A Guide To …

… Making Your Own Lip Balm

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When I first moved to New York City, I really suffered from dry lips and was constantly searching for the right lip balm. Daniel, my now-husband, recommended his Blistex lip balm. But strangely when I opened it, the smell reminded me of my work place…. and not in a good way. Then I realized why.

One of the ingredients was phenol. In the laboratory we use phenol for extracting nucleic acids, such as DNA or RNA, from cells. But apparently phenol is also used as an analgesic or even to temporarily treat pharyngitis. To me, this was highly worrying. In the lab we handle phenol only with gloves and with great caution. Especially since it is corrosive to the eyes, the skin, and the respiratory tract and repeated or prolonged skin contact causes dermatitis, or even second and third-degree burns. It also has harmful effects on the central nervous system, liver and kidneys if you come into prolonged contact. Which  using it in a lip balm, you would.

Needless to say, I did not use Blistex. I kept on searching for a lip balm that instead of being corrosive would be nourishing, smooth and creamy, and, most important of all, keeping my lips moisturized even at temperatures of 20 below zero. It was an almost hopeless quest.  Most lip balm are made with petroleum jelly (vaseline), because the theory is that this will lock the moisture in your lips and they will not dry out. Unfortunately the jelly is often not very highly refined and contains harmful impurities. And besides, it often dries your lips even more since it does not allow for moisture to be absorbed from the atmosphere but locks already present one in. What if you started out with dry lips already? They will only get drier.

But there are some good brands out there, albeit they are expensive. Dr. Hauschka and Whole Foods own brand have lip balms with ingredients you feel comfortable to lick off your lips without having to think of the negative consequences. But one day I came across empty lip balm tubes in a local herbalist shop – and that gave me the idea. How difficult can it be to make your own? It actually isn’t. So with a little research I put together my own recipe for a lip balm.

Think About Ingredients

As always when making your own cosmetics, think about ingredients. As mentioned above, petroleum-based products dry your lips even more if they are already dry to begin with. What you want to be looking for instead are natural moisturizers such as Cacao Butter, Shea Butter or even olive oil. Vitamin E is also a good additive, it heals and regenerates your skin and also acts as an anti-oxidant. To make your oils and butters solid, you will have to add a solid fat or wax. Again, petroleum based ingredients such as Vaseline should be avoided. Instead use beeswax. It is non-toxic and indigestible, if you happen to lick it off your lips. Finally choose a scent. Essential oils are ideal for that. Peppermint or sweet orange are classic ones, but cinnamon is also quite nice during the winter.

Source Your Ingredients

As important it is to decide on what you put into your body wash, it is equally important to know where your ingredients come from. Many of the ingredients such as essential oils, maybe even Shea butter and beeswax, are commonly found in your local organic shop. If you don’t life near any such shop try the internet. As mentioned in my previous post on shower gel, a good resource is Mountain Rose Herbs. This company sells herbs, teas, spices, natural health products as well as ingredients for homemade body care in bulk.

Get Your Equipment Together

As I mentioned before, making your own cosmetics doesn’t require a sterile environment. To mix your ingredients, use clean stain-less steel mixing bowls, measuring spoons and a whisk. To heat them, just use an old stain-less steel pot. It’s as simple as that. Before you get started though, make sure you have the final container ready. Herbal stores are hidden treasure troves when it comes to finding containers for homemade cosmetics and that’s where I came across my lip balm containers. Again, if you don’t have one close by, Lipbalmtubes.com is a great resource for anything related to making your own lip balm. Also have a set of small stain-less steel funnels handy to transfer your mixture or get a lip balm tube filling tray. Finally, get creative! Make your own label. The website also sells printable sheets with stickers sized to fit your tubes. It makes a nice Christmas gift!

Get Cooking

Now the quick and easy part, actually making your lip balm. Chop your butters and beeswax in small chunks so they melt quickly over a low heat water bath. This is nothing but a metal mixing bowl placed on top of a pan filled with water. Then add your Vitamin E, Essential oils and mix well. Fill into the lip balm tubes using a small funnel, let cool, cap and stick your label on. Hmmm. Creamy – and even if you get some into your mouth – it tastes and smells of cacao butter and is completely harmless! Enjoy!

On a final note – as for Blistex? They have finally removed phenol from some of their products and replaced phenol with oxybenzone. Is that better? No, not really. Oxybenzone is a photo-sensitizer that may actually cause more sunburns and ultimately skin cancer, despite it being found in many sunscreens.

Creamy Cacao Butter Lip Balm

1 ½ tbsp (15ml) Cacao Butter

1 ½ tbsp (15ml) Shea Butter

1 tbsp (15ml) Beeswax, chopped

1 drop Vitamin E

Optional:

4 drops Essential Sweet Orange Oil OR Peppermint Oil

Fill a small stainless pot half way with water and place a metal bowl on top. Put the cacao butter, Shea butter and beeswax into the bowl and heat the water below to a low boil. Keep checking until all the beeswax is dissolved (it will take the longest). Take from the heat and whisk in the Vitamin E and Essential oils. Use a small metal funnel to fill into lip balm tubes or use a multi-tube filler if you are making a large batch. Let cool and cap. Keeps ~12 months.

What’s in it?

A Quick Guide To Finding Out What’s Hiding In Your Face Cream.

Coffee-and-MSDS

My grandmother always used to say that cold coffee made you beautiful. And while that’s a topic for another post, it’s a good metaphor for how we often take statements like that without questioning them. She had heard it somewhere in the past and then imparted her wisdom to me. And it’s my grandmother, so it had to be true, right?

Maybe – or maybe not.

In any case, it’s a phrase I still jokingly use with my husband since I am notorious for letting my coffee get cold. And being the scientist he is, he always questions that statement with a ‘Why?’. Sadly, he is the only one. The most common answer I get from other people is ‘Really? I didn’t know that.’ And it is not just because he is a scientist, believe me. Many of my science colleagues don’t question what they use on a daily basis to groom themselves. I have asked several of them – and they were without a fail surprised by the question, let alone the thought behind it.

Methylchloroisothiazolinone vs Aloe Vera

Even before I became a biochemist, I was interested in what personal care products were made of. And not only because of cold coffee. The insistence with which the media on behalf of cosmetics companies tried to sell us the next best shampoo made me suspicious. I honestly felt no difference in my hair quality regardless of whether I used Timotei or Herbal Essence. In fact, becoming bored and disillusioned with the never-ending promises of silkier and softer hair, I began to experiment with homemade cosmetics in my late teens. I discovered that it was much more fun to tailor a cream or a shampoo to your personal tastes and play with ingredients, than use products whose components I knew nothing about.

The search for ingredients for my own creams led me to take a closer look at those in store-bought ones. Needless to say none of the outlandish sounding names on my mother’s face cream made any sense to me back then. Without readily available access to the Internet, research wasn’t quite as easy. So it wasn’t until my time at University that I got more of an idea what’s really in her face cream. No matter how fancy or expensive, Nivea or Clarins – the ingredients are always similar. And not in a good way.

The Internet Is Your Friend

Nowadays it’s much simpler to look behind the label of your body care products. Just type any of the ingredients into Google – and voila! Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) of any chemical are available online. They list the potential hazards of a chemical and the  amounts that could be dangerous in an easy-to-understand manner. Another great resource is Wikipedia. Information on almost all chemicals can be found there. However, not all entries list their hazards to health when used in the cosmetics industry.

A resource I have found useful and very accessible over the years is Skin Deep, a database by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The database, which was established in 2004, contains information on around 79,000 products and 2500 brands. And although a good base, it’s not updated regularly, and some of their data is limited and often not stringent enough.

Another source of information is the David Suzuki Foundation. David Suzuki has been engaged in environmentalism since the late 80s and founded the organization in 1990 as a solution-based group. The Foundation has a lot of material on cosmetic ingredients as well as other topics such as safe food and climate change.

But it is not just large organizations that can help in the quest of investigating your shampoo. FemmeToxic is a young Montréal-based organization dedicated to a youth-oriented campaign for safer cosmetics. Founded in 2009 the group is particularly focused on raising awareness amongst young women on the dangers behind cosmetics and personal care products. It is also a strong advocate for stricter regulations and labeling. Their website has easily accessible information on dangerous ingredients and their risks.

Resources like these allow us to finally break free from the propaganda machinery of the cosmetics industry. It allows us to do our own research on their latest not-to-miss-out-on ingredient, or how nanoparticles will truly affect our wrinkles. With the worldwide web at your fingertips it is simple and straightforward to find out what’s really in your shampoo or face cream – or if cold coffee could make you beautiful.