my kitchen apothecarium

front row, left to right: golden flax seed, dried oregano leaves, shea butter; middle row, left to right: dried rosemary leaves, dried lavender buds, coconut oil; back row: extra-virgin olive oil

Olive oil, coconut oil, flax seed, lavender, rosemary, oregano. They’re all things we usually have on hand in our pantry and often use to make our food. But since I decided to try making our own body care products, those pantry staples have become a way to live simply and frugally and cleanly, both for ourselves and for the environment. Along with all that, I get to make stuff.

With these very simple ingredients I’ve been able to replace several expensive products. For a replenishing facial cleanser I use a simple mix of olive oil, lavender Castile soap, vegetable glycerin and water. As a basic facial scrub I use flax seeds that I grind in a spice/coffee grinder. I store the ground seeds in a spice container that has a sifter cap with large holes. To add a little extra exfoliating effect to my facial routine, I mix a few shakes of the ground seeds with a little of the facial cleanser when I wash my face. As a toner I use a simple infusion of lavender flowers and distilled water. For a soothing face and body moisturizer, I make a creamy emulsion of olive oil, coconut oil, shea butter, beeswax, lavender essential oil and distilled water using my immersion blender.

For a natural alternative to store-bought deodorant, I use an old stick deodorant container and pour in a combination of melted coconut oil, baking soda, cornstarch and essential oils, and then let everything solidify in the refrigerator for an hour. When this runs out, I’ll try this recipe for homemade deodorant next. I’m still experimenting with different shampoo and conditioner recipes; one of the simplest I’ve seen involves mixing liquid Castile soap, olive oil, aloe vera gel, and water infused with herbs. Since several recipes use herbal infusions or decoctions, I’ll be able to make use of the abundance of herbs we have in our spring and summer garden. For essential oils, I use lavender and tea tree oil which are affordable and can be bought online if you can’t find them locally.

front row, left to right: lavender water toner, lavender face & body cream, ground golden flax seed scrub; back row, left to right: olive oil cleansing lotion, liquid castile soap, coconut oil deodorant

All of this started from a continuing desire to simplify the variety of different products we buy and to reduce the amount of synthetic chemicals in our lives. With a small investment of time you can make products that are healthier, cheaper, and greener. For information and recipes, I’ve listed several books below, all of which I was able to rent from our local library. I’ve also included the recipe for the lavender face and body cream I use, which I’ve adapted from Dina Falconi’s Earthly Bodies, Heavenly Hair. It’s worth a try if you’re so inclined. My advice is this: start slowly by switching out one thing at a time, keep the formulations inexpensive and simple, and experiment until you find what works best for you.

Though making your own products has many benefits, what I’ve realized, as with baking and cooking, is that when it comes down to it, I really like to make stuff. I love the process of trying and learning something new, the satisfaction in the success of it, and the pure enjoyment of the result. Though I haven’t calculated the exact financial savings of making our own body care, I think it’s pretty cool to able to be make something that is good for our bodies, and the earth too, all from my kitchen apothecarium.

Lavender Face & Body Cream

(adapted from Earthly Bodies, Heavenly Hair by Dina Falconi)

3/4 cup/6 oz. extra virgin olive oil or almond oil
1/4 cup/2 oz. coconut oil
2 tablespoons/1 oz. unrefined shea butter
3/4 oz. beeswax
1 cup + 2 tablespoons/9 oz. purified or distilled water
30 to 60 drops lavender essential oil, or up to 3 teaspoons for a stronger preservative effect

1 quart glass pyrex measuring cup
electronic scale
shallow saucepan
instant-read thermometer
immersion blender

(Important note: Measurements for water, liquid and solid oils and butters are by volume; measurement for beeswax is by weight. In other words, use volume containers such as measuring cups and spoons for measuring the water, liquid and solid oils and butters, and use an electronic scale to measure the beeswax. You can also increase the amount of beeswax to 1 ounce; the cream will be slightly thicker.

Also, this recipe, when made with olive oil as the base, produces a very rich cream, great for very dry skin. When made with almond oil as the base, the final cream is a little lighter and more suitable for dry to normal skin. If you’re unsure, try making a half-batch of this recipe so you can test what you like before making the full version).

Put olive oil or almond oil, coconut oil, shea butter and beeswax in the glass pyrex measuring cup. Fill the saucepan half-way with water. Place pyrex container in the water bath in the saucepan, turn heat to low, and stir until the coconut oil, shea butter, and beeswax are completely melted. Transfer mixture to a 1 quart mason jar. Let mixture come to body temperature, about 98ºF. While oils are cooling, heat water to body temperature, about 98ºF. Pour water into mason jar containing melted beeswax and oils. Add lavender essential oil. Place immersion blender into the jar until blade or whisk touches the bottom of the jar. Turn blender on; once the mixture begins to emulsify, move blender around the jar to incorporate any streaks of unblended oil or water. Blend until mixture is a creamy emulsion, as you would when making homemade mayonnaise. Transfer to clean jar with tight-fitting lid. Let the cream sit for a few hours before using it. Store the cream away from direct heat and sun. Other than the lavender essential oil, this cream does not have any added chemical stabilizers or preservatives, so it is advisable to use it up within a short period of time or store it in the refrigerator to extend its shelf life.

makes 19 ounces/538 grams, or a little over 2 cups

Natural Face and Body Care Books

Natural Beauty At Home: More Than 250 Easy-To-Use Recipes for Body, Bath and Hair by Janice Cox

Earthly Bodies & Heavenly Hair: Natural and Healthy Personal Care For Every Body by Dina Falconi

Organic Body Care Recipes: 175 Homemade Herbal Formulas For Glowing Skin & A Vibrant Self by Stephanie Tourles

The Herbal Body Book: A Natural Approach To Healthier Hair, Skin, and Nails by Stephanie Tourles

Naturally Healthy Hair: Herbal Treatments and Daily Care For Fabulous Hair by Mary Beth Janssen

28 thoughts on “my kitchen apothecarium

  1. Michelle, Very interesting. I also have started to make some of these products. Most specifically household cleaning products this week.
    I tried lotion in December but didn’t like the way it turned out. I used beeswax and I didn’t like the texture. I wanted something more creamy, like what you picture in the large jar in your photo. What is that?
    Thanks for the info

    • Hi Marty,

      the first time I attempted making my own face and body cream, I used a formula from the internet that wasn’t quite right and that didn’t explain the process of emulsifying. I didn’t like the texture either-it was too waxy and thick once it cooled. I was able to fix it, (as pictured in the large jar above), by adapting the basic cream formula from one of the books I rented, “Earthly Bodies, Heavenly Hair” (see recipe above). You can use a blender, but I prefer the immersion blender because it always creates a perfect emulsion. Hope this helps!

  2. Hello I have a few questions about this. I hope you can help! :]
    It will be my first time trying to make my own lotion and I was wondering if you can trade almond oil for the olive oil? If not that’s fine I love both oils. I’m just worried it won’t turn out the same, so I just need an opinion on that one lol.
    Next, can you use a hydrosol in place of the water.. its still water, or do you think that would risk it spoiling it? Thank you for this!

    • Hi Lacey,
      Glad to help! Yes, you can substitute almond oil for the olive oil-in fact, in the latest batch I made for myself, I used an almond oil base. I’ve made this lotion with grapeseed oil as well. As long as you keep the recipe ratios the same, any of those oils work fine. The only difference is that the lotion made with an almond oil base will have a lighter weight on your skin than one made with olive oil; it just depends on what you prefer.
      A hydrosol would work fine as well, and would actually probably help the lotion keep for a longer period of time, since it is more acidic and antiseptic than straight distilled water. See this article on the Mountain Rose Herbs website
      Hope that helps, and that you enjoy the results! Let me know if you have any problems with or questions about your first batch.

    • The recipe for the facial cleanser, “Olive Oil Cleansing Lotion” is from a book called Natural Beauty At Home by Janice Cox, which you can find at the bookstore, online at Amazon, or rent for free from the library. I’ve found using castile soap is too drying for my skin, so since I published this post I’ve changed to using just a mixture of olive oil, castor oil, and a few drops of lavender essential oil and tea tree essential oil, commonly referred to as the “oil cleansing method,” which I’ve used for several months now and love. Here’s some links to help you formulate your own ratio for the oil cleansing method according to your skin type.

  3. I’ve been looking for a good simple lotion recipe that uses easy to find ingredients when I found your page. Thanks so much for this recipe. I haven’t tried it yet, but have a question: How do I get a slightly thinner lotion that is suitable for small plastic bottles? Or can this one be put into bottles (using a cake icing bag maybe)? Do I decrease the beeswax, or increase the water and/or oil? Thanks again!

    • DIna Falconi has a formula in her book “Earthly Bodies, Heavenly Hair” for a thinner type of lotion, using borax and beeswax, to help emulsify the larger ratio of water to oil required for a thinner consistency. You can also find her book at the bookstore, online at Amazon, or at the public library. It’s a great resource and I highly recommend it if you’re interested in experimenting with making your own stuff, as it has several formulas for infusions, tinctures, salves, balms, creams and lotions, etc. The lavender and face body cream is pretty thick and best stored in a large wide-mouthed jar. Unfortunately I think it’d be too thick for small plastic bottles and way too much of a hassle to get out. Decreasing the beeswax will make the emulsion less stable, so I’d try Dina’s lotion formula (p.85-86, Earthly Bodies, Heavenly Hair).

    • Hi Elizabeth,

      Were you able to get the mixture to a proper emulsion? The consistency should be very creamy, like the picture, and not oily or have any residue of oil left. This may occur if you either wait too long (beeswax/oil mixture hardens past the point of blending well) or too short (oil/beeswax mixture is still too warm) when blending the melted oil, butter, and beeswax mixture with the water. I also highly recommend using the hand blender to emulsify everything; it always seems to create a perfect emulsion, whereas doing it in a blender can be hit or miss, and difficult to clean.

      If you were able to create the proper emulsion, bear in mind that this cream, when made with the olive oil base, is very rich, and may be too heavy for some people. A little bit goes a long way. Lately I have been making this same recipe but with an almond oil base, which absorbs easier into my skin. I will amend this post to reflect that, in case that is the issue you’ve encountered. If the batch you made is properly emulsified but just too heavy for daily use, you can use it as a nighttime cream for rough spots such as elbows, knees or feet.

      Please let me know if that helps. You might want to try experimenting with the lighter oils, such as almond or grapeseed, or even leave out the shea butter and replace it with extra coconut oil. Maybe try making a half batch at a time until you get what you like.

  4. Thank you so much for this recipe! I’m totally in love with it!

    I was eyeing it for quite some time and finally got some distilled water to go for it (I made a half-batch to test it out). I used Grapeseed oil, coconut oil and the shea butter. Also, I had a bag of Chamomile tea so steeped that in the distilled water. Didn’t use nearly as many drops of essential oil because I find the scent of Lavender too strong, but the end result is quite lovely! Moisturizing and not too greasy at all. 😀 I used it on my face (I am going through a dry spell as winter has hit us) and it’s lovely!

    Thanks again!

    • You’re welcome-I’m glad it’s worked well for you. The water infused with chamomile sounds like a great variation. If you’re curious about making other homemade cosmetic products it’s worth checking out the book that I adapted the recipe from, “Earthly Bodies and Heavenly Hair” by Dina Falconi. You may be able to check it out from your local library if you don’t want to purchase it. It has many other recipes and basic formulas for infusions, tinctures, salves, balms, creams and lotions. Best wishes!

  5. Is this recipe suitable for lotion bottles with pump tops? If not, is there a way to revise it so it can be? Also, can you mix different oils together in the same category as long as you stick to the proportions? For example, can I mix sweet almond oil, jojoba oil, grape seed oil, and vitamin E oil for the liquids and shea butter, mango butter, and coconut oil for the solids? Lastly, will a mini hand held immersion blender with a whisk attachment work well with this?

    • The recipe makes a thick cream, different than a lotion, so I wouldn’t recommend putting it in a lotion bottle with a pump top-it’s best to store it in a large wide-mouthed jar.

      To make a homemade lotion, I’d recommend using the formula on pp. 85-86 in Dina Falconi’s book “Earthly Bodies, Heavenly Hair” which uses borax and beeswax to help emulsify the larger ratio of water to oil required for a thinner consistency. You can find her book at the bookstore, online at Amazon, or at the public library.

      As far as mixing different oils, my guess is that it would be fine as long as you kept the proportions the same-6 oz. liquid oils, 3 oz. solid oils.

      A whisk attachment on a regular-size handheld immersion blender would work, but I don’t know about your mini handheld immersion blender. If your mini handheld is a professional one that has a lot of power, I’d say yes; if it’s a very inexpensive consumer model that doesn’t have enough horsepower or speed, it may not be strong or fast enough to get the job done.

  6. I notice that you do not refrigerate your lotion and it keeps without a preservative? I am sure you have done this for awhile and must know that there are preservative ‘police’ out there who would have fits that you didn’t use any. What is it that makes you comfortable not using any?
    I really am just interested in hearing the other side.

    • According to Dina Falconi, the author of Earthly Bodies & Heavenly Hair; “Essential oils also act as preservatives due to their antimicrobial properties. However, you need to use a lot of essential oil to preserve creams. For example, the Lavender Sandalwood Cream in the Whole Body Treatments chapter is extremely stable and very resistant to bacterial contamination.” Dina’s recommendation is to “use 3 teaspoons of essential oil per 19 ounce batch.”

    • You can use an emulsifying wax instead of beeswax. The emulsifying wax will help the water and the oils to mix together properly. I would also add a little bit of preservative so that your cream will last longer, and you wont have to worry about any bacteria growing in it.

    • Hi Rebecca,

      According to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, emulsifying wax has a hazard rating of 4, or moderate, while beeswax has a rating of 0, or low. So I’d opt for the lower risk additive when making the lotion. Also, as I mention in my comment above, using a larger amount of lavender essential oil, 3 teaspoons, acts as a natural preservative. If you are concerned about the shelf life of the cream, I suggest three things; use the cream up in a short period of time, refrigerate it to extend its use, or add up to 3 teaspoons of lavender oil.

  7. Just made this recipe.
    My notes:
    For oil I used equal parts of olive oil and apricot oil.
    Added 1600 IU of vitamin E oil to the water to act as a preservative;
    (4 capsules, 400 IU each; just punctured the capsules and squeezed in the oil)
    Added the water in a very slow stream while beating it into the oil mixture to give the oil mixture time to incorporate the water.
    After beating in the water, I added 2 tsp. of liquid lecithin, which is an emulsifier and kept beating. (I used an electric mixer and I do not have an immersion blender) The lotion immediately took on a beautiful, very smooth, satin-like texture. It is really nice and you need to use so little. Just love it. Thanks so much for sharing.

  8. Hello I was wondering if you have to use bees wax in this recipe. I have the hardest time getting off my utensils and containers . Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    • I don’t think this recipe will work without the beeswax, which helps keep everything emulsified (mixed together) as it sits, and prevents the body cream from melting at a higher room temperature. To clean the immersion blender and other containers I use to make the body cream, I directly apply a good liquid dishwashing soap, like Dawn, without diluting with water, and rub to help break down the greasy residue, then rinse with water. It might take a couple applications to get the residue completely off so things are squeaky clean, but that works really well for me.

    • If you are concerned about the shelf life of the cream, I suggest three things; use the cream up in a short period of time, refrigerate it to extend its use, or add up to 3 teaspoons of lavender oil.

    • Michele, I tried your recipe using sweet almond oil. I also dissolved 1/4 teaspoon of borax powder (sodium borate) in the water as it heated. (Borax is an emulsifier and a mild preservative.) I used my immersion blender with the whisk attachment for about 5 minutes, then refrigerated the mixture overnight and whipped it again with the whisk. It’s light and creamy and smells divine! Thanks!

  9. Michele, no essential oil can act as a preservative. I’m not sure where you got that information from but it is incorrect and rather dangerous information to give. Essential oils do have the capability to provide a preservative effect, however, the amount of EO needed to accomplish this is way more than you would ever think of using in any recipe. These homemade lotions can go “bad” very quickly. Bacterial growth begins long before you can see or smell it and people have ended up very sick and I’ve heard of at least one person dying from an infection obtained from a homemade lotion that went bad and got into a scrape or cut in her skin. I’m sure it’s happened more than once.

    I strongly recommend that you and your readers take a look at this website. Not only is she a chemist but she’s very, very well informed in the subject of making bath and body products. I’ve learned so much from this website and refer back to it often.

    Other than the preservative issue your recipe sounds wonderful. In fact, I think I might make it sometime…with preservative. 🙂 I’m also thinking of lemongrass essential oil for scent. I’m over lavender for a while I think.

    You should also add some vitamin E oil to help prevent the oils from going rancid. It does not prevent mold, bacteria or fungi, but will keep the oils fresh. Oils such as Grape Seed don’t keep as long as some others do. I might add a teaspoon to your recipe.

    • Hi Michelle,

      Thank you for your input. I’ve amended the information in my post and some of my replies to readers to address the concerns you shared. I’ve never had any issues personally with the cream going bad, but I tend to go through it quickly and am very careful to use a sanitary environment when making it. I always wash my hands before I dip my fingers in the cream as well. Best wishes for your new business!

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