I receive a newsletter every once in a while from a company called David's Tea, and I thought we could analyze the recipe they're calling a green tea infused coconut moisturizer* for some fun!
The recipe, which they state has a shelf life of two weeks, is as follows...
2 Perfect Spoonfuls of Japanese Sencha tea
2 cups + 3 tbsp hot water
1 cup organic coconut oil
8 drops eucalyptus or another essential oil (optional)
Please click the link above to see the suggested process to make this as it's just too long.
we do everything by weight, not volume. It's all about the accuracy, baby! Let's say you wanted to measure that coconut oil. Is it before or after melting? Is it a level cup or just a bit more? When it comes to tinier measurements, like spoons, thick or sticky ingredients may end up coating the container and less ends up in the product. This is a big deal for things like preservatives.
Volume isn't the same as weight. 1 ml of water weighs 1 gram, but 1 ml of oil doesn't weigh 1 gram. You can't just add 1 ml of water and 1 ml of oil and consider you have a 50-50 mix of oil and water.
Related post: How do I figure out volume? (Includes information on specific gravity)
If you aren't convinced yet, measuring by weight means fewer annoying containers to clean up as we just put our jug on the scale and measure everything directly into it! I can make and package a lotion using only two Pyrex jugs, one beater on my hand mixer, my bottles, and a funnel. How many little spoons and cups would it take for a more complicated recipe than the one above?
If a recipe is done by volume, I can't tell if the ingredients are used at the right proportions. For instance, how much preservative would I add to this if I were to use 0.5% liquid Germall Plus? I have no idea because the 0.5% is how much preservative I would use by weight. If I have 100 grams of product, I'd use 0.5 grams of liquid Germall Plus to preserve it.
essential oils by drops. It's inaccurate as all heck! What kind of drop? From a small orifice bottle? A larger orifice bottle? A large eye dropper? A small one? A larger pipette? A turkey baster?
Will you tell by smell if it's the right amount? What do you do if this is your fourth product of the day and you're nose blind?
Measure your essential oils by weight and you'll ensure you aren't wasting any or adding too much. Eight drops from even a very large dropper won't do a thing in a cup or more of product, so use something like 0.2% to 0.5% by weight to start and see what you think.
Looking at this recipe again, I've realized something. The 2 cups of water is how much you put in a saucepan to create a double boiler. Why 2 cups? Given they don't know how big your pot might be, this is an irrelevant number.
The 3 tablespoons of water - 45 ml - is used to soak the leaves for a 10 seconds, then discarded. So the only moisture in the product is the water left over in the leaves when you put them into the coconut oil and simmer. Doesn't matter how much, there's still water in the product. Just enough wet, soggy leaves and water to cause problems. (I'll address this more in a few paragraphs...)
Oil and water don't mix. In chemistry terms, water is polar, oil is not. Oil floats on the top of the water as it's lighter. We need an emulsifier to bring the oil and water together, something like emulsifying wax, Polawax, Incroquat BTMS-50, and so on.
A lotion is made when we bring oil and water together with the help of an emulsifier. We heat the ingredients, then bring them together to create an awesome emulsion.
In broad terms, there are oil-in-water recipes or those with more water than oil and water-in-oil recipes or those with more oil than water. What is this one? We have some water coming from the soggy tea leaves, much less than 250 ml of coconut oil, so it's a water-in-oil product. It might only be a titch of water, but it'll come out eventually, so we need an emulsifier of some sort.
Lest you think it's not important, the company responded to my concerns with this: "The whisking effect acts as the emulsifier to get the right consistency – if you find the oil and water separating, simply whip it back together before applying to your skin. "
As a note, it looks they've changed the recipes since I first wrote to them. My goal is to make safer products, so I'm happy they are doing that, but there's still so many problems here.
Emulsifiers are ingredients like those I mention above, not processes. When we make lotions, we use a stick blender or mixer, not a hand whisk because it's not powerful enough. And the whisking isn't an emulsifier. Mixing helps to emulsify a lotion, but it's only part of the essentials of a lotion - a chemical emulsifier, heat, and mixing.
Is this a good lotion recipe?
How can you tell if it's a good recipe?
Avoid these recipes if you find them on Pinterest?
we must add a preservative. There are no exceptions to this rule. You add water, you add a preservative. If you don't, you will have contamination in a matter of days. You may not see it, but you will be slathering bacteria, mold, yeast, and worse on your skin, which is dangerous. Granted, there's only a little water in this product, but it's tea...
...and we never ever use tea in a product. It's a contamination magnet with all that botanical material. This recipe calls for returning sopping wet leaves back to the oil to simmer for 30 minutes before straining through a cheesecloth, which isn't small enough to strain out all the bits and pieces of the tea, so there's some left in the product.
In fact, if you look at the picture of the moisturizer on the spoon, you can see it looks slightly green and contains hunks of something, so if this really is the product - which I don't think it is - they are expecting it to contain very large specks of something brown.
A few other thoughts...
They say to use a double boiler to melt the coconut oil, and to make sure it doesn't boil. Coconut oil has a smoke point of 177˚C or 350˚F. There's no way you could get it to that point in a double boiler if you reduce it to a simmer after it melts. It's good advice to watch an oil so it doesn't get to the smoke point and never leave it unattended, but we use a double boiler to ensure our ingredients don't get too hot.
They tell you to put the essential oil in the melted coconut oil and let it simmer for 30 minutes. Essential oils are volatile and shouldn't be exposed to heat or they will evaporate. You will have nothing left at the end of the process.
They say it has a two week shelf life "for ultimate freshness". No, you've added water and tea to this, so I'd give it a day at the most. (Remember, they think it should contain huge specks of tea in it...) And what the heck does "freshness" mean when it comes to an oil you purchased from the store? It's not like Safeway has a coconut oil making plant in the produce department!
Why did they add tea? Because it sounds nice. Otherwise, this product would just be "coconut oil in a jar" instead of a "green tea infused coconut moisturizer", and David's Tea would have no reason to post this on their blog and encourage you to give it to your mother. They've taken a super simple recipe - put coconut oil in a jar - and made it complicated and unsafe.
Here's my version:
Get some coconut oil. Let's say 100 grams.
Add some essential oil. Let's say up to 1 gram
Whisk so it's a bit whippy, and package in a jar with a cute label.
If you'd like to include tea in it, consider adding some oil soluble green tea extract at up to 5 grams or so, adding camellia seed or tea seed oil at up to 10 grams, or a fragrance that smells like tea, like green tea, tea leaf & jasmine, or my new Saturday night thing at Voyageur Soap & Candle, Charleston Sweet Tea.
100 grams of coconut oil
10 grams of camellia seed oil
up to 1 gram essential oil or fragrance oil
Whisk and so on.
Here's the thing...using coconut oil as the only stiff oil in a recipe is a terrible idea because it has a melting point of 24˚C or 76˚F, a temperature you can easily attain at home in the late spring to early autumn in your house, or any time in a warm bathroom, purse, pocket, car, and so on. The best outcome is that it will melt and you'll be sad. The worse case is you end up covered in oil and ruin some of your favourite clothes, sheets, and other fabrics.
Related post: Why we don't use coconut oil in emulsified scrubs?
these whipped butters. The general recipe is 80% shea butter, 19% liquid oil, and up to 1% fragrance or essential oil of choice. Melt slightly, then whip until it's at least 50% to 100% more by volume. Put into jar. Rejoice.
I use a 1M icing tip in a piping bag to make mine look pretty, like this picture! Package it in a nice jar or metal container, and it's a great present!
If you'd like to make a very basic lotion with coconut oil, water, emulsifier, and a preservative, try this one. If you follow the directions, I can guarantee it'll work!
One final note: Inevitably, someone will show up and accuse me of being mean to this big corporation for not vetting this recipe or say that this is a recipe intended for people who don't want to learn the intricacies of cosmetic chemistry, and I'd like to give you my two cents first.
One, if you are a large company posting recipes, it's your job to vet them. Sure, find a recipe from Pinterest, but make it and see if it works. If you acknowledge it will separate - which they have done - then you should know that means it doesn't work. If you don't know enough to know that basic information, don't post it. Or pay someone who knows what they're doing to create a recipe for you.
Two, I'm annoyed because my goal is to help you make safe and workable recipes. If someone tries this recipe, they are not only risking contamination, but the failure of it might turn them off making something again.
I want everyone to fall in love with this wonderful hobby! Imagine if my first or only experience with making something had been a terrible recipe like this? Back in '06, there was this terrible "bath cookie" recipe going around the 'net that was just awful. I tried it and it failed, but I chalked it up to experience as I had already enjoyed a few successes with melt & pour soap, bath salts, and bath bombs by then and it was no big deal to have a small failure. This recipe could be the one that kills the enthusiasm of a new crafter when it grows mold or melts all over a lovely piee of fabric. There are so many lovely recipes a new person could try; let's hope it isn't this one.
Plus, think how bad you'd feel if you made something for your loved one that went moldy or hurt them in some way!
Three, if you make something that's a kitchen DIY, call it that. There's nothing wrong with mayo or egg yolk on your hair or skin, but don't pretend that's a proper product you can keep for weeks outside the fridge.
David's Tea's suggestion for making bath bombs with tea*. (Spoiler alert: They're including tea in it because nothing feels better when you're in the bath than steeping in wet, floating leaves.)
They use cream of tartar as the acid as, "Citric acid is definitely useable but it’s harder to come by and that’s why we used cream of tartar!" No, it isn't. Plus, cream of tartar is around $14 a pound (454 grams), while citric acid is $4 or so a pound (454 grams). If you're using a cup of cream of tartar in their recipe, and if we pretend that 250 ml of this ingredient is 250 grams, you're spending more than $7 for the cream of tartar alone for one or two bath bombs.
They suggest using quite a lot of water in that recipe - 1 tablespoon or 15 ml. FIZZZZZZZZ. What's that? It's the sound of your bath bomb starting the acid-base reaction before it leaves your bowl or while it's swelling up and coming out of the mold. (Trust me, this is a topic I know so much about because I teach youth how to make bath bombs and when you're using a liquid colour, more equals better, right?) It may also be the sound of the water soluble ingredients like salts dissolving as you work with the mixture, but it's less a "fizzzz" and more of a "...." sound. (Dissolving salts are pretty quiet things...)
If you want to make bath bombs, try my recipe done by weight using oil to bind the bombs. If you are living in a less humid place that where I live near the coast of B.C., consider spritzing them with witch hazel or alcohol to add a bit more liquid.
Want to know more about bath bombs? Check out my column in Handmade magazine for more chemistry!
If you'd like to see another analysis of a terrible recipe, click here for the oil and water shampoo. Or play along in this post of Where's the emulsifier?