Homemade for the holidays
Give the gift of great skin: Get messy and moisturized making homemade lotion
If flavored booze isn’t your style and homemade soap is too much work, consider making some homemade lotion to give as holiday gifts. Lotion is fairly easy to make once you have all the ingredients, but you don’t have to tell your friends that. They’ll be impressed — who makes their own lotion?!
Lotion is basically made of three things: water, oil and an emulsifier, which binds the water and oil together. It’s essentially mayonnaise that you slather on your skin. (On second thought, maybe it’s better not to think of it that way.)
The equation doesn’t have to get any more complicated than that, but it certainly can. Many people choose to add scents to their lotion, and most recipes call for a mixture of various oils. You can also add preservatives, without which homemade lotion only lasts a few weeks. Most synthetic preservatives are full of crap you probably don’t want on your skin, though, so it’s a trade-off. In my lotion, I used vitamin E oil as a preservative, which is great for the skin, though it isn’t nearly as effective as the artificial preservatives. There are a few other natural preservatives you might also consider, many of which have their own benefits to the skin as well. These include green tea extract, grapefruit seed extract, geranium essential oil and rosemary extract.
Here’s a basic recipe for lotion, and we’ll talk about adjustments as we go:
1 oz. beeswax
8 oz. vegetable oil/butter
½–¾ cup water
¼ tsp. borax
Optional: liquid vitamin E, essential oils, aloe vera gel
The beeswax and borax in combination are the emulsifier. Some recipes call for emulsifying wax, which makes a less greasy but less natural lotion. Beeswax and borax lotions are also harder to perfect and more likely to separate, but I personally think that beeswax smells so good it doesn’t matter. You can find beeswax in many natural food stores (I got mine at The Natural Grocer), and you can find borax in the laundry aisle of many grocery stores. (By the way, you only need a fraction of a teaspoon of borax for this recipe, but it comes only in convenient unresealable boxes containing approximately 526,642 teaspoons, so you should probably learn how to make Gak to use up the rest. I wrote a letter to Nickelodeon when I was little to ask them how to make Gak, and they never wrote back, and I was so sad that I never watched Clarissa Explains It All ever again to punish them. But now that the Internet exists, you can find a Gak recipe here).
(All right, fine, I did watch Clarissa again. So I own it on DVD. Whatever. It teaches important lessons, like that alligators make good bedroom pets.)
Anyway, let’s talk oil. Homemade lotion is apt to get greasier than the store-bought stuff because, again, it doesn’t have all the artificial crap in it. Some people don’t mind the greasiness — after all, thick lotions and body butters are very moisturizing. If you’re not a fan, though, choose oils that absorb into the skin quickly. Combine any vegetable oils or butters you like to total eight ounces. Many people recommend using half butters and half oils, but it depends how thick you want the final product to be. As far as butters go, mango butter is much less greasy than shea butter, and cocoa butter is probably in the middle (and smells delicious!). For oils, jojoba absorbs quickly, as does grapeseed. Olive, avocado, coconut and almond oils last longer on the skin’s surface. Each oil has its own moisturizing and nourishing properties, so do a little research and determine the oils that best suit the kind of lotion you’re going for.
Once you’ve chosen your oils, grate or chop the beeswax into small bits and melt it together with the oils in a double-boiler. Cook the oils for a few minutes after the beeswax is melted to ensure that bacteria are killed, and be sure not to touch the oil again. This will improve the shelf life of your finished product.
While the oils are heating, in a separate pan combine the water and borax. Some recipes call for aloe vera gel in place of about a quarter of the water, which is soothing to the skin. Heat until almost boiling (it’s OK if it boils a little), and keep this mixture on the heat for a few minutes too.
Let the two mixtures cool down, monitoring their temperature with a meat thermometer. Once they both get below 120 degrees Fahrenheit (between 90 and 120 is ideal, and the closer in temperature they are to each other, the better), get out an electric mixer and start beating the oil. Add in a few drops of vitamin E oil if you’re using it, then slowly pour the water/borax mixture in a thin stream into the middle of the oil as you blend. The lotion will thicken and start to look creamy.
If you’re using essential oils to scent the lotion, add them now, a few drops at a time, and blend. Remember that it’s better to have a mild-scented lotion than an overly scented one. Lotion scent is a tough thing to choose. I bought peppermint oil for my lotion, which smells delicious, but wasn’t thinking about the fact that I also used cocoa butter in my first batch. If I gave this out to friends, I’d feel like I was saying, “I’d like you better if you smelled like pie.” (But let’s be real: Maybe I would.)
Now pour the lotion into jars. This is a messy process; make sure your arms are bare so you can rub the excess lotion all over them. The lotion will continue to thicken as it cools, and hopefully not separate. One of my batches of lotion separated as it cooled, but that turned out to be not as bad as I expected. I put the lotion in the fridge, then poured off the water and wound up with a thick body butter. I’ll probably keep that batch for myself, but it’s certainly still usable. Keep your lotion in the fridge to extend its shelf life.
You’re done! Next week we’re gonna get super-girly and make lip balm.