How are serum formulas created? 

Serums are one of the most hotly trending cosmetic product forms, but have you ever wondered why?

how to make serum formulas


The main reason they are so popular with cosmetic brands and consumers alike, is because there are several different types of serum formulas that can be created. This blog will look at the different types of serum formulas you can create, how they differ, and which type of skin each serum formula is best suited to.

You’ll see each of these formula builds in the create cosmetic formulas programs for general skin and hair, as well as organic products, using the names in bold below. 

Gel formulas:

  • Gel formulas are water-based formulas with a gelling agent. They contain a humectant for moisturising benefits and may contain water soluble active ingredients as well as glycerin based herbal extracts and botanical ingredients. They will often contain a very small amount of essential oil or fragrance, suitably stabilised within a solubilising ingredient. Gel serums are ideal for oily skin types where a small input of fragrance or essential oil is desired for aromatic purposes.
  • Gel – oil free formulas are very similar to gel formulas, but do not contain any sort of oil, essential oils, fragrances or solubilisers. Oil free gels are ideal where no aroma is required and oil is to be avoided. Hydration in gel formulas comes from any humectants present; and both types of gel formulas may contain water soluble active ingredients, glycerin based herbal extracts or botanical ingredients for skin benefits.


Oleogel formulas:

  • Oleogel formulas use special gelling agents, typically referred to as sucragel, that enable a small amount of water and glycerin to stabilise a very large internal oil phase. They provide the nicest skin feel when the majority of the oil phase is a triglyceride. Not only do they provide a fantastic sensory experience on application, they also provide an interesting consumer experience on wash off, as they turn to a ‘milk’ once water is added to the skin. Oleogels are best used when you want a cushiony emollience on application, but easy removal or wash off after use. For example, they are particularly great for body oil gels, as they won’t stain clothing. In the create cosmetic formulas program, you can enjoy them as an oily gel without additives, or you can add exfoliants for a cushiony scrub effect, or add shimmer for a party-time effect.


Oily serum formulas:

  • Oily serum formulas are totally oil based. In the create cosmetic formulas program, we have created these to have a triglyceride as the ‘base’ material, to reduce any heavy, residual greasy feeling you would experience if using mostly plant oils, and to reduce the chance of excessive oxidation, which would also occur when a majority of plant oils is used. Essential oils or fragrances can be added to these formulas, as can oil soluble actives. Oily serums run freely, as they have no consistency factor or viscosity modifier present. Water soluble actives, glycerin based extracts and water soluble botanical ingredients are not suited to these formulas.
  • Oily gel formulas are similar to oily serums, except they have a waxy consistency factor or oil compatible rheology modifier added to increase their viscosity. Depending on how much and which types of consistency factors are used, they may be gelled to a honey like consistency, right up to a soft balm-like consistency. Like oily serums, water soluble actives, glycerin based extracts and water soluble botanical ingredients are not suited to these types of formulations.


Popular serum formulas:

  • Serum – gel like formulas contain a higher input of oils than gel formulas for their emollient benefits. Whereas a gel formula may contain up to 0.6%w/w oil content, serum-gel like formulas can contain up to 3%w/w oil content. This oil content is mostly made up of plant oils for skin moisturising benefits, but humectants are also used for hydration benefits. A small amount of solubiliser may be used to stabilise any added fragrances, essential oils or the higher oil content. Water soluble actives, glycerin based herbal extracts and botanical extracts may be used in serum-gel like formulas and rely on the humectants to assist with delivery. Serum-gel like formulas are ideal for oily to normal skin types where a small amount of emolliency is desired, but the product is still required to feel very light on application with little to no residue.
  • Serum-lotion like formulas provide the greatest formulation flexibility, and still feel very light on application. A serum-lotion like formula contains a higher input of oils – typically up to 6%w/w – stabilised with a low emulsifier input. They also usually contain humectants; the combination of the oil with the humectants makes these serum formulas light but conditioning for the skin, while the combination of humectants and emulsifiers enhances deliveries of any actives used. A small input of oil soluble actives may be used in lotion-like serum formulas, but the majority of the active input comes from water soluble active ingredients. Glycerin based herbal extracts and water-soluble botanical ingredients are also common additions. A small addition of fragrances or essential oils for aromatic benefits are also common. Lotion-like serum formulas are the serum formulas of choice where you want good delivery of actives and/or need to stabilise a relatively high level of active ingredients, but still want a very light skin feel from the finished product formula. They are ideal for normal to dry skin types, and even mature skin types when paired with more intensive moisturising creams.

As you can see, the reason serums are such a popular formulation trend is because of the many different forms they can take. Because of their different forms, a lot of variation can be introduced, a large range of actives can be added, all skin types can be accommodated, and the sensory experience can be enjoyed.  

The choice is up to you! So, now you are left to decide: what do you want to create today?

Happy formulating!

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. Register here and get creating cosmetic formulas straight away!