Herbal Apothecary: Homemade Lotion

This fall, I've been working to replace my chemical-filled soaps and lotions with homemade products that use natural ingredients. As I've been using up various tubes and jars, I haven't gone to CVS to buy more; instead, I find a recipe and test out a new, homemade version. 

A while ago I made some new moisturizer. A homemade moisturizer is different – definitely more of a cream, for starters. It doesn't have any alcohol in it, which makes store-bought lotions feel like they are soaking in quickly, even though it's actually evaporating some of the moisture into the air. They are also much thicker, so you have to get used to waiting a bit for it to soak in. I don't find it permanently greasy the way suntan lotion is, but it does take a little getting used to while you wait for your skin to absorb all the good stuff. 

You can make these lots of different ways, but I basically followed Rosemary Gladstar's "Perfect Cream" recipe. Moisturizers basically have two parts: oils and waters:


On the left are the oils, which were 3/4 cup almond oil (infused with comfrey), 1/3 cup cocoa butter, 1/4 teaspoon lanolin, a few capsules' worth of vitamin E (squeezed out of the gelatin casing, of course) and an ounce of beeswax pearls. After the almond oil was infused with comfrey and strained, it was added to the rest of the oils and all melted together. I didn't bother with a double boiler, just very low heat and a sharp eye to make sure it didn't burn. What you see above is the oil starting to look more solid as it cooled to room temperature. I let it cool in the jar that goes with our immersion blender (one of those stick-shaped, hand blender deals), so it would be ready to go once it was cool enough.

In the measuring cup are the waters: 2/3 cup distilled water and 1/3 cup pure aloe vera gel (not too expensive at Trader Joe's, by the way). I went fragrance-free on this first one, although I could have used rose or lavender water instead, or added essential oils for other scents. That's an experiment for another day, as I was really focused on getting the consistency right first.

To get oil and water to mix (and stay mixed), you need to emulsify them, which requires adding one to the other ever-so-slowly as you blend it together. I poured a drizzle of water into the cooled oil, while with the other hand I used the hand blender to whip it together. I didn't have a third hand available for a photo, but it basically looked just like mayonnaise getting whipped up.

Once it was all mixed, I scooped it all into a wide-mouthed pint Mason jar and capped it with one of our sweet new reusable plastic lids:


FYI, a pint of lotion is 16 ounces, and that is a LOT of lotion--it would be a pretty big bottle if I had a pump bottle to put it in. As you can see, this is still nice and lotion-y looking here, but as it cooled, it solidified into more of a cream. I’m not sure a pump bottle would be able to handle it:


This is what it looks like now. The ridges are where I drag my fingers through it to scoop it out, but you can see along the edges of those ridges a bit of graininess. It's nothing too terrible, but I was a little disappointed by it (the graininess was worse at the top of the jar, but it seems to have lessened as I work my way down through the middle). I read that cocoa butter can get grainy as it cools unless you "temper" it first, which means melt it all and then put it in the freezer to cool off really fast. Then the next time it melts, it's not supposed to get grainy as it cools. It's definitely worth a try, especially since I could freeze it in smaller pieces, which would be easier to deal with than the giant block it came in.

The graininess melts away as soon as it hits warm skin anyway, so it's more of a visual defect. Having used this cream for about a month now, I can say that I really like it a lot. Again, there's an adjustment period to the sheer thickness of it (and feeling a little oily for a few minutes until it soaks in), but it works way better than anything else I've ever used. It seems to last longer, as my skin never feels dry in between applications. I use it on my face, too – just a teeny tiny bit goes a long way. Even though it's thick, it hasn't looked greasy or clogged my pores at all.

Even though I didn't add any scent, it does have a smell. At first I could smell the lanolin, but that may for some reason have been concentrated near the top of the jar, because now it just smells kind of chocolatey (it's unrefined cocoa butter, so there you go). I think next time I would add a little bit of vanilla essential oil to go with that warm cocoa smell. The almond oil has a sweet, warm scent also, so that combo should make for a really nice wintertime moisturizer. By the time I use all this up, though, I may be thinking more about a summer-scented lotion instead. 

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