It is not difficult to make your own body care products. In fact, a single ingredient works well for many purposes. You may need to do a bit of research, and you may not get the ingredient that suits you best the first time you try, but don’t give up. It is sad to see people give up on natural products when the first try doesn’t live up to expectations. Just as every commercial product is not right for your skin or hair, every natural product is not right for you.
Oils, waxes, and butters are the base ingredients of homemade soaps, creams, lotions, and moisturizers. Household basics like sugar, salt, and baking soda are also used to make safe and effective products.
Although all of the oils used in ecothrifty personal care products are food oils—not petroleum based—every oil sold in the grocery store is not necessarily good for your skin. Each oil has a different acid composition, giving it unique properties. Some are more moisturizing; others work better in soaps. Most of the popular cooking oils, such as canola, corn, cottonseed, and soy, should be avoided because they are not particularly good for your skin, and unless you are buying organic products, they come from genetically modified (GM) crops, which are heavily sprayed with herbicides. Also avoid “vegetable oil” because it is usually some combination of these oils. The skin is the largest organ of the body and does an excellent job of absorbing into the bloodstream whatever is rubbed on it. Some systemic drugs are even administered through a skin patch now.
The following list of oils is not anywhere close to complete. It includes a few of the more commonly used oils that are also fairly easy to find and purchase. If you can’t find them locally, they are available through a number of online retailers. Most are not very expensive, so buy small quantities of several and see which ones your skin prefers. Any oils that you decide you don’t like for body care products can usually be used in cooking.
Apricot kernel oil—This oil is considered excellent for your skin. It has a lighter feel than many oils and is easily absorbed into your skin, making it a great choice for moisturizing. But apricot oil makes a softer bar of soap, so use it sparingly in soap recipes. It also works well as massage oil and in salt and sugar scrubs. Be sure to buy only what you plan to use within six months to a year because apricot kernel oil tends to go rancid more quickly than other oils, although storing it in the refrigerator will slow down the aging process a bit.
Castor oil—Used therapeutically for centuries, a small amount of castor oil is found in quite a few soap recipes. It is also popular for adding to butters when making lip balm. Its reputed benefits are far too numerous to be listed here, but if you have any skin conditions, you might want to research this oil further. It is good for dry or damaged skin, but it does not make good massage oil because it is thick and sticky.
Coconut oil—If you are going to make your own soap, you will find that almost every recipe includes coconut oil because it creates great lather. Most people don’t believe soap is doing anything if they don’t see suds, which is why coconut oil is such a popular soap ingredient. Although it is possible to make soap without coconut oil, be aware that the soap may not be sudsy. Coconut oil is a great choice for making laundry soap because it is so good at cleaning. However, it can be quite drying, so bar soap is not usually made with only coconut oil. And multitasking coconut oil also makes tasty popcorn, flaky pie crusts, and soft tortillas.
Grape seed oil—If you want a product that people say has miraculous properties, grape seed oil is worth a try. It is reputed to have regenerative qualities like the commercial creams costing a hundred dollars an ounce or more, but you can buy grape seed oil for far less than a dollar per ounce. It makes excellent massage oil as it is thin and very slippery, and it makes a great addition to sugar or salt scrubs.
Olive oil—Olive oil is great for your skin, so it is usually a good choice to use as a moisturizer, either alone or in combination with other oils. It is also a good choice for using in soaps, although most people today do not like to use 100 percent olive oil because it will not make a very hard bar of soap. This means it will be used up quickly, especially if you do not keep it in a soap dish that allows for complete drainage of water.
Palm kernel oil—This oil comes from a different part of the palm tree than palm oil, and it has different properties. It creates more lather and a harder bar than palm oil when used in making soap, but it can be drying if used as the predominant oil in a soap recipe.
Unfortunately, a lot of palm kernel oil and palm oil today comes from areas that have been deforested to create palm plantations. These areas happen to be the natural habitat of orangutans, a species in danger of extinction as a result of loss of habitat. As of this writing, I have not seen any sustainable palm kernel oil on the market, so I have quit using it for the time being.
Palm oil—Palm oil creates suds when used in soap recipes. Many expensive soaps list sodium palmate and/or sodium cocoate as ingredients. These terms refer to palm oil and coconut oil saponified with sodium hydroxide, also known as lye. Coconut oil and palm oil are inexpensive compared to other oils used in soap making, which is why they are usually the predominant oils in commercial soaps, including expensive soaps. Palm oil is also a good choice for making laundry soap and even for soap for washing dishes. Because it is naturally solid at room temperature, palm oil is also excellent for greasing and flouring baking pans in the kitchen.
Sustainable palm oil is available, but you have to make sure it is labeled as such.
Sunflower oil – Sunflower oil is similar to olive oil, but it costs quite a bit less. It is a good moisturizer for your skin and also works well as a massage oil.
This is part two of a four-part series on moisturizers.
Part 1 — Intro
This is an excerpt from Ecothrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life by Deborah Niemann.