Cosmetics production equipment: all the tools you need to set up a skincare lab.
“Which tools do I really need if I want to set up a lab to make lotions, gels or creams?”
“How much space do I need?”
“How much money do I have to invest? “
These are some of the most common questions I receive from my clients.
If you want to know the answers, keep reading.
I know some of you are making lotions just for fun, while others intend to start a business based on that. For the purpose of this article, there’s no difference. Even if you create products for you and your family only, you still want them to be of the highest possible quality.
Am I right?
Unlike what some bloggers are saying out there, you won’t get high quality products using the wrong equipment. If you want to do things properly, forget stick blenders, mini mixers, and kitchen scales.
Don’t use a stick blender for lotion making. You won’t get professional results and you end up having way too much air in the product.
LUISA’S TIP: from a business point of view, consider working with a contract manufacturer if you’re not sure you’ll be able to fulfill all the orders by manufacturing yourself. This is especially true for people who also have another job and don’t feel quite ready to leave it.
When you are just starting out, the advantages of working with a contractor manufacturer are numerous:
- The products are manufactured by trained personnel with professional equipment which means high reproducibility.
- Large-scale production.
- Higher rate of production, including filling and packaging.
- More time to focus on other aspects of your business.
As usual, there are downsides, too.
- It is a more expensive route (but definitely worthy of consideration when the business is still in its embryonic phase)
- Depending on the manufacturer, you’re usually bonded to certain ingredients.
- Production time can take longer.
- High MOQ (minimum order quantity) which means higher capital investment and therefore higher risk. MOQ on average is 2,000 units.
- Low control on what is going on. This is why, when possible, I recommend you visit the facility before starting the process. Is it clean? Do they follow GMP (good manufacturing practices)? Is their practice transparent?
- Formula ownership issues. Contract manufacturers will do anything they can to take ownership of your formula. Don’t let them do it.
Cosmetics lab equipment: how to set up a cosmetic lab at your place.
The choice of manufacturing by yourself makes sense when:
- Your budget is limited.
- You want to make medium size batches to test the market (which I highly recommend).
- You want to try different formulas and directly scale-up in a few days with no intermediates.
- You are completely independent and want to proceed at your own pace.
“The tools you decide to use to make your lotions affect the overall quality and stability of your products.”
This is the truth, like it or not.
If you are into some DIY Facebook groups or blogs, pay attention to how many products simply don’t come out right.
Sure the formula is important, but equipment is equally crucial.
If you want to start your cosmetic business and manufacture cosmetics at home, you need to choose products that are simple and do not require sophisticated tools to be produced OR you need to invest in professional tools. If you’re on a budget, opt for the former. If you have more money, for the latter.
Today is the day. Start your beauty business.
Small batch cosmetic manufacturing equipment: Kristy’s story.
Cosmetic manufacturing equipment
I want you to pay attention to the story below because it shows how profitable the beauty market is and how low are the entry barriers.
When I talked to Kristy for the first time, I was impressed by her determination; she wanted to launch a skincare line. Her current job was to sell wholesale cosmetic products to beauty salons, and she forecasted it would have been much more profitable to sell her own skincare set (and she was right-the margin is a lot higher).
With so many other products on the market, she didn’t know whether her current clients would have bought her private label line or not.
I remember talking to her during our first consultation; she was so worried about losing money and time pursuing an uncertain project!
What I told her, is the same I am telling you now: START SMALL.
Test the market first.
Kristy, therefore, decided to set up a small lab area in the back of her showroom, and we worked together on her project. I provided her with two different formulas for lotions, and I explained in detail how to make them.
She bought the necessary lotion making equipment, the ingredients, and some cosmetic lab supplies. She then started creating prototypes based on the formulas provided.
The next step was to give away these prototypes as free samples to her customers.
Kristy chose to manufacture a small batch of the lotion that received the most positive feedbacks.
Together, we decided to start with the production of 250 units that sold quickly. For the second round, she decided to work with a contract manufacturer for 2500 units. This decision was mainly due to the fact she couldn’t keep up with her other job. After the second round , she worked with the same manufacturer for 3 additional production rounds.
With the revenues from the sales, she was able to move to a bigger place and hired people to take care of the production. She implemented the business with an e-commerce site and reached 6 figures profit in about 1 year and a half.
I don’t want to convey the wrong message here; Kristy succeeded quickly because she had some marketing background and some already established clients. Furthermore, she got a professional formulation and paid to see how it was done.
If you start from 0, it is definitely doable, BUT you need to surround yourself with different experts or acquire some knowledge in areas you have a lack of it. On Udemy.com you can find online courses on almost any topic you can think of. These include marketing, social media advertising, photography, design. All these skills play an important role in building a successful cosmetic brand.
If you want to read more about how to launch your own cosmetic line, here‘s another useful post.
Lotion Making Equipment- What to Buy
Before we start we the list of the tools, remember that everything you buy for your home lab/production site must be properly stored, maintained, cleaned, and checked periodically (this includes all the raw materials and ingredients).
It can be a table, a desk or whatever you want. I personally like industrial stainless steel tables because they’re very sturdy and easy to clean. I used to use lab specific desks but I found porous surfaces more difficult to clean. To sanitize before use, I suggest using a solution of alcohol/water 60%. To clean, use any multi-purpose detergent. See an example of a suitable table here (affiliate link- Thank you for your support).
If you intend to invest in a professional lotion mixer (see below), you probably want an even more robust surface. Gladiator workbenches are perfect for this purpose.
COSMETIC DIGITAL SCALE
Buying a good scale is pivotal as often you’ll have to weigh incredibly small amounts of material.
Accuracy in science is everything.
Which factors should you take into account when buying a scale?
First, capacity and readability.
Capacity is basically the maximum weight the scale can sustain while readability is the smallest division at which the balance’s screen increments. So for example, if a scale has a 1 gram readability, it means the screen will increment only by 1 gram. It won’t be able to read smaller increments, for instance, 0.5 grams.
As the capacity increases, the readability decreases. This is why it is almost always necessary to own at least 2 scales: one with small capacity yet high readability and the other just the opposite. If you don’t need a super high capacity, then you can compromise by buying a scale that has a 0.01g readability and a 2200 grams capacity (see below).
A good readability for making cosmetics starts at 0.1 grams. Spend some time becoming familiar with the metric system and measure by weight rather than volume (volume = cups, tbsp etc). Simply put weight never changes, while volume depends on what you are considering. Measuring by weight guarantees reproducible measurements, and reproducibility is definitely something to look forward to when dealing with science.
Ohaus NV 2101 is the scale I use for almost all my formulations. It has a readability of 0.1 g and a capacity of 2.1 kg (74 oz). I’ve been using it for years and never, never had any problem. The box includes a calibrating weight, so you don’t have to purchase one (calibrate it once every few months). It comes with an AC adaptor but works with batteries, too.
If you’re planning to manufacture small batches, you’ll need a scale with a lower readability and a higher capacity. In my lab I use the Ohaus R31P30 which has a 30kg capacity and 1 gram readability.
Another excellent scale more budget friendly is this one.
Ohaus SPX421 is a more affordable option for your cosmetic lab
Hot plates are small machines that heat and maintain a fixed temperature over time. As for lotion making equipment, they’re used to melt waxes and other solid ingredients.
The hot plate can be thought of as the professional equivalent for the double boiler mentioned in some DIY blogs.
The hot plate surface can consist of different materials; I recommend ceramic as it’s easier to clean. When making lotions, it’s useful to have a hot plate coupled with a magnetic stirrer.
A magnetic stirrer is a device that employs a magnetic field to make a small bar stir, thus stirring the liquid.
Hotplate and magnetic stirrer are usually found within the same instrument. The magnetic stirrer is very useful to ensure heating and agitation while adding powders to a liquid so that dissolution happens faster.
The brand Corning makes are real workhorses when it comes to hot plates.
This is the hot plate I use to make some of my formulations. For a cheaper option (that still works great), consider this one. The latter has a more powerful magnetic stirrer, but the temperature control is not so great.
OVERHEAD COSMETIC MIXER
Overhead cosmetic mixers are probably going to be the most expensive piece of equipment in your lab.
I don’t know you, but I don’t mind paying a lot for something that gives me back enormous value. What I hate is to waste money on stuff I don’t really need. This is why I’ve never regretted the $$$ I spent on my mixer.
If you already have good formulation skills and want to really start making professional cosmetics, I would suggest you invest in the Turbotest Evo VMI mixer (the one that I use in my lab). Cost is around $7,000 but totally worth every cent.
The main advantage of having an excellent mixer is the reproducibility which means it makes scaling up very easy. In fact, it can be used for both lab and small batches manufacturing.
Cosmetic mixers have an electric motor, and the mixing tool is attached to a metal rod. Mixing speed is adjustable within certain ranges.
Overhead cosmetic mixers come with different impellers and each has a different purpose. For lotion-making purposes, the best one is a rotor stator system as shown in the photo.
A rotor/stator system is the best option to make emulsions.
I’ve been doing some digging on eBay and Amazon and found this mixer as cheaper option. This is like a mini mixer for cosmetics. You won’t be able to manufacture small batches by using that.
Ebay.com is better than Amazon for this kind of industrial and commercial lotion making equipment. You can find some good deals on used instruments as well.
Used instruments are recommended when you’re just starting out. Whatever you decide to buy, remember that the stability and quality of the final product will depend on this decision. ..A good formula doesn’t guarantee a professional result itself!
For dispersion purposes you want to use another kind of impeller that is commonly known as saw tooth impeller (see picture below). This kind of impeller is the best option when you need to disperse a powder (for example carbomer) into a liquid. It’s also widely used to disperse pigments in their base when making liquid lipstick.
The “saw-tooth” mixer impeller is the best option when you need to disperse a powder into a liquid.
MISCELLANEOUS & DISPOSABLE COSMETIC LAB SUPPLIES
Pipettes are meant to precisely handle liquids. Those made of glass are usually reusable, while plastic ones are disposable. Pipettes are excellent to avoid waste when picking up liquids from inside a bottle.
Make sure to use a different one for each material. By doing this, you’ll avoid cross contamination. If you’re not discarding them after use, use a solution of water and ethanol or rubbing alcohol to clean and sanitize.
pH strips and pH meter
pH strips are used to calculate pH values. They provide a range rather than a single value. Therefore, they’re not very precise. Once you become more familiar with the process of lotion-making, switch to a portable pH meter which is way more reliable.
Here’s the pH meter I use.
When making lab batches, create between 100 and 300 grams of product. Don’t go below 100 grams as some product’s features could be difficult to detect with such a small batch size. Beakers are the pyrex glass containers to hold your products. They come in different sizes.
The following are the most common beakers sizes: 50ml, 250 ml, 100 ml and eventually 500 ml. Bigger sizes do exist and are useful when you need to scale up your production.
Weighing dishes are made of polystyrene. You can use them to weigh powders but also liquids. Some scales have a limited capacity making it impossible to weigh substances directly in the beaker. These dishes hold the solutions. You can wash and reuse them.
Cleaning up the mess is the least fun part of the job! Not everything can be washed off with water and soap. This is especially true for anhydrous products or water in silicone emulsions. In these cases, for an effective cleaning use paper and a compatible chemical (for example mineral oil, paraffin, or cyclopentasiloxane). After all the anhydrous residues are gone, wash the beaker thoroughly with water and soap and finally wipe it with an alcohol pad.
Equipment to perform some in-house basic stability tests.
Stability tests are of 2 different kinds: microbiological stability and physical/chemical stability.
Microbiological tests aim to make sure the product has a limited number of bacteria and absolutely no pathogens ones (for example Pseudomonas Aeruginosa).
I recommend using a third party professional lab, unless you can handle cell cultures and have some kind of biology experience. However, there are some kit you can use BEFORE you spend money for the tests. See this page.
As far as the physical stability, you can perform the so called accelerated stability tests. These allow you to estimate the shelf life of your lotion and give you results in approximately 3 months. Accelerated stability testing consists in keeping your laboratory batches or finished goods at a set temperature and humidity. An incubator creates this controlled environment.
Best is to buy one that has a temperature range of at least -10C to 40C so you can test your sample at both temperatures with the same instrument. Chamber’s sizes vary, allowing to choose the most suitable one for your needs. Look for bargains on labx.com. A good brand of chambers is Sanyo. Just starting out? Then you want to give a try to this incubator.
When it comes to lotions, changes in viscosity are one of the signs of instability. A viscosimeter, therefore, can really help you out, but it is not necessary if you’re just starting out or if you have no intention to sell your lotions. Viscosity must be recorded always at the same temperature. The most recognizable brand for viscosimeter is Brookfield and here’s the link to one of their valuable, yet affordable models. Another useful instrument to test the physical stability of lotions is a bench top centrifuge. The high-speed spinning uncovers any kind of latent separation issue.
I guarantee that if you performed the right stability tests on lotions made with DIY formulas and kitchen equipment, they’ll fail.
Cosmetic Making Equipment – Conclusions
If you’re serious about making cosmetics, in particular skincare products such as lotions and cream, you must invest in some basic laboratory equipment.
The right tools will allow you to obtain professional products with a long shelf life and superior quality.
If doing this by yourself is too much, work with us here at Luisa Fanzani! Get a consultation or buy some of our pre-formulated options. Get started and build your brand!
What equipment are you currently using to make skin care products? If there’s anything you’d like to add to this list, please post it in the comment section below.
54 thoughts on “Lotion Making Equipment. The best tools to make awesome cosmetics.”
Hello Dear Luisa,
I appreciate very much your time and efforts to share your very valuable knowledge, skills, abilities with others. You are absolutely professional and very honest and have profound values that no where can be found. I have a dream to produce my own proprietary anti-aging cream, right now it is just a dream but I want to start the reality process soon. I was lucky enough to make a perfect landing here with you.
Is there any state or specific license requirements to produce your own product?
Thank you very much Luisa
Very inspiring Experience!!
Thank you the nice words! In the US, no license or pre-approval is required for cosmetics. However, if you want to develop an anti-age cream with SPF, then you’ll need pre approval from the FDA. Best of luck with your project and promise me you won’t stop pursuing it until you succeed!
Hello. Thank you for the amazing article. Could you please tell me what do you think about planetary low-speed mixer to make a emulsions?
In general, I think it doesn’t make stable emulsions. However, there are certain types of cream that can be made using it, for example I had decent results making “vanishing” creams (https://www.cosmeticsandskin.com/aba/vanishing-cream.php)
Thank you very much for your answer. It means a lot for me. Could you please recommend for me any good device which will be good to fill containers with a thick cream and cosmetic butters?
It depends on the viscosity of the products, but many of my clients started with a simple filling machines they bought on amazon.com
first of all thank you for your sharing, they are really useful!
In relation to the ph meter, what probe do you advise? The model you refer to comes with a glass bulb probe that I do not know if it will be indicated to evaluate the pH of more “viscous” creams and lotions.
The weighing plates have to be of polystyrene or can be of another material? I’m just starting out in the world of natural cosmetics and I need to acquire the base material but I can not invest much money … thanks!
Weighing plates are useful, yet not 100% necessary. Don’t buy them if you’re on a budget. As far as the pH meter, the glass bulb probe works even for creams. I would suggest to buy a used one, try Ebay.
This was such a helpful article. Thank you so much! Do you know of any resources for filtering hair gels? I know they are not lotions but your article is the closest I’ve found to scaling hair gel! thank you! -April
What do you mean by filtering air gels?
You indicate that simple kitchen tools won’t work. That is very true but I find that Belinda Carli on youtube shows videos of her using basic equipment such as a whisk to formulate cosmetics. Would you disagree with her experience and stable emulsions?
I have not seen a single video of her using a kitchen whisk to make lotions. That might or might not work to achieve a good stability. In my experience, it doesn’t. Furthermore, because of they it is made, it allows a lot of air to incorporate, thus forming bubbles. My point is that you must prove stability is okay through stability tests. If the product passes the test using a whisk , then by any means go for it. If you’re just enjoying formulating and don’t sell products, then of course a kitchen blender is everything you need.
Thanks for the response. She owns a school called the institute of personal care science which is the channel she teaches on youtube. The name of the video you can reference is called How to create Natural Polymeric Emulsions. From what I understand, some formulas need air, while others you don’t want to introduce any air. As a gum/polymer plus the correct emulsification system for the accurate HLB would make a stable/structure emulsion, along with other factors like the preservation system.
In my experience, the kind of equipment you use is crucial for stability.
Thank you for the great information that you published. I am setting a small lab plant in my home, as I want to make shampoo and body lotions. Do you know of a good small manual filler and a tube packing sealer that are not over priced?
Alex, it depends on the viscosity of the products you’re making. Send me an email so we can discuss it.
Thank you so much for this article. I’m a snail farmer in Nigeria and currently trying to create anti- acne products using the snail slime. I need to work with a formulator as I do not have any knowledge of skin care formulation. How can we work together please. Thank you
Send a an email to email@example.com
Lovely thank you. I’m looking to scale up, in that case do you have recommendations?
Yes, but you need to be more specific (what product, how much )?
Thank you very much Luisa, i have a little question about the mixer if it is 700W and it would be almost 3 pounds of cream is it sure that the lotion or the cream would be destabilized??
What do you mean by destabilized? I can’t answer this question unless I know the formula.
I really thank you for this beneficial article , I want to ask you if these tools are the same of that for making shower gel ?
If it’s a gel with only water phase, you only need a good tool to disperse the felling agent like the saw -tooth impeller. No need to get the rotor stator one.
I would like to sell my homemade facial moisturizers at farmers markets. Will my kitchen aid pro 625w stand mixer work or do I need to get different equipment?
Make a batch using it and then test it for stability. If it’s stable, you can definitely use it. However if you’re in the game for the long run you ‘ll have to purchase a real mixer soon or later.
Thanks for the great information and knowledge shard. Please I will love you to give me a good formula for lotion body cream. Here in Africa our weather is much different from yours. Please can you recommend one or two formula for me. Thanks
Hi Joseph, I can’t give you a formula just like that. Creating a formula is a process that takes time and trial and errors.
Hi, we do have an existing family products cream and ointment that our customers they liked it, we are planning to move to the next level and do it professionally I mean by that use equipment and technology from the raw materials to the packaging stage, our goal is to achieve 500 units creams and 500 units ointment a day. we need your help to design a production line and choose the right equipment for this process
Hi there! I replied you on FB.
hi, i specialise in producincing antiperspiriant deo-dorant roll-on and perfume spray, i will like to discuse with you on email for more improvment. thank.
Would love to, but I don’t formulate deodorants. Sorry about that!
Hi Luisa, Thank you for much helpful information! So grateful! I grow roses and lavender and have obtained a copper distillery for the purposes of stilling essential oil. Currently I only make skin creams without water, but would like to attempt lotion using the rose/lavender hydrosol. Would you be able to recommend a recipe with preservative? Thank you most kindly.
Hi Rose, you’re welcome to join the FB group and eventually ask other members for formulas. Can’t give them away for free because my clients who paid for would be upset 😉
Very useful information Luisa, thank you for this post. What about those who want to heat a water phase and an oil phase to make a oil in water emulsion? Would you recommend buying two of the hot plates, one for each phase? What about mixing containers to create the emulsion once I scale up to 2 to 5 lbs of the o/w cream? Would you recommend bigger pyrex containers or metal containers?
hi there! If you can afford them, buy big pyrex glass beaker (up to 10l). Metal containers work too but they’re not transparent making it difficult to follow along the manufacturing process.
If the hotplate is big enough, one is enough. If not 2.
Thank you for this, it’s so interesting and so inspiring that I had to purchase the e-book immediately! to learn more. I believe with your support I can finally start the business I’ve been so interested in and had no guide as to how to start but your e-book has been very encouraging and now I feel “yes I can!” Thank you. I have requested to join your Fb group and would be happy to comply with your requirements in joining. Thanks again and God bless
Hello, thanks for sharing your knowledge.
I realise thermometer is not part of the list mentioned, does that mean i can formulate lotions and creams without it?
No, if you’re just starting out you should use one as reference for temperatures.
I agree with comments on how generous you are for sharing these steps with the general public.
Like one of the earlier comments, I create only anhydrous body lotions and so will try some new formulas with added water and see how it turns out.
Yes, let me know if you need help!
This the best and sincere site I have found, like earlier respondents, am very grateful and I also have a dream of starting my own cosmetic line. Be sure I will stick with you.
Awesome! Thank you so much!
Hello Luisa, thank you for all the information you shared! In order to make skin cream/moisturizers that have a thick texture, do I need emulsifiers /homogenizers for equipment instead of a mixer?
Evelyn, cosmetic mixers come with different impellers. You need to pick one depending on the product you’re making. For a cream the rotor stator one works.
This article is very well written.
Do you use a Vaccum pump for your products? if yes then how is the set up.
No, I don’t
I am in the process of starting a skin care line. I graduated in Esthetics and I’m very interested in Sugar Wax. I’ve been making cooking it and also using it on a few clients. Any thoughts or suggestions for me in regards to anything pertaining to the Wax???
Very much found your information interesting. I am about to venture into lotion making and I have no idea of preparing a basic body lotion. I want to make use of kernel oil as my main raw material, and that’s all I know about it, please can you direct me to where I can learn how to formulate and the production process. Many thanks
Mat, schedule a consultation with me and I’ll teach you everything you need to know.
I am really impressed with your blog article, such great & useful information you mentioned here.
Thanks for sharing and keep it up like this.
Thank you for the article, very insightful. How do you test for stability if you’re just starting out making cosmetic products?
You can send a sample of your product to a lab but if you’re just starting out you can also use one of these kits https://www.formulatorsampleshop.com/Microbial-Test-Kit-Formulator-Sample-Shop-p/fssinc-2.htm
Tests required for physical stability depend on the formula. Send me an email to get more details.