Homemade Hair Products: Scientific advice

This question comes from Aj on twitter, 'Do u have any advice about mixing homemade #naturalhair products from a scientific perspective?'

I am not a mixtress because I find commercial products work very well with my hair. I had to play with a lot of things before finally getting there but I did get there (mostly because I finally figured that type 4 hair will never look like type 3 despite what the magazines show.....so yes I can laugh at myself now lol)

Anway, product mixing from a scientific perspective!

1. Clean containers and clean water.
Hygiene is a priority. Use disposable plastic containers or glass containers that you can easily disinfect. Use clean mixing tools ideally made from glass but if not, just make sure they are clean

If you are going to use water, remember it is the number one requirement for bacteria and fungi (i.e water=germ food). Clean water is a must, boil it for 15 minutes (not just boil.....but actually keep it boiling for 15 minutes) then cool it down prior to use. Alternatively filtered water is also good. 

2. Scales, paper and labels

Science requires records. Eyeballing (i.e guessing quantities) is the downfall of many mixes. If you take the time to weigh out or measure the quantities, you will be better able to reproduce the mix again. If you tweak it, you can also write this down and know exactly what you did previously. Label the final jars allowing you to know which mix is in which bottle.

3. Oils - general advice
Oils will mix happily with other oils. Always think about what you want

1. Your oil is too thick - water(not literally) it down with a less viscous or easy flowing oil . For example if castor oil is too thick for you, add some olive oil or jojoba oil to it. 
2. Your oil is too heavy or too light - add a lighter or heavier oil to it. For example if shea butter is too heavy, add some coconut oil to it. If coconut is too light for you, add some shear butter or castor oil.
3. Your oil is hard in winter - Coconut oil can easily become very solid in winter, contrast this with olive oil which is liquid at low temperature. Mix the two and you have an oil which is not liquid and not too solid
4. You do not like the scent of a particular oil - Add some fragrant essential oil or add another oil with a scent that you like.

4. Conditioners - general advice
Generally the rule here is, mix only what you are going to use. Why? Every conditioner that you buy commercially has an optimum amount of preservative added to it. This preservative prevents growth of bacteria and fungi.

When you mix two conditioners with different preservatives or different preservative levels you can end up reducing or eliminating the antibacterial/antifungal effect. 

This is not a problem if you intend to use the product immediately, but it is an issue if you want to keep the product for a long time. Ideally mix once, use immediately. Worst case scenario, put it in the fridge

General thinking advice
1. Conditioner too thick - Add a light oil or water
2. Conditioner not thick enough - Add honey or a liquid oil (easier to mix)
3. Conditioner not moisturising enough - Add glycerin, consider your process before and after washing

Any mixtresses around? Got advice?

Image Credit


  1. These are great mixtress basics. I'd add that starting off with fresh, organic ingredients is best.

  2. Hi JC, yep being a mixtress is tricky. I have been trying some mixes lately, and to be honest it takes too much tweaking and reformulating, etc ... i find that although i fancy myself the mixtress, i'd rather just buy! Having said that, just an hour ago, i made a hair butter which i am quite pleased with, and i also made a hair custard, which was so so, i think i didn't work out the right % of PS20 (emulsifier).
    When i read ingredients at the back of a product i like, i am always like: "i can make this, psssstttt", but working out the right formulation is time (and money) consuming! so i have decided to make the odd butter here and there but mostly to buy ready-made products.

    What frustrates me the most is that i can never find the right scents, meaning the fragranced oils i buy all have that synthetic smell. If you (or anyone reading this) knows a website where i can buy "natural-smelling" fragranced oils, i'd be very grateful! i like smells like cake batter, coffee, caramel, burned sugar, those sweet smells, and citrus smells. Sometimes EOs just don't do it in the right quantity, for a stronger smell, i would have to go over the recommended dosage.
    I do use preservatives in my homemade products (usually phenoxyethanol) to prevent the little monsters from thinking it's xmas everyday (in my lovely murumuru and capuacu mixes! :)

    You always have such interesting posts! Thanks for providing some neurone stimulation to a new first time mum at home for now (i swear baby talk will drive me insane eventually, and hubby is not a scientist :))

  3. Random Alert: saw somewhere that you were a Kenyan and in the UK, me too!! the world is small. this makes ur blog even more so my favourite natural hair resource :) i've only seen one other blog from EA ladies... so glad we are representing also.

  4. These are really good tips, especially about the cleaning and labelling.

    @hybridomatech: I have the same problem - finding fragranced oils as opposed to EOs. Have you tried your local Whole Foods (if you have one)? Also, here are a couple of websites that sell them, though I haven't ordered from either:


  5. Totally agree with hybridomatech. Making hair products at home is quite hard for me. So i choose the way buying them at the shop :)

  6. Hybridomatech- Natural essential oils with a scent tend to be more fruity or flowery. I think you might like cocoa butter which can smell chocolatey or like fresh cookies. Coffee butter is also a possiblility

    kinky lockz - Ndiyo :) (Yes in Swahili)

  7. Well, what about the ph when you're mixing things? Don't you need something to make the ph levels neutral in your products-ph control agents or acidity regulators? That's where I'm at now in my research for shampoos and conditioners. Thanks.

  8. Good tips! I especially like the one about adding a fragrant EO to an oil you don't like the smell of. I just added some Sweet Orange EO to my castor oil. It smells much better now.

    As for my tip, I would say be careful when adding oils to shea butter. It's easy to overdo it and be left with a greasy mess. I actually don't add any oil to my shea butter mix. I like it much better than when I used to add oil.

  9. Natural for life - In my opinion pH is not that simple. It is true that ideally hair products should be slightly acidic to neural.

    However in truth in order to change the pH, you are actually performing a chemical reaction which actually can dramatically affect the performance of your ingredients (positively or negatively).

    Most commercial conditioners are in the slight acidic to neutral range and generally mixing them does not tend to have a dramatic effect on pH.

  10. aoww!! thanks for all the suggestions everyone. I have recently purchased cocoa and coffee butter just for the scent, but the bleemin' shea butter smell offsets everything!!
    Loo, i will try those websites, i have previously ordered from gracefruits and oils4life and another site i cannot remember. Yesterday i found this one:http://www.sensoryperfection.co.uk/

    Yeah, getting stuff like that in the Netherlands is not easy at all, only EOs and they are quite pricey. I think i have been to all the natural/organic etc stores in Amsterdam!

    looks really good, will give it a go and try a couple of scents.
    I made a shampoo today, will try it tomorrow (basically copied Oyin's honey Wash).

    JC: i was wondering where you were from cos you often mention French blogs, do you speak French? (it's my mother tongue). I am on the last few pages of this book called "In my Dreams i Dance", if you haven't read it, give it a go, about a Kenyan lady (Anne Wafula Strike) living in the UK now and her journey from Kenya, very humbling, loving it.

    Thanks again!! ciao x

  11. Hi, i am chipping in again. i agree with JC about the pH.
    What i do do however is that i use a bit of citric acid (you can purchase from SheaButter Cottage), i guess you could also use lemon (but i am weary of that). I have a digital pH meter, so i check with that. Aloe vera juice is probably your best bet if you chose to adjust the pH of your mixture, but then you might have to use an emulsifier so that your water phase and oil phase do not separate later.

    @Mangomadness: i use a bit of yarrow root or cornstarch (and sometimes natrasorb) to absorb some of that greasiness when i mix oils into my butters. Not too much of cornstarch though, or you'll end up with a white film on your hair (i did!) :)

    Oohh i love this thread, picking up loads of tips!

  12. lol I am a world citizen well not really. I am Kenyan, born and raised. I have lived in UK for a long time now so it is my adopted home. I love languages which is why I learned and speak French. I am also learning German and in time Italian or Japanese. I think I may go for Japanese since many words are pronounced a little bit like Swahili.

  13. I love languages too! I did a minor in linguistics, and my most amazing German professor is Igbo. I learnt so much I never knew before about my own mother tongue from him, because he has this really fresh approach. Whilst, when you study German grammar at another European teacher, it's more like diving deeper into the stuff you already know from school.
    Just how off-topic is this? :D
    But world citizenship needs a praise :D

    But on Topic, I mixed oils once and I loved the result. But when I finished them and repeated, some little life form came along and had a party in the jar :(

  14. lol totally off topic Gerlinde but a great discussion nonetheless :)

    Ewwww on the life form

  15. Gerlinde yaaayyy about being world citizens! i swear when i was younger i didn't even know where i belonged anymore!
    Languages are fun! gosh JC i always wanted to learn Japanese, good luck with it! but you know Italian is very close to French too (my grandpa is Italian). Learning Dutch at the moment, enjoying it, parts of it remind me of German (which i studied for a while).

    Back on hair stuff, a good tip is to make sure that both your water phase and oil phase are at similar temperatures when mixing them together, and to only add EOs and fragranced oils once your mixture is cool, same with preservatives.

  16. I think the key to making mixtures that work is starting with the bare minimum ingredients. Most commercial products have a long list that may not even not contain everything in the product, obviously they know someone will try to replicate it. Getting a similar mixture therefore takes time.

    @Hybridomatech: On the issue of essential oils not having a strong enough aroma, I wonder whether it's because most people are already used to the stronger fragrances generally used in products we buy.
    I also think the proliferation of synthetic fragrances might have to do with cost. Depending on the source, it may be difficult or time consuming to extract large quantities of some E.O.s. That's why synthetic mimics are created for faster and easier mass production and distribution.

    Finally, it's great that almost everyone is going all natural and organic. However, let's not forget that often times artificially derived ingredients do help in making mixtures work better or last longer. And just because it's natural does not mean its completely safe. I'm sure that's been mentioned here before. There are still a lot of unknowns about the toxicological profile of many substances in the world today.

    @kinky_lockz and Jc, hello from another Kenyan in the U.S. :)

    Anonymous 2

  17. Thanks, Jc. I'm just trying to make my own conditioner and articles keep talking about acidifiers. Yet, I never see an article saying how to use them in creating conditioners. I've chosen what I want to buy except for acidifiers. I'll keep up the research and reading this website. P.S. this website is great.

  18. JC, I love your blog. I'm also Kenyan, born and bred and live in the UK.
    I looove your blog. Keep the good work.


  19. I have a conditioner question. I usually use Aubrey Organics. But, I'm looking to cut back and planning to use a cheaper condish more frequently. When is it IMPERATIVE that I use a high quality condish like Aubrey (I will still use my oils ie. avocado/castor)...before washing (pre-poo treatment), after washing, or a few times during the week before employing the baggying method? Or does it not matter. Thanks

  20. I use a few natural preservatives in my mixes. ROE (rosemary oil extract) is a great one. It's stronger than rosemary e/o and is often used as a broad-spectrum preservative.

    I wear latex gloves when I mix my products.

    When sterilizing plastic bottles, I wash the thoroughly, using a baby bottle brush and some good dishwashing liquid. I rinse them repeatedly and let them air dry. Afterward, I add 91% isoprorpyl alcohol, put on the caps or lids and shake well. When it's mixing time, I dump the alcohol and rinse well several times with purified water.

    @ Loo: Thanks so much for those URLs. I bookmarked them.

  21. Hi, when mixing oils do you still have to worry about bacteria? I usually mix castor oil, jojoba oil, rosemary essential oil, and peppermint oil; I usually mix in a 6 or 8 oz bottle and keep it until it finishes (usually 1 month).

    Thank you


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