Sunday, October 09, 2005

How to make your own aromatherapy creams and lotions, part 1 (Skin care/Aromatherapy creams/carrier oil information)

Note: I usually don't edit that many old posts. But thought I should edit this one since this entry is read a lot by crafters. This post was first written in 2005, but I edited it a bit in April 2012, since my understanding of some ingredients (like preservatives) and also some methods has changed over the years. It's still in the process of being edited.

One of best 'make it yourself' projects is crafting your own all natural creams and lotions. Akin to making mayonaisse, crafting creams and lotions may seem a little tricky at first, but once you get the hang of it you realize how much fun (and affordable) it can be! And of course the best thing is that you can cater the cream to your own skin's needs.

Basic steps in making a cream or lotion. Compiled from various books and personal experience (part of step three is from Donna Maria's book, see my post on making aromatherapy creams part 2 for references/books).

Step 1; oil phase: measure and then add the liquid and solid fats, emulsifiers, and solid thickeners to a double broiler, and gently heat it (medium heat) until the ingredients have melted. So you would add the oils, butters, and waxes or emulsifiers here (though not the floral waxes). If you are using lecithin (granules or liquid) to emulsify add it to the oil phase.

Step 2; water phase: while the oil phase is melting, in a separate double broiler, measure and heat the different waters you are using (distilled or spring water, aloe, hydrosols, herbal infusions, vinegar, witch hazel, etc) under very low heat. Heat them gently; do NOT bring to a boil. You basically want them at the same temperature as the oil phase. Basically I let them heat up until the oil phase has melted.

Step 3 (optional): If you are using certain CO2 extracts (the ones that are more solid), concretes and floral waxes, add these to the oil phase mixture, let melt and and throughly mix. If you are using things like borax and xanthan gum (powdered and gel like ingredients) add them to the water phase and throughly mix (the exception which Donna Maria doesn't mention is aloe gel, which I usually just add in step 2 since it is so liquidy).

Step 4: Make sure the oil phase and the water phase are at the same temperatures. You can use a thermometer, and some authors specify a specific temperature, but I usually just test a drop of each on my skin--making sure it is still VERY warm but not scalding hot. Make sure it is not too cool or it will separate. Typically let it cool to 80-100 degrees F. Mix well.

Step 5: In a blender add the oil phase. Begin mixing. In a slow and steady, thin stream (key words slow and steady) add the water phase, and continue mixing until the cream becomes the texture of buttercream frosting, and the blender 'chokes'. You can do this step with a mixer if you like, and very small amounts by hand, but it will take longer. Typically it takes only a few minutes to 20 minutes, depending on the ingredients, if it is a lotion (longer) or cream. Don't over mix (or it'll start to separate. Too little mixing and it won't emulsify but too much and it'll separate).

Step 6: Add your antioxidants (like vitamin E, rosemary oil extract, grapefruit seed extract. These are not preservatives; they are antioxidants. They prevent oxidation of oils). Also add your essential oils, most co2 extracts, absolutes, oleoresins, etc (you add them last so they don't evaporate). And also add your broad spectrum preservatives here too. I like using 'more natural' ones or eco cert like leucidal or geogard ultra (which is the trade name. It goes by many other various names, but geogard is basically gluconolactone (and) sodium benzoate, which are also used in foods as preservatives).

Many natural formulators think that essential oils are broad spectrum, and many formulators who use synthetics think they kill bacteria and/or fungi at all. Personally, based on my knowledge of botany/science/biology, aromatherapy/herbalism, and ethnobotany, I believe that certain essential oils can be used as short term preservation, but they are not broad spectrum preservatives, in my opinion.

Step 7: Store in clean sanitized (preferable colored glass) jars. Allow cream to cool before putting on the lid.

Basic ratios:

It really depends how thick you want the cream and the texture. It's like making cookies (or anything for that matter!), there are hundreds of variations of proportions, and ingredients etc. All my recipes are different, I usually look at an already established recipe to get an idea, and then use my own oils, etc, and use similar amounts, and tweak a lot! (hence why I recommended writing everything down). In general I like using similar amounts like 4-6 oz of oils/fats/butters to the waters (though sometimes I use a little less than 50% water, like 1/2 to 1 ounce less water than the amount I use for oils), 1/2 oz to 1 oz of beeswax (depending on how many of the other ingredients I used. Start with 1/2 oz). For antioxidants like vitamin E, grapefruit seed oil, and rosemary oil extract--follow what it says on the label for concentration (since every manufacturer has different recommended concentrations for what they make, since these ingredients are made at different strengths). For essential oils I use 1/2 to 1% total concentration for the face, or up to 2% total concentration (so about 3-12 drops per ounce. It is better to use less instead of more because they are concentrated substances). I recommend using a scale for best and the most accurate results. Don't be afraid to experiment! Try using an author's recipe first (with the same ingredients and proportions) and then start tweaking and experimenting! For borax, I generally a pinch-like 1/4 teaspoon or so.

Random notes:

Some authors like Donna Maria mention to add the hydrosols in the last step, but other authors like Rosemary Gladstar mention to add it in the water phase (step 2). I usually add it in the water phase.

Some people like to add the oil phase to the water phase instead of the water phase to the oil phase.

You can refrigerate your creams to make them last longer; but this might change the texture a bit.

Use clean hands or a spatula to scoop the product out, so no mold grows on it.

Trouble shooting:

Separation problems??

It helps to use a blender, unless you are making very small amounts (like 3 oz or less). If you are making only a tiny amount, then just use a small wire wisk.

Make sure you right down all your measurements (including the number of drops that you have used of essential oils). This will help you replicate a good recipe in the future, and also learn from your mistakes (see what DIDN'T work).

Do not use a microwave to heat any of the ingredients up (it gets too hot).

If it does separates, I just use a mini wire whisk (right in the jar) to quickly whisk it all back together.

I like using waters in oils (though many authors cite using oils in waters). I've found it separates less.

Too greasy???

Try varying the oils and butters you are using:

For oily skins (well absorbed):

Grapeseed (very light)
Hazelnut (an astringent)
Jojoba (similar to sebum; really ALL skin types love this)

For normal skins (absorbs well):
almond (light)
apricot (light)

Dry skin oils (sits on skin longer):
Avocodo (very heavy)
Extra Virgin Olive (some normal skin people like this too)
Coconut (too much can be too drying though)
Macademia nut (absorbs pretty well, antiaging/fine lines, similar to sebum)
Rosehip seed aka rose mosqueta (antiaging/fine lines, scars of all kinds)

Hemp seed oil is easy absorbed too.

I've found that shea butter is more easily absorbed than cocoa butter is; it's non greasy. Shea is good for blemishes, tired muscles, fine lines, and dehydrated skin. Though it is well absorbed by the skin, it forms a breathable barrier against the elements. A lot of people do not like it in creams because of the grainy texture. Try using only small amounts and use a combination of other fats/oils/butters with the shea butter. Make sure it is throughly melted and well mixed with the other oils/fats. It is possible to make a smooth shea cream, but even if the creams are a little grainy, it will melt on the skin on contact and won't really change how well the cream works.

If you are finding your creams too greasy, even when using oils catered to your skin type, then either make lotions(which contain more waters), or reduce the amount of cream you are using. Apply only a very small amount (use less than an 1/8 teaspoon of cream/lotion) to very damp skin. I typically spray my skin with toner, water, hydrosol, or aloe, dab my skin with cream, spray my hands with water or whatever I'm using, and then gently massage it in. Then I spray more water and massage again. When I first switched to natural cosmetics, I didn't know why the creams felt greasy on my face too--it was a combination of using the wrong oils, and using too much cream on my face, and not enough water when applying. Now that I use less, and apply with lots of water, I don't have a problem with the greasy feeling. (FYI: if you want to use facial oils/serums that contain no water and waxes, use only 2-5 drops of it and apply with lots of water. When I used my first serum I applied lots of it without water and got acne!). Natural creams are very concentrated--no fillers like the chemical stuff--so you really only need to use a tad to get its benefits.

It's thin!!!

That could be because of the ratios you are using. Typically in creams the water phase is 50% or less (usually less) of the total mixture. In lotions, water accounts for more of the product.

Use aloe rather than water or hydrosol for a thicker cream. Also good if you soak marshmallow root or flax seeds in water, they produce gels too that help thicken the cream. Strain and use the gel in the recipe.

What are the ingredients CO2 extracts, concretes and floral waxes?
CO2 extracts are just a new method used to extract essential oils. The traditonal way is distilled (main method), extraction/pressing (citrus oils), or solvent extracted (some of the flower ones like jasmine, some but not all rose oil). They use CO2 in this process (they remove the CO2 at the end), so the end product is a thick 'essential oil' that has much more of the natural constitutes of the plant and also some of the plant waxes, and has no chemical residue. I haven't used them yet, but they are supposed to be thick (due to the waxes), and smell more like the real plant, and have more medical/cosmetic benefits. They are more expensive but it is recommended you use even less than the amount you'd use for a traditional essential oil; very concentrated.

Concretes and floral waxes are by products of the solvent extracted method of making essential oils. The flowers are subjected to a solvent, resulting in a concrete, and then an alcohol is applied to the concrete, and that results in the absolute (essential oil) and the floral wax.

You can read more about essential oils and some of these things at these websites

Aromaweb; good online source for all things aromatherapy.

Nature's Gift is a good place to buy essential oils, CO2 extracts, floral waxes, and has more information on extraction methods.

One of my favorite places to buy essential oils is Mountain Rose Herbs. They do not have floral waxes or concretes or CO2 extracts though. Many products are organic and they have GREAT prices (even with shipping). I recommend their essential oil starter kits.

Can I use plastic equipment (magmix or store in plastic jars?)

No. Essential oils eventually eat through plastic (some are nautral solvents). Or you can use plastic equipment to make the cream, and just mix in the essential oils with a wire wisk at the end. But please don't store them in plastic jars, unless you use a very durable plastic!


beXn said...

this sounds extrememly complicated!

Solarkat said...

Hi Bexn,
Actually it's a bit hard at first, but once you get the hang of it, it is really easy!


Lubna Reece said...

I also make my own creams and lotions. I also make all natural home cleaners. This is good information. If this was in a recipe form it would be less confusing to follow. You may read more about other natural products on my web site at


Solarkat said...

Hi Lubna Reece

Thanks. Will check out your website later.


Solarkat said...

(This was posted a couple weeks ago. I edited out the website since I no longer allow links to companies that sell products in the comments).

Very helpful article. I enjoyed reading it. I'm in the process of trying to develop a lotion myself & this article especially the troubleshooting portion has helped.


Nydia Norville

Hi Nydia

I am glad you found this entry helpful :) Happy crafting :)


Irene Ross said...

this is very helpful. I've made oil blends for adults and children, but creams and lotions sound great also.

Solarkat said...

Hi Irene

Sorry for the late response (I am working on my thesis). But thanks for posting and you're very welcome :)

Cute picture/siggie! :)


royall said...

thank u for this knowlodge
really i addmir this blog


Solarkat said...

Hi Royall

Sorry for the very late response (I haven't had much time for this blog this year).

Skin needs both oils and waters to be healthy (this mimics the natural balance in skin). The addition of oil can actually balance sebum levels in the skin, so oils are wonderful for oily skin. If you are very set against using oils then
you could try using jojoba oil which is really a liquid wax. Otherwise there is no natural way to make a natural cream without oils/butters. (Conventional companies use mineral oil but that has so many problems that I do not recommend using this ingredient).

Check out my carrier oils by skin type entry (link on main page of blog, or you can do a search)