31 January 2013

tutorial: making beauty products

Today, I'm going to share with you one of my favorite recent discoveries. Here it is: making beauty products at home, from all natural ingredients, is all kinds of easy.

If you happened to be chatting with Mark, he'd be way too polite and loyal to tell you that I've been a spazz for the last year about ridding our house of any toxin-containing product (getting diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and having your mom be treated for breast cancer in the same year will do that to a girl... my mom is all better -- not to worry -- and I'm good so long as I never think about gluten ever again). But in the meantime I've become a rabid devotee of the Environmental Working Group's database on toxins in cosmetics, and a frequent user of the GoodGuide app.

The good news for you is you don't have to see me going on a rampage to rid the house of phthlates and parabens and sodium laureth sulfate and plastic. You just get some sweet recipes for natural products with nary a toxic ingredient in sight!

What you need:
1. The only specialized ingredient that you need is beeswax, which is a healthy, all-purpose emulsifier that will turn everyday oils into magical balms. I recommend going organic, with an unbleached, untreated, unprocessed, unanythinged variety. (Note: Any beeswax that is white is bleached. It should be at a minimum a light yellow color.) I order this from Amazon. If you're a vegan and aren't into using beeswax, I've heard that you can sub in candelila wax, but I haven't tried it myself.
2. You will need oils, to serve as the base for your products, and which the beeswax will emulsify. They can be fancy oils like sweet almond or apricot kernel oil, or basic kitchen oils like olive or coconut. Organic is better, of course, as are things like cold pressed and unfiltered. You can also include for part of your oils a bit of cocoa butter or shea butter, though both will make your final product thicker, as will coconut oil. If you're making products for your face, I've read that jojoba oil and grapeseed oil are the most friendly, because grapeseed is the least reactive to sensitive skin, and jojoba is the most easily absorbed. I use straight grapeseed oil on my face. No pore clogging or funny scents, and the shininess disappears after a few minutes.
3. Essential oils are nice for fragrance (and taste, in lip balms), but they're not crucial. Natural products smell and taste good on their own.
4. Also nice to have are small glass jars, to avoid having to put your finished product in potentially toxic plastic containers, but use what you have. Small jam jars or Mason jars would work perfectly well, too.

Getting ideas:
I've included some basic recipes below, based on my experimentation and adaptation of other recipes that I've come across. But if you want more, check out these three books:

Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World, by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen (I LOVE this book. So many awesome ideas with great tutorials.)

Do It Gorgeously, by Sophie Uliano (Has some good recipes, but I do NOT endorse using borax in products that touch your skin, specifically all the cleanser recipes. The Environmental Working Group rates borax as hazardous, so I won't make any cleansers from this book.)

Organic Body Care Recipes, by Stephanie Tourles (Lots of good recipes, but same issue with the borax -- see above.)

Putting it all together:
The only real step for most basic products is melting the beeswax enough that it can combine with and emulsify the oils. Many recipes will tell you to do it in a double boiler on the stove, but I think the microwave is a faster, easier way to go. The key is going in really short bursts of 10 seconds, and stirring each time, so that you don't overheat anything.

Lip balm recipe:
In a glass measuring cup, combine 4 to 5 Tablespoons of the oils of your choice with 1 Tablespoon (.25 oz) beeswax (4 T of oil will give a more solid lip balm; 5 T will give a more supple balm). In the microwave, heat the mixture in :10 second bursts, stirring in between each burst, until the beeswax is fully melted. Then, mix in 2 teaspoons of raw organic honey, along with 5 drops of the essential oil of your choice (optional). While the mixture is still warm, pour into one 2-ounce container or several small tins, and allow to cool completely before using. You just made yourself a year's supply of lip balm in about three minutes!
Variations: My favorite oils for this lip balm are sweet almond oil and olive oil. If you want your lip balm to have a glossy effect, use castor oil for 1  of the 5 Tablespoons of oil. My favorite essential oils are grapefruit and sweet orange, but a few little drops go a long way. If you have it handy, it's also nice for your lips to add a few drops of calendula oil or vitamin E oil after heating, when you add the honey and essential oils.

Clay mask recipe:
Most natural foods stores will sell plain clay powders, most commonly red clay and green clay. Read the packages and choose the one that feels most appropriate for your skin. Then, in a small glass container, mix a few Tablespoons of clay powder with a few teaspoons of water until you have a smooth, thick consistency. Add a little more clay or a little more water to get the consistency you want. Stir in 3-5 drops of tea tree oil, which fights blemishes. Use the mixture as an overall mask or, as I do, as an overnight spot treatment.

Basic balm or cuticle cream recipe:
I'll do another post on creams and lotions, which get a bit more complicated with the addition of water, but you can make an all-purpose, all-over balm by following the basic balm ratio above: 1 Tablespoon of beeswax for every 5 to 7 Tablespoons of oil (or 1 part to every 5-7 parts). Jojoba oil and shea butter are especially nice to include in an allover body balm, as is cocoa butter -- or a mixture of the three. But don't underestimate the awesomeness of a balm made with any regular (preferably organic) olive oil. I leave scents out of body balms, but maybe you want to go crazy with all of your essential oils for this. Go nuts.

What do you think? Will you try making any of these? Have you already made some products and found recipes that blow these away? Care to share?

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  1. I will be trying the lip and body balms ASAP! You also just reminded me that I have a metal tin that I melted some old lip balm tubes into, and it could use some olive oil to soften it. I should toss the thing and use something natural, but I have this dang whole tin already and I hate throwing things out - that's why I melted 5 tiny lip balm stubs into it in the first place, ha! But I need a jar at work and in Breck so I still have an excuse to make more :)

    Did you find the clay mask drying at all? It's SO dry here, I haven't used a mask in years even though I always liked them before (as did my husband!).

    1. One little batch of the lip balm here will make about a year's supply, so I think you can safely toss the contents of that old tin and freshen it up with some new, natural stuff. :-)

      And yes, the clay is really drying. I use it as a spot treatment overnight, but would never use it on my whole face or whole anything, at least in this climate. Put me back in DC, and it's a different story!

  2. Have you attempted no shampoo yet? I considered it, but I think David has his limits as to how much crazy I can introduce. He was good with the worm bin and the homemade laundry detergent, he's okay with me using olive oil instead lotion (well, he says i smell like a salad), but I think I'd be pushing it giving up shampoo in favor of baking soda.

    1. Hiya San -- I love your description "how much crazy I can introduce." I have found that jojoba and grapeseed oil have much less fragrance than olive oil, for what it's worth.

      Re: shampoo, I sometimes use castille soap as shampoo, and it works pretty well so long as I use strong conditioner after. So one of these days I will try making castille soap, once I get up the guts to put lye in my blender, and then I'll have made shampoo too. I'll let you know how it goes! I definitely endorse NOT switching to baking soda... some sort of cleanser is a good thing. :-)

  3. Tanja this is such an informative post! I just bookmarked it. It's funny but I was just having my hair cut by a young woman who told me how washing her face with olive oil completely transformed her face. Cleared it of acne and made it super smooth. So I'm thinking that i need to do some serious reading about natural products. haha. And here's your post.
    BTW--I just saw my blog on your blogroll. That is SO nice. Thanks Tanja.
    Leslie (aka Gwen Moss)


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