Home Store Project Ideas Project Guide Ask An Expert Blog Careers Teachers Parents Students
Create Assignment

Potions and Lotions: Lessons in Cosmetic Chemistry

Time Required Short (2-5 days)
Prerequisites None
Material Availability Look for ingredients at drug stores, craft shops, health foods stores, or online retailers like Amazon.com
Cost Average ($50 - $100)
Safety Minor injury possible


Did you know that cosmetics companies employ teams of specialized chemists to develop and test each new line of makeup, perfume, lotion, or soap? This science project lets you be the cosmetics chemist. It shows how to manufacture your own lip gloss in your kitchen using a short list of ingredients. Check it out, and then apply some creative cosmetics science of your own.


In this chemistry science project, you will create your own homemade cosmetics and evaluate which product is most popular among testers.


Darlene E. Jenkins, Ph.D , Sandra Slutz, PhD, and Terik Daly, Science Buddies.


The idea for this project came from this DragonflyTV podcast:

Q-tips is a trademark of Unilever United States, Inc.

Cite This Page

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Potions and Lotions: Lessons in Cosmetic Chemistry" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 30 June 2014. Web. 25 Sep. 2016 <http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Chem_p022.shtml?from=AAE>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2014, June 30). Potions and Lotions: Lessons in Cosmetic Chemistry. Retrieved September 25, 2016 from http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Chem_p022.shtml?from=AAE

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.

Last edit date: 2014-06-30


Believe it or not, the glamorous world of cosmetics and beauty products is actually based on some serious science. Cosmetics companies employ teams of specialized chemists to develop and test each line of makeup, perfume, lotion, and soap. Their research leads to top-secret formulas that are carefully analyzed for safety, stability, and customer appeal.

Cosmetics chemists choose from thousands of ingredients when they create new products, but they are always careful to select ones with chemical properties that enhance the look, feel, and use of the product they are making. For instance, no one wants lip gloss to be too hard, which is why most homemade lip gloss recipes call for some type of oil or butter. Oils are generally thick, viscous liquids at room temperature and are usually emollients, meaning that they moisturize and soften the skin. Butters are another kind of emollient; they are soft, but not liquid, at room temperature. On the other hand, a super soft, runny lip gloss would be too messy, so waxes, like beeswax, which are solids at room temperature, are added to thicken the recipe. The "perfect" product means getting just the right ratio of emollients to waxes.

Watch DragonflyTV makeup video Click here to watch a video of this investigation, produced by DragonflyTV and presented by pbskidsgo.org.

What other properties do you like your lip gloss to have? How about a fragrance? But be careful—no one wants a lip gloss that smells good but tastes awful! This is another case where the chemist making the product needs to think about the properties (in this case fragrance and flavor) of the ingredients they are using.

Of course picking good ingredients at the right ratio is only part of it. The other part is actually mixing the ingredients together. Some ingredients are hard to mix. For example, adding water to a wax-based lip gloss in order to make it runnier so it glides on lips more easily is tricky. Waxes, and oils, are not soluble in water, meaning they do not dissolve in water. But chemists can get them to mix by using emulsifiers. Emulsifiers, like Vitamin E, change the properties of the ingredients so that one of them (which one depends on the emulsifier and the ingredients) can become microscopic droplets inside the other. This type of mixture is called an emulsion and is very common in cosmetics - especially lotions.

In this chemistry science project you will put your new knowledge of cosmetics chemistry into action to create your own cosmetic products and conduct your very own "consumer testing" to find out which of your products is most popular. And who knows, maybe what you learn about cosmetics chemistry will eventually lead to your creation becoming the next "hot" sales item at the cosmetics counter!

Check out the project video to see how two curious chemistry students, Jazi and Danielle, applied some creative science to make and test several different lip glosses. Then read on to see how you can complete your own cosmetics science project!

Terms and Concepts

To do this project, you should research and understand the following terms and concepts:
  • Oils
  • Emollients
  • Butters
  • Waxes
  • Ratio
  • Fragrance
  • Soluble
  • Emulsifiers
  • Emulsion


  • How are emulsifiers related to emulsions?
  • How do emulsifiers work, and why are they used in cosmetics?
  • What are emollients, and why are they used in cosmetics?
  • What is vitamin E? Why is it added to many items, including cosmetics?


Here are some websites to check out as you start your background research:

Website with simple definitions for solutions and mixtures:

Website with good information on cosmetics ingredients:

Websites with lip gloss, lip balm, and lotion recipes:

News Feed on This Topic

, ,
Note: A computerized matching algorithm suggests the above articles. It's not as smart as you are, and it may occasionally give humorous, ridiculous, or even annoying results! Learn more about the News Feed

Materials and Equipment

A project kit containing most of the items needed for this science project is available for purchase from AquaPhoenix Education. Alternatively, you can gather the materials yourself using this shopping list:

  • Ingredients for three lip glosses (see recipes below)
    • Beeswax (2.25 ounces [oz.])
    • Cocoa butter (1.5 oz.)
    • Shea butter (1.5 oz.)
    • Petroleum jelly (2 tablespoons [tbsp.]. This is the equivalent of 2 oz.)
    • Aloe vera gel (2 tbsp. This is the equivalent of 2 oz.)
    • Vitamin E liquid (1 drop)
    • Peppermint oil (3-5 drops)
    • Sweet almond oil (4 oz.)
    • Coconut oil (3 tbsp. This is the equivalent of 3 oz.)
    • Honey (1 teaspoon [tsp.])
    • Vanilla extract (½ tsp.)
  • Measuring cups (microwavable; 2 cups capacity) or double boiler pan
  • Small containers with lids for your gloss samples
  • Microwave or hot plate/stove with a double boiler pan
  • Popsicle sticks or wooden stirrers
  • Cotton swabs (Q-tips®) or flat edge toothpicks
  • Tissues
  • Food scale that measures ounces
  • Measuring spoons
  • Notepad and pens/pencils
  • Safety goggles
  • Potholders/hand protectors
  • Minimum 10 volunteers to serve as "testers"
    • To see how many volunteer subjects you need, check out the Science Buddies resource Sample Size: How Many Survey Participants Do I Need?.
    • For ISEF-affiliated science fairs, studies involving human subjects require prior approval. For more information, see Projects Involving Human Subjects.
      Safety note: In your informed consent form, ask each participant if they have any allergies or sensitivities to makeup or lip sticks. If they do, do NOT use them for your experiment.

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.

Experimental Procedure

Safety note:
  • Have an adult help you heat ingredients on the stove or in the microwave.
  • Put on safety goggles before starting your experiments.
  • If you are using a stove or hot plate, work carefully and use potholders or hand protectors to prevent burns.
  • Keep your work space clean as you mix and heat your ingredients. This helps prevent spills or fire.
  • Recipes with beeswax take longer to melt than those without beeswax. Wait patiently for the ingredients to melt; turning up the heat or microwaving for longer than indicated in the procedure may lead to splattering of hot ingredients.
  1. Assemble the ingredients for the three lip gloss recipes according to the table:

  A. Almond Honey
Lip Gloss
B. Vanilla Lip Gloss C. Cocoa Mint
Lip Gloss
Basic Ingredients
(stir while these heat and melt)
4 oz. Sweet almond oil
1.25 oz. Beeswax
3 tbsp. or 3 oz. Coconut oil
2 tbsp. or 2 oz. Petroleum jelly
2 tbsp. or 2 oz. aloe vera gel
1.5 oz. Shea butter
1 oz. Beeswax
1.5 oz. Cocoa butter
Add-In Ingredient(s)
(remove mixture from heat and stir in)
1 tsp. Honey ½ tsp. Vanilla 1 drop Vitamin E liquid
3-5 drops Peppermint oil

Table 1. Ingredients for three different types of lip gloss.
  1. Make the almond honey lip gloss, following the directions for the microwave (if you are melting ingredients in a glass measuring cup) or the stovetop/hot plate (if you are melting ingredients in a double boiler).
    1. Stovetop directions: Measure the basic ingredients from Table 1 into a double boiler pan. Place the double boiler on the stove or hot plate, and melt the basic ingredients over low to medium heat, stirring frequently (every 30 to 60 seconds) until the ingredients are completely melted and well-combined. Using a potholder or hand protector, carefully remove the pan of melted ingredients from the heat and blend with the add-in ingredient(s) from Table 1. Stir until well-combined.
    2. Microwave directions: Measure the basic ingredients from Table 1 into a glass measuring cup. Place the measuring cup in the microwave, and microwave for 15 seconds. Stir the ingredients with a popsicle stick. Continue microwaving in 15 second increments, stirring each time, until the basic ingredients are completely melted and well-combined. Using a potholder or hand protector, carefully remove the measuring cup from microwave and blend the contents with the "add in ingredient(s)". Stir until well-combined.
      1. Caution: If you microwave the ingredients for longer than 15 seconds at a time, hot ingredients may splatter on the inside of your microwave, making a mess.
  2. Carefully pour the honey almond lip gloss into clean containers.
    1. Tip: You may spill a bit of lip balm, even if you pour carefully. If this happens, wait for the lip balm to cool and harden. Then wipe the containers with a clean cloth.
  3. Let the lip balm cool, and seal the containers with a tight lid. See Figure 1.

homemade lip gloss
Chemistry science project

Figure 1. The lip gloss should be stored in sealed containers, like these ones, to prevent drying out or contamination.

  1. Label the containers with an "A" so you know which have honey almond lip gloss in them.
  2. Repeat steps 2–5 to make the vanilla lip gloss and cocoa mint lip gloss, but label the vanilla containers with a "B" and the cocoa mint containers with a "C" so you can tell them apart.
  3. Decide how you will have testers evaluate your lip glosses. For example, in the video Jazi and Danielle tested three categories: look, feel (texture), and taste. They asked each tester to state their favorite product (A, B, or C) in each category. You can do the same. Or, you could have people rate each product on a scale of 1–5 for each category, with 5 as the best lip gloss. This method provides you with numerical, or quantitative, data.
    1. Note: Keep your lip glosses free of contamination. Use cotton swabs or toothpicks to apply the lip glosses. Be sure each tester uses a clean cotton swab or toothpick for each lip gloss.
  4. Evaluate each lip gloss yourself before running the tests with other people. Use the same categories and scale the testers will use. Make a hypothesis (prediction) about which lip gloss will be most popular among your testers. Write down your hypothesis, and the reasoning behind it, in your lab notebook.
  5. Assemble your testers or arrange to bring your lip glosses to each tester. Explain your experiment and ask the testers to try your products and give you some quick feedback based on your evaluation criteria, such as look, feel, and taste.
  6. Record each tester's responses in your lab notebook. Be sure to write down their responses for all three lip glosses.
  7. After trying all three lip glosses, ask each tester to tell you which gloss is their all-around favorite.

Analyze Your Data

  1. Compile the responses from all of your testers.
  2. If you used the same categories as Jazi and Danielle, make a bar graph showing how many testers chose lip gloss A, B, or C for each category (look, feel, and taste).
    If you asked testers to rank the lip glosses on a scale of 1-5 for look, feel, and taste, total the numbers for each sample for each category. Make a bar graph, with three bars (one each for look, feel, and taste) for each of your lip glosses.
  3. Were there any differences in the testers' preferences for the look, feel, or taste of the lip glosses?
  4. Which lip gloss was the all-around favorite? Did this match your prediction? Were you surprised at the results?
  5. For help with data analysis and setting up tables, see Data Analysis & Graphs.


For troubleshooting tips, please read our FAQ: Potions and Lotions: Lessons in Cosmetic Chemistry.

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.


  • Create your own lip gloss recipe. Try varying the proportions of the ingredients in any of the three recipes above, blending the ingredients in the recipes, or adding new flavors or fragrances. Use the things you learned from your background research to make your new recipe complete. You could have testers evaluate your "private line" lip gloss along with the three lip glosses given above to see how your lip gloss compares.
  • Analyze the "shelf life," or stability, of your lip glosses. After testing is completed, leave the lip gloss samples out at room temperature, with their lids securely fastened. Carefully observe your glosses each day and watch for signs of spoiling, such as changes in color, texture, or smell. Record your observations and note how long each sample remains stable.
    • Research the preservatives and stabilizers used in commercial lip glosses or cosmetics. Are there similar ingredients in your glosses?
    • Are there any differences between "natural" and standard-brand lip glosses?
    • Research the typical shelf life of cosmetics. Ask your friends and family how long they usually keep their makeup, soaps, or lotions. How many of them know or follow the manufacturer's guidelines?
  • Identify the function(s) of each ingredient in your lip gloss recipes. How do the ingredients in your lip glosses compare to the ingredients found in store-bought glosses? Commercial lip glosses probably have more ingredients than yours. Make a list of those ingredients and find out the function of each.
  • Create your own hand lotions. Try making hand lotions from recipes you find on the Web, and use the same testing procedure you used for lip glosses. Compare the ingredients of your homemade lip glosses and lotions to those listed on containers of commercial lip glosses and lotions. How many ingredients are used in both lip glosses and lotions? How many ingredients are only used in either lip glosses or lotions? Can you explain what these ingredients are used for?
  • Make your own soaps. Find out how to make basic soaps, and then repeat this experiment using various soap formulas. Compare the ingredients of your homemade lip glosses and soaps to those listed on the packaging of commercial lip glosses and soaps. How many ingredients are used in both lip glosses and soaps? How many ingredients are specific to lip glosses or soaps? Can you explain why?

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

If you are having trouble with this project, please read the FAQ below. You may find the answer to your question.
Q: One of my lip glosses splattered all over the microwave or the stove. What should I do?
A: First, tell an adult and make sure that no hot lip gloss landed on anybody. Make sure surfaces are cool to the touch (especially the stovetop or hot plate), then save what lip gloss you can and clean up the mess. Sometimes it is easier to let the lip gloss cool and harden before cleaning it up.
Q: The beeswax is taking a very long time to melt in the microwave. Is something wrong?
A: No, the beeswax just takes a long time to melt. Keep microwaving the basic ingredients for 15 seconds at a time and stir after each microwaving. Do not give into the temptation of microwaving the samples for longer periods of time, even just a few seconds; this can lead to the ingredients splattering all over the inside of your microwave, creating a really big mess. The beeswax needs to be fully melted, and the basic ingredients in your lip balm should be well-mixed before you blend the add-in ingredients into the lip gloss mixture.

Ask an Expert

Related Links

If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:

NASA material scientist

Materials Scientist and Engineer

What makes it possible to create high-technology objects like computers and sports gear? It's the materials inside those products. Materials scientists and engineers develop materials, like metals, ceramics, polymers, and composites, that other engineers need for their designs. Materials scientists and engineers think atomically (meaning they understand things at the nanoscale level), but they design microscopically (at the level of a microscope), and their materials are used macroscopically (at the level the eye can see). From heat shields in space, prosthetic limbs, semiconductors, and sunscreens to snowboards, race cars, hard drives, and baking dishes, materials scientists and engineers make the materials that make life better. Read more
female chemical engineer at work

Chemical Engineer

Chemical engineers solve the problems that affect our everyday lives by applying the principles of chemistry. If you enjoy working in a chemistry laboratory and are interested in developing useful products for people, then a career as a chemical engineer might be in your future. Read more

News Feed on This Topic

, ,
Note: A computerized matching algorithm suggests the above articles. It's not as smart as you are, and it may occasionally give humorous, ridiculous, or even annoying results! Learn more about the News Feed

Looking for more science fun?

Try one of our science activities for quick, anytime science explorations. The perfect thing to liven up a rainy day, school vacation, or moment of boredom.

Find an Activity