About a month ago when I was younger and more innocent, I made a hand lotion which to date seems to be holding up quite well, according to my mum whom I gifted the hand lotion to. The problems with the younger and more innocent version of the lotion is that 1) it did not contain any preservatives, which I have learnt that is an irresponsible thing to not include, and that 2) it did not go through the process of “heating and holding”, which is supposed to help with the emulsification process (oil + water) and to kill off unwanted bacteria, fungi, and other nasties.

So today, I have decided to be more diligent with my formulation and go through the proper procedures. It is a lovely Sunday afternoon. The below is written as I go through the formulation, real time.


I must say that I am rather nervous. This time I’m not following a specific recipe, though I have read up quite a bit on what toners are and what ingredients a basic toner should contain. I’m working with a number of new things, from witch hazel to aloe vera to DMDM Hydantoin, which is a preservative. The more I read, the more nervous I get – so I’ve decided to stop reading and write down the pre-process, so that I can move straight into experimentation after the housemate has vacated the kitchen. This is the formulation that I have written down:

Water-based ingredients

  • 30% witch hazel distillate
  • 20% aloe vera liquid gel
  • 40% green tea (normal tea brewed from leaves)
  • 4% glycerin

Oil-based ingredients

  • 2% vitamin E
  • 2.5% solubiliser (Polysorbate 20)

Cool down phase:

  • 0.5% essential oil – lavender and tea tree oil, each 5 drops
  • ~0.2-0.6% preservative (DMDM Hydantoin)

This list is written based on the ingredients that I have at hand, and also loosely based on recipes that I’ve found online. My main guide is the Point of Interest blog, with its posts on toner; I also found these two recipes from Humble Bee and Me. As I don’t have all the ingredients that they prescribe, I’ve decided to make my own prescription, based on what basic theory I know.

The solubiliser (Polysorbate 20) binds the small amount of oils into the majority of water-based ingredients (witch hazel, aloe, green tea, glycerin) so that the oils (Vitamin E and the essential oils) are evenly dispersed in the mixture. It is much lighter than the emulsifying wax that I used in the previous hand lotion recipe. The amount used is supposed to be the same amount with the oils. The preservative is probably not the best one, but I only have this in my stock, so I will use it.

I don’t have a digital weighing scale, so if I were to be a perfectionist this project is failed from the beginning. Instead, I’ve decided to follow the percentages as closely as I can according to whatever tools that I have, which relies on volume instead of weight. I do have an alcohol thermometer so I can monitor the “heat and hold” temperature. The housemate has also left the kitchen so I have no more reason to procrastinate. I shall start now.

The action

I’m waiting for the 20 minutes heat and hold process now and thought I would just continue the documentation of the processes. Here’s what I did, mainly based on the recipe above:

  •  30ml witch hazel distillate
  • 20ml aloe vera liquid gel
  • 40ml green tea
  • ~5ml glycerin
  • ~2.5ml vitamin E
  • ~2.5ml solubiliser

The first four, the water-based ingredients, are in one container, while the oils (last two ingredients) are in another, both containers are in a water bath that is around 70deg C. I have to wait for 20 minutes, and then combine both containers into one, and then wait for them to drop to about 45deg C when I will put in my essential oils and preservative, as listed in the below three points:

  • 5 drops lavender oil
  • 5 drops tea tree oil
  • 10 drops DMDM Hydantoin

Once in while I’ll go check that everything is at 70deg C. If the temperature drops below that I’d turn on the stove and make it go a bit more. My thermometer is rested in the oil container, while I’ve put a cover on the water container to prevent too much evaporation. You’re supposed to heat and hold another very small batch of ingredients and then weigh the amount evaporated on the first batch, and replenish it with the backup batch. However I don’t have the digital weighing scale and no space in my pot for a third container, and I’m trying not to be too anal about things, so I’m just going to see whatever I have left.

One more minute to 20. I’ll go check the mixture.

Letting things cool down

It appears that quite a bit has evaporated, even if I did take the trouble to cover the water container. I guess this means that I should tweak the ingredients of the cooling down phase to be less than what I wanted to put in. The mixture that I have (according to a rather horrible beaker that doesn’t really give me an accurate reading) is in between 75-80ml.

After typing the above paragraph I went to check on the temperature of the solution and found that the solution had sneakily separated into oil and water! I realised that I forgot to stir it after mixing the contents of both containers. I then used a clean chopstick to stir quite vigorously, and at the moment it looks like the water-and-oil solution has regained its one-ness.

Adding of final ingredients

The mixture was looking at about ~70ml when the temperature hit 45degC. I adjusted the amount of cooling phase ingredients to reflect the change in volume, and put in 3 drops of tea tree oil and 3 drops of lavender essential oil, and about 7 drops of DMDM Hydantoin.

Then I stirred everything in again, and poured the slightly warm end product into a 100ml bottle, and gave it a vigorous shake or two. I must say that I’m kind of disappointed at the volume that I ended up with, at about 2/3 of the 100ml bottle only. After the shake the mixture has some froth (some head, in beer terminology) above, so I’m still waiting for the froth to go away and for the temperature to go down to room temperature so that I can try it.

Handmade toner

Voila! The toner itself


I’m still a little confused about the heating and holding process and I’m a little annoyed at all the good stuff that evaporated. Also, because I don’t know what actually evaporated (of that good 25-35% that disappeared), it makes troubleshooting harder. I later read that you’re supposed to stir the stuff while they are in the double boiler, which I did not, so I’ll need to remember the next time. But how do you do that without even more evaporation?

I haven’t tried the mixture so I can’t really say if it’s good or not. The emulsification seems ok so far. The froth has disappeared mostly but there is a small layer left still. Viscosity wise it’s thicker than water and thinner than most oils. While swirling the liquid around I notice that the part of the mixture right below the surface clouds up a little. Is that because of the froth, or because of failed emulsification? Or it’s just the properties of the liquid itself?

Some hours later

The cloudy effect is not so obvious now but I think it’s also the lighting that has changed since the afternoon, so I’ll have to observe again during daylight. The froth has disappeared.

The toner smells nice. I wet the cotton pad (with about 10-15 drops) and was able to swipe it all over my face – I used it once after coming back from a walk (before cleaning my face with a cleanser) and it did look a little dirty, so I surmise that it does the job of cleaning. Face feels nice and cool after using it, though it seems to have a slightly sticky (not oily) phase before it completely dries out. In any case I will use it for a few days and report back later.