*Relatively* Easy Homemade Skincare

Happy 2010 everyone!

It seems like I say this with each and every post, but life is crazy with a nearly 3 year old and a nearly 2 year old and I find that between homemaking, spending time with family and friends, 2 weekly Bible studies and church, I don't have a lot of extra time for blogging. My goal for this year is to post at least once per month. Also, while I do still plan on posting family photos, etc. here, I am going to try and re-direct the blog to practical, homemaking tips.

So, in honor of my goal, today's post is about my newly-learned skill of lotion-making.

In an effort to come up with a slightly more creative homemade Christmas gifts list, I opted to learn about lotion-making shortly prior to the holidays.

After my first (and thankfully only) completely botched batch my thought was, "this is way more complicated than I thought it would be!"

After a few moderately to largely successful batches, my thought was, "this is easier than it looks!"

In all actuality, making lotion isn't much different than cooking. For me, this both a challenge and a help. It is a challenge because I almost never follow recipes exactly (I'm more a cook by taste person) and am nearly always "tweaking" the recipe to my personal taste. Following a lotion recipe, is a help because once I find a combination I really like, I stick to it batch after batch, knowing it will turn out correctly.

You need 4 primary ingredients to make lotion:


Water - Most sources suggest that distilled water should be used. As I consider myself to be in the "experimental phase", I use water either directly from the tap or filtered water as I don't want to spend any more money than absolutely necessary. What can I say - I'm frugal like that! LOL I have also brewed plain green tea and have substituted this for the water. You can do this with other herbs, if you like. The key is to keep things as clean as possible. Standard lotions can be up to 70% water.

Oil - This is probably my favorite ingredient of lotion-making. There are so many great oils out there that accomplish so many different purposes that it can be difficult to choose. For the reasons mentioned above, I try to never spend more than $6/lb of liquid oil, but generally use olive, canola or soybean (vegetable) oil purchased from Walmart. As I am always looking to improve a revise my recipes (see note above about cooking :-p), I like to make oil substitutions a LOT. For example, if a lotion recipe calls for 8 oz of liquid oil, I might use 4 oz olive oil, 2oz coconut oil (a semi-solid up to 76*F), and 2oz shea butter (a solid). This gives me a total of 8 oz oil, but will notably thicken/harden the lotion because I've substituted 4oz solid and semi-solid oils for 4oz liquid oil. Making substitutions such as these can drastically change the feel of the lotion - it can be "tacky", "heavy" or "oily". There are additives that can minimize this, but if you want to keep it simple, use a recipe that calls for a higher % water.

Emulsifier - Emulsify basically means to bind two things which cannot otherwise be bound - oil and water, for example. Without an emulsifier, a lotion will separate. I use a wax designed for this purpose.

Preservative - If you are planning on making a large batch of lotion or a batch that you cannot use up within a week or less, you must use a preservative. Un-preserved lotions can be breeding grounds for mold, fungus, yeast and bacteria. The preservative I use only requires 1/2-1%/batch. Because lotions require preservatives, there is no such thing as an "All-Natural" lotion.

To make lotions, you must weigh your ingredients. Measuring them by the cup or tablespoon, etc, can actually throw off the % and it can cause a ruined batch of lotion. I use a food scale that can weigh down to the gram to measure my ingredients.

I just recently bought two 8oz pyrex measuring cups that will be used only for lotion-making. This way, I minimize the risk of cross-contamination. In one measuring cup, weigh out the desired % of emulsifying wax - I use 3-5%, per the instructions for my wax. I do also use an additive/hardener called stearic acid because I tend to prefer a thicker lotion. (You could use use beeswax to accomplish a similar purpose.) I measure the correct % of SA and add that to the cup containing the emulsifying wax. Using a double boiler system (I use crude system of a small/med pot that came with a steamer basket and place the cup of ingredients in the steamer), heat and melt the wax/acid.

In a 2nd cup, weigh out the correct % of oil - I use anywhere between 10 and 25%. This % includes all oils and butters. It is suggested that these oils be heated to "melting point" using a double boiler, too. However, because my system isn't perfected, I sometimes heat the oil in the microwave 1-2 minutes at a time on 30-40% power until everything has melted, but has not boiled. It is very important that the emulsifier and the oils finish melting around the same time (hence why this can be tricky).

The water or herbal blend must be hot before you mix all your ingredients. I typically pull out my tea-kettle for this and heat the water to a boil just prior to my waxes and oils fully melting. Again, measure out the weight of the water, not the volume - 10oz of water might not actually be 1 1/4C water! Once heated, pour into a separate cup.

Depending on the kind of preservative you use, the addition can occur at different times in the process. My preservative says to add it to the oils prior to emulsification. Generally, this is 1-2 grams for the 12oz batches I make. I'll pour this into the hot oil cup before I emulsify everything.

I'll stress again, the emulsifier, the hot water and the oils must all finish heating within a few minutes of each other to maximize the effectiveness of the binding/mixing process. Once all three ingredients are heated, pour water and oil - or, pending instructions, the oil and the emulsifier - into a mixing bowl. Using a hand mixer - or a good power mixer (such as the Kitchen Aid stand mixer), begin mixing ingredients on a medium-high speed.

Add the third cup - either the water or the emulsifier, contingent upon your recipe - while continuing to mix the other two ingredients. Immediately, your batch should turn white as the oil/water are beginning to bind. Mix for at least 5 minutes to maximize that everything has bound properly. Sometimes, I will stop and scrape the sides, but otherwise, keep mixing for the full 5 minutes. During the mixing process, foam can appear at the top of the lotion. If this happens, I'll slow the speed on the mixer, but will not stop the process. Generally any foam will minimize by the time the blending process is complete.

If you are going to add any fragrance or essential oils to your lotion (make sure to not exceed the recommended skin-safe %!) do so once the 5 minutes of mixing is complete. Mix the lotion on med-high once more, just long enough to ensure the oil has been well blended into the mix. Pour quickly to containers and cap. Packaging your lotion while it is still warm is important to prevent the essential oil or fragrance oil from evaporating.

This process might sound tricky, but once you've done it a few times, it really isn't so hard. I've begun to really enjoy making my own lotion and it is very rewarding to use it for myself or my kids.

I'll save this topic for a later post, but if you are opposed to using skincare containing a preservative, you can make an all-natural skincare balm, but this will contain oils, butters and powders... The all-natural variety will leave a heavy oil or tacky residue on your skin while it is absorbed, but this is not necessarily a problem. Seriously, plain old olive oil is one of the best moisturizers I've ever used, but sometimes it isn't the most convenient option.

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