Formulating gels, serums, lotions & creams: what is the difference, and which formulas are best to use?

When it comes to formulating cosmetics, you would first think about the type of product you want to create. Do you want your product to be in a gel form, serum form, or as a lotion or cream? Sometimes you may even want your product to be a butter, balm or ointment! This blog will take a look at the lighter product forms: gel, serum, lotion and cream formulas. We’ll explain how these types of cosmetic formulas differ, and when you might choose one over the other.

Once you have chosen which form you want your product to take, you just click on the desired form in the Create Cosmetic Formulas program – then its over to you, to pick and choose from the ingredients listed, to create your own unique cosmetic formulas!


formulating gels, serums, lotions and creams

Gel formulas

Gel formulas are usually water based with a water gelling agent to create the product form. There is a different type: oleogels, but we’ll take a look at oleogel formulas next.

Gel formulas are great when you want a really light cosmetic formula – one with little to no oil present. They are especially useful for facial use for very oily skin types, and can also be great to soothe the body, such as after sun or aloe vera gel type products.
Gel formulas usually contain a high level of humectants, to provide moisturising benefits; as well as selected actives, to provide the functionality of the formula. They may also contain a variety of glycerin based herbal extracts for added performance and marketing benefits. Gel formulas normally contain a small amount of essential oils and fragrance that is solubilised, to provide a beautiful aroma. They may also contain a very small input of oils for marketing purposes.

Hair gel formulas are also great to deliver weightless style to the hair, especially compared to heavier cremes, mousses or pomades.

There is an oil free gel formula choice in the Create Cosmetic Formulas program, which does not contain any sort of oil, including no essential oils or fragrances, if you want a completely oil free cosmetic formula.

Get inspiration from our videos:

Oleogel formulas

Oleogel formulas are created using special materials like sucragel. They enable the creation of oily gels that are less greasy than balms or standard oily serums, so are best suited when an oily gel or serum is desired, but without a greasy residue.

Oleogel formulas are also unique in that they turn to milk when wet. So you can create oil-to-milk cleansers with oleogels; and you can also create washable massage gels. Oleogels enable easy rinsing of oily gels, where more traditional massage oils or oily gel formulas are not easy to wash away. You can easily add various plant and essential oils to oleogel formulas for fantastic skin benefits and sensory delight.

These formulas need very careful processing to enable them to form and be stable, but once you’ve mastered the technique, you’ll find so much innovation in using the oleogel formula.

Watch how to create oleogels with our video: How to use and fix sucragel in formulas

Serum formulas

Serum formulas are a great way to deliver actives and hydration to the skin whilst still being lighter in skin feel than a standard emulsions. Serums suit oily skin types, in place of moisturisers in some cases; but are also great for dry and mature skin types, as well as to address other skin performance needs, like skin lightening.

The Create Cosmetic Formulas program has two types of serum formulas you can work from:

  • Gel like serum formulas: with a really low oil base, these are great when the focus is on delivering the active ingredients along with extracts and humectants, for hydration and
  • Lotion like serum formulas: contain a little more oil than gel like serums, but still less oil than a standard cream or lotion. Also great to deliver actives, extracts and humectants, they can be layered upon with another round of hydration if desired.

You can read more on how to formulate serums with our blog on this topic!

Get inspiration from our videos:

Crème-gel formulas

Crème-gel formulas use very special emulsifiers, called polymeric emulsifiers, to create an emulsion that is not as viscous as a cream, but not as light as a gel. They are partially gel-like in their form, but also cream like.

Crème-gel formulas are fantastic as moisturisers for oily skin types as well as Asian skin types and in humid climates. They deliver oils and humectants for moisturising benefits but have a lotion skin feel in an easy to use cream-gel form.

They can also be used to make make-up primers! Being lighter than standard face creams, crème-gel formulas are great as make-up primers as they don’t have a greasy build up when being layered with foundation products. 

Get inspiration from our video: How to make make-up primer formula


Lotion and cream formulas

Lotion formulas are made by creating emulsions: a mix of (mostly) water with some oils and/or butters present. Lotions tend to spread well, so are great for body care products, and have around 8-11%w/w oil content, so you can vary how moisturising they are. They also contain humectants, to keep the skin feeling hydrated, and may contain actives as well as extracts for skin benefits.

Cream formulas are very similar to lotions, but usually have a slightly higher oil (or butter) content, from 9 – 12%w/w, and are usually more viscous, to suit smaller application areas like the face, compared to the body. They also contain humectants for skin hydration and usually contain at least one or more actives and extracts.

Get inspiration from our videos:

So, now it’s over to you to get creating! What type of cosmetic formula would you like to create today?’

Did you know there are three types of the create cosmetic formulas program that make it easy for you to create cosmetic formulas fast and easily – and always get a formula that works!

Haven’t tried the create cosmetic formulas program yet? Enjoy it RISK FREE for 24 hours, to see how easy it can make formulating for you.