I want to share a recipe for a simple lotion that I put together for dry skin – especially dry feet, hands and lips – which I also use as a body butter during the cold, dry winter months. For the summer months, I mix a few drops of essential lavender oil in a bottle of almond oil and use that as a moisturizer. It keeps the skin soft and smells naturally sweet and flowery.
I have chosen ingredients that I thought would benefit my skin type and general health, and that offers a pleasant smell. I have done a bit of research, and since my profession is research (even if not medicine), I try to find reliable sources of information. When it comes to alternative health products, a lot of the ingredients and recipes originate in folklore and folk magic, and have been used for hundreds or thousands of years. This does not mean that they actually work from a medical point of view and modern research on how these substances affect the body is often lacking. To me, beauty products have to have scientifically proven benefits, but I don’t want to neglect the other aspects of making your own skincare: connecting to nature, to our historical roots and interacting with the believes, ideas and wisdom of traditional folklore.
Medical science as we know it has only existed for little over a century and now, in the spirit of environmentalism, new age, and the new health revolutionen, a lot of traditional and alternative healthcare systems are finding their way back into our lives. Historically, medicine has been a mix of philosophy, faith and folklore focusing primarily on preventative care such as dietary guidelines, spiritual exercises for a healthy mind and soul, and herbal remedies to strengthen the body. Since modern medicine derives from a materialistic worldview it has neglected the spiritual and emotional side of our existence. You could call this the energy level – to use a well-known term from the alternative health discussion. This does not mean that modern medicine is bad, it just means that if it fails to adress one particular aspect of our lives. For me, continuing and evolving old practices like natural skincare, creates a special sense of kinship with the people who walked this earth before me. It’s a ritual to connect with human history and with nature, a creative, aesthetic experience that brings joy.
The main ingredients for my lotion is cocoa butter, Shea butter and coconut oil. These fats are widely used in commercial skincare products and are not dangerous. Shea butter is the most important ingredient. It moisturizes well, easily penetrates the skin, has a nice, firm texture and don’t really smell anything. Shea butter contains vitamin A and E which makes it antioxidant and thereby rejuvenating for the skin. Applying antioxidants to the skin helps it to combat the free radicals which make the skin age prematurely. The combination of fatty acids in Shea butter (linoleic, palmitic, stearic, and oleic) balance the oils on the skin while triglycerides nourish and moisturize it. When I don’t find the time and energy to make this lotion I just use raw shea butter for my feet, hands and lips. (More information on Shea butter can be found here).
Its debated if cocoa butter actually has any health benefits (yet its still widely used in commercial skincare products) and further research is needed. I use it because I love the smell of chocolate and to add even more firmness to the texture of my lotion.
Because of its versatility, coconut oil has become a staple in many beauty cabinets. I use it as my make up remover, hair mask, and mix it with sugar to make a body scrub. Coconut oil is both antioxidant and anti-bacterial and studies suggest that it might help to reduce irritation on the skin. I have used this lotion as a cure after burning myself on the stove and it completely eliminated my pain. The soothing property is most likely linked to the final ingredient: essential lavender oil, which is known to sooth and heal the skin. It is the only essential oil that can be used directly on the skin, and the only oil recommended for sensitive skin. Always test an essential oil, diluted in a tablespoon of a carrier oil such as almond oil, on a small part of your skin, to make sure you don’t develop irritation, before using it in skincare.
Chocolate-Lavender Body Lotion (for dry skin)
1 part coconut oil
1 part cocoa butter
2-3 parts Shea butter (depending on what consistency you want)
5 drops of essential lavender oil
Put a metal or glass bowl over a pot with hot water (not boiling). Add Shea butter, cocoa butter and coconut oil and let it melt completely. This might take 5 minutes or 15 minutes depending on the temperature of the water. Coconut oil melts in room temperature, but Shea and cocoa butter need a little more heat, around 80-100 degrees (F). I usually boil a few deciliters of water in a pot and set it aside to cool down a bit before melting the ingredients. Take the bowl away from the heat, pour essential oil in the mixture and stir or whisk for about a minute. Transfer the liquid into 1 or more containers and store in the fridge for about 5 hours to solidify completely.
Is making your own skincare cheap? Well, if you use very expensive brands of skincare then yes, it’s cheap, but otherwise I’m not sure. It’s not really the argument here. I make my own skincare because I enjoy it. It’s a simple little ritual to honor the body and to play with natural materials. The fact that I am creating and using something that other people and/or cultures have used before me makes me feel deeply connected with history and with other people. Shea nuts grow mostly in Africa and picking the nuts is often the job of women. To buy fair-trade, organic Shea butter is also a way of helping both people and the planet 🙂