Friday, November 20, 2009

Making Lotion

--from the musings of Jenn the non-makeup-wearing suburban greenmom...

I think I've mentioned before, for me one of the fun challenges of learning DIY stuff is finding out how to make "mysterious" things for myself. I think this began when my mom taught me how to make a roux, with the discovery that flour and oil cooked together made this gorgeous creaminess I'd always associated with Restaurants Only. (Because my mom almost never makes roux-things, because they're so fattening. But Aunt Helen's Chicken Paprikas recipe requires it nonetheless.)

So I've learned to make yogurt. I've learned to make cheese. I've learned to make liqueur. I've learned to make my own echinacea tincture. I've learned to sew. Sometimes I've decided that while it's cool to make something, it's way more work than I'm willing to expend on a regular basis, so I just chalk it up to experience and then keep buying the product made by someone else--but with much greater appreciation. (Cheese is number one in this category, as are most clothing items.) Others were so easy and successful that I grit my teeth whenever I have to buy the readymade stuff for whatever time-management reason. (Yogurt is the biggie here. That stuff is easy!)

Cosmetics are another of the Big Mystery Products...we buy them, they promise that all these unpronouncable ingredients will do magical and amazing things for our looks, our skin, our perceived age, etc and so forth. But...are all those ingredients really necessary? What actually will be healthiest for our skin?

Enter Rosemary Gladstar. Her Family Herbal is one of those books on my shelf that I always keep handy and refer to often. (Right next to Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and Julia Child's The Way To Cook.) It's a great resource, full of basic herb information and lots of recipes for making your own home remedies and body care products. One of Rosemary's more famous recipes from that book (also available here) is for her"Perfect Cream." It's an all-purpose skin care lotion that doesn't involve any complicated preservatives or scary ingredients, although there are some things in there that I don't generally keep hanging around in my kitchen. Through trial and error, I've sort of adapted her recipe to be a little less work, use a few less ingredients, and be nice and flexible.

The basic principle is that you have your waters and your oils in just about equal parts, and the oils need to be at about a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of liquid to solid oils. Coconut oil, cocoa or shea butter, and/or beeswax are good choices for the solid "oils"--I started out with just beeswax, and have gradually tried some other oils in there too. Essential oils for fragrances are up to you.

This lotion is one of my staples for teacher gifts for the kids at holiday time. Even this "easier" version is time-consuming and will make a big mess in the kitchen; almost no way around that. But it's sort of fun, and in a few hours you can make lotion for yourself for six months or more (If you make your own stuff in several smaller containers and store them in the fridge till you're ready to use them, it may even stay good and usable for a full year), and knock out all your teacher gifts in one swell foop.

My Lazy Variation on Rosemary's Perfect Cream (Note: it mixes better if you double it!!)


  • 1 cup distilled water (important: any impurities could cause bacterial growth. It's cheap; you can get it from the local grocery store.)
  • 5-20 drops essential oil of choice (lavender, chamomile are my favorites for this cream. I have some alternate recipes on my blog...)


  • 3/4 cup grapeseed oil (or other oil; more below)
  • scant 1/4 cup organic beeswax pastilles
  • optional: add cocoa butter or coconut oil, up to 1/3 cup total solids. (You can reduce the beeswax a little here too; this is not an exact science.) (Note: coconut oil is solid at lower temps but melts at about 76 degrees F--so I use it sparingly, since if the lotion gets too warm it is too runny. Northerners in winter--go for it. Everyone else, coconut is lovely but will make a runnier cream if it gets warm.) (For your first effort, I'd recommend going with straight beeswax! It's more of a failsafe.)


  • put oils into pyrex glass--I use a measuring cup or double boiler in pan of lightly simmering water. (Water should come about as high as the oils in the pan.) Stir, preferably with a wooden chopstick, until all the solids are melted. Let this cool a little, just until it starts solidifying around the edges of the glass. Stir like crazy to keep it from turning into a salve, which is what usually happens to me. Once it starts to cool, it cools quickly.
  • Put water and essential oils into blender. Turn on high speed. (Don't forget the lid.)
  • Slowly drizzle warm oil mixture into water mixture. At first it will thicken, then it will glop, and then probably enough of the layer just above the blender blades will emulsify (mix and thicken) that the higher level stuff won’t reach the blades. When this happens, turn off the blender, stir it down with a chopstick, and try again. Repeat until the whole thing is one nice creamy blendage that looks suspiciously like cream or lotion, which is of course what you're going for. (When enough water mixes with the oils, it shouldn’t clog the blades any more and it’ll just blend nicely.)

  • Pour into clean, dry cosmetic jars. (If you're me, at this point you'd pause, go take a shower, and then come back to the kitchen naked to rub the stuff you couldn't pour or scrape into jars all over your body, because you now know how much work this was and hate to waste the probably 3 weeks worth of cream still around the edges of the blender that otherwise would get washed down the's very decadent and feels lovely.:-) (Er...make sure the kitchen blinds are closed.) If you're making this lotion primarily for yourself, you can probably use any jars or containers you've saved from other products, or even small tupperware kinds of things. For gifts, conservation aside, I'd still recommend buying clean new cosmetic jars from a company that supplies them. Specialty Bottle is my favorite company for this, but there are many out there...Write or print up pretty labels and give to friends, family, or whoever, and enjoy being fairly sure no one else has given anything quite this personal or handmade. :-)
  • To clean the blender: After what you just did, this is a serious business! Put about 2 cups of the hottest water you can into the blender, with some serious dish soap. Turn the blender on HIGH for at least a couple of minutes. Pour out, rinse, repeat. Then send it through the dishwasher. This should take care of any residuals, assuming the next thing you are planning to use this blender for is margaritas or something. If you don't use a dishwasher, you might want to then give it a good scrub, again with the hottest water you can manage--beeswax melts at about 144 degrees F, which is pretty hot, and that's probably what it'll take to get it all out. Then repeat the hot water-soap-blend on high thing a couple more times.

Notes about essential oils: use only pure, therapeutic grade essential oils. Lavender and chamomile are great for children, Rosemary is good for oily skin, Rose Geranium is good for mature skin. Avoid citrus and spice oils—they smell lovely but are irritating to the skin. Genuine rose essence is frighteningly expensive, so much so that I’ve never tried it, but it’s supposed to be amazing. Helichrysum Italicum is another really expensive EO that’s supposed to help skin heal almost anything from scars to crows feet, but I save mine for serious medicinal stuff, not face creams. I get all my essential oils from either Natures Gift or Mountain Rose Herbs. (Natures Gift is a one-stop aromatherapy school--check them out! Their products are beautiful, too.)

Note about liquid oils: Almond, Grapeseed, or Apricot Seed are all good basic oils for use in this cream; they absorb quickly and are not greasy. Olive oil is thicker and doesn’t absorb as well, and is good for really dry problem areas (NOT the face!) A really nice foot cream can be made using a combo of, say, half grapeseed and half olive oil, with peppermint and rosemary essential oil. For a face cream, I use grapeseed almost exclusively, though almond and apricot are also good...those with chamomile and lavender essential oils, or rose geranium, are good for the face. For oilier skin, rosemary (astringent) mixed with lavender would be good. For hand lotion, just do what's going to smell nice!

Note about texture: if all went well, the oil-water-emulsion will remain stable almost indefinitely (I find that's one of the reasons beeswax is superior to other solids; it holds its emulsion really well.) If the oil and water start to separate, and everything still looks and smells pleasant, you can just re-stir it to blend it again.

Note about moldy ickiness: oil+water+dark warm environment=bacterial all-inclusive resort. Your essential oils will impede bacterial growth a little, but they won't be a true preservative. So the best thing is just to not introduce bacteria into your lotion. The good news is that if you used distilled water and very clean containers, and if you usually stick only pretty clean fingers into the container to scoop lotion out, the odds of your getting anything nasty in there are pretty slim. The other good news is that if anything does start growing in there, you'll know pretty quickly--it'll change color and/or get a funky smell. (Again, separation alone doesn't indicate that it's going bad, but do pay attention!)

Once I tried this using electric beaters instead of a blender--it still worked, the oils and the waters mixed, but what I got was more like a "whip" than a cream. I didn't like it as much...but it was a heckuva lot easier to clean up. The beater version I am more likely to make just for myself, and for gifts I'll do the blender version since it is more stable.

Since learning to make lotion on my own, I've pretty much stopped buying it at the store. My formerly acne-prone, dry-patch-forming skin has had exactly zero problems since making the change; my face is smooth, my elbows and hands are much less scaly, and in general I feel great. (I have some wrinkles, of course, but they come with time. I wear them with pride, trophies of war, like my pregnancy stretch marks and the one-of-these-days-going-to-be-Bride-of-Frankenstein grey hairs coming in only at my right temple...)

Over on my own blog, I've put some more specific recipes for different kinds of lotion recipes...enjoy!

[UPDATE: then there was the year it totally blew up in my face; click here to visit my blog and read about some of the gooier mistakes I made, and how to avoid them yourself!]


Green Bean said...

So interesting. It has never even occurred to me to try making my own lotion!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

I make my own lotion too. I've tried the kind of recipe you describe, but the recipe I usually use is basically aloe vera gel, glycerin, avocado oil, and water with some essential oils for scent. I have very dry skin, and it's the only lotion I've found that doesn't have me reapplying two seconds later. When I run out of my commercial facial lotion, I'm going to try it on my face but with grapeseed oil instead of avocado oil.

I really enjoy making my own cosmetics. Someday I want to try making my own soap. If I can figure out where up get lye.

Oh and the recipe you provide can also make a good lip balm with a little moderation (mainly leaving out the water).

Jenn the Greenmom said...

Erin--That sounds nice! Do you have any trouble with your aloe gel causing it to mold? How long does it keep?

And where do you get avocado oil? I've never tried that...

I was really surprised when I started making the stuff that using oil in the lotion didn't just make my skin oilier--I'm all "combination" skin, with the oily nose and chin but dry cheekbones, and grapeseed oil has been fabulous. (And--my mantra--it's cheap!)

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

I've never had any mold issues, but I go through lotion like a crazy fool. I get the avocado oil from Whole Foods, but I think they carry it at Mountain Rose Herbs. It's a very heavy oil, so definitely not good for the face but great for hands and feet.

Daisy said...

Early cosmetics contained arsenic. Arsenic! And women rubbed it into their skin!

Amanda @ Vintage Savoir Faire said...

Everyone should get the Rosemary Gladstar book - it's brilliant! As I mentioned over on your blog - I really like grapeseed oil for my oily skin. I was always afraid of putting more oil on my face, but grapeseed is really fast-absorbing and doesn't leave it greasy. It's good alone or in a cream like this. Happy product making!

utahlawyer said...

Thanks for sharing this. I have been wanting to make my own lotion, but, the recipes I have found call for ingredients that I can't find. This recipe sounds like something I could do.

De in D.C. said...

Have you, Erin, or anyone else ever tried adding Mixed Tocopherols (Vit E) to your lotions? I saw it for sale on the Organic-Creations site and am considering trying it to help extend the shelf-life of lotions I want to make for gifts this year.

Great write-up by the way! Totally inspired me to give it a try.

Kasif Morkel said...

It was a bit challenging but I made it. Thanks for such a lovely recipe. Using Infinity Jars for storage. They keep the lotion smelling great and because of the UV glass and airtight lid, the lotion itself stays fresh for ages.


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