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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.

The Handmade Lotion Trials: First Batch

I ran out of my usual lotion last week.  I have been using St. Ives for years.  I’ve enjoyed various formulas they’ve come out with.  Generally speaking they use very mild scents and they’ve always been affordable.  All natural they are NOT.  I have branched out time and time again to find an all natural replacement for it but no formula has met my needs.  My skin is sensitive and very dry.  I use hand lotion obsessively.  I am very picky about what it should feel like and how it should perform.  I think everyone’s skin responds differently to moisturizers and so what works for me will not necessarily work for others.

When I got down to scraping the bottle of my St. Ives lotion I bought a replacement for it, once again telling myself that some day I would just try to make my own lotion.  I had a neighbor once who said she and her mom make their own lotion every year and said it’s really easy.  However, needing lotion RIGHT NOW TODAY THIS MINUTE I brought home a familiar formula of St. Ives called “Intensive Healing” and opened it up and slathered it on my dry legs and was instantly overwhelmed by the most potent fragrance – perfumey and strong enough to knock a horse out.  This was new.  They don’t usually have such obnoxious fragrances and usually the fragrances smell pretty natural.  This scent that accosted me from my own skin reminded me of a certain cologne-stinking produce man I have a secret and strong dislike for.

Not okay.  Not only that, even if I could stomach such a strong scent on myself, I am not okay with accosting other people with chemical fragrances that may give them headaches or worse – make them sick.  So I hit the lotion isle at Rite Aid hoping to find one last bottle of my tried and true lotion.  They didn’t have any.  I read every lotion bottle on the shelf.  Every damn one.  I’m pretty sure I made the Rite Aid employees very nervous.  The ingredients lists, even on the “natural” bottles, read like foreign languages.  Partly this is due to the fact that most of the companies list ingredients like vitamin E in fancy-pants science lingo.  Still, do I need all that crap in my lotion?

Remember: skin is the largest organ of your body and what you put ON it goes IN in it.  Into to your system.  Toxins enter your system easily through skin.

I complained about my lotion problem to my mom and she got all excited to try making our own.  I love this about my mom.  She is the greatest inspiration to me to make my own medicines and go the natural route.  She brought me up that way.  So we consulted our Rosemary Gladstar herbal recipes book and found she has a “perfect” lotion in it.  Last night we made it.

What it has in it: Coconut oil, sweet almond oil, grapeseed oil, 8 vitamin E capsules (emptied), linseed oil (a tiny bit), beeswax (we used 1/2 ounce for this batch, the recipe says 1/2 to 1 ounce), filtered water, aloe vera gel, and some essential oil (grapefruit).

How did it turn out?  It’s thick, which is what I like in a lotion.  It smells like coconut, which I don’t like (though it’s a huge improvement on the nasty loud smelling bottle I have to ditch on someone who likes that kind of thing).  It has a greasy feeling finish, which I don’t like at all.

How hard was it to make?  Easy!  It worked really well following Gladstar’s directions.  It didn’t separate on us and it didn’t require any special equipment.  Cleaning my blender and the bowl we used may require a trip through the scouring hot dishwasher to remove all trace of the beeswax but that’s a small price to pay.

Is it less expensive to make your own than to buy it?  That is highly dependent on what oils you choose to use.  It is also difficult to cost because this recipe called for a tsp of lanolin but we had to fork out $11 for a whole bottle of it.  Stored properly the lanolin will last a very long time and we can use it for many batches (maybe as many as 10) which makes the cost difficult to determine.  We also had to buy vitamin E in capsules, we only needed 8 of them but had to buy a whole bottle.  That was another $10.  I think if you use inexpensive oils you can make a very cheap lotion.  While cheap is good when on a budget like we are, I insist on good quality so I’m willing to spend more for sweet almond oil.  Buying bulk oils online is probably the best way to reduce the cost of making it.

How much does one batch make?  We got a total of about 16 ounces of lotion.

I have two other books with lotion recipes in it and I also have a friend who makes lotion professionally who has offered to let me make some with her.  My plan is to devise a master formula to meet my personal preferences and learn enough about how to adjust it so that I can make suggestions to others who want to try their hand at this but who may want a different sort of performance from their lotion.

Biggest question I need answered: what controls how greasy a lotion feels?  The main ingredient in lotion is oil and obviously oil is grease – is it the amount of water that tempers the greasy feel?  Or does the beeswax also temper it?  Are there certain kinds of oils that are more or less greasy feeling?

I’ll report back when I’ve made my second batch.