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
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
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
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
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
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.
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