How to Set Up an At-Home Lab to Formulate Handcrafted Soap and Skin Care Products

(+Downloadable Good Manufacturing Practices Audit Checklist)

Designing and formulating plant-based soap and body care products in your own lab space at home is a creative and rewarding undertaking that can lead to skincare products and preparations that are healthier for you and the environment.

When crafting these products for personal use, it's tempting to take a relaxed approach since you're not operating a business. However, adhering to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and having Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) is crucial, even in this informal setting.

This disciplined approach ensures the quality and safety of your products, protecting not only your health but also that of anyone who might use your creations.

Moreover, if you decide to transition from an enthusiast to a small business owner in the future, familiarity with GMPs and SOPs will be invaluable. Having a foundation in these practices will streamline the transition, ensuring that your products meet industry standards and regulatory requirements right from the start.

It’s about crafting with care and foresight, ensuring that your passion for natural, herbal products is matched by a commitment to excellence and safety.

Even for small-scale product formulators, basic concepts of good manufacturing practices still apply. A single mistake could easily be overlooked, so keeping records of formulas and processes is vitally important.

Luckily, you don't need an elaborate setup or dedicated workspace to achieve a considerable selection of products that you and your family will use every day.

  • By following these guidelines, maintaining proper sanitation, and organizing your space (most likely your kitchen) thoughtfully and efficiently, you can enjoy safe, sustainable, and rewarding DIY soap and skincare products.

Formulating natural skincare products and herbal soap at home offers numerous advantages for the adventurous creative.

Not only can it be both economically rewarding and environmentally friendly, but formulating your own body care allows for control over the raw materials and processes used to create your products.

Creating a clean, well-organized, and safe workspace is crucial for efficient and enjoyable soap and skincare product formulation.

It's essential to prioritize safety and sanitation to ensure the quality and integrity of your products.

Ideally, your skincare lab workspace should be separate from areas where food is prepared to minimize contamination risks.

Having the right tools and supplies is crucial for successful skincare formulation.

Making soap and other specific products will require additional or specialty equipment. The following list describes the fundamentals needed to make simple body care products.

Invest in the following basic equipment:

  • Digital scales for accurate measurement of ingredients
  • A postal or kitchen 1.0 g scale is appropriate for weighing bulk oils and butters
  • Where smaller, more precise quantities are weighed like essential oils, a .01g scale is recommended

  • Digital thermometers to monitor temperatures during formulation

  • Personal protective equipment, including:
  • Eye protection
  • Disposable gloves
  • Face masks
  • Aprons or smocks
  • Head covering or hairnets

  • Immersion blenders for consistent mixing (cordless blenders are recommended)

  • Stainless steel and heat-resistant glass mixing bowls

  • Stainless steel measuring spoons

  • Silicone, stainless steel, and glass stirring utensils, particularly
  • Glass stirring rods
  • Silicone whisks, spatulas, and spoons
  • Mini stainless steel whisks

  • Stainless steel double boiler to melt and mix ingredients

  • Glass lab ware like beakers and flasks

  • Pipettes and droppers for dispensing essential oils

  • pH testing kits for testing soap and skincare product acidity and stability

  • Labels for finished products

Knowledge about and selecting high-quality raw materials from reputable suppliers is fundamental for creating effective and safe products.

Grow your DIY skincare knowledge base, and consider, learn, and understand the following:

  • Carrier oils, fixed oils, and butters used in natural body care and soap making (see this blog post)

  • Aromatherapy components like essential oils, absolutes, CO2's, and hydrosols, and their therapeutic properties (see this blog post)

  • Herbs, botanicals, plant-based extracts, and their skin-loving properties (see this blog post)

  • Natural colorants like clays and ground nutrients

  • How to use preservatives and antioxidants to extend product shelf life

  • How to use formulation emulsifiers, waxes, thickeners, and stabilizers

  • Skincare actives like vitamins, exfoliants, humectants, etc.

  • Selecting the appropriate packaging and containers for storing raw ingredients and finished products (see this blog post)

  • Staying updated on allergen information and skin sensitivities

Arranging your kitchen for formulating natural handcrafted skincare requires a thoughtful approach to organization that balances functionality, hygiene, and space management.

Maintaining organization in your workspace streamlines the formulation process and enhances productivity. Here are some practical tips for organizing your kitchen to accommodate formulation processes.


  • Store oils, butters, and essential oils in a cool, dark, dry place to prolong their shelf life
  • Keep hazardous substances out of reach and be sure they are clearly labeled

  • Some ingredients may require refrigeration. If your kitchen fridge doesn't have enough space, consider investing in a mini-fridge.
  • If practical and for an added layer of protection, place ingredients in zip freezer bags to prevent air or condensation from infiltrating their packaging or containers while in the refrigerator

  • Use airtight containers and jars to protect ingredients from air and moisture

  • Clearly label each container with the ingredient name, supplier, date of purchase, expiration date, and any other relevant information
  • Use waterproof and oil-resistant labels to identify ingredients on product packaging and storage containers


  • Allocate specific cabinets, shelves, stackable bins, baskets, or wall-mounted racks for storing formulation equipment and utensils

  • Use drawer organizers or dividers for smaller tools and containers

  • Install additional shelving units or racks to store equipment and bulkier items

  • Store tools and containers in clear, labeled boxes for easy identification

  • Consider a rolling trolley or cart that can be used to store and transport ingredients and tools
  • A rolling cart is especially useful when you have to clear the space for regular kitchen use

Whether or not you ultimately choose to sell your creations, adhering to clearly written good manufacturing practices (GMPs) in a controlled environment is essential for producing high-quality, safe, and consistent products.

Thorough GMPs cover everything from the basics of hygiene and sanitation to formula documentation and quality control.

Adhering to Best Practices for the following concepts in a way that works for you and your situation will guide you to establishing a GMP-compliant home-based skincare lab.

  • Developing Product Formulas
  • Facilities
  • Safety and Sanitation
  • Equipment
  • Raw Materials
  • Production and Processes
  • Keeping Records
  • Quality Control and Testing
  • Labeling and Packaging
  • Final Notes

These protocols (along with a generous dose of common sense) ensure not only your products' integrity, but you'll also elevate your skincare crafting to new heights!

Developing handcrafted skincare product formulas involves creativity and having a basic understanding of ingredients, merging with a scientific approach to ensure effectiveness and safety.

Keep the following factors in mind as you learn about ingredients and how to formulate natural skincare.

  • Research and get familiar with ingredient properties and interactions

  • Start with simple formulations and gradually experiment with more complex formulas

  • Consider factors like skin type, desired effects, and shelf life when formulating

  • Test with small batches for consistency and performance

  • Keep detailed records of ingredient rations and observations during formulation

  • Ensure that the pH levels of products are skin-safe

  • Seek feedback from testers and users of your products to refine formulations

  • Experiment with different combinations of oils, butters, botanicals, actives, and additives

  • Incorporate sustainability practices and use locally sourced ingredients

  • Stay informed about industry trends and innovations in natural skincare

  • Continuously learn and adapt formulations based on new discoveries

The workspace you have dedicated as your skincare lab, most likely your home kitchen, should be set up to allow safe, efficient formulation and effective cleaning, while also minimizing the chance of raw material confusion and adulteration.

  • Specific areas have been allocated for equipment placement, orderly storage of materials, weighing and formulating, packaging, and sanitary operations

  • The space is well-ventilated with ample lighting

  • The space has a consistent temperature and low humidity

  • Floors, walls, and ceilings are clean and in good repair

  • Fixtures, ducts, and pipes are in good repair

  • Water supply, drainage, sewage system, and washing facilities are sanitary and sufficient to facilitate cleanliness

Safety and sanitation are paramount in protecting both the formulator and the end-user (even if that is the same person).

  • Protective personal equipment is always available and worn

  • Sanitizing supplies are readily available

  • Tools and work surfaces are sanitized before and after formulating to prevent contamination

  • The precautions of working with hazardous materials like sodium hydroxide (lye) are understood and adhered to

  • A well-stocked first aid kit is accessible

  • Raw materials are kept away from food and living areas

  • Hazardous materials are clearly labeled and stored away from food and living areas

  • Flammable materials are stored in a designated area away from heat sources

  • Proper disposal methods for waste materials are followed

  • Emergency cleanup procedures are in place for accidents and spills

  • Children, pets, and other distractions are kept away from production areas while formulating

  • Regularly review and update safety protocols to reflect best practices

Formulation equipment, tools, utensils, and supplies should be suitably selected, regularly calibrated, and maintained.

  • Equipment and utensils used in processing, holding, transferring, and filling are of appropriate design, material, and workmanship to prevent corrosion, buildup of material, or adulteration
  • Equipment is appropriate for the scale and type of production
  • Utensils, transfer equipment, and product contact surfaces are well-maintained, clean, and sanitized at appropriate intervals
  • Cleaned and sanitized portable equipment and utensils are stored and located, and product contact surfaces of equipment are covered in a manner that protects them from dust or other contamination
  • Scales are regularly calibrated
  • Each piece of equipment is uniquely numbered for identification purposes

Selecting high-quality, skin-safe materials from reputable suppliers is fundamental for creating effective and safe products.

  • Raw materials are inspected and examined assuring the absence of contamination, filth, microorganisms, or other extraneous substances to prevent adulteration of the finished product
  • Raw materials are stored and handled in a manner that prevents their mix-up, contamination, or decomposition from exposure to excessive heat, cold, sunlight, or moisture
  • Containers of materials are closed, bagged, or boxed and stored off the floor
  • Containers of materials are labeled with the name of the material and the supplier's lot identification
  • Unacceptable raw materials are never used and are properly disposed of

Establish and maintain written instructions and manufacturing controls, i.e. your product formulations, processing procedures, transfer and filling directions, and in-process control methods.

  • Equipment for processing, transferring, and filling, utensils, and containers holding raw materials & bulk ingredients are clean, sanitary, and in good repair
  • Only safe and appropriate materials are being used
  • pH and quality control testing are done to examine the adequacy of mixing or other forms of processing
  • Containers holding raw materials are properly identified during processing
  • Product labels are properly formatted before the containers are labeled and filled
  • Formulas and procedures are thoroughly documented to ensure the result will be a consistently high-quality product

Documentation and record-keeping of all formulations and testing processes are essential for ensuring product quality and compliance. Documents that should be maintained in your skincare lab notes include, but are not limited to:

  • Standard Operating Procedures
  • Detailed, written instructions, protocols, and checklists designed to achieve uniformity in the performance of a specific function or task
  • Procedures may be included for weighing, mixing ingredients, handling and storing raw materials, cleaning equipment, etc.

  • Specification (Spec) Sheets
  • Provide detailed information about the characteristics of a product or raw material
  • Spec sheets include details like descriptions of materials or declaration of ingredients, proportion ratios, intended use, shelf life, and relevant safety information

  • Master Formulas
  • Comprehensive documents that include all of the specifications, formulas, processes, and step-by-step instructions to produce a product
  • The exact formulation and process for each soap type and skin care product to ensure consistency in every batch
  • Describe what should be done with each batch

  • Batch Records
  • These records are kept for each batch of product made, documenting the actual ingredients used, quantities, production process, and any deviations from the Master Formula record
  • Describe what was done with each Master Formula batch

  • Log Sheets
  • Record routine processes, operations, maintenance, and any significant events that take place before, during, and after formulating
  • Types of logs formulators should maintain include ingredient sourcing, equipment cleaning & maintenance, product testing, inventory, and research & development

  • Raw Material Labels
  • Labels on raw materials should include the name of the ingredient, supplier, lot number, date purchased, expiration date, handling requirements, and any pertinent safety information

  • Equipment Manuals
  • Manuals provided by equipment manufacturers include instructions for use, troubleshooting, and safety guidelines. They should be maintained for as long as the equipment is in use.

Protocols and procedures should be regularly reviewed and updated. Any deviations and corrective actions should be documented.

Establish quality control procedures to monitor the quality of raw materials, in-process materials, packaging materials, and finished products.

  • Reserve samples of raw materials and finished products for a specified period for reference and quality control purposes
  • Store the samples under conditions that protect them from contamination and deterioration
  • Conduct testing, including microbial, testing of pH, and patch testing, to ensure product safety, stability, and efficacy
  • Document any adjustments or variations made during formulation, all quality control activities, and test results
  • Establish a system for tracking expiration dates and rotating raw material inventory
  • Stay informed about industry standards for testing
  • Periodically audit and reevaluate the implementation of your good manufacturing practices and testing protocols, and make corrective actions as needed

Effective labeling and packaging are essential for conveying product information and safeguarding the container's contents.

  • Label display panel should show:
  • Name of the product
  • Identity of the product
  • Net weight or volume
  • Usage and storage instructions
  • Batch or lot number
  • Expiration date
  • Contact information of the formulator
  • Any relevant warnings or precautions; clearly state any potential allergens

  • List ingredients in descending order of concentration
  • Ensure packaging is safe, durable, and leak-proof
  • Ensure labels are waterproof
  • Test packaging materials for functionality and compatibility with product formulations
  • Consider your packaging design aesthetic and branding appeal
  • Don't wait until you have all GMP elements in place to start formulating. Use common sense and improve your protocols as you go!
  • Don't make adjustments to a formula during processing. Make notes and adjust the formula after production.
  • Keep page layouts, numbering systems, and units of measurement consistent through all GMPs and SOPs
  • Maintain a backup of all important documentation on an external drive or separate location

Want a handy checklist at your fingertips to refer to when establishing your GMPs for your at-home skincare formulation lab?

Of course you do!

Click the link below to download this helpful resource. Keep it with your body care notes. 


Staying informed and learning continuously is crucial for success in soap and skincare formulation. Consider the following links and resources to improve your good manufacturing practices for your home formulation lab.

Do you make Cold-Process soap and need a resource to help with keeping important records for your formulas? Look no further than the Cold-Process Soap Formula Batch Record Book.

  • Maintain batch records for 20 natural, herbal soap formulas
  • A useful tool for helping soap makers adhere to good manufacturing practices
  • Batch sheets include spaces for calculating sodium hydroxide and liquid requirements
  • Also included are spaces to note your observations and results from finished soap
  • In addition, an inventory list is included for soap that is ready to use
  • Great resource for natural soap hobbyists and business owners

Do you make Cold-Process soap and want to hand-mill a beautifully made soap base into something even more spectacular? Do you need the ultimate resource to help with keeping important records for your formulas? Look no further than the Hand-Milled Soap Formulas Rebatch Record Book.

  • Maintain batch records for 20 hand-milled rebatched soap formulas
  • A useful tool for helping soap makers adhere to good manufacturing practices
  • Batch sheets include spaces for recording all of your ingredient selections, formulating processes, packaging notes, and much more
  • More spaces are included to note your observations and results from finished rebatched soap
  • In addition, an inventory list is included for your hand-milled rebatched soap that is cured and ready to use

The Checklists and To-Do's Workbook is a powerful accomplice for the DIY formulator to help transform thoughts and ideas into clear action plans.

  • Draft the checklists and logs you need to track your DIY products and projects
  • Systematically organize your product formulas, including specific measurements and ingredient
  • Draft quality control checks, ensuring each product batch meets the desired quality standards
  • Finalize SOPs by outlining different stages of various production processes
  • Draft ideas for both short-term tasks and long-term projects
  • Dedicate spaces to track inventory levels of raw materials, packaging, and finished products

Blend A Fragrant Life with Essential Oils Email Course

As you continue to become acquainted with raw materials and the benefits they provide, take your formulating education up a notch and learn how to incorporate essential oils and other natural ingredients to make unique products that will enhance your life through fragrance!

Over the course of five days, the Blend a Fragrant Life with Essential Oils email course will teach you the fundamentals of how to choose, blend, and produce a variety of scented products for your home and body using natural, wholesome ingredients, including carrier oils and butters for solid perfumes. 

Go here, right now, to read more about the course and to enroll.

For now, it's free! 

Medical Advice Disclaimer:

The information in this blog article has not been evaluated by the United States Food and Drug Administration. The information in this article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases or conditions. This article provides the reader with practical information regarding handcrafted soap making, based on basic soap-making science and ancient anecdotal practices of health and beauty. In no way should the contents of this article be regarded as medical advice. It is recommended that the reader perform a patch test before using any formula described. The author and all invested parties will not be held responsible for any allergic or adverse reactions, contraindications, or ill effects from manufacturing or using any products described in this article.

©Michelle Morgan, The Anointed Bar, LLC


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