Tag Archives: diy apothecary

Lip Balm Production

lip balm 3I’ve been working on this lip balm project for a long time. I had a hard time deciding on the ingredients I wanted to use in my formula. I definitely wanted the consistency of Burt’s Bees but I wanted a calendula base. So I started off infusing sunflower oil with calendula.

lip balm 1Next I chose to use coconut oil (instead of cocoa butter) as a secondary oil. It adds a lot to the texture, making it creamier, because it’s solid at room temperature. (If you want to confuse people at Whole Foods, ask them for “denatured” coconut oil.)

Years ago I made lip balm with my sister and my friend Sharon and was super disappointed in the texture. It was super slick and came right off my lips. We only used oil (liquid at room temperature) and beeswax that time. This formula is much nicer. It’s richer, isn’t as slick, and feels great.

For this batch I used a peppermint oil for flavoring. It’s pretty light. I prefer it stronger generally. I re-melted this batch after my first try because the first time the peppermint disappeared completely. For the next batch I’m going to be using a cacao oil.

This week I sold 8 of my 3x strength wound salves (thanks to being included in this post on The Kitchn “15 Stocking Stuffers That Don’t Suck“) and so I’m already working on a new batch of salve. This is my happy place. Making these apothecary products. Selling them means I get to make MORE.

3x strength Wound Salve

The Handmade Lotion Trials: Second Batch

Look how pretty this lotion is – so creamy and smooth.  I scented it with rose and bergamot essential oils.  I actually prefer a lotion with little or no scent but I had to mask the distressing animal scent of the shea butter.  Shea butter is NOT made from any animal parts.  It comes from a tree.  However, it smells and repells me like lanolin does.  The point is – isn’t this lotion pretty and doesn’t it look perfect?

One hour later it has hardened and separated.  What the hell?!  What happened?  It was so smooth and perfectly emulsified!  From what I’m reading this may be because the water and oils weren’t at the same temperature when emulsifying.  I don’t have a thermometer.  Actually, I have two but neither of them are working.  The candy thermometer never worked and my digital one is so confusing to use that I’ve given up.

Before the gross disaster occurred, I used a little of the lotion and I liked it better than the first batch.  It has a slightly sticky feel to it which while not ideal is more preferable to me than the slick greasy feel of the coconut based first batch.  For the sake of remembering what I used I will record ingredients and amounts here:

1 tsp yellow beeswax

1/2 cup distilled water

1 tbsp glycerin

1 1/2 tbsp shea butter

2 tbsp sweet almond oil

1 tbsp wheat germ oil

enough rose and bergamot essential oils to mask the unpleasant odor of the shea butter.

This recipe is based on the Cocoa Butter and Rose Cream from the book “Natural Beauty Recipe Book” by Gill Farrer-Halls.  I couldn’t get my hands on real rose water so I used distilled plain water instead.  There is a worldwide shortage of jojoba oil right now so I didn’t want to contribute to that shortage, instead I used wheat germ oil which is used in a few other lotion recipes in this book.  After doing a lot of reading about the various butters I concluded that shea butter was the least greasy and best option for my skin, so I used that instead of cocoa butter.  The essential oils called for were rose, frankincense, and chamomile oils.  Each of these oils is very expensive.  Way out of my price range.  Luckily I already happen to have some good quality rose oil so I used that and then found I had bergamot which I love in combination with rose.  By this time – as you can see – it is barely the same lotion as the original but I kept all proportions of oils to waters the same and followed the instructions.  Except for the part about hand whipping it.

Here are my notes on making lotion up to this point:

  • I have a strong aversion to the less refined butters – the smells are repugnant to me.  This bothers me because the less refined they are the more nutrients they have to offer my skin.  The less refined a butter or oil is the stronger its scent.  So in future, if I want to have an unscented or very faintly scented lotion I’m going to have to buy the ultra refined de-scented oils and butters.
  • I might need to figure out how to reset my digital thermometer.  Or buy a really reliable non-digital one.
  • Lotion making is easy, except for when it’s not.
  • Hand whipping the oils and waters is ridiculous.  I’m all for doing things without having to plug anything in but I was whipping and whipping and nothing was changing.  No magical emulsification was happening.  My blender knows how to GET IT DONE.
  • Even when the scent of something is pleasant to me (rose and bergamot) I am bothered by it being too strong.  Luckily for me (I guess) pure essential oils (particularly the citrus ones) lose strength much faster than their synthetic counterparts.  I remember how I used to wear perfume and smoke cigarettes and I loved all that strong scent around me*.  Not so much any more.
  • What lotion works for your skin is highly personal.  You may have tactile preferences or your skin may be drier or less dry and this will dictate what feels good on it.  My mom much prefers the first batch of lotion because she likes the greasier feel of it.  The slight stickiness of the second batch bothered her, whereas I didn’t mind it so much but was super bothered by the slick feeling of the first batch.
  • So if you plan to make your own lotions, expect to do some experimentation and trials of your own.  Do smaller batches (such as half batches)** so you don’t waste too many ingredients at a time.  If you don’t like a batch for yourself have your friends try it and if any of them like the ones you don’t – give it to them.
  • Take notes on what you do each time.  If you give a lotion to a friend  because they really like it – they may want to make it again so if you can tell them precisely what you did (any substitutions or deviations from the instructions) they can remake it and you will have effectively spread knowledge and skills that individuals should not lose to industry.

What’s up next: today I will attempt to re-heat the separated lotion and re-emulsify.  I’m hoping that if I heat them at the same time in the bowl they’ll be at the same temperature when I blend them.  All lotion making instructions have you heat the two elements separately and then blend so this might not work.  However, when I make my creamy mustard vinaigrette I put all the ingredients in one container and then emulsify – they’re all at room temperature… but why can’t I heat them together so they’re continually at the same temperature and then emulsify?  Why shouldn’t that work?  Well, today I’ll be able to report on whether it does or doesn’t.  I know one thing – those essential oils when heated can lose their scent which is why you always add them last when the lotion has cooled.  So I’ll have plenty to report after today’s experiment.

Stay tuned for the results!

*No lie.  I have always loved the smell of fresh cigarette smoke and when mixed with Opium perfume – so wonderful.  Or, at least, I used to love it.  There is a lingering nostalgia for me in those two scents but no longer any real pleasure in them because they are so poisonous to both people and the environment.

** There is a slight issue of batches being too small to be effectively emulsified in your blender so if you do half batches of recipes that are already somewhat modestly sized, you may need to emulsify by hand.  Good luck with that.

Poison Oak Remedy: Green Clay

I have a very low sensitivity to poison oak which means that I can stand in the middle of a big patch of it and not get a rash.  I know this because I have stood, accidentally, in the middle of a big patch of it and didn’t get a rash. I have had a lot of exposure to it in my life and when my mom and brother would come down with horrible allergic reactions, I (who had been in the same places as them) would be spared.  This luck means that I have gone my whole life not having to worry about remedies for poison oak or seek relief for the itching it causes.

That has changed over time as my son got his first poison oak rash when he was three and though that time wasn’t too bad, every time he gets it he has a much worse allergic reaction than the last time.  I did some research the first time he got it and read as much as I could about it and discovered that there are some myths about poison oak that have been busted by science but which are difficult to bust in the minds of many who suffer from it.

The biggest myth is that once you get poison oak your rash is contagious and you can give it to others.  This is NOT true.  What gives people the rash is an oil produced in poison oak, called urushiol, which bonds with the proteins in your skin within the first 10 to 15 minutes of contact and once it has bonded the urushiol is absorbed into your skin and cannot be transferred to anyone else.

I have assembled a number of sources of information about poison oak which explain well that you can’t spread your own poison oak rash by scratching, the oozing that sometimes occurs can’t spread your rash either.  If you suffer from a sensitivity to poison oak and you don’t already know these things, please read up!  It will help you manage your rash exposure to know how you can get reintroduced to the oils through clothes and pet fur and will ease your mind to understand that you aren’t contagious once you’ve gotten the rash.

Once you have it, there’s nothing you can do to get rid of it.  For those who have severe reactions (my mother has been hospitalized from allergic reactions to poison oak) you may need to go to the hospital and get a steroid shot, but this is only done in very severe cases.  For everyone else the only thing you can do is control the itching and promote the healing of your rash by drying the sores and blisters out.

We have used a medicated steroid creme to help control the itching of my son’s poison oak rashes in the past and while it did help, it was not as efficacious as we could have hoped.  We have also resorted to using Itch-x from the pharmacy which does work well to control the itching for short periods of time but fails to help heal the rash itself which needs to be dried out, not kept moist with ointment.  During his most recent rash, which was worse than any of the previous ones he’s gotten, he was itching so much that he was raising big welts on his arms and body and causing his rash to bleed.  We listened to some suggestions from other people (there are soaps meant to help with poison oak) and then my mom asked why we didn’t use Calamine lotion.

I really didn’t know why I hadn’t tried it before.  I remembered that I had some green clay I’d gotten from an herbal shop and decided we’d try that.  Isn’t Calamine lotion mostly clay-like?  Maybe not, but I went home and mixed up some of my green clay and my kid was completely game (desperate) to try it so I covered all his rashes with the clay.  He was really happy with the results.  He told me it helped with the itching better than the ointments and felt more comforting.  We continued to use it for a week, applying it liberally every single night before bed.  Here’s what I used:


1/3 cup green clay (Montmorillonite)

2 tbsp water


Measure out the clay into a ramekin and add the water.  Stir it until all the powder is incorporated and you have gotten most of the lumps out.  It should be thick.

The thickness makes it easier to get full coverage over the rash.  Too thin and it won’t work as well.

It should be thick enough that it doesn’t drip or slip when you scoop some up with your finger.

Apply it liberally to every area of your skin affected by the rash.  You may need to undress to do this.  Let it dry before covering it with clothes.

When you’re done applying the first round, you can put the rest of the clay in a small jar with a tightly sealing lid.  It will stay hydrated and ready for your next application if you keep the lid on when not in use.  How much you need will vary greatly depending on the extensiveness of your rash.  We used the clay treatment for a little over a week and I mixed up about this amount three times.  Use the above ingredients as a ratio and multiply to make a bigger batch ahead of time if you think you’ll need it.

An acquaintance of mine told me she uses clay for her son too, but she gets it directly from her property, so if you have clay in your yard do try to use that first!  You won’t even have to mix it up and it will be free!  She says it’s the only remedy that’s given relief to her son who is very sensitive to poison oak just like mine.

I bought my clay from an herb shop online, you may be able to find it at local shops that carry natural herbs and beauty supplies.

Poison oak information:

Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac Information Center

Cleveland Clinic: The Poison Plants

Andrew Weil on Poison Oak

Poison Oak FAQ

CDC on Poison Oak and other poisonous plants