Thursday, July 15, 2010

Back to basics: Balms

We've taken a look at whipped butters and lotion bars, so let's take a look at another type of anhydrous product - the balm. What exactly is a balm? It is a "medicated topical preparation for application to the skin...(that is) rubbed in" (from Wikipedia). Obviously I won't be making any claims for the products we'll be making - we make cosmetic products, not drugs around here! - but we can consider a balm to be a product that includes ingredients we have chosen to change the appearance of our skin or hair, and that might help with a specific condition that's bugging us. Conditions like dry, itchy, sun exposed, or annoyed skin might be helped with a balm we might make. (A lip balm is intended to moisturize dry lips or provide sun protection, so it falls into this category.)

Balms can come in stick or lotion-y type format. We can modify our whipped butters and lotion bars to be balms, or we can make more oily types of balms. We'll be taking a look at each type in the next few days.

And yes, you can make balms with water and emulsifiers in a lotion format, but we're not doing that in these posts as we're focusing on anhydrous products at the moment. 

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. 

For the purposes of this post, please refer to the lotion bar recipe or the whipped butter recipe. I'll be adding a few more base recipes you can use for balms. The key to creating a balm is not the actual recipe but the oils, butters, and essential oils we choose to include. Having said this, we can only include oil soluble extracts in our anhydrous products - to include things like powdered extracts we need to include water soluble things like glycerin or water, and to include those things we need emulsifiers. In other words, to include those ingredients, we need to make a lotion (click here for basic lotion instructions).

Let's take a look at the mango butter lotion bar (from this post) and how we can turn it into a balm. Let's say, for example, I have a cold. I could turn this into a making-my-sinuses-feel-better bar by adding an essential oil and menthol mixture reminiscent of Vicks. Notice I reduce the oil amount so I can up the menthol and essential oils; reducing the oils won't change the hardness of the bar, which we know is vital to keeping it in lotion bar form.

28% beeswax
30% mango butter
37% rice bran oil
3% menthol
1% eucalyptus essential oil
1% camphor essential oil

Melt all the ingredients except the essential oils in a heatproof container in a double boiler. When melted, add the essential oils and pour into a mould or container. Let set, then use. 

As a note, this makes for a very nice foot lotion bar as well. You could switch the oil out to be a heavier oil like olive oil (which is also a humectant) or avocado oil. 

Or what if I want something to help with sore muscles? When I fell down the metal stairs on a B.C. ferry two years ago, I created a lotion bar with various essential oils reported to help stimulate blood circulation in an attempt to get rid of my bruise as well as a few reported to help soothe injured muscles (I didn't have any open wounds - DO NOT USE THIS BLEND ON OPEN WOUNDS! IT WOULD BE THE CLOSEST THING TO HELL YOU WOULD EXPERIENCE ON EARTH!) You could easily do this with your favourite lotion bar or whipped butter. 

75% shea butter
19.5% sunflower oil
3% menthol crystals
0.5% cinnamon essential oil
0.5% ginger essential oil
0.5% clove essential oil
1% eucalyptus essential oil

I chose to use sunflower oil because it's really high in phytosterols, which offer anti-inflammatory effects, and has good levels of Vitamin E, which offer softening benefits. Soybean oil would have been a great choice here, but I didn't have any in the house and driving was out of the question because of the giant bruise on my bottom, so I went with sunflower oil. 

Please note: As with any essential oils, read up on them before using them on anyone, but especially on pregnant or nursing women or children. I am not an expert on essential oils and haven't done a ton of research about them. What I am suggesting in the writings on this blog are things I have tried and have found have worked for me (and as we know, anecdotes do not make data). Please try them in small amounts on yourself and do your research! 

Join me tomorrow as we continue our series on balms with a look at other ways to create these interesting products! 


Laura said...

I'm working on an anhydrous balm formula for a friend of mine so the timing on this is perfect - thanks!

Madeaj said...

Okay, lady you must be reading my mind. I am really interested in balms. My father is a recent amputee and I wanted to make a balm for dry itchy scar skin for him. I am going to make a lotion bar in a push up tube for easy application. But I think a balm will help too.

Thank you and keep up the good works. I really look forward to reading your blog.