How to Make an Oil Serum or Body Oil
We’ve often touted that one of the easiest ways to create and sell your own skin care is to start with mixing your own oil blend for a perfect body or face oil serum. Why? No emulsification and no need for an entire preservative system. Here we’ll go into a little more depth on how to make a great oil blend, what oils are right for your skin type, and what to look for in your finished oil.
And a note before we go on: a serum describes a nourishing product that typically delivers more nutrients and vitamins to skin and is applied after toning but before a moisturizer. Most oil blends make great serums, depending on your skin type, so we’ll use these words interchangeably here.
The Basics of an Oil Serum or Body Oil
Oil blends, or serums, are a mixture of one or more carrier oils. Carrier oils are things like coconut oil, grapeseed oil, or sea buckthorn berry oil, and traditionally are used to dilute an essential oil (thus carry it safely to the skin). An oil blend or serum may have an essential oil, but this is not required.
Carrier oils come from the seeds, nuts, and kernels of various plants. These are typically pressed in various methods until oil comes out, and these oils are either left as is or refined to varying degrees.
What are Carrier Oil benefits in skin care?
Variations in carrier oils come from only a very small part of the oil. Roughly 95% or more of all carrier oils are made up of fatty acids, and these give oils their structure, main characteristics, and many nourishing benefits. That small part that remains—about 5%–is the unsaponifiable part (won’t form a soap when treated with lye), or “healing fraction”. This healing fraction is where some of our favorite characteristics are derived: antioxidants, carotenoids, minerals, tannins, and more.
Note: fatty acids, that make up about 95% of most oils, are found throughout our bodies, including layers of the skin. Examples include oleic, linoleic, punicic acids, and more. Vitamins A, E, and K are classified as fatty acids, among other compounds.
This unsaponifiable part of carrier oils contains most of the variations between different harvests, and it is usually the portion that’s removed during the refining process. Unrefined oils often have a more vibrant color and a stronger aroma, but can be more challenging to work with in skin care.
Each carrier oil provides unique benefits to skin and hair care, and the ratios of constituents will form the distinguishing features that you get to blend together. A general rule is that any carrier oils used in an oil blend could be used at 100% (unless you create products according to the Consumer Ingredient Review, in which case you’d need to look up the maximum usage per oil), but you get a broader array of benefits when mixing oils with different characteristics.
For more on Carrier Oils, check out this article.
Get your downloadable Carrier Oil Guide & Substitution Chart here.
What to Know Before Mixing Your Own Oil Serum or Blend
Oil blends are one of the most forgiving skin or hair care products when it comes to formulation. For the most part, it’s hard to go wrong. But you’ll find after some experimentation that the mix of oils can reveal very different results.
When selecting carrier oils, there are a few key features to keep in mind:
Viscosity and melting point
Speed of absorption
Heavy or light feel
Consider matching some characteristics like absorption rates, but don’t worry about nailing them exactly. Sometimes this difference can be a neat sensory feature and provide a dynamic feel.
How to Choose Oils for an Oil Blend
You’ll want to keep the above factors in mind and read up on some favorite oils and their characteristics. For example, Cranberry Oil blends well with Safflower Oil because they both absorb fast, but they don’t have the same (other) properties. It may be helpful to choose what key feature or feel you want in your finished blend. For example, let’s say you definitely want an oil that absorbs quickly. That narrows your selection down to oils like Apricot, Camellia, Kalahari Melon, and Strawberry Seed Oil. Once you have your list of fast-absorbing oils, it’s all about mixing and matching other traits. You might consider choosing oils with different fatty acids to get a beautifully balanced end-product.
Don’t forget that cost becomes an important feature, too. This is especially true with blends marketed as a body oil where larger quantities are used. For these, perhaps avoid Strawberry Seed Oil ($95.95 per pound) and instead choose Camellia Seed Oil ($33.25 per pound). More expensive oils can be excellent ingredients in luxury-focused facial oils, however. As of 2020 we would advise a 10x return on your cost for oil blends.
The Best Way to Know if Oils Blend Well? Experimentation
Although it may sound flippant and undirected, experimentation is key to finding a great blend. You can make informed decisions about characteristics, as outlined above, but actually playing with percentages is the best way to understand a blend. After all, sensory experiences are largely subjective.
The ratio of ingredients in a blend is the tinkering part, where you’ll end up taking a lot of detailed notes (hopefully). Our Chief Formulator notes that in her opinion due to usage of this oil blend, an after-waxing oil with 67% Cranberry, 0.8% Vitamin E, 32.2% Pumpkin Oil was a far better option than 57% Cranberry, 0.8% Vitamin E, 22.2% Pumpkin Oil and 20% MCT oil. But to compare ingredient decks, the only thing that was different was the addition of the MCT oil.
We know that personal preference matters a great deal in personal care products, but this is largely due to variations in skin types. The same is true when creating an oil blend—dry skin wants very different oils then oily or teenage skin does. Cranberry oil, for example, might be perfect for someone in their 40s with ‘normal’ skin, but may not be nourishing enough for someone in their 70s who would benefit from the addition of hemp, sunflower, and jojoba.
Do Oil Blends and Serums Need a Preservative?
One of the nicest things about working with oil blends is that they are anhydrous (no water content) and do not need a preservative. That being said, it’s helpful having an antioxidant in the ingredient deck, but not overdo it. You will often see Vitamin E Oil which we recommend adding at 0.2 – 0.8%. Vitamin E helps extend the shelf life of oils by preventing rancidity. You can go as high as 2% Vitamin E if the other oils don’t contain Vitamin E themselves, but many do so it’s worth researching each one.
You know the feel, you know who your target audience is in terms of skin type, so now it’s time to choose which oils are ideal for which type of skin. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start.
Best carrier oils for normalized skin:
Best carrier oils for aging/mature skin:
Best carrier oils for sensitive/irritated skin:
Black Seed Oil
Best carrier oils for blemish-prone skin:
Best carrier oils for oily skin:
Side note: there is a common misconception that people with oily skin should avoid oil-based products at all costs—this is not true. The goal is to balance out oils on the skin and keep a healthy layer present at all times. Check out our blog on caring for oil skin, here.
Best carrier oils for dry skin:
How to Make an Oil Blend or Serum
Once you’ve chosen your oils, it’s time to blend them together. For this you will need:
- Scale (digital is easiest)
- Glass beaker/graduated glass cylinder
- Metal stirring spoon or similar
Record how much of each oil you add to your beaker in a notebook. Add your oils, stirring thoroughly. Test with a sanitized spoon or dipstick until you achieve your desired results.
Vitamin E Oil can be quite thick at room temperature so to speed up mixing it may be useful to heat your blend to about 100F on a hot plate to increase fluidity.
Pour into packaging and you’re set!