It’s Spring! Go Make Some Lip Balm

Yeah, spring! Here’s your beekeeper PSA: don’t get rid of your dandelions! Absolutely do not spray them with poison, and don’t even mow them until they go to seed. They are an important food source for honey bees at this time of year. So be lazy and let your lawn be more than a carpet of useless green!

Spring also means that the end of the school year is right around the corner. This is a great time to make gifts for friends and teachers.

Now, it’s true that you could buy those gifts. And if you buy some lovely soaps and lip balms and lotions and the like from ShopAvitals.com or at any of the fine stores that carry my products, I will certainly not object. But can I encourage you to make a few things yourself? You’ll have a great time doing it and people will be impressed with your mad skills.

I’ve been asked a few times to teach people how to make lip balm, so let me start you off with a tutorial on that. I’m going to emphasize easy-to-find ingredients, so you can get most of them at the grocery store to start with. If you want to use exotic oils or butters, be my guest!

You’ll need a decent kitchen scale that measures in grams, small containers you can put in the microwave, tins or tubes for the final product, and the lip balm ingredients.

My favorite recipe for a lip balm in a tube goes like this:

  • 20% Beeswax
  • 38% Liquid Oil
  • 40% Butters
  • 1% Vitamin E (optional, but it extends the shelf life of the oils and butters, if you don’t use your creation right away)
  • 1% Flavor (optional, and read more about that below)

I do small recipes in grams, since it’s more accurate. To keep the math easy, when I’m testing, I do 100 g batches. That makes about just over 3 ounces, or about 6 .5 oz tins. That’s plenty for testing and sharing!

Here’s a great starting recipe for a firm lip balm that gives your lips a bit of shine, and has a little mint tingle:

  • 20g Beeswax
  • 19 g Sunflower Oil
  • 15 g Grapeseed Oil
  • 4 g Castor Oil
  • 20 g Refined Shea Butter (unrefined has a strong, earthy scent)
  • 20 g Cocoa Butter
  • 1 g Vitamin E
  • 1 g Peppermint Essential Oil

These percentages work well for a lip balm that will be in a tube, a recipe that needs to be fairly firm, but not rock hard. If you’re using tins, or want a softer balm, either increase the liquid oil percentage or decrease the beeswax. Remember to weigh everything and keep good notes!

When you have everything assembled, put all the ingredients except the Vitamin E and the flavor into a container and microwave it in 30 second bursts until everything is melted. Use a container not much larger than the ingredients; glass can heat up and break if it’s in the microwave too long, and beeswax can take longer to melt than you’d think!

You can also melt everything in a double boiler. The one thing you should NOT do is put it over direct flame. Beeswax can burst into flames at 400F.

Once everything is melted, stir in the Vitamin E and the flavor, then put it in the tins or tubes. That’s it! Remember to keep good notes!

Now, for the discussion:

For the liquid oil portion, things to consider are how light or heavy an oil is and whether it has a taste or scent of its own. For instance, olive oil is great for you skin, and a humectant that can draw moisture to your lips. Great, huh? But EVOO also smells and tastes like … olive oil. It’s also a bit heavy for some people.

Other choices are grapeseed oil (which is very light and flavorless), sunflower seed oil (medium weight), or pumpkin seed oil (really nice, and available at my grocery store). What about coconut oil? Coconut oil is technically a solid oil (it melts around 70F), so some people use it as part of the butters. I think given its low melting point, it acts more like a liquid. (It can also make your skin break out, which is a real minus!)

Castor oil as a small percentage of the liquid oil (no more than 10%) will give your lips some shine. So–if you like shine, add a bit. But not too much! It’s really heavy and has a bit of scent and flavor.

Next up: butters! Some of these are rock hard: think cocoa butter. Others, like shea butter, are pretty soft.  Both cocoa butter and shea butter are sold at GreenStar Coop in Ithaca; our big grocery store also sells them.

I like half-and-half, to get the softening of the shea butter and the occlusive protection of the cocoa butter.

Finally, a bit of Vitamin E can extend the shelf life of your oils and butters. This is especially important if you use one with a short shelf life, like unrefined hemp oil or grapeseed. Some oils last only about 3 months once they’re opened, and you don’t want your creations going rancid! Besides, Vitamin E is great for your skin, so it’s a plus for sure.

Now for the tough one: flavor. Obviously, you can skip it entirely and enjoy the natural scent of beeswax and the bit of chocolate that may come through from the cocoa butter.

But if you want a “flavor” (which is really more a scent), you can buy professional “flavor oils” for food and cosmetics or you can use essential oils, which are readily available at most grocery stores.

Important: before you add either flavor oils or essential oils, ask a professional what the recommended usage rate is for that particular oil and whether it is lip-safe (in the case of essential oils). I can’t emphasize this enough.

If you buy flavor oils, they do need to be “oils” (no vanilla extract, for instance, since it is alcohol based) to mix properly with your creation. Check with the supplier what the recommended usage rate is. Even though it is meant for consumption, if you use too much, it might have an unpleasant aftertaste, or worse, be irritating to your lips. Generally (very, very generally!) 1%-3% is a good amount. But check with the supplier!

Essential oils are wildly popular these days, and it seems like you can buy them everywhere. Remember, though, that they are extremely concentrated, far more concentrated than these plant chemicals would ever be in nature. Not all of them are safe for lips! Some, like cinnamon and clove, can be irritants. Others, like lime and many other citruses, are phytotoxic, meaning they can cause bad burns if you use them prior to going out in the sun or lying-in a tanning bed.  So be safe, and get professional information on essential oils before you use them!

As for what to put your lip balm in, you can buy tubes–but they’re kind of hard to fill. Small tins are probably best. Check local craft stores. Just make sure the tins are safe for a lip product.

When you have everything assembled, put all the ingredients except the Vitamin E and the flavor into a container and microwave it in 30 second bursts until everything is melted. Use a container not much larger than the ingredients; glass can heat up and break if it’s in the microwave too long, and beeswax can take longer to melt than you’d think!

 

Bees communicate through dance. You get to type!

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