Have you had your moment yet? Maybe you're lolling in a hot bath, reading the back of the conditioner because it's all the reading material you've got, and you wonder: what is stearamidopropyl dimethylamine, and do I really want it on my scalp? Isn't my scalp kind of… permeable?
My moment came when I slid the newspaper out of its baggie to find a front page story about how boffo it was that Johnson & Johnson was going to be removing formaldehyde from its No More Tears baby soap. I remember the rock I kicked up my driveway, the four-letter word I uttered. I'd been bathing my baby and washing her hair in formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.
It was time to go seeking. There are souls out there who have long been cognizant of that fact we all learned but have more or less forgotten: what you smear on your skin enters your body, just like what you put in your mouth. And they have decided to take the matter into their own hands. Dirt found folks who have taught themselves, through trial and a whole lot of error, how to whip up everything you need to stock your bathroom. See you later CVS.
Lip balm You need: Honey, grapeseed oil, beeswax, a glass measuring cup and a pot
At age 24, Cathy Malanix looked in the mirror and noticed a change. “The sun ruined me,” she said. That may be hyperbole, since at age 49 she doesn't have a visible wrinkle. Nevertheless, her supposed ruination would determine the course of her life. Malanix became an aesthetician, giving facials and never, ever going out into the sun without a hat on.
But it wasn't until she made a lemon soap for a friend's bridal shower that she got into making her own stuff – and started noticing the lengthy labels on basic-seeming beauty products.
“I'll probably always here and there use ChapStick,” she said. “But if you look at a ChapStick label there must be 30 or 40 ingredients.”
Malanix, whose work space is her kitchen in Greenwood Lake, N.Y., keeps costs low by shopping online at Bulk Apothecary and growing her own lavender. She has jerry-rigged a double boiler by placing a Pyrex measuring cup in a pot two-thirds filled with water. Her three-ingredient lip balm takes 10 minutes to whip up and costs about 25 cents per container.
Here's how: Fill a small pot 2/3 full with water on medium heat (avoid splatter; water getting into the mixture will make it go bad faster). Combine 4 ounces grapeseed oil and 2 ounces beeswax in a Pyrex measuring cup, and place the measuring cup in the pot of hot water. After the beeswax has melted, with a wooden stirrer or the like, drop in one drop of honey. If the consistency is greasy or loose, add a little more beeswax. Pour into clean containers and let cool one hour.
- Cathy Malanix sells lip balm and other products through Très Bien, 845-545-5133.
Eczema creamYou need: A double boiler, beef lard (source: U.S. Wellness Meats), carrier oils like coconut or grapeseed oil; essential oils like lemongrass or lavender oil (source: Mountain Rose Herbs)
“My sisters call me the canary,” said Siecke, a librarian who lives in Warwick. From infancy, Siecke suffered from bouts of head-to-toe eczema. It was so bad that some days she had to stay home from school, wearing her dad's big white t-shirt, unable to sit down. In adulthood, the gene that causes alopecia – a condition in which you lose all the hair on your body – suddenly turned on, perhaps a side effect of Lyme's disease. Before she mastered the art of painting on her eyebrows with a brush, she used a pencil, and found herself getting inquisitive looks. Why was she was so angry? Apparently, eyebrows are worth a thousand words; no matter how hard you smile, if you're wearing angry eyebrows, people will react accordingly. Siecke has been using natural remedies to recover from the alopecia, and she's now got a bit of bright white hair on her head (it used to be brown), but she still wears a knit cap indoors to keep warm.
Understandably, she's a bit of a germophobe. Siecke envies the people on the TV show Hoarders, who walk through clutter unaffected; her own home is open and spotless, by necessity.
Armed with a self-contained double boiler (which keeps steam from getting into the lotion), a bag of essential and cooking oils, and a secret ingredient, Liz Siecke and her sister, Margaret King, have concocted a cream that has completely eliminated the redness and itching that plagued and embarrassed Siecke all her life.
If you're a Baby Boomer or younger, this secret ingredient will probably gross you out. But if you talk to anyone over about 70, the ingredient is not so secret at all. They guess it right away: lard. Yep, fat. In this case, the lard is from a cow – an organic, grass-fed cow – but still, for a germophobe to be slathering fat all over her body is kind of a big deal.
You can do a vegan version, but until they started using beef fat, nothing worked completely, either for Siecke or her almost-as-sensitive nephew, Sam, 9. When they were using plant-based concoctions, King found that she still had to dab steroid cream onto Sam's worst eczema patches.
As to why lard works better than anything, Siecke's theory is that since we're not plants, animal fat “is so close to the profile of fat that's in your skin in the best possible way.” Siecke's eczema is gone. Sam's eczema and the rashes he got from his wrestling singlet – gone.
The sisters are starting to sell their cream, and requested we not publish the exact recipe. Here's the general idea so you can start playing around:
Melt lard in a double boiler on the stovetop, along with distilled water (so you don't gunk up the double boiler's mechanics), beeswax, carrier and essential oils of your choosing, and glycerin. The recipe has evolved; the lard is the magic bullet. You could even put lard directly from the tub onto your skin, according to the internet, although you might smell like mashed potatoes.
The cream works for all sorts of skin conditions: as a shave cream, for a dog's belly rash, for chafing. It smells lightly of lemon and glides on like spring butter. The sisters have come up with a name and a logo, and little drawstring bags. They're wondering whether the slogan “Slather on the fat” is too much?
- Liz Siecke sells her cream and lip balm through Guèrson LLC, 973-370-0034.
Breast massage oilYou need:Fresh dandelion blossoms–enough to half-fill a small jar (ie-a baby food jar), olive oil
On a sunny day gather enough blossoms to fill a fairly small jar. I guarantee it will hold more leaves or blossoms than you expect!
Spread out the blossoms and let them sit for several hours to a full day, out of direct sunlight, to dry a bit. Use the entire blossom heads (inflorescence) of dandelion. Leave out the juicy flower stalk. (Don't throw out the stalks—eat them instead. They are bitter to taste, but help balance your blood sugar.)
Make sure your jar and lid are completely dry. The same goes for your hands, and the herbs too. Pull the flower heads apart and fill the jar half-full. Cover with olive oil. Make sure the herbs are completely saturated, and then poke with a chopstick to release air bubbles. When you've done that for a while (you'll never get all of the bubbles) fill the oil to the tip-top rim of the jar and set the jar on a saucer to catch the overflow. Label the lid of the jar, and put it in a safe place.
For the first week or two, open the jar, poke the plant material down, add olive oil as needed, and wait about 6 weeks before decanting it for use. Don't leave your plant material in the oil for much longer, as it is likelier to mold. That is definitely the voice of experience talking!
The dandelion blossom makes a golden-yellow oil that smells and feels delicious. Breast massage is a self-healing practice I encourage women to do as a regular part of their self-care. It helps any woman to know her breasts better, and is a pleasurable way to literally take your breast health into your own hands. Your breasts are filled with lymphatic vessels, and it's important to help the lymph fluid circulate freely and not get congested. Breast congestion can lead to swelling, tenderness, cysts, and tumors. Dandelion blossom oil keeps the lymph flowing and your breasts pain-free. Dandelion blossom oil is noted for helping relieve congestion that is rooted in emotional pain and it can be applied anywhere on the body to good effect.
- By Robin Rose Bennett of West Milford, N.J., adapted from her forthcoming book, The Gift of Healing Herbs - Plant Medicines and Home Remedies for a Vibrantly Healthy Life (2014, North Atlantic Books).
Face creamYou need: Waters: 2/3 cup distilled water or rose water, 1/3 aloe vera gel, 1 or 2 drops essential oil of choice
Oils: ¾ cup almond oil1/3 cup coconut oil
¼ teaspoon lanolin½ to 1 ounce grated beeswax
How to: Combine the waters in a glass measuring cup. Set aside.
In a double boiler over low heat, combine oils enough to melt.
Pour oils into a blender and let cool to room temperature.
Turn blender on high and pour water mixture in.
When most of water has been added, listen and watch. When cream looks thick and white, turn off blender. You can slowly add more water, beating by hand, but cream will thicken as it sets
Pour into jars. Megan Offner started got into DIY skincare when she was living and freelancing in the city, sans health insurance. She had a friend who started working with a well-known Ayurvedic (we don't know what that means, either) herbalist and nutritionist in SoHO, Pratima Raichur, who had her own skin line. Offner got into it too, but Raichur's products were expensive. When Offner stopped being able to afford her stuff, she started making her own “and found they were even better – just fresher.”
Among the tricks Offner has picked up are a honey face mask: leave honey on for 20 minutes, then rinse, and your skin will be nourished and healed; a spit-and-honey salve for when you bury a box knife in your hand or otherwise wound yourself; coconut oil deep conditioning for dry hair: rub in two tablespoons of coconut oil, cover it with a plastic bag, hang out for an hour, and shampoo. If it's still oily, rinse with half a lemon and a quart of water.
She tried shampooing with a paste made from baking soda and apple cider vinegar infused with lavender oil, “but I just didn't like smelling like a pickle.”
If there's one product that Offner swears by, and makes every month, it's her own version of Rosemary's Perfect Cream, from Rosemary Gladstar's book Family Herbal. She personalizes it with sweet orange or rose geranium essential oil.
“Your skin is your largest organ,” said Offner. “Whatever you put on it you're really feeding your body. This is all edible. I wouldn't put anything on my skin I wouldn't put in my mouth, as a general rule. Because it's a food, make it in small batches and give some to friends. Keep in the fridge if you're storing it for more than two weeks.”
Soap You need: Sodium hydroxide.
Source: any soap supply store,
like Soap Making Resource, Lancaster PA
Distilled waterVegetable fats: think vegetable, coconut
or soybean oil, cocoa butterMicas or other natural coloring (optional). Source: soap supply store
Exfoliant (optional): Ground oatmeal or poppy seeds
Equipment: Glass beaker or measuring cup
BlenderLined mold: You can line a cake
pan with wax paperHow to: Mix sodium hydroxide with distilled water in a large glass beaker. When you mix it it can get really really hot, up to 160 or 170 degrees. Put that aside and let it heat up on its own – it's becoming lye.
Combine all the oils in a stainless steel pot. Heat that up on a burner to 110 to 120 degrees. You want the oils and the lye to be close in temperature when you mix them together.
Once the oils are fats are cooling, measure out and mix essential oils for fragrance along with any exfoliant, like ground oatmeal. Set that aside.
Now it's time to add colors, if you're going for a decorative bar. Take some of the oil mixture that's cooling, and add the coloring it to that.
Line a mold. Once both the lye and the oils have reached about 110 degrees, pour the lye into a blender with the oils. Whip it to a light trace, then add the essential oils.
Pour the mixture into a mold. Let it sit for about 24 hours, then take it out of the mold and cut it into bars.
It's now got to sit for about four weeks to cure. Handmade soap bars are at their best at 7 weeks or older. At 4 week the bar is chemically safe to use, but still not totally hardened. If it's older, it'll last longer in the shower.
Andrew MacFarlane, 38, a creative director for an advertising agency, first got into making soap as “kind of like an artistic outlet.” But it wasn't until about seven years ago, when his kids started having problems with dry skin, his sister-in-law was suffering from eczema, and everyone he knew seemed to be having skin problems, that he got really into it.
“Man I made some terrible soaps,” he said. “A lot of 'em smelled terrible. A lot of the first batches weren't chemically stable.” After smelling and/or pH testing them, “I threw out a lot of batches.”
“I had one oatmeal soap that kept coming out like wet dog. I kept at that one recipe. God I wasted so much money. I finally got an okay way to deal with that recipe.” Eight years later, MacFarlane's oats and honey bar is his best seller.
Now he has a lab set up in his basement, where he pours and cures soaps that he sells online and at farmers markets through his company, ChickPea Soaps (named not for one of his ingredients, but his daughter's nickname). Some bars include poppy seeds or oatmeal as an exfoliant; a sweet maraschino cherry and chocolate bar, specifically for pregnancy, has a lot of cocoa butter to help with stretch mark; one bar made with Hawaiian sandalwood and patchouli doesn't sell well online because it scares people, but does great live and in person at farmers markets. He uses a local beeswax from Honeybrook Farms in Pine Bush, N.Y., where he lives.
Soap making, it's worth noting, is dangerous, because of the chemical reaction that occurs when lye breaks down fats (in this case, vegetable fats). MacFarlane doesn't let his kids help with anything except the cutting and stamping. “It's too dangerous. You don't want anyone around when you're playing with sodium hydroxide – you'll end up with chemical burns.”
His pet peeve? Using soap as bathroom decoration instead of as soap. “Everyone I gave it to really liked it, and thought artesian handmade soap was pretty, and thought that you should put it in your bathroom and not use it.”
Although he's a good joke-cracking, fast-talking salesman, MacFarlane points out that “any handmade soap will get rid of just about any skin condition. Anybody with dry skin or eczema should really be using handmade soap. There are so many harsh ingredients in commercially prepared bars so they last longer.” That, plus “most commercial companies take out glycerin,” a super moisturizer that's a byproduct of soap making, “because they can make more money selling it in eyeliner and lotion.”
- Andrew McFarlane, chickpeasoaps.com
Doedorant You need:A base of waxes and butters like cocoa butter and beeswax, “soft” oils like coconut oil or almond oil, arrowroot powder, baking soda, essential oils like Tea tree oil, which is ideal for eliminating odor causing bacteria. (Source: Young Living Essential Oils)
In 2012 I decided to start using organic deodorant. After trying a few kinds, I settled on a handmade type that needed to be shipped every time I needed a new one. In 2013 I decided to start making my own instead.
Using most of the ingredients found in the deodorant I was currently using, and adding those which I thought were necessary to improve it, I made four batches before it came out exactly how I wanted it. It was tough to get the recipe right, but the process is fairly easy—just melting and pouring. I had a few underlying goals for my platform, because once I got the recipe perfect, I wanted to sell these products locally. First, I wanted to source my ingredients as ethically as possible: certified organic, local whenever possible, and fair-trade certified otherwise. I researched brands of various oils and bought from companies that are supporting sustainable agriculture, sustainability research and carbon neutral manufacturing. Second, I wanted to raise awareness of the harmfulness of chemicals in personal care products, especially aluminum in deodorant. Aluminum has been found to be associated with Alzheimer's, brain disorders and a contributor to breast cancer. My goal was to make a deodorant that is effective for dryness and deodorizing, but also promoted breast and overall health. Third, I wanted to prove that you can make your skin and physiology behave the way you want to using substances found in nature.
The essential oil blend actually eliminates (with regular use) the colonies of bacteria in your underarm causing odor. The oils in my products have been so effective that, after regular use, you can skip using the stick for a few days, and you will still have no odor.
Here's how: Melt the waxes and butters in a double boiler and stir. I usually keep the heat on low to medium. You do need the solution to get pretty hot so that you denature the natural fats in the butters (you'll find that shea butter has a gritty feel to it, that's why). Next you add your soft oils. I use mostly coconut oil because of its consistency when it cools and the scent. Hemp oil is great for the skin and also provides some UV protection. Next, you let the solution cool just a bit (but remain liquid). Then add the arrowroot powder and baking soda. Stir thoroughly so that the powders mix evenly; they can definitely get lumpy and that isn't the consistency you're going for in the deodorant. Use a whisk for best results. Then add your essential oils.
Depending on the amount of butters and waxes versus soft oils that you use, you will have a cream deodorant or a solid stick deodorant. More waxes and butters make a more solid stick, and more soft oils like coconut oil make a creamier lotion-type deodorant. Play around and see what you get! If you are dissatisfied with the consistency you can sometimes reheat (on lower heat) and add other ingredients to achieve the consistency you prefer.
- By Alysa Ochoa of Wantage, N.J. Ochoa sells her products under the label Shakedown Acres at craft fairs, festivals, health fairs and online through Etsy. Dirt reached her in India, where she's traveling to teach a tribal community, the Jenu Kuruba (honey gatherers), how to make beauty products from local resources to sell on local fair trade markets.