“Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love.” — Jane Austen
I first heard of body lotion bars from my cousin Saba. They are exactly what I love: richly moisturising and come in a solid form like a bar of soap that you rub over your limbs and body to apply. Not being gooey does away with unnecessary weight, spillage potential and preservatives of liquid lotions.
I tried variations of a simple skincare recipe. The ingredients differ but the process is the same, so I’ll break it down accordingly. When I say “parts”, use whatever suits you. I usually use ¼ cup to make several bars. You can also do it by weight (say, 30g of each). It’s not an exact science and being imprecise doesn’t harm the end product, so relax and have fun with the whole thing.
Ingredients for Version 1:
• shea butter or cocoa butter or mango butter (I used cocoa butter)
• almond oil or coconut oil (I used almond)
Ingredients for Version 2:
• shea butter or cocoa butter or mango butter (I used cocoa butter)
Ingredients for Version 3:
• shea butter
• mango butter
• cocoa butter
(This vegan version is from Star Khechara’s wonderful The Holistic Beauty Book.)
• pan for boiling water
• small jar or bowl to place inside pan
• measuring/scooping implements (spoon, cup or scale)
• chopstick for stirring
• silicone moulds and/or glass/metal containers
• old newspaper to cover work surface
(1) Place the ingredients in a double boiler/bain-marie. If this is new to you: put about 1-2 inches/2-4cm of boiling water in a pan over a low flame. Inside this pan, place a smaller steel or Pyrex glass bowl that can withstand heat. Place the ingredients inside this smaller bowl. This prevents fragile ingredients from getting direct heat; they should never bubble or boil. (I used a non-branded cheap but solid mini glass jug from my local hardware shop and it did the trick beautifully.)
(2) Stir gently with a chopstick until everything is melted and liquid. If the beeswax is grated, it takes minutes. If I’m feeling lazy I use a block of it, which takes more time to melt, like 15 minutes.
(3) Pour into re-usable silicone moulds (like for cupcakes), or directly into tin or glass containers. Plastic food containers from takeaways will work here too.
(4) Place them in the freezer for a few hours until they set. They don’t need to be kept in the fridge, but I wouldn’t keep them in too hot or sunny places in case they melt.
Remember, if you don’t like the way something turns out, re-make it! If it’s too soft, re-melt with more beeswax. If it’s too hard, re-melt with more butter. Nothing needs to be wasted.
Note: the glass bowl, chopstick and moulds should not be re-used for food preparation, as the beeswax especially is difficult to get cleanly off (it’s not like washing a normal dish). I remove as much as I can then store them in wrapped newspaper.
I made all three versions to see which one I liked best. Here’s my verdict:
Version 1 (beeswax+butter+oil): this never set into a solid form. It could be because I was in humid monsoon weather. I had to re-melt this with extra beeswax to make it more like Version 2.
Version 2 (beeswax+butter): I loved this. It set nicely in the mould and popped out easily and cleanly, so I can store it in a small tin container and carry it with me to the gym.
I like using this lotion bar all over even in high-summer tropical weather (I have dry skin and swim daily), though it may be too heavy for most people unless in colder climates. You can increase the butter ratio to the beeswax for something less dense.
Version 3 (mix of butters, no beeswax): Good news: it works beautifully as a skin moisturiser. It sinks right in and feels amazingly nourishing, and doesn’t have that obvious barrier-against-all-elements that beeswax provides.
Bad news: it doesn’t harden enough (at least in monsoon weather) to be used as a solid bar. I had poured it into a plastic food container with the intention of popping it out when it hardened, but in the plastic food container it had to remain.
It’s not liquid in that it doesn’t run if you turn the container upside down, but I’m not sure airport security would accept this as a solid either and may well seize it (as they do toothpaste). With two months of travelling ahead, I ended up re-melting it and adding some beeswax. Otherwise, I’d be happy using this version.
I got swayed by all the recipes I read which included essential oils. How to do it: Once the mixture has been poured into the moulds and has cooled a bit but is still soft (heat spoils the essential oils), add a few drops of your favourite smelling oils into the moulds, stir with a chopstick and then let set. Note: avoid using citrus oils in lip balms, as they are photo sensitive and can burn on the skin under sunlight.
For my first round, I happily added a few drops of several essential oils into all the moulds. I’m either too sensitive or I maybe poured too much, but that was the only bit about my experiment I didn’t like. One of them even gave me a headache.
For my next round, I didn’t add any essential oils and they were perfect. Again: simple always works.
I can never use commercial insect sprays or bug repellants due to skin sensitivities, so for the next mosquito season, I plan to make my own. As above, using 8-10 drops each of citronella essential oil and lemongrass essential oil per bar.
I recycled old containers and bought the round metal tins from my local hardware shop. They are also often available cheaply online. I’m a little obsessed with tins – I admire their simple, honest integrity. Before I got them, I was wrapping the bars in parchment paper (called “butter paper” in India) and string. Glass, tin and paper + string make the nicest packaging for gifts as well.
The final products depend of course on the quality of the raw ingredients. Go for organic, raw and unrefined butters, except shea which has an overpowering smell so some prefer refined. Beeswax from a local organic farm is best. Everything must be unadulterated.
I bought my shea butter, mango butter, cocoa butter and beeswax in India from Green Junction on eBay. I don’t know the peeps behind it, but I adore them for sourcing such great products, making them reasonably priced and providing outstanding customer service.
If butters are difficult to source, then go with oil (coconut, almond or virgin olive) with beeswax in a 1:1 ratio. In Dhaka, both organic coconut oil and beeswax can be purchased from Jatra.
I’m still looking for a good place to purchase pure essential oils (in any country, but especially US, UK, India or Bangladesh) in the hopes of finding some that won’t give me a headache. I’d love any tips from readers. I especially love white florals – jasmine, champa, gardenia.
When I made Version 2 (half cocoa butter, half beeswax), I poured a little of the mix into a lip balm pot. It works a treat as a lip balm. The cocoa butter is nourishing and the beeswax provides a protective barrier.
Another favourite is to make it with shea butter and beeswax.
This lip balm is not gloopy; you almost have to scrape it to get it out. If you prefer it softer, then go for 2:1 ratio for butter:beeswax.
I found Version 3 (no beeswax) too soft for a lip balm but acceptable if you want a vegan version. Melting plain shea butter into a pot is also a simple and popular vegan lip balm.
There’s no rule that you need to pour lip balm into a lip balm container, but as the bar is used all over the body, I prefer to keep this separate for cleanliness.
This mixture can also be poured into an old cleaned out Chapstick tube (it has the same consistency). Empty plastic lip balm/lipstick tubes for this purpose can also be purchased from Amazon and other online sellers.
Now I use the body bar (any version will work) on my hair for anti-frizz and mildly conditioning once-over. After washing hair, when it gets to the damp stage, I swipe the lotion bar on my palms and then smooth my hands over my hair.
One simple skincare recipe – three uses. Hooray!
“I love to put on lotion. Sometimes I’ll watch TV and go into a lotion trance for an hour. I try to find brands that don’t taste bad in case anyone wants to taste me.” — Angelina Jolie