Personal Care Formulations – Butters & Waxes

For product formulators, creating a personal care product that delights the consumer is becoming somewhat of a balancing act.  

It’s no secret that the personal care sector, along with many others across the FMCG category, has seen its share of challenges. Of course, under turbulent market conditions, bottom line profit becomes king.  

Often to achieve this, concessions are made in product formulation and sourcing. Under normal market conditions, brands would typically choose higher-value premium ingredients to command a higher price point and capture an engaged audience seeking escapism and a touch of luxury in the everyday. As it becomes a question of shifting products in high numbers, cheaper ingredients tend to flourish as premium quality makes way for volume. Return per product is lower, but sales volumes are of course intended to be much higher in a bid to protect the bottom line. 

However, as we know, the personal care sector doesn’t thrive on cost alone and what we expected from the consumer, a reduction in ‘luxury’ purchasing, is turning out to be wrong. In fact, shoppers appear to be switching back on to higher-order goods, particularly across personal care, cosmetics and therapeutics.  

Sensory engagement for premiumisation 

With personal care products, touch and skin feel take on a highly important role in delivering value. As shoppers and end users, we tend to associate thicker, more viscous products with premium quality. For brands, this means that in altering the rheological qualities of a personal care formulation, we can imbue it with a more luxurious edge. For many, this means that butters and waxes can be an effective way to catch the attention of today’s consumer. 

Butters are richer and thicker than many other contemporary applications because of their chemical composition. With higher viscosity and the ability to adhere to the skin for longer, butters tend to be used in more premium products by virtue of being inherently associated with rest and relaxation. When consumers assign a higher perceived value to them, butter-based products can often command a higher retail price as a result. 

Defining and distinguishing butters and waxes 

Defining the two categories gives indication of their uses. Where vegetable oils are defined as a mixture of mainly triglycerides that are of liquid consistency at room temperature, a butter is considered to be the same, but solid at room temperature. A wax is defined as esters of fatty acids that are obtained from vegetable oils during winterisation that are also solid at room temperature but have a higher melting point than butters. 

Within the two categories of butters and waxes, there are also distinctions to be made between ‘true’ and ‘manufactured’. 

A ‘true’ butter is considered to be 100% pure and native, consisting of 1 INCI or one singularly defined material. True butters are named for their texture and are technically a solid oil. Examples of true butters include cocoa butter and shea nut butter.  

‘Manufactured’ butters are hydrogenated oils, or a blend of hydrogenated neutral oil with another oil, usually consisting of 2 INCIs or more. Coffee butter and Cranberry butter are examples of manufactured butters. In terms of functionality, there is little to choose between true and manufactured butters since both will perform similarly. Dependent on the brand, some formulators may prefer the cache or label simplicity of a true butter, others may value the diversity of manufactured butters. 

The distinction between true and manufacturers waxes follows a similar convention. ‘True’ waxes are 100% pure and native, consisting of 1 INCI and esters of fatty acid from vegetable oil winterisation. True waxes include carnauba wax and true sunflower oil wax.  

‘Manufactured’ waxes are again either hydrogenated oil, or a blend of hydrogenated neutral oil with another oil. Manufactured waxes usually contain 1-2 INCIs or more and the INCI does not state wax. Examples include soybean hydrogenated wax and sunflower hydrogenated wax. It is considered to be misleading to name a vegetable oil (either hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated) as a wax without specifying. 

From farm to fork… to formulations 

Looking across the full spectrum of butters, we see a rapid growth in one specific area: food ingredient-based formulations. Ingredients that are typically the reserve of food products are finding a new lease of life in personal care applications.  

Of course, formulators are constantly looking for the next innovation that will push their product to the forefront of the competition. For many brands, the answer lies in the diverse array of ingredients and flavours that have made the leap from solely food applications to personal care.  

Personal care formulators harnessing ingredients from the food world is not a new phenomenon, but it’s a trend once again gathering upward momentum, which makes it the ideal time for brands to take a closer look at some of the ingredients that are currently capturing attention with consumers.  

There is also a larger sustainability story to be told. As industries and economies continue working to create a more circular economy under zero waste principles, plant-based personal care butters and waxes can be a powerful avenue to explore. Plus, though it varies from plant to plant, butters and waxes from organic sources tend to be vegan friendly, a quality that is capturing the spotlight. 

Natural butters can also be used to create periphery products such as lotions and skin creams. Their gentler odours and textures tend to make them extremely versatile without overpowering the existing blend. 

Aloe vera butter 

INCI: Cocos Nucifera Oil, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil & Tocopherol 

Appearance: White to off-white semi-solid fat 

Melting Point (°C): 33.0-36.0 

Shelf Life: 24 months 

Aloe vera is blended with coconut oil and hydrogenated vegetable oil. By doing that, the rheology is modified to create a butter that condenses the refreshing qualities of aloe down into a soft and pliable ingredient. Aloe vera is often noted for its protective and reparative qualities, leading to its diverse and widespread applications.  

It’s ability to rapidly rehydrate is popular in sun care and after sun applications, and those same qualities make it an attractive ingredient in butters, perfectly suited to skin repair and anti-ageing formulation. The butter retains the distinctive subtle aroma of aloe vera that delights the consumer. 

Apricot  butter 

INCI: Prunus Armeniaca Kernel Oil & Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil 

Appearance: Off-white / Ivory 

Melting Point (°C): 52.0 – 62.0 

Solidification Point (°C): 40.0 – 50.0 

Shelf Life: 24 months 

Apricot is seeing something of a reinvention in personal care, which brands can capitalise on. Apricot oil is blended with hydrogenated vegetable oil to create a soft, pliable and impressive manufactured butter. Like aloe vera, apricot butter is ideal for product geared toward deep skin hydration. The butter is supremely versatile, retaining the faint characteristically sweet odour of apricot kernel oil.  

Avocado butter 

INCI: Persea Gratissima Oil & Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil 

Appearance: Off-white / Ivory 

Melting Point (°C): 50.0 – 60.0 

Solidification Point (°C): 40.0 – 50.0 

Shelf Life: 24 months 

Relative to its alternatives, avocado is a much newer ingredient in personal care. Its recent resurgence as a food of choice has been reflected in its growth as a formulation ingredient. The butter retains the characteristic aroma of avocado oil and has the versatility to wow in a wide spectrum of products and applications. Avocado is naturally rich in nutrients including vitamins C, E, K and B6.  

Mango butter 

INCI: Mangifera Indica Seed Butter 

Appearance: Pale yellow semi-solid fat 

Free Fatty Acid: ≤ 0.25 

Saponification Value: 180.0 – 195.0 

Shelf Life: 12 months 

A true butter, Mango butter is the fat obtained from the seeds of Mangifera indica L., Anacadiaceaea. The butter is a rich source of fatty acids that makes it an incredibly valuable ingredient from a nutrition standpoint. The butter is non-comedogenic and so won’t clog pores or aggravate acne-prone skin. Because of it, mango butter is the perfect addition to sensitive skin products.  

Coffee butter 

INCI: Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis Oil, Coffea Arabica Seed Oil, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil & Tocopherol 

Appearance: Pale brown soft butter 

Melting Point (°C): 42.0 – 60.0 

Saponification Value: 175.0 – 200.0 

Shelf Life: 24 months 

A rising star of personal care product formulations, coffee beans are finding a foothold in the market. Initially beginning as a more niche artisanal choice, coffee butter proves that as appetite for food-based personal care ingredients heats up, there is plenty of room for product designers to get creative. The butter retains the distinctive aroma of roast coffee, while offering a soft and pliable butter from a rheology-modified base.  


Food-derived ingredients are clearly riding consumer momentum, which speaks to the creativity of the personal care sector. From the kitchen table to the skin, we expect to see the consumer continue to embrace butters and waxes, and in particular those derived from food. It is likely that as shoppers continue to explore butters and waxes as a premium self-care option, innovation across the sector will accelerate in kind.