Ok, starting a blog post with a quote from “Buffalo Bill” in The Silence of the Lambs is maybe not the best lead in. But admit it, you did laugh a little bit. Alternative title: If you can make salad dressing, you can make lotion. Seriously. It really is that easy.
I have chronically dry skin. Other than when I’m traveling in climates where the humidity is over 70%, I haven’t taken a shower not followed by a full slathering of body lotion since I was a pre-teen. If I don’t, within minutes of drying off, my whole body feels prickly and itchy.
Needless to say, I’ve spent a lot of money on lotions over the years, and tried endless varieties of bargain, high-end, and “natural” lotions, trying to find the perfect mix of economy, consistency (I’m not a big fan of “gluey” is better), scent and function. And chucked a lot of bottles into the landfill or recycling bin.
When I started making soap, I couldn’t help notice that the websites where I was ordering supplies also sold lotion ingredients. Susan Miller Cavitch’s book The Soapmaker’s Companion contains a recipe for a moisturizing cream (not in the damned index – I just spent 10 minutes leafing through the book to find it – page 52) that uses beeswax and borax as the emulsifier (remember, water and oil don’t normally mix). I had some borax, and the other ingredients were available locally. I decided to give it a try. I skipped the grapefruit seed extract (GSE) (because its NOT a preservative, its an anti-oxidant. An antioxidant will help keep your oils from going rancid. It will not keep beasties from growing in them). The cream came out… well, lets just say it was not my favorite lotion of all time. Too heavy. Too greasy. But it gave me the confidence to try again.
After reading up on lotion making 101 on various websites including Bramble Berry and Snowdrift Farm (now out of business – this is a link to their recipe archive), I was able to piece together the basics of what I needed to order, what proportions I should mix ingredients in, and that I did needed SOME kind of a preservative. By the way, I do NOT recommend GSE period, after reading this on Snowdrift Farm’s website:
GSE has potential endocrine disrupting activity. Since the estrogenic activity of GSE has never been evaluated, consider its use in production of your products carefully, especially if you wish to be pregnant, wish to be a partner in a pregnancy, are pregnant or are nursing. Also take great pains to keep the concentrate away from children since regular high level exposure to endocrine disrupting substances can affect the development of their reproductive systems.
GSE is all the rage with natural food stores as a cure-all for colds and viruses. I personally would not use it for that either. Just saying.
So, if you like being in control of what goes onto your body’s largest organ (your skin), and you secretly always wanted to be a chemist, give making your own lotions a try, using the guidelines below. Don’t be intimidated by ingredients like stearic acid or emulsifying wax. Yes, you may need to order them online, but they will last you a good long time. A one pound container of emulsifying wax, which costs around $6-$7, will make eleven 5 cup batches of lotion. Imagine the Christmas gifts!
- A scale. You could probably get away with making lotions by volume rather than weight, since the proportions tend to be ranges, but personally, a scale is just a whole lot easier and the results that much more repeatable. One bowl. Dump in ingredients. No trying to get cocoa butter out of your measuring cup.
- Large glass bowl – An 8 cup/2 quart size is good.
- Microwave. Yes, you could just do this in a pot, but a microwave is SO much easier, and who but the most severe Luddite doesn’t have a microwave anymore?
- Thermometer. You’ll need to know the temperature of your mixture so you know when to add certain ingredients.
- Stick Blender. I’ve made lotions using the whisk attachment on my standing mixer, and it worked, so you could probably use a hand whisk or hand mixer, but a stick blender really does make quick work of this and they only cost about $20.
- Containers in which to put your lotion. I use well rinsed out sturdy used store lotion containers (some of them have been going for years). Keep in mind that weight and volume are not the same, because the oils/waxes in your lotion are lighter than water, and some air will be whipped into the mix. A 35 oz by weight recipe will make about 5 cups by volume. Some natural food stores have new empty lotion type bottles for sale.
Lotions are oil in water mixtures, creams are water in oil mixtures.
Note: Percentages given are by weight, not volume.
- Water: Think about it. Our skin is dry, so what do we do? We coat it with oil in an attempt to moisturize, when what our skin really needs is water. This is why my skin stops being dry when I am in humid environments and why after-shower body oils do not help relieve my dry skin. The oils in a good lotion help trap water against our skin. 60 to 80% of your lotion should be water. Distilled water is preferred (though I often just use filtered for my own use).
- Oils: Use any oil you like! Solid or liquid. Inexpensive or dear. Or a mix and match of each. Oils high in Linoleic, Linolenic, Oleic and Ricinoleic acids are thought to be conditioning. Linoleic especially is thought to help protect skin from aging (oils high in linoleic include grapeseed, safflower, sunflower, hemp and walnut). Many lotion oils can be found near the lotion/massage oils in natural food stores or pharmacies. Often, these same oils can be found with the cooking oils in the baking aisle for a lot less money. If you can put it in your body, it is certainly safe to put ON your body. 10 to 25% of your lotion should be oil.
- Liquid Glycerin: Glycerin is a humectant. This means it has the ability to draw water right from the air and bring it closer to your skin. 3 to 8% of your lotion can be glycerin (or you can choose to leave it out). Often found in the same place as oils in natural food stores. Also check your pharmacy.
- Emulsifying Wax: This is the glue that holds the water and oil in your lotion together in a stable way. There are a variety of types available. I use Emulsifying Wax NF, which is made up of Cetearyl Alcohol & Polysorbate 60, that is derived from vegetable sources. 3 to 5% of your lotion should be emulsifying wax. This will need to be mail ordered unless you live in a really well stocked metropolis.
- Stearic Acid: This is a thickener for your lotions. If you choose to use a lot of liquid oils in your lotion, you might need some stearic acid to give it a thicker consistency. If you use a lot of solid oils (like shea butter or cocoa butter) you may not need any stearic acid. Use 3 to 5% stearic acid to achieve desired consistency. This will also need to be mail ordered unless you live in a really well stocked metropolis.
- Citric Acid: Citric acid is used as a bit of a preservative, by lowering the pH of the lotion (bad guys have a harder time growing in more acidic environments). If you have very sensitive skin, this may bother you, and you can reduce the amount or leave it out. Suggested use, 1%. May need to be mail ordered. Can sometimes be found at brewing supply stores.
- Preservative: Note that there is a difference between an antioxidant (such as vitamin E/wheat germ oil), which helps keep oils from going rancid, and a preservative, which helps keep bacteria, yeasts and molds from growing. Yes, you can store your lotion in the refrigerator and use it up or throw it out within a month and generally dispense with using a preservative. But I for one don’t want to be putting lotion on after a hot shower right out of the fridge (!), and I don’t want to have to worry about using up my handmade product quickly. (I did make a very small batch of hand cream once without a preservative, and it did grow mold within about a month, sitting by my bedside). So I use a preservative called Germaben II, which is specifically designed for use in lotions that are 25% or less oil. (They also make one for creams that are more than 25% oil). Update. I now use Phenonip instead as it gives the lotion a longer shelf life. Interestingly, if your product contains ONLY oils, such as a lotion bar or balm, you don’t need to add a preservative, as it’s the water that tends to give the nasties what they need to grow. But we already talked about the importance of water to a lotion…Germaben II is a mixture of propylene glycol, diazolidinyl urea, methylparaben, and propylparaben, and no, I don’t really know what any of that is, except for the propylene glycol. I do know that some people have issues with parabens. Suggested amount of germaben II is up to 1% by weight. In all of my research, I have yet to find a “natural” preservative. ANY lotion you buy, no mater how “natural” or organic, will have a preservative in it. Optiphen and Phenonip are two other preservatives that I have not tried. Update: for a more thorough discussion on parabens check out this link. For a more thorough discussion of different types of preservatives and their pros and cons, see this Making Skincare overview of 27 preservatives, or this extensive discussion by the Swift Craft Monkey Blog.
- Essential Oil/perfume oil. One of the best parts of making your own lotion is that you can make them smell like YOU want them to smell. I use about 5 grams for a 1000 gram batch of lotion, or about 1%. Be sure your essential oils are skin safe. Some can be irritating or make you sun sensitive.
Weigh out all ingredients except for your preservative and any essential or perfume oils you may be using, dumping everything into one big glass bowl. Heat in microwave, stirring occasionally, until mixture reaches about 180 degrees and all ingredients are melted. Remove from microwave and stir. Let mixture cool to 140 degrees and add preservative (Germaben’s function is compromised if exposed to high heat) and any scent.
Using your stick blender, blend mixture until it looks like milk. Let cool to about 120 degrees, blending occasionally as it cools. Pour into your prepared containers. Lotion will be very liquid (which makes pouring into your containers with a funnel really easy). It will thicken up as it comes to room temperature.
Here’s a small recipe to get you going. This makes about 8 oz. Measurements are in grams as it more accurate to measure in grams for this small volume. Most scales have both metric and US units.
- 11 g emulsifying wax
- 55 g oils of your choice
- 12 g glycerin
- 137 g water
- 7 g stearic acid
- 2 g citric acid
- 1 g germaben II
- 2 g scent
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2011, where we’re miles away from knowing what the heck babassuamidophopalkonium cloride is (an ingredient on the container I refilled with home-made lotion) but our skin is silky smooth.