Introduction: Cold Cream

I've always liked cold cream for washing my face because I have fussy skin and it's always worked better for me than anything else, but a few years ago, the regular drug store brands changed their formulas and some of my many unspecified contact allergies started flaring up. I tried to find a replacement, but everything that looked like it might work for me was really, really expensive, so I found some old cold cream recipes and started experimenting with making my own.

After making a whole bunch of batches and trying different ingredients and techniques, I ended up with this basic recipe for simple, non-comedogenic cold cream made almost entirely out of inexpensive ingredients you can get at most decent sized grocery stores, at least in the US. The only thing I couldn't get at my grocery store is beeswax.

Here are the ingredients you'll need:

Oil. I use sunflower oil because it's non-comedogenic, it's cheap, and you can buy it in the cooking oil section in grocery stores. I've tried other, more expensive types of oil, but I can't tell the difference, so I stick with the cheapest and easiest option.

I also add a little castor oil, which supposedly has astringent qualities and is good for unclogging pores. It's tough sometimes trying to sort out some of the claims you see about things like this, but the castor oil does seem to help the cold cream wash off cleanly without residue. I use about a teaspoon of it in each regular sized batch. You can get castor oil in the grocery store, usually in the laxatives section. If you have very dry skin, you probably want to skip the castor oil, though.

Beeswax. This is the only ingredient that I can't get at the grocery store, so I bought a one pound bag of beeswax pastilles online, and years later, I'm not even halfway through it. I keep it in the refrigerator.

Beeswax is what makes cold cream different from lotion. Lotions use an emulsifying wax that helps the oils penetrate the skin, whereas beeswax sits on top of the surface of the skin, so it picks up dirt, oil, and makeup and then comes off, leaving your skin clean.

Borax. You only need a pinch for each batch, but it's pretty necessary to make the cold cream emulsify and come out right. You'll have much, much more borax than you'd ever need for just making cold cream, but borax is nice to have around for all kinds of other things as well. You can usually find it in the laundry aisle at the grocery store.

Water. You could substitute herbal tea or rosewater if you like.

You'll also need:

  • Two heatproof measuring cups, at least two cup capacity
  • An immersion blender (a regular blender should also work)
  • An eight ounce jar

Step 1: Water and Borax.

Pour 1/2 C. boiling water into a heat proof measuring cup, and add about 1/4 tsp. or less of borax. You can also use distilled water or rosewater, but I just boil tap water to get rid of major impurities and to dissolve the borax so it doesn't come out gritty.

(1/2 C. is exactly right for me, but if you want to give yourself some leeway, you may want to measure out a little more in case your cold cream comes out too thick and you need to adjust it.)

Then, I go do something else for a while and let the water cool down a bit. It's usually cooled off enough within a half hour or so.

Step 2: Oils and Beeswax.

Measure out 1/2 cup of oil in another heatproof measuring cup. I put in about a teaspoon of castor oil, then fill it the rest of the way with sunflower oil.

Add a scant 2 Tbsp. of grated beeswax or beeswax pastilles, then heat the oil and wax mixture in the microwave in very small increments, maybe 30 seconds or so. Watch it carefully and take it out once the beeswax is completely melted.

If you don't have a microwave available, you can heat this up on a stove.

Step 3: Emulsify!

This is the trickiest part, but once you get the hang of it, it's pretty painless. And if it doesn't come out right, you can often fix it as you go along, as described in the troubleshooting section below.

Carefully, because you don't want to splash hot oil on yourself, stick an immersion blender in the oil mixture, and then start blending, adding the water and borax in a slow trickle.

What you're aiming for is to emulsify the mixture as the temperature of the ingredients cools. This can take a while if you just stand there blending it the whole time, but I've had good luck with either putting it into an ice bath as I'm blending, or blending the mixture thoroughly, then going to do something else for a while--20 to 30 minutes maybe--as it cools, then coming back to finish once it's cooled off some. I prefer the latter because it's less work and I rarely have such urgent cold cream needs that I can't wait an extra half an hour.

Continue blending until the mixture is smooth, white, and starts forming soft peaks. In other words, when it looks like cold cream.

Troubleshooting:

If the mixture isn't starting to thicken up right away, you can heat up a tiny bit of oil with a pinch of beeswax in it the same way you did in the previous step, and then add the mixture to that and blend.

If the mixture is too thick, add a little of your extra water + borax mixture and continue blending.

Step 4: Put It in a Jar.

This is the most boring of steps: Put the cold cream in the jar.

Using a flexible spatula, transfer the cold cream to a clean 8 ounce jar.

My favorite is the 8 ounce size jars that Better Than Bouillon comes in. They're the right size, they have nice straight sides and wide mouths, and the labels come off pretty easily. But any 8 ounce glass jar you can dip your fingers into should work just fine. Of course, you can just buy a jar if you want, but it's usually cheaper to buy something that comes in the size jar you need, and then clean and reuse the jar. That way, you get the jar plus whatever came in it.

Step 5: Miscellany

I go through this pretty quickly, so I've never had a problem with it spoiling when I just leave it on my bathroom counter. If it takes you much longer than maybe a month or so to go through a batch, though, you may want to keep it in the refrigerator in between uses.

Variations

For a thicker consistency, add more beeswax, and for a thinner consistency, add more of the water mixture. See the photo for an illustration of what they look like.

You can use just about any oil or blend of oils you like. If you have fussy skin, you probably want to look for non-comedogenic oils and patch test them first.

If you like, you can substitute rosewater or distilled water for the boiled tap water, or you can steep some tea in the boiled water and borax. Just make sure the borax is well dissolved if you start with non-hot water.

You can also add whatever essential oils you like during the emulsification process.

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