Introduction: Extra Special Fancy Moisturizer for Eczema
I've been making moisturizer for a couple years now. Not only do I save a lot of money, but it's great fun to come up with recipes tailor-made for my family. My husband suffers from chronic atopic dermatitis -- eczema -- and I've tried many many recipes to keep his outbreaks at bay. The basic moisturizer is good for day to day use. With only three ingredients it is simple to make, and very well tolerated by the most sensitive skin, but during a change of season, a period of stress or after wearing irritating clothes flare-ups can still occur. The following recipe is the result of my research into all the exotic ingredients which claim to cure skin ailments... It works quite well for my personal test subject, but I want to emphasize that everybody is sensitive to different chemicals. This cream helps my (extremely sensitive) spouse, but it could make you break out into a rash -- so try a little of the oil mix on a patch of healthy skin, and if after a few days of use you don't get a reaction you can see if it helps your angry red blotchy patches of skin... You can also replace some of the grape seed oil in the basic moisturizer with small amounts of these ingredients, trying them one at a time. That way you would be able to tell if you just need to avoid one of the ingredients listed here.
I like making small quantities often, to avoid preservatives which can irritate my "patient's" skin, but this cream has too many ingredients to make that practical -- the solution is to make this in two steps. First, mix the oils and waxes, then make the cream (i.e. add water) with only a portion of the oils. I can store the leftover oil mix in the refrigerator, where it will last a very long time (bacteria and mold need water to grow), then I can make extra cream quickly whenever I need it.
If you are struggling with this skin problem, check out my guide, Bleach baths and other cheap eczema remedies.
Step 1: Equipment
You will need a milk frother or a quick wrist with a small whisk.
You will need two wide mouth jars or similar containers: one for the finished cream and one for storing the extra oil/wax blend. Containers should be able to hold at least 1/2 cup each.
A recycled honey bottle or a similar container which can stand on its cap will work for the finished cream but not for the oil blend which will harden, especially if you store it in the refrigerator.
If you have a small precise scale (one which can weigh up to 1/10th of a gram is best, but if it only goes to 1 gram that's OK too) making this cream is a lot easier and faster -- but I give measurements in volume as well as grams, so you can measure either way.
Step 2: Preparation
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: Oil Blend
Although most people measure with volume, it is a lot easier, faster and more precise to use a scale: you can just keep adding ingredients to the same container, zeroing out the scale between each measurement. The translation between weight and volume is approximate. I design my creams based on the weight of the ingredients and then I round that out to the closest practical volume measurement.
2 tsp dimethicone (10g)
2 tsp soy lecithin(11g)
5 tsp jojoba oil (20g)
4 1/2 tsp castor oil (20g)
4 tsp shea butter (25g)
1/4 cup ewax (25g)
Melt together in a small double boiler. When all ingredients are combined remove from heat and allow to cool for 3 minutes, then stir in:
2 1/2 tsp tamanu oil (10g)
2 tsp black seed oil (10g)
1 tsp pure vitamin E (5g)
Note on ingredients:
Dimethicone, a silicone oil, provides a breathable barrier which protects skin against moisture loss. Its effect is similar to lanolin, but with a reduced risk of allergies, and a better smell and "feel".
Jojoba oil is actually a wax which is liquid at room temperature, and it has a much longer shelf life than most oils. Other advantages are that it is well tolerated by most skin types and people, it helps protect the skin against UV rays. It does not completely dissolve in the skin and it creates a satiny barrier which helps prevent moisture loss.
Castor oil is very useful in moisturizers for several reasons: it penetrates deeply into the skin; its main component, ricinoleic acid, has anti inflammatory effects; it has a long shelf life and is used in the food industry as a mold inhibitor; it acts as a humectant, which means it attracts and retains moisture; it is also an emollient, which means it softens and make the skin feel smooth. On the minus side, it is a little more sticky and gooey than other oils.
Shea butter is pretty much "de rigueur" in any high end cosmetic, because it is reputed to be one of the best moisturizers and emollients, effective against scars, eczema, burns, rashes, wrinkles, stretch marks, blemishes and any other skin problem you can think of. It is also reputed to be an anti-inflammatory agent and to provide UV protection, although the level of protection can vary between zero and SPF 6. One thing is certain: it absorbs rapidly into the skin, does not feel greasy, and leaves the skin feeling supple and firm. You can use either refined (white and odorless) or unrefined (with nutty color and smell) shea butter. Supposedly unrefined has better therapeutic effects.
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).
Tamanu oil is reputed to have healing, anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties. The oil is especially recommended for all kinds of burns (sunburns or chemical burns), most dermatoses, post-surgical cicatrisation, certain skin allergies, acne, psoriasis, herpes, chillblains, skin cracks, diabetic sores, hemorroids, dry skin, etc. It smells somewhat like butter pecan ice cream. As the oil is absorbed into the skin the odor changes to a nutty, fatty aroma. Sometimes I'll just rub a little of this pure oil on bad patches of skin.
Black seed oil is my favorite of the lot. I do not believe in any magical panacea, but I could not help being charmed when I heard the Islamic prophet Muhammad said black seed oil will treat all diseases except death. To me this means: even though this will make you feel good, it won't save you from your destiny. Black seed, habbatul barakah, the seed of blessing, whatever name you choose: it will cure everything -- but ultimately it won't make a whit of difference. Face it, we're all going to die.
Optimists heed only Muhammad's comment on healing, not death. The list of ailments this oil is reputed to cure is eye popping: fatigue, flatulence, intestinal worms, pancreatic cancer, toothache, depression, acne, asthma, nasal congestion, infertility, and eczema to name just a few. It is supposed to stop hair loss and bloody noses. It allegedly helps eye sight and ear infections. It can be eaten, inhaled, applied topically -- or mixed with ashes and stuffed up your nostrils (which I've never tried and wouldn't recommend).
Modern medical research seems to confirm it may be helpful for some of the above conditions. It is rich in unsaturated fatty acids such as Omega 6, but also contains many other compounds including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, carotene, arginine and a whole slew of others which seem to work in synergy.
I have not tested it for all these ailments (thank goodness!), but even if I had I would not recommend medication. That is your doctor's job. I love mixing a teaspoon with plain yogurt and maple syrup because it tastes delicious, and I love putting it on my skin: I just use one or two drops on my face and nothing feels better. It has a woody, slightly spicy smell which I find very pleasant.
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 these other specialty ingredients. 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.
Please note that everything I wrote here about the ingredients is a summary of their reputation. I am not, nor would I make any claims that these ingredients actually cure any of the ailments they are supposed to help (remember, we're all going to die anyway...). Check out step 5 for info on where to find these ingredients.
Step 4: Cream Instructions
In a separate container, warm up:
8 tsp distilled water
1/2 tsp glycerin
Using your milk frother, slowly drip 2 tbsp of the oil mix into your hot water and glycerin till the cream is well emulsified. Blend in 0.1g Germall Plus, about 4 drops.
Pour the cream into one of your containers, and the remaining oil mix into the other. Store in the refrigerator. LABEL your jars properly!
If you are making the cream for the second time using left-over oil, you will need to melt 2 tbsp of the oil mix in your double boiler before blending it with the hot water.
Note on preservatives:
Germall Plus is a proprietary mix of Propylene Glycol & Diazolidinyl Urea & Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate which comes in liquid form. It is paraben-free and should be used at a rate of 0.1 to 0.5% of the total formulation (by weight). It is particularly important to be careful about bacteria growth in your moisturizer if your skin is compromised -- but on the other hand, having sensitive skin might make you react more than other people to preservatives. This is why I generally prefer to make very small quantities often, and omit the preservative. In fact, I usually half this recipe (I use 1 tbsp oil mix, 4 tsp water and 1/4 tsp glycerin). Once I have the oil mix it just takes about 5 minutes to make a batch of cream, so I don't mind making it often.
Note on ingredients:
Although I've never been able to detect any difference in the cream quality between regular tap water and distilled water, when I'm making this special ointment cream I generally prefer to used distilled. Tap water is fine though, at least in New York...
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 try replacing it with a pinch of urea (which is also a humectant but won't make the cream feel sticky). I like urea better, but it makes my husband's skin itch. One important piece of advice: don't try to make your own urea -- at least if you are in a relationship and want to remain so.
Step 5: Where to Find All This Stuff
Most online soap making suppliers will have all these ingredients -- with the possible exception of black seed oil or tamanu oil. I buy black seed oil in this Islamic shop in my neighborhood, which also carries shea butter but not ewax or other essential supplies. If you live near a Muslim community you should be able to find black seed oil locally.
Here are some places I've ordered supplies from. I'm not affiliated to them in any way, and there are many, many other suppliers.
Soapgoods.com has a nice, clear, well organized website and good selection and service. This is the same company as soapmakingsuppliesstore.com. It's annoying because even though it's the same company the price on the two (otherwise identical) websites differ slightly. I usually open two tabs, fill two identical shopping carts, then order from whichever "company" comes out less.
I've also ordered from Snow Drift Farms. Their website isn't quite as easy to navigate but they have lots of good resources, articles and recipes which taught me a lot. Recipes posted by vendors tend to include lots of products, and each recipe calls for different ingredients, which makes sense, of course: they want to sell all this stuff to you.
Majestic Mountain Sage is where I bought my Tamanu oil and some chocolate scented perfume, which I use to make chocolate milk bath bombs... maybe I'll post that recipe some time. They've got a good selection of other products too.
Step 6: Make Anything
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. Very much in the spirit of instructables (and inspired by instructables) this is a collection of hundreds of recipes and instructions on how to, you guessed it, make anything. The 1914 edition is already available, but I'm still slaving away on the contemporary version. 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 a chance to win a template to make a beautiful pop-up card.