I LOVE comments, so please, if you have an opinion or would like to ask a question, do so. But do check back as I shall answer any questions in the comments of the relevant post - that way, everyone can benefit from everybody's knowledge and advice.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Varying the Basic Bee Balm Recipe

In my last post I gave you a very basic bee balm recipe, but it is the beginnings of making a really beautiful product.

First of all you need to decide what your balm is going to be used for. Then you choose a plant oil or combination of oils that will suit your purpose. Choose the type of bees wax - yes, you have a choice - that suits your purpose and finally decide if you are going to add essential oils or perhaps a flower or plant extract or both. Research the type of essential oils that will be suitable for your product and make sure that you like the way they smell. It is a good idea to blend the oils a couple of days before you intend to make the balm to allow the combination to settle down and assume a nicely rounded scent.

A note about bees wax
If you purchase bees wax from your local bee keeper you may find that it is very dark in colour, or very yellow, or has what appears to be impurities in the wax. These impurities are often simply honey, or pollen or even bits of bees - it all depends upon how well the bee keeper has filtered the wax. If you purchase bees wax from a diy store it can sometimes be very very dark brown in colour, in general the darker the colour the older the bees wax - which doesn't necessarily mean that it is bad, but you need to think about what type of bee balm you are going to use it for.

Bees wax purchased from a cosmetic supplier is sometimes pure white in colour, this is because it has been washed until it is totally white and is completely pure. Very often the yellow bees wax will smell of honey and the washed wax does not. They are usually all equally good depending upon your point of view, and your choice should be guided by your end product.

For example, if you are making a foot balm - perhaps with a peppermint essential oil, you may be perfectly happy to choose a wax from your local bee keeper who perhaps does not filter it so well. The final smell of your balm will be changed a little by the combination of the peppermint essential oil with the honey smelling wax. But if you are intending this to be a beauty balm with the addition of an expensive rose essential oil, then you may not want the wax to smell so strongly and taint the rose scent (actually rose and honey is quite pleasant but its a personal choice). Another consideration is the colour - the colour of your wax and the skincare oils that you choose will determine the final colour of the bee balm, some people are funny about using highly coloured products on their face, preferring pure white or slightly creamy rather than vivid yellow or dark brown. It is simply a consideration to be made before you begin.

A Case Study To illustrate my point I am going to divulge the secret of my own recipe Bee Calm Balm.

I wanted a medicinal bee balm to treat stings, insect bites, minor scratches and burns. I chose Calendula Oil (Calendula Officianalus Helianthus Annus - or sunflower oil infused with calendula petals). I thought that calendula would be healing and soothing and gentle on damaged skin. Because it was to be an ointment I didnt mind too much about the colour, but I would prefer yellow than brown so I spoke to a local bee keeper and bought from him a nice yellow - not too highly filtered bees wax that still smelled quite strongly of honey. Honey itself is very healing and soothing, not to mention being antiseptic, so I didn't mind if the bees wax contained traces of honey.

To further inhance the healing qualities of the oil I decided to infuse some medicinal herbs. I chose Chickweed (Stellaria media) because of it's anti-inflammatory qualities and Plaintain (Plantago lanceolata) because of it's ability to staunch bleeding. I then infused these two herbs in the calendula oil for a couple of weeks. To give my oitment a pleasing smell as well as increasing the medicinal value I chose a blend of Tea tree essential oil along with Lavender and Chamomile. I used very little tea tree because I do not find the smell pleasant, but also it is a very strong essential oil and I didn't want to overpower my formula, likewise with the chamomile - the smell is not one that I would like to dominate.

It took me some time to work out exactly how much to use. Because the calendula oil is basically an infusion of marigold petals in sunflower oil and sunflower oil can have tendencies to go off a little quicker than other oils I decided to use some vitamin e to help prolong the shelf life.

I used the basic recipe for a bee balm (given in the last post) - 50ml of oil to 4g of bees wax. The end product was brilliant!! My first aid cupboard will never be without it! So you see, the more thought and care you take over the choice of ingredients, the more amazing your end product will be.

You could choose all organic ingredients, you could mix a large number of plant oils together. You could add flower extracts or cosmetic additives - you could even reduce the amount of bees wax and replace it with a little shea butter. How much? Well that requires you to experiment a bit... if you melt shea butter and let it go hard, it goes really hard so if you were to add it to the above recipe without reducing the bees wax your balm might be rock solid, hence you need to experiment until you get the consistency that you like best. Remember to leave the preparation for a good 24 hours before judging whether it is thick or thin enough for your tastes.

Hint if you think that you will be experimenting quite a bit, it is a good idea to purchase a set of digital jewellery scales (about £20 at last time of looking). These will enable you to scale recipes down to very small quantities, in this way you can make just one pot of ointment at a time and if it is not to your liking you can bin it without too much waste!
And next... I shall be divulging my De-stress balm recipe... so do check back soon.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Making a Basic Natural Balm

Bee Balm - Nothing could be simpler!

A bee balm is very simple to make. And has a multitude of uses depending upon your choice of plant oil. Balms can be used for cleansing very dry skin - massage on and remove with a warm damp muslin cloth.

They can be used as a skin food - use rich nourishing oils and perhaps add plant extracts or a night serum formula to enhance the effects, apply at night time or after a warm bath and allow to sink in over a period of some hours.

A balm can have medicinal purposes too, for example if you infuse a medicinal herb or plant in the oil or bees wax and then use this in your basic balm recipe. It is important to research really well which herbs to use, when in doubt always consult a professional.

Basic Bee Balm

Ingredients50ml Vegetable oil of choice (this could be a simple extra virgin olive oil or a more expensive combination of oils
from the health food shop or specialist supplier)
4g Bees Wax

Melt the Bees Wax with the oil in a double boiler. Never attempt to melt the bees wax in a pan over direct heat as there is a real possibility of fire. Once the oil and wax are melted together remove from the heat and stir until it cools to the consistency of thick soup. At this point add the essential oil and stir well. As an addition a little Vitamin E can be added now – buy Vitamin E capsules from the health food shop and pierce one with a sharp pin and then squeeze the contents into the mixture – always add vitamin E when the mixture is at its coolest. Decant into a clean, sterilised pot and leave to go cold. This mixture may take a day or two to achieve its final consistency

This bee balm recipe is a nice spreadable consistency, however if you prefer your balm a little stiffer then simply either reduce the amount of oil or increase the amount of bees wax. But only by a gram or two... it makes a big difference when making such small amounts.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Preservatives Lesson 2!

Anti-oxidants & Essential Oils

Anti-Oxidants are things like Vitamin E, rosemary extract and grapefruit seed extract, which prolong the natural shelf life of oils and fats. Their purpose is to interrupt the action of oxygene radicals which damage the integrity and function of various natural substances. They are useful in your product for two reasons. Not only will they help to prevent the natural degradation of the some of the raw ingredients in your formula, they will also help protect skin cells from similar damage, these effects include minimising age spots, imparting radiance to the skin and slowing down the formation of fine lines - so it could be said that they are anti-aging ingredients!
What they are NOT:  Anti-Oxidants are not a preservative - they do not prevent the growth of bacteria in your product.

A note about Grapefruit Seed Extract This is an edible extract produced as a by product of the fruit juice industry, over which there has been quite a lot of controversy, in as much as quite often an undisclosed synthetic preservative is included at the point of manufacture. This means that sometimes when using this raw ingredient alone, your product will be protected against the growth of some bacteria. Many people believed, erroniously, that GSE was the first known 'natural preservative' whithout knowing that it contained a synthetic preservative, using the definition of preservative as something that will inhibit the growth of bacteria.  Since this is an expensive ingredient to include I think it is important to find out as much as you can about it's manufacture before deciding to use it - or you could end up with a product that is over-protected... not necessarily a problem unless you are very particular about managing the levels of synthetic chemicals you use.

Essential Oils such as Tea Tree or Thyme have strong preservative qualities - that is to say they do inhibit the growth of bacteria, however the percentage required in order to protect a pot of cream for example is way too high for safe use on the skin - therefore their use as a preservative is not advised.

How do I Protect my Product?

By making your own products YOU make the decision of which preservative to use and how much to put in. For example if you are including a fresh herbal tea or using flower water rather than distilled water you might choose to use a synthetic preservative at a slightly higher percentage than if your product is made with distilled water and includes tea tree essential oil.

Each formula should be assessed individually as to it's purpose, how long you need it to last and therefore which method of preservation you are going to use, if at all. For example if you are making up a small quantity of body butter for a girlie pamper evening the following day, you may decide not to use a preservative at all since the product will certainly last that long and will be entirely used up on the one occasion.

Documented instances of allergic reaction to synthetic preservatives are rare but you do need to take this possibility into consideration. Always follow the cleanliness guidelines when making your products.

Always follow the recommended percentage of use for the preservative and NEVER exceed it.

Always make your products in small batches that will be used fairly quickly. Never Double Dip!!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Preservatives - Lesson 1!

Parabens Anyone?

Asked if they would like to use parabens in their face cream, most people will say, No.

But it should be understood that there is no truly effective natural preservative suitable for use in a cosmetic product.

Before you get all up in arms I am not talking about anti-oxidants... there are plenty of those. I am talking about preservative in the sense of a substance that will inhibit the growth of a wide range of bacteria.

The person who discovers a natural one will have found the holy grail of the cosmetic and toiletry industry. Currently the most popular preservative choices are Sodium Benzoate or a mixture of Benzyl Alcohol, Phenoxyethanol, and Potassium Sorbate and since the choices are still very limited, Parabens.

Bacteria love our jars of cream, there is plenty of food for them and the water provides the ideal medium in which they love to live. Bacteria are easily introduced into the product by contact with human skin... double dipping (that is placing your finger into the pot and then onto your skin and then back into the pot) is the fastest way to introduce bacteria into your home made product. This bacteria will not only spoil your product it can pose a threat to your health too. Becoming infected from using a cream or lotion spoiled by bacteria is no joke - you could be left with severe scarring of the skin, at the very least.

You may have read about Parabens in the press a few years ago. (and since then the internet has abounded with equally inaccurate reports).  but I digress, a report was published that the widely used preservative parabens was discovered in the tumor taken from a breast cancer patient. The inference of the article was that the parabens had caused the cancer. Immediately it seemed like the entire female poplulation of the world checked their bathroom cabinets and binned everything containing Parabens, which turned out to be almost the entire contents of their cosmetic bag. And then found that it was impossible to buy anything without it. Too late... the word Parabens was demonised forever.

Lets put the Record Straight

Parabens has been used as a preservative for decades because of it being extremely effective against a very wide spectrum of bacteria. Actually, nothing else is as good in this respect. Scientifically it is still one of the safest preservatives on the market. You see, not only did they find parabens in that tumour, they also found other things too, from all sorts of foods and cosmetics. And of course, because one tumour does not constitute a viable scientific study - there is no proof that any of the substances found actually caused the unfortunate woman's cancer. I did promise no urban myths here. You will read on other websites that this substance is cancer causing and that you should avoid it... usually by buying whatever product that particular website is selling. The truth is that this is not proven... you can believe what you like... but that's the facts.

In light of the outcry about Parabens they subsequently removed the controversial Butylparaben from the formula.

My next post will cover just what you can do to preserve your home made cosmetic formula.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Which Skincare Ingredients shall I use?

There are many skincare ingredients to choose from, some natural, some synthetic and some that seem to be in between! And they all come with crazy chemical names that can make you feel very uncomfortable about using them.

This can make many people retreat into the world of very basic toiletries - like going back to medieval times with results that although natural, it has to be said, are often very crude and most definitely not very user friendly for our modern lifestyles. You don't have to just smear olive oil on your face because you are unsure about using modern emulsifiers... there is a way forward.

Of course a great deal will depend upon your own ethics. If you are very very strict about using skincare ingredients in as natural a state as possible then you will definitely limit the amount of toiletries that you can use. But if you consider that even olive oil does not simply drip off the tree... it has to be synthesised or processed by human hands... if you take this kind of processing a step further you have an olive oil spread for your toast in the morning and this is generally considered to be a healthy alternative to using butter... which has much less human interferance. Well it's the same with cosmetic ingredients... some are closer to the tree than others and there is a large number of ingredients that fall slap bang in the middle!

Before I go any further I must add my own personal take on the use of synthetic chemicals as skincare ingredients - I try to avoid them as much as possible, however I believe that a large number of them are safe to use in the correct percentage in products that I occasionally use on my skin and hair. Since when we are in good health our bodies detoxify regularly, I am confident that the small amount of synthetic chemicals that I do use pose no discernable health threat to me... no more so than when I eat non-organic food at a restaurant.What you won't get anywhere on this site is claims that certain skincare ingredients cause cancer or any other health problems. Many such claims you read on the internet have no basis in science and no credible proof anywhere beyond the urban myth.
In the light of modern scientific knowledge there are regulations governing the manufacture and use of synthetic chemicals in products designed to be used on the skin or hair. When scientific proof comes to light about an adverse effect of an ingredient these governing bodies tend to act very quickly to have it removed from use.
I don't know of any cosmetic company big or small who want to poison their customers... they don't want to store up long-term problems for the future either as most of them plan to be in business for a very long time. That doesn't mean that the synthetic ingredients in their products are necessarily good for you... it just means that it can't be proven at this moment in time that they are bad for you.

I believe that it is sensible to cut out unnecessary synthetic chemicals from our lives... as much as possible. However I do not go to crazy lengths... there is no point in cutting off your nose to spite your face. If you live a very 'toxic' lifestyle or perhaps your health is generally not so good...then yes you may wish to cut right down on the use of synthetic stuff. But under normal circumstances with a healthy body there is no reason to believe that a reasonable use of carefully chosen synthetic ingredients (used with knowledge and care) would cause you any harm.

Over the next couple of weeks I hope to have time to blog about some specific chemicals/synthetic ingredients that are
found in lots of cosmetic products.