Introduction: Basic Moisturizer

Picture of Basic Moisturizer

When you buy hand, face, or body cream, lotions, butters or serums you are buying essentially the same thing: a blend of water and oil. Differences between products come from the choice of oils, different proportions and additives such as preservatives, scent, and a host of other chemicals designed to enhance the feel, stability or efficacy of the product. When you buy moisturizer you are paying for packaging, marketing, shipping, real estate, innumerable middlemen and the lavish lifestyles of cosmetic giant CEOs... only a tiny portion pays for the actual moisturizer. In other words, making your own is CHEAP. No only that, it's EASY. And to top it all off, if your skin is sensitive, fresh moisturizer made with high quality ingredients you control is BETTER FOR YOU.
I've been experimenting for a while and I developed this recipe to help my husband's eczema. I needed a thick cream with as few ingredients as possible: when it comes to sensitive skin, less is definitely best. The fewer ingredients, the less risk of irritation.
This cream is thick and rich but is quickly absorbed by the skin and does not feel greasy. I even use small amounts on my face.

Step 1: Equipment

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You will need a stick blender or a strong arm with a small whisk.

The container should be a 16 oz wide mouth jar, a recycled honey bottle or a similar container -- this cream is too thick for a pump. If you use a honey jar it should be the type which stands on the cap.

Step 2: Preparation

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Think of making hand cream like canning: if you clean and sterilize all your measuring cups, bowls, containers and tools properly your product is much more likely to keep longer.

When choosing your containers if possible go for glass, because you can sterilize it easily in a hot dishwasher. Recycled PET containers will work but they can't stand much heat. I microwaved this spray bottle with some liquid for just 30 seconds and it emerged crippled. After cutting down the spray "straw" it could still function, but all its scalloped glory was gone forever.

I had no such luck with my blue PET jar. After going through one cycle in the dishwasher it was 100% sterile, but completely unusable.

To sterilize plastic containers I clean them by hand with hot water and soap then I swish a little rubbing alcohol around inside them, drip out the excess and let it evaporate. Glass and metal are much easier: my dishwasher is hot enough to work, or else I just let everything sit in a pot of simmering water for 15 minutes.

Step 3: Ingredients

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For the most basic cream all you need are three ingredients:

1/2 cup grape seed oil
1/4 cup ewax
3/4 cup water

From this basic formula, you can add all sorts of extras. The following are all standard ingredients, and won't add drastically to the cost:

1 tbsp glycerin (add this to the water)
1/4 tsp vitamin E
12-15 drops of essential oil
1/8 tsp of Germall Plus (a preservative)

Note on ingredients:

I wanted to avoid fragrance which meant I had to choose my oil carefully, since I couldn't use perfume to mask an unpleasant oily smell. I chose grape seed oil for all sorts of reasons: the smell is neutral, it gives a cream with a very pleasant texture which absorbs nicely without feeling greasy, it does not clog pores and give you pimples, it has a good shelf life, it is widely available from any grocery store and it is (relatively) cheap. Jojoba oil, for example, which shares many of the same qualities, is much more expensive. Castor oil is also odor free and has a great shelf life, plus it has the advantage of containing lots of ricinoleic acid. This compound has a useful anti-inflammatory effect -- but castor oil gives the cream an unpleasantly heavy, sticky feel if there's too much of it. I could go on and on about all the different oils... suffice it to say, after much experimentation, this one is my favorite. If my eczema test subject is suffering from an outbreak I might combine it with castor oil (I'll use 1/3 cup grape seed, then enough castor oil to get 1/2 cup oil) to help reduce inflammation.

Ewax is a blend of cetearyl alcohol and polysorbate 60. The E stands for emulsifying, and it's purpose is to blend the oil and water into a smooth, stable cream (you might find it under the name "emulsifying wax NF" in online stores). It comes in white, waxy flakes which are easy to measure and melt. I like it better than the "all natural" alternative of beeswax and borax because the cream is less sticky and more stable (i.e. the water and oil in the cream are less likely to separate). I've never seen this sold in a brick and mortar store but it is very easy to find emulsifying wax online. One pound will last a long time...

Although supposedly distilled water is better, try as I can I have never been able to discern any difference in quality between creams made with distilled water compared to plain old tap water. Save yourself the trouble and use tap water.

Glycerin is a by-product of soap making. It is a humectant, which means it attracts and absorbs moisture. Adding it to cream helps your skin absorb moisture from the air, but if you use too much the texture of the cream suffers, it starts feeling sticky. You can find glycerin or vegetable glycerin (derived from vegetable oils rather than animal fats) in most drug stores, or you can order some with your ewax.

Vitamin E (aka tocopheryl acetate) is also sold in drug stores, but usually it is not pure. They mix it with water or glycerin and other stuff... you can buy it pure wherever you order your ewax. I like adding it to any cream I make because it is a very strong anti oxidant. This means it will help prevent your oil from going rancid, but it will also help protect your skin against UV damage, bring nourishment to the cells, assists in the healing of damaged tissue and prevents scarring. However, it also prevents blood from clotting so it should never be applied to a bleeding wound.

Essential oils will give your cream a nice scent, and different oils are reputed to have various therapeutic properties. Others, such as any citrus essential oil and ginger will sensitize your skin to UV radiation, so avoid using them if you anticipate any sun exposure.

Preservatives are ESSENTIAL if you plan on giving your cream to someone as a gift or selling it. I speak from experience: I once gave some cream to my mother in law in an opaque pump container. She thought it was so special that she never used it and kept it in her guest bathroom. When I visited about six months later I was very glad to be the first guest -- the stuff was absolutely foul, black, smelly, disgusting in all ways, and since the bottle was opaque someone could have easily used it without checking... That said, I don't generally use preservatives for myself because I make small quantities and use them up very quickly. Instead of putting the cream in one big jar I'll use several small ones and store all the spares in the refrigerator. I also make sure I can see the cream before putting it on, and if hairy stuff starts growing or if it smells "off" I'll throw it out. That's doesn't happen often, and when it does it's not a big deal: at about $1.15 per 16oz of cream, I'm not loosing much. I have only experimented with Germall Plus (again, order it wherever you buy your ewax) because it is a paraben-free preservative which is easy to use, but there are plenty of others. This one works quite well though, I have a one year old test jar of cream still going strong.

Step 4: Instructions

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In a small container such as a stainless steel measuring cup, combine ewax and grape seed oil. Heat over a pan of simmering water till the wax melts and stir till ingredients are thoroughly combined. In the same pot of simmering water, but in a separate container warm the water so the oil and water reach approximately the same temperature.
Slowly drip the oil mix into the hot water while blending with the stick blender till the oil and water are thoroughly emulsified.

After it cools down to 120°F (like a warm cup of tea) you can blend in the optional additives.

Pour into your container(s) before it gets a chance to thicken.

Step 5: Cost

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To calculate cost I weighed the ingredients, figured out the cost per gram (including tax and shipping) then did some simple math.

I bought two liters of grape seed oil for $12.75, which comes out to 0.84 cents per gram
When I bought it I spent $6.65 for one lb of ewax, which brings a gram to 1.47 cents

1/2 cup oil is about 95 grams, 1/4 cup ewax comes to 24 grams, so this cream costs about $1.15. Add about 20 cents for vitamin E, and 10 cents for 1/2 gram of Germall Plus. Still a pretty good deal.

If this seems like a lot of research for an instructable, it is... This recipe is part of an on-going project of mine, Make Anything, a handbook for saving money, living green and having fun with trash. If you read this far, why don't you sign up for my mailing list? You won't get any spam (I have yet to send out a single newsletter since I set this up a few months ago) but you will get links to lots of the cool (free) pop-up cards I design.


Chris121212 (author)2016-12-04

Is it safe to use 3/8 cup of cinnamon bark oil and 1/8 cup of grape seed oil that are undiluted? Also I would also add 1/4 cup of honey and 1/4 cup of papaya extract. How can I make that?

Chris, cinnamon can burn the skin, so use sparingly. I have never added honey, a great idea. I am relatively sure it will make your cream / lotion shelf-life much shorter though.

belsey (author)Chris1212122016-12-04

What matters is not quantities but relative proportions. I've never used cinnamon bark oil, papaya extract or aded honey to moisturizer (though I like it in lip balm), so I'm afraid I can't help you -- you just have to experiment. Once you're done, share your results in these comments so we can all benefit from your experience!

UmmitS (author)2017-09-25

Hi Belsey. As my first adventure into homemade creams, I used your recipe today and loved the result. Thanks for sharing. One query - the cream was slightly 'heavy' and a little 'greasy'. I imagine a tweak to the glycerin or ewax would make a difference? Any suggestions on what to try next time around to get a 'lighter' result?

RobP77 (author)2016-11-22

This was my first attempt at making a cream and it worked perfectly. Thanks so much. I felt somewhat at home with the emulsifying step as I make mayonnaise with the stick blender. (Gosh, I nearly threw in mustard and lemon juice.)

I really appreciate all the information that comes with the recipe. Next time I'd like to make it thinner to make a nice moisturizer for the face. Could this be done just by altering the proportions - less oil, more water and glycerin?

belsey (author)RobP772016-11-25

Yes, exactly. You can add a little extra water and it will thin the cream out. Glad you enjoyed making it!

EmilyL68 (author)2016-07-03

Hi there. Awesome article and very helpful but can I substitute the grapeseed oil for sunflower oil?

belsey (author)EmilyL682016-07-04


SWhiteford (author)2016-03-30

This is a great instructable. I appreciate all the hard work you put in to this and the explanations were fantastic. This is a simple and good recipe, and I appreciate that you included a preservative (I also like NataPres as a preservative). Thanks so much for sharing.

MAZ4 (author)2016-03-12

Wow! This is wonderful! Thank you so, so much for ALLLLL the work, research, effort, care, and 'stickum' so that you could/would deliver and share w/all of us out here! Would love to give some background on 'how' I found this instructable, your recipe, and YOU! Just trying not to go-on too much.

Yup, I'm excited and look forward to more, more, more.

BTW, can not believe you actually gave us total and breakdown costs. Seriously...Thank you!

will get back to you once I have made it.

Mary Anne (aka, M.A. > pronounced 'May')

NaturesPoet made it! (author)2016-02-07

Thank you so much for this recipe! Made it. Turned out fabulous. I also used it as a cream base for my coffee sugar body scrub. I have had problems formulating creams that moisturise deeply, without leaving my skin ashen. I have been getting that a lot since i started using my own creams and it has been a little frustrating. Fingers crossed this one works!

Bella2404 (author)2015-12-11

This cream was amazing!!! And refreshing !!! And me and my family love it and it's so much cheaper to make then buying it !!!

belsey (author)Bella24042016-01-22

Glad you like it!

xssy1 (author)2015-01-01

Thank you Alberto-a7, I suffer also from psoriasis and I like the idea of using your own urine as have heard of urine being used to treat other skin diseases. Does it only have to be the first 'wee' of the morning you can use??

alberto-a7 (author)xssy12016-01-22

No, you do not have to is the time where a large concentration of chemicals are being discarded due to a high metabolic activity during this time. What I did do was switch to using my wife´s urine from mine. I got much better results and I attribute this to the presence of Progesterone hormone. (go to the net and read). Later...I began to use a light mixture of Baking soda and water filtered and passsed through UV light then sterilized with Ozone. I never use distilled water as micro-organisms, chemicals and metals flow in the vapors to be condensed eleswhere. Ozone of a proper concentration for an adequate time frame for the PPM sterilizes and neutralizes chemicals and metals. My results....using urine therapy I regained lost hair folicles due to my age 60 plus. My hair also became more fine and soft. If you do not like this be advised. I did this for 4 months EVERY day in the morning. When I switched to light concentrated sodium bicarbonate I became very happy as the final tiny residuals cleared up and have never come back. With Sodium Bicarb you do not need shampoos as it cleans better and leaves you hair soft and manageable. I do use a smalllllllllll amount of a hair cream -choco keratine; 1gtt (or 1 drop mixed with the same water). Apply only to the hair...not to the scalp! I found that shampoos and conditioners applied later only made my skin burst out with allergic reactions. I no longer ever use them. Bicarb is much cheaper and effective. Use a small amount of 1 tablespoon to 1 liter of filtered ozoned water. Too much will cause problems (scalp skin likes to be acid...but us folks with psoriasis have more than we need). Good luck! and patience.

Ophyta made it! (author)2016-01-03

I've been trying for about 10 or 12 times to make a great emulsion. This is a perfect recipe. Thank you. I am so happy ! I will try to make it a little thinner next time though.

AmitC2 (author)2015-04-30

Hi, my Q2 for the day. I have bought some neem oil to mix it with a base of grapeseed + castor oil, in order to make use of the "miraculous" healing properties of neem? The cream looks very well textured and runs smooth. The product smells awful though. Any suggestion on how to tame this aroma (decidedly for my next venture)?

belsey (author)AmitC22015-04-30

I have to say your comment made me laugh... yes, Neem oil stinks. What I can suggest is A: using it in moderation, only 5-10% of oil content (by weight). This is not only for the smell, but because it is quite powerful and might irritate sensitive skin at higher proportions. B: don't use it for regular moisturizer, but only for therapeutic concoctions: use for lice, ringworm, insect repellent, athlete's foot, etc, not for your after-bath luxurious relaxing. C: maybe coriander might mask and make the smell more palatable? D: don't believe in miracles. Neem is great, but there is no such thing as a cure-all. My unscientific experience with it seems to indicate that it might help the ailments I mentioned above (I also mix a bit with a touch of soap and a lot of water to make a bug spray for my indoor plants) -- BUT it won't cure all these things on its own.

AmitC2 (author)2015-04-30

Hi, any suggestions on using "cooking grade" oils, for example almond or coconut oil, instead of the standard "cosmetic grade" variety normally used for cream making (this is what I have used in the past myself)?

belsey (author)AmitC22015-04-30

Cooking (or food grade) oil is always fine to use for cosmetic use... it's the opposite which isn't true. You're not supposed to eat cosmetic grade ingredients, but anything you can eat, you can smear on yourself.

AmitC2 (author)2015-02-14


Thanks for the wonderful instructions (I moulded the combination of ingredients more to my taste though). I was quite successful with my first try at cream making! Now I am being a bit more adventurous and trying to make some less-thick cream or lotion! Here is a simple question for any of you experienced pros: shall I increase the water content, together with the carrier oil content for making this diluted cream, or simply a bit more of carrier oil will do the trick?


belsey (author)AmitC22015-02-14

For a thinner lotion, simply use more water or water-based ingredients. Keep the oils and ewax the same. And when you're mixing, pour the oils into the water, not the other way around.

HollyHarken (author)2015-01-23

Do you think that coconut oil would be a good oil to use to make this moisturizer? I found some ewax on Etsy for a good price and already have coconut oil on hand for other uses. Have you made this with coconut oil?

belsey (author)HollyHarken2015-01-23

Yes, coconut oil will definitely work as a substitute, I've tried it. I prefer grape seed for the smell and feel of the cream, but many other people swear by coconut. It's just a matter of personal preference and what you've got on hand.

HollyHarken (author)belsey2015-01-26

Thank you!! I have both almond & coconut oils on hand so I can experiment with both & see which one I like the best.

BlueHeart81 (author)2013-01-13

Hi, i loved reading this article and will definitely try the recipie, as my dad and brother suffer from bouts of eczema. I just have a question about the emulsifier. Since it allows oil and water to mix, when applied to the skin, would the emulsifier also react with the natural sebum and dissolve it? And so when you wash your skin, would your skin be stripped, and be drier?

Do you ever use any of the oils, like the ones you mentioned, jojoba and grape seed, directly on the face or body? I am currently using virgin coconut oil on my face. I like the way my skin feels but im not sure if this is the best thing in the long run.

dsantil71 (author)BlueHeart812015-01-12

I use jojoba oil by itself on my face. It is chemically similar to the sebum or oil our skin produces so it is readily absorbed by it. I also use Argon oil. It is an anti-aging oil. The jojoba oil is also awesome for my ultra dry curly hair. I thoroughly spray it all over my hair after an evening shower. Let my hair air as always. the next day I only use a cleansing conditioner then regular conditioner in the shower. Let my hair air dry again & my curls are twice as curly, super shiny, so soft! I do it once a week.

belsey (author)BlueHeart812013-01-13

Though I don't know for sure how the emulsifier acts on the skin on a microscopic level, I CAN say that the emulsion does not dry out the skin. When I wash my hands shortly after moisturizing, the cream does wash off, and who knows, maybe a little of my own skin oil comes off too, but whenever you wash or get wet, you should re-apply cream... so whatever has been washed off gets replaced.
And yes, you can apply straight oil to the skin, it's just not as convenient because it's harder to apply, it doesn't absorb as fast, and putting it all over can get messy. On a small surface which doesn't get covered in clothes (i.e. the face), it works perfectly. I usually just put a couple small drops of black seed oil on my face every day right after showering. It's easy, it feels great, I love the smell, and it's fine for the short and long term.

awsmitty (author)2015-01-11

I've been a chemist in and out of this industry for 30+ years. I hope I can get this out before too many people read and/or try this. I think I'm at the end of the mailing list here at instructables. Don't forget the lanolin, great stuff, not cheap, but great stuff. Also coconut oil has merit, and may sound strange, avocado, and as some have mentioned oils from nuts, any nut, but not peanuts ... that's really not a nut. I've been doing this for years for me and my sister, but never thought about posting it here. Great job!

belsey (author)awsmitty2015-01-11

There's nothing wrong with reading and/or trying this!! As the title says clearly, this is a recipe for BASIC moisturizer -- i.e. simple, minimum number of ingredients to make a good moisturizer, and cheap. However I also emphasized in both the instructable itself and in the comments that other ingredients can be added or substitutes used. I've used lanolin, coconut oil and avocado oil too (and included them in some other recipes I've posted on Instructables), but there's absolutely no harm in starting with something simple. In fact, for very sensitive and allergic people it's a distinct advantage.

awsmitty (author)belsey2015-01-11

belsey, perhaps you misunderstood me. I am agreeing with you. This is a perfect base to start with, or use as is. However with this base one could then go in a variety of different directions. That's all

belsey (author)awsmitty2015-01-11

Yes, I admit I was confused by your comment... When you said you're a chemist who hopes you "can get this out before too many people read and/or try this" it sounded like you were warning people against making this for safety reasons. I'm glad I misunderstood.

HollyHarken (author)2015-01-01

How well would this moisturizer work as a diabetic foot cream? The stuff the foot doctor recommended was way too expensive and smelled awful! I'd love to find an alternative.

belsey (author)HollyHarken2015-01-11

I don't know anything about diabetic foot cream... Either it's medicated (which strikes me as doubtful) or it just does not contain ingredients diabetics need to avoid. As far as I know the ingredients here are perfectly safe for diabetics, but to be sure, check with your doctor.

alberto-a7 (author)2015-01-01

It is not necessary to use the first catch of the day...however... it is more concentrated. Best time to collect is between 3-5 am due to the appearances of hormones. I do not stick to this...just the first session of the morning usually around 6am. I would not advise to mix urine with creams as there are a large number of chemicals in our urine and this mixiing with creams complicates things. Just use it plain. At first the whole process was strange as it was necessary to overcome years of incorrect knowledge about our urine. If... one purchased all the chemicals found in the urine... then mixed them with "clean" water... one would arrive at the same smell. Urine has a tiny...tiny amount of impurities, however, it is a filtering mechanism to eliminate that which is in overabundance for that time. A lot of computer generated analysis going on to decide which one and when to get it out of the blood. If you serve your dinner and there are leftovers at the table...what do you do with them? Do you consider them "dirty" because the are left over? Do you not just remove them? There you have the simplified version of a very complicated chemical filtering process made by the kidneys. My wife had a rash on her chest... the "medical creams" just turned it down but did not eliminate it. She applied urine and in 10 minutes it was gone... the itching as well. Please drink lots of water. Best to get more information and there is a lot of it available. Perhaps is good to note, (being an specialist in chinese herbal medicines and o a lot of herb combining) that there is a lot of misinformed information as well on the net. Best to get to the areas of investigative work to get things straight. From the "Docs" is generally not a good place as they get a bit edgy over things that work well and are inexpensive.

alberto-a7 (author)2015-01-01

I am a Doctor of Oriental Medicine.... after so many years of good health I came down with Psoriasis. This skin condition is multifaceted and extremely difficult to get rid of yet..with patience I found Urine Therapy. I no longer have this skin problem... and also have the softest most envious skin imaginable due to the Urea. I add my comments so that exzema sufferers can stop suffering. Collect the first morning discharge... apply liberally to the skin...let soak in 10-15 minutes everyday. Usually in 1-2 weeks things have changed. It is not dirty... it is sterile and the smell comes from the chemicals not being dirty. Get over it... and it will change your life.

Blessings to all.


belsey (author)alberto-a72015-01-01

One could also use urea -- not as cheap or easy to get, but less of an "eww" factor. However even that is not necessarily for everyone: whenever I put even the tiniest amount of urea in a cream my husband immediately starts to itch....

alan.clark.3114 (author)2015-01-01

Where did you come up with Germall Plus? This is nasty stuff in that it causes your finished product to release formaldehyde. How about some vitamin E oil instead?

belsey (author)alan.clark.31142015-01-01

I also recommended vitamin E, but vitamin E is an anti oxidant which helps prolong the life of oils, so it's perfect for balms which don't contain any water -- it doesn't do much to preserve emulsions. Germall Plus is easy to use, effective and better than other preservatives. Also I did mention I generally prefer going preservative free, but for those who are selling or giving products to others, they need to be able to guarantee that the cream won't turn foul in a few days. They'll need more than vitamin E.

silkier (author)2015-01-01

Just a little about using water.

When I trained as a pharmacy technician, many eons ago, the recipes for creams always called for using "freshly boiled and cooled water". We often used sterilised distilled water in the pharmacy just because we had it on hand from stock.

Some of our trainee pharmacists were doing a project on Quality Control for their theses and decided to test the water from the De-ioniser in our manufacturing department. They found it was HEAVING with microbes - all nicely nested in the resin core. This led to a hasty revision of all the manufacturing recipes for anything for internal or external human use. After that the D.I. water was mostly used for diluting powerful chemicals (formaldehyde, phenols and such) and they renewed the core and checked it at increasingly regular intervals.

Since then I have always been wary of D.I. water and I personally would not use it to make creams, distilled water is fine (it won't have the ions in it that can react unfavourably with any of your other ingredients) and well boiled and then cooled water should be pretty safe.

lazemaple (author)2015-01-01

an important point to remember when using metabisulphite based products to sterilize equipment is that a growing number of people experience allergic reactions from sulphites.

lazemaple (author)2015-01-01

I'll bet One-Step is simply metabisulphite powder which you can purchase in bulk for around $3 a pound at wine making supplies and some bulk foods stores.

Mandelacat (author)2013-05-02

Please put me on your mailing list.
Thanks, H

belsey (author)Mandelacat2015-01-01

You wrote this comment a year ago and I never saw it! Sorry, I will add you today.

pbaran (author)2014-11-27

Sorry i cant upload photo for some reason

belsey (author)pbaran2015-01-01

Can't help you there... Were you trying to upload a picture in the comments? There's a button in the reply box for adding a picture, if that's not working you should contact instructables staff.

pbaran (author)2014-11-27

What i could have done wrong...its not curdled while blending but its like a silky white water? Pls advice what you think?

belsey (author)pbaran2015-01-01

Sorry, I didn't see these comments till today. As you see in my pictures, a silky white color is correct.

willowtree78 (author)2015-01-01

I would like to know where you purchase your supplies. I've never gotten oil and ewax that didn't cost me $20.

belsey (author)willowtree782015-01-01

There's a link to my supplier in step 3 -- this was a couple years ago, plus I bought in bulk so the price could have gone up since... I calculated the cost based on how much is used in one batch, not the full cost of that one-time purchase.

About This Instructable




Bio: I am a paper engineer, writer, maker and chemist wannabe. In addition to pop-up cards I design and build furniture, lights, costumes or whatever I ... More »
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