PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate Re-fatting agent - reduces dry feeling
Isopropyl Alcohol Used to decrease the thickness of liquids and to reduce the tendency of finished products to generate foam when shaken
Hydrogenated Palm Glycerides Citrate Conditioning Agent
Polyquaternium-10Conditioning Agent
Laureth-2Foam booster; promotes penetration; exhibits thickening effect when used with hydrophilic surfactants
Citric AcidPH Adjuster
Sodium AcetateCan be used as part of the preservative system / PH Adjuster
Sodium Benzoate - Potassium Sorbate Preservative
Tocopherol Vitamin E is great for everything


It’s full of essential oils, conditioning agents and ingredients to strengthen the hair – in fact, after looking at the ingredients, I might go try some!

Let’s compare it to the Loccitant Shea Butter Hand Wash

Water -
Potassium Cocoate This is a natural liquid surfactant made from 100% whole coconut oil and potassium hydroxide. Because of the flash foaming properties of potassium cocoate this product is great for use in liquid soaps
Potassium Oleate A soap which can be used as a base for "natural" type hand soaps
Glycereth-2 Cocoate Surfactant
Sodium ChlorideThickening Agent
Butyrospermum Parkii Shea Butter
Lavandula Angustifolia Lavender Essential Oil
CaramelFragrance + Colour
Caprylyl Glycol Effective conditioner and moisturizer that also helps increase the shelf life of a product
Potassium HydroxidePH Adjuster
Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate Chelating Agent
Potassium UndecylenateActs as preservative and can also clean skin by helping water to mix with oil and dirt so that they can be rinsed away.


There are less ingredients in the hand wash but you can see they are aimed at being a soap base for washing hands

Shampoo Recipe – Sulfate Free

As much as I’d love to make a Loccitane shampoo, I just don’t have access to such wide range of chemicals. You can search for the chemicals on ulprospector and find the supplier – but more than likely you will need to buy in 25kg bulk and it will cost you around £500 just for one ingredient.

So I am going to work with what I have. The recipe I am sharing below is an experimental mix – but hopefully you will understand what I am doing and can adapt with the ingredients you have.

Water Phase

Water up to 100%
Glycerin 2%

Surfactant Mix 

14% Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate – I am using this because I want a mild shampoo, I have very dry and brittle hair
10% Coco Betaine – Always nice to have
6% Coco Glucoside

ASM as calculated here = 10.18%

Conditioning Ingredient 

1% Panthenol
0.5% Glyceryl Oleate
0.3% Guar Gum
1% – Hydrolysed wheat protein (vegequat)

This is great for hair – it removes dirt and impurities and also strengthens the hair shaft.
If you don’t have this then use something else like Polyquat-10 and check the datasheet for usage levels.

Finishing Touch

1% VLT Thickener + 5% of the water
1% Preservative
0.5% Fragrance
Citric Acid 20% solution – to adjust PH 5-5.5

I made the citric acid solution by mixing 80g water with 20g citric acid. Total mixture being 100g with citric acid being 20% of 100g.


  • Remove some of the water from the total required and save for mixing with the VLT Thickener
  • In your first beaker, add the Guar Gum to the remaining water under high speed mixing (this will help it to dissolve into the water without creating lumps). Once the Guar Gum is mixed in, add the Glycerin and Panthenol
  • As this is mixing, add the Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate and Boco Betaine. Continue mixing at a slow speed.
  • In a separate beaker – mix the Coco Glucoside and Glyceryl Oleate and heat until the Glyceryl Oleate has melted.
  • Heat the first beaker with the water mix to match the temperature of the 2nd beaker – around 60oC
  • Add a bit of liquid from the first beaker to the 2nd beaker because the Goco Glucoside is quite thick – once this has dissolved a bit, add all of the 2nd beaker content to the first beaker and mix at a slow speed.
  • In a 3rd beaker, mix the saved water with the VLT thickener and mix under heating until it has melted
  • Add this to your first beaker
  • Keep mixing until the temperature drops to 40oC – then you can add the preservative, fragrance and wheat protein
  • Finally check the PH and adjust to 5-5.5 with the citric acid solution

You should have a clearish solution with medium viscosity


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