Monday, August 2, 2010

The chemistry of our nails: Formulating a balm with lanolin and lecithin

As we know, lecithin is a great inclusion in a nail care product as it contains a ton of those wonderful phospholipids, and lanolin is a great barrier ingredient that can repel water. So let's take a look at formulating a cuticle and nail balm using these ingredients.

This recipe is rated E for everyone, and is fantastic for beginners, those who don't wish to use preservatives, or those who are seeking an all natural product. The shelf life of this product is dependent upon the shelf life of your oils. 

26% lanolin
12% lecithin
12% hazelnut or soy bean oil
37% mango or green tea butter
12% beeswax
1% fragrance or essential oil

Weigh all the ingredients, except the fragrance or essential oil, into a heatproof container and place in a double boiler. When melted, remove and add your fragrance or essential oil. Pour into your container. Rejoice.

As a quick point of interest, I've been using this as a lip balm and it feels just lovely. Quite greasy - definitely a night time application kind of product - but it doesn't bother my lips the way ones with more wax usually does for me. I find lip balm sticks feel like they're drying my lips out - I have no idea why - but this one doesn't! If you want to use it for this application, add only lip friendly essential oils and leave out the fragrance oils. It doesn't taste like anything, so you don't really need a flavour, but you can add up to 3% flavour oils if you want! 

This balm will have a slightly liquidy consistency - it won't come out of your container, but it will melt easily when you touch it. The yellow colour comes from the lanolin (yellow-brown) and the lecithin (very brown). It is sticky and greasy feeling, but it really does make your cuticles feel very moisturized!

The reason for my ingredients? We know the lanolin is very moisturizing and offers water repelling properties. The lecithin offers the wonderful phospholipids along with great moisturizing, as do the hazelnut and soy bean oils. I chose to use green tea butter because I had it in the house and I figured it would be a nice inclusion - all those lovely tannins and anti-oxidants will make it feel a little drier, and that's a good thing with the greasiness of the lanolin. And the beeswax was to make it more water repellant and stiffer.

If you aren't a fan of using lanolin, then consider using something like babassu oil, coconut or virgin coconut oil, or shea butter in its place. (Click here for those links.) And if you consider this too greasy, consider adding 2% IPM to the mixture, or substituting some of the oils for lighter ones like fractionated coconut oil or some esters like C12-15 alkyl benzoate. I wouldn't suggest switching the lecithin - this is vital ingredient in this recipe.

If you're on the fence about making this product, my mom says it's the nicest thing for her nails I've ever made. She has very brittle nails, easily broken or split, with cuticles that are torn and ripped. She uses loads of different hand lotions (most of them not mine - what's up with that?) and she uses nail hardeners to try to keep her nails from cracking and splitting. In a few days she said she noticed a huge difference, and feels her nails are more flexible after using this balm at night before bed! Wow! I'm so glad I found something that worked for her! 

Join me tomorrow for a variation on this recipe that can be used as a whipped butter!


Jenn said...

I've never thought of adding lecithin to my cuticle balm. Now I have something new to experiment on... as if I need to add to my list. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan,

I'm looking for a balm to use on dry hands that are frequently washed throughout the day. Think pre-school teacher. I need something that's going to protect and be slightly water repellent. Do you think this nail balm would be a good choice for hands? I'm thinking the beeswax and lecithin would help with that. I need something that is occulsive :-), water repellent and moisturizing.



Anonymous said...

Hi Susan,
I would like to do this receipt without the lecithin and was wandering if it is better to replace it with more lanolin or buy another oil.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Isabelle. I don't know. Try the recipe without the lecithin - don't add anything else, just the way it is without the lecithin - and see if you like the skin feel. If you don't, then add more of anything and see if you like it. The lecithin is there because it is supposed to be good for our nails, but it won't ruin the product if you don't use it. It just changes the skin feel of the product!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your answer. Being a beginner I would love to try all the receipts as they are originally intended but my Visa and hubby seems to disagree... I will give a try the way you suggested!

Brandi Yates said...

When you say, join me tomorrow for a recipe using these ingredients can you link to it in the post? I am having a hard time finding the follow up posts. There is probably a way to do this without you having to link to it though...searching.

Brandi Yates said...

Have you considered transferring this blogger site to a real domain you host that can be backed up? google owns this and has authority to take it down not that its likely but this is my favorite site and with your time put into it should be treated like real estate on the internet.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Brandi. At the bottom of every post, you'll see there's a link for "newer post" and "older post". Just click on newer post for the next day's entry.

As for moving it to its own domain, that's so much work. I had a website before, and I would have to re-design it and such. It is something I think about, but I just don't have a lot of time to do it. But it's on the list of things to do in the future....

Brandi Yates said...

Thanks! I know it is a lot of work. There is a plug in for wordpress that will take every old post on this site and put them on your wp blog by rss feed. I have the plug in and would be happy to give it to you if you are interested. I run several sites and could set this up quickly.

melanie gamble said...

I notice for the lecithin and lanolin recipe, it does not state the lecithin form. Which one do i use? Theres lecithin in liquid, granules, powder etc. Also, whats a good quality substitute for lanolin? I saw that you suggested shea, coconut or babassu and i would rather choose the one that would best mimic a lanolin in properties and phospholipids.

Thanks so much!!!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Melanie. The liquid lecithin form is the one I used. I can't promise the results from using another form. As for a substitution for lanolin, none of the other oils will come close to it for the phospholipids, but they will help thicken your product.

Lynae said...

I made this last winter when my cuticles were a mess and unfortunately still have most of it. It is, like you said, quite greasy so I tried to use it before bed, but I simply couldn't lay there and smell the lanolin stink. Maybe I'm sensitive or my lanolin is extra stinky? I can't seem to tolerate at much more than 2-3%.

Elizabeth Perry said...

Hi Susan, this is a review of you cuticle balm. I have been making your balm with 25% mango butter, 25% beeswax, 20% rice bran oil, 15% hazelnut oil, 7.5% camellia oil and 7% soy lecithin with .5% vitamin e. I wanted to make a product without lanolin and the camellia oil seems to add some compounds that are helping to improve nails and cuticles. I call it a lotion balm - I wanted it to be less oily so I added more beeswax and used a lot of hazelnut oil. I'm packaging in 1/2 ounce tins.

I personally have seen a big improvement in my cuticles - I use it every day. I also make this for a lot of friends and family and it is very popular. Even my manly man boss asked for some :}

Thanks for your great recipes and invaluable research!

Liz in North Carolina

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Liz! Write to me at and tell me which e-book you'd like to have! Thanks for the great and really detailed review!

CariotaFamily said...

I'm going to give the balm a try since I have a few of the ingredients already. Susan, I'm assuming the lanolin you used in all 3 versions of cuticle repair is OIL and not BUTTER, correct? Can't wait to give this a go!


ChrisB said...

Hi Susan. I have made this several times now, and love it! This weekend I made it again, but had to use avocado oil instead of hazelnut or soy, as I was out of both. I use .5% patchouli to try and mask the sheepy scent of lanolin, and it was an awful combo! LOL. So I heated it back to melting and added a few drops of ylang ylang. Worked great. The stuff is amazing on my cuticles, heals them right up. And even with the odd EOs, it's great on lips, too! Thanks so much for sharing so much info.

Denise Williams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Denise Williams said...

Just finished making this - my first-ever homemade product. My sore fingertips are going to be so happy :)

I couldn't find liquid lecithin, so I bought a bottle of 1200mg capsules and broke 10 of them open! Seems to have worked.

The only problem is that as the potion cools it's separating into two layers, a pale foamy wax top layer and a dark yellow liquid oil underneath. The top layer is solidifying, but the bottom layer is not - any idea what I did wrong? Too much stirring? Anyway, I'm stirring it back together and that seems to be working.

Thanks for the recipe - I think you've inspired a new obsession!

Denise Williams said...

OK, so I've figured out what went wrong with my balm (even though it's perfectly combined now). I made a classic rookie mistake (i.e. I was dumb) and bought what I thought was 100% lanolin but is actually a hair conditioner 'formulated with' 100% lanolin! In my defence, they did write 100% lanolin on the front in super-giant letters!! That would also account for the disgusting super-sickly scent (I was thinking, what sheep smell? All is revealed).

So I guess I can't keep this balm since it's not anhydrous and I didn't add any preservative. Which is a shame, despite the appalling smell, because the skin-feel is awesome (I used shea butter and sunflower oil from the grocery store which has added vitamin E), hopefully a good sign for batch no. 2.

I'm ordering some actual 100% lanolin right now :D

Lisa Reidzans Schmock said...

Hello! I'm making the rounds tonight with so many questions on different topics. So on to this one.

My cuticle balm 3 recipe was 25% Mango Butter, 13% green Tea Butter (found some at MMS a cpl weeks ago and I LOVE this stuff) 12% Beeswax, 20% Rice Bran Oil, 17% Hazelnut Oil, 7% calendula Oil, 5% IPM and 1% vit E. It's much harder than I was wanting, the oilyness I can live with because it did soak in quite fast. If I replace the beeswax with Cera Bellina, do I need to increase that to like 25% as Lotioncrafter indicates that's whats needed when using IPM, or try 10-15% of the total oil phase and see what happens? Actually, I think I probably just answered myself, trial and error ;) But if you have any suggestions please feel free to advise;) I'd like a more creamy balm like consistancy.

I'd like to once again thank you for all the information you provide to us all. I've gotten all your e-books except the Formulating and Creating Lotions which I'll get eventually and I have spent hours upon hours reading and re-reading all of the books. The information you provide is invaluable!


Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Lisa! I think trial and error is the best way to go about figuring this out as I can't really give you an answer as I would have to trial and error it myself! If I had to guess, I'd go with 10% and try that as you can always add more, right?

Let us know how it turns out!

Kim said...

I've looked at this post several times, and have just now made my own version of it, which I love! Mine is 60% lanolin, 12% lecithin and the rest being beneficial nail oils and some White Ginger & Amber fragrance. The lanolin I used had a distinct (not bad) odor, but the f.o. totally masked it. I didn't want to use beeswax, and it's an absolutely lovely balm consistency! I apply it at night since it needs time to sink in, but this is great for my nails!