What is all natural, anyway?
Let’s get this out there right away. You cannot buy a truly all natural, truly preservative-free lotion. Why? Because lotions are made with water, and water is a great medium for growing bacteria. Lotions with no preservative will not last longer than a few months. This is completely unacceptable for commercial products that sit on the shelf for months or years before being sold. A preservative MUST be used in commercial products.
Second, there are no true all natural preservatives. Some oils like rosemary, have natural antibacterial properties, but none are strong enough to allow a lotion to sit on the shelf for many months. Some oils, like vitamin E, are antioxidants and will help keep the oils in the lotion from going rancid, but they do not prevent bacteria growth.
Third, the companies that tout their products as being all natural will ALL contain SOME form of preservative that may be derived from nature, but have been changed in some way to make them actually prohibit the growth of bacteria. The “changing” of those ingredients, or the refining or processing of them, no longer makes them truly all natural. Grapefruit seed extract is a good example. It sounds very natural. It is not. In fact, some studies indicate that it actually contains, among other things, parabens.
So, this brings me to the point of my post (and much of my life, I have discovered): if you want to make something that is really all natural, you have to make it yourself, and make only small amounts of it so that you don’t have to throw it out if it goes bad over time. But to be honest, I’d rather take the risk of my lotion growing mold than slather myself with preservatives that may ultimately contribute to cancer. That is why I am sharing with you the concept of “fresh” lotions. We have no trouble making fresh meals, so perhaps we need to reintroduce the age-old (think pre-preservative era) fresh body products too.
Before the invention of chemical preservatives, people really DID use moisturizers. It was possible to take care of your skin back then. Cold creams have been around for hundreds, even thousands of years. The invention of cold cream goes back to Galen, in second century Greece and is still used now.
Take of white wax four ounces, oyl of roses omphacine a pound; melt in a double vessel, then powr it out into another, by degrees putting in cold water, and often powring it out of one vessel into another, stirring it till it be white ; last of all wash it in rose water, adding a little rose water and rose vineger.—Nicholas Culpeper (1650), London Dispensatory
Before you leave a comment that says something like “this product will go bad in a few weeks or a few months without a preservative” please be advised that I am well aware of that. I am recommending that you make a small batch and use it up before it can go bad. Refrigeration can help prolong the shelf life. Check your products for mold, discoloration, separation or off-smell and discard if it doesn’t seem right. So far I have yet to have any of mine go bad, despite sitting on my bedside table for 2 months. And in the meantime, enjoy your fresh body products. After all, who wants to drink canned milk over fresh milk? Or eat canned apples instead of a fresh one? Especially ones that are laced with preservatives? Give your body fresh products with fresh ingredients and see the difference.
What is lotion, anyway?
Let’s talk quickly about lotion. Lotion is a combination of water and oil to create a less-greasy, smooth product that will make a great hand, body and facial moisturizer. Water and oil do not naturally combine. Oil will sit on top of the water. The only way to combine it is by emulsification, or blending it to force the water to combine with the oil, much like making mayonnaise. They will combine easier and stay together forever if you have an emulsifier. True emulsifiers are not natural. Even the plant-based emulsifiers are highly processed. Beeswax can be combined with borax to make a true emulsifier. I am not really a fan of borax and would rather not use it. You can use beeswax as an emulsifier on its own. It is more of a mechanical emulsification (ie. it might eventually separate over time) but it has worked well for me and lasts for months, which is as long as your ingredients will last anyway.
***So, stick with small batches and all-natural ingredients, and create the highest quality body products that can be offered with fresh, safe ingredients.***
Basic hand lotion recipe:
- Stick blender (immersion blender)
- Kitchen scale
- Wide mouth mason jar
- Small, thick-bottomed pot
- Small pyrex liquid measuring cup
- 4 oz. grapeseed oil
- 0.5 oz. pure beeswax
- 4 oz. distilled water
- 10 drops rosemary extract or vitamin E oil (optional, may help extend shelf life)
- 15 drops essential oil of your choice (optional)
- In a thick-bottomed pot melt beeswax with oil just until it is melted. Pour into a wide mouth mason jar, set aside and allow to cool until room temperature.
- The following ingredients must be at room temperature before beginning. In a measuring cup weigh and add water, rosemary oil or vitamin E, and essential oil. Set aside.
- When wax and oil combo has cooled down but is still soft, begin blending with a stick blender. SLOWLY pour your water mixture into the jar in a slow, continuous stream, while blending constantly. Circle around the mixture to make sure it is all blended in, moving the blender up and down, around and around. Continue to blend for 3-5 minutes to ensure your mixture has emulsified.
- Store in a sealed container for up to 2 months. Refrigeration will help prolong shelf life.
This recipe makes a very basic hand lotion that is great to learn on. You might want to skip the essential oils and rosemary/vitamin E oils while you practice making emulsions until you have it down pat. Over the next few weeks I will be adding more recipes that will build off this basic recipe and provide different kinds of skin care. Watch for the next post which will include a hand lotion with added ingredients to make a drier lotion that helps repair skin damage while soothing irritated or chapped skin. Enjoy fresh body products! After all, fresh IS best!
- It is very important to combine your ingredients when they have reached room temperature or your emulsion will fail and your water will separate. If this happens, drain off the water and use the lotion as a body butter. It will be greasier but will still make a nice product.
- Always ensure your hands are clean when you use the lotion to prevent bacteria from entering your lotion.
- It is helpful to sterilize your utensils first with boiling water to help prevent bacteria from entering the lotion.
- You can interchange or combine other liquid oils. Grapeseed oil is known to be one of the least greasy of the oils.
- If you want to add a solid oil (for example coconut oil or cocoa butter) to your recipe make sure most of the recipe is still a liquid oil so the product doesn’t get too solid at room temperature before you have combined the water and the oil.
- You can use any infused oil in place of plain oil. (For example, lavender or calendula-infused oils.)
- You can use any hydrosol or floral water to replace the distilled water. Check the ingredients first to make sure they are pure. Some people have luck using flower “teas” such as chamomile, green tea or calendula but note that this might increase the spoiling rate.
- When choosing essential oils keep in mind that citrus-based oils can be photo-toxic. Used in moisturizers on skin that is exposed to the sun can cause severe sunburns.