There was a time when it all went…wrong. (Making Lotion Badly)

Taking a cue from one of my favorite bloggers and using a line from a Broadway song for my post title. ūüôā

Because no matter how many Christmasses I might make my once-I-thought-it-was-idiot-proof lotion recipe, the minute I get cocky it sort of falls apart. So I’m posting my issues and hints from this go-round, and linking to it from my other posts…

The full recipe for how I make the stuff can be found here.  Then there was a followup here on my own blog the same day.  Check those out first; then come back here to see where some of the problems can come in.

Okay, the deal is that in making lotion, essentially what you are trying to do is convince oil and water (there’s a reason it’s a cliche) to mix with each other–or emulsify–into a lovely white lotiony goo. There are additional things you can add to make it happen more easily, but they aren’t really necessary; it’s about proportions, and temperature, and chemistry. The oil contains both liquid and “solid” oils (beeswax or butters); it’s warm and liquid when you begin the process and emulsifies into its partially-solid form. ¬†So the key components here involve how much solid you melt into the liquid oil, and what temperature it is when you try to emulsify it.

This go-round, the first time, it seemed to emulsify beautifully, almost too easily…except that it remained a sort of pretty but unaccustomed yellow, instead of the creamy white I expected. ¬†But I figured, hey, it’s different every time, right? ¬†All mixy and perfect otherwise.

Then after I poured it into the little clean jars, I saw some of the jars sweating water as they cooled. Immediately suspicious, I stuck my finger into one of the jars, and wherever I dunked down into the goo, it started oozing water like the rock after Moses whacked it. ¬†Clear, clean water, without a trace of goo or oil in it…it was, from a chemistry lesson perspective, fairly cool. But not lotion.

I had made two mistakes:

1. the distilled water, when I whirred it in the blender, was too warm to begin with, so when it tried to mix with the melted oil, the whole mixture was too warm to emulsify properly; that’s why it stayed yellow and never got creamy the way it should have. Also, I tried melting the wax and heating the oil in the microwave this time on half power, not considering that when you do it over a double boiler you can be pretty assured that you’ve caught the oil right at the perfect and just-melted moment; with the microwave, I suspect they were hotter than I’d realized. Future iterations, I’ll take it out of the microwave before it’s fully melted and just stir till it completely melts.

2. the oil mixture proportions were off: I used the “right” amount of beeswax to grapeseed oil, but then on impulse I dropped a couple of chunks of shea butter into it. ¬†I shouldn’t have done this–there was too much solid in the mix, with too high a melting point, so it was really tough to get the lotion to emulsify at the right temperature for the oil and water. And it’s just a little greasier and waxier than it should be.

So then I was faced with a horribly messy kitchen and all these little jars of sweaty wax-oil mixture. I scooped the goo out back into the pyrex, draining water off as I went, and refrigerated it overnight. Washed the heck out of the little jars, and then ran them through the dishwasher. ¬†One of the unfortunate byproducts of this failed chemistry experiment is that I had waxy oil all over everything; when it’s emulsified it’s hard enough to clean, but this way was a nightmare. Between the vinegar and lots of hot soapy water I got things fairly well-fixed again. ¬†I was able to pour most of the water off the original “lotion” so I had salve, and start again with mostly the same ingredients but new water.

Take two.

At first, it appeared to be working really well; this nice white creamy emulsion was appearing in the blender just as it should, and while I did need to scrape it down a lot (again, from too much shea butter), it still was doing okay. And then over about 3 seconds–it turned yellow again, and looked just like the first attempt.

I had made a third mistake:

3. Two words. (Er…or one hyphenated one.): Vita-Mix. I’ve blogged about my husband’s Super Blender From Hell before; it’s a great piece of machinery for many things, including its really high-speed motor that allows you to puree things until they actually heat up and become soup. ¬†With veggies, this is a good thing. ¬†But remember my issue with temperature and emulsion? I had apparently blended too long on too-high speed, and that combined with the addition of warm oil was enough to demulsify my lotion. #$%^&*!!!

So…at least this time I hadn’t poured it into the little jars and they were still clean. ¬†One more try, cooling and re-heating the wax, siphoning off the separated water.

Third time was the charm. ¬†I finally got a really nice thick white lotion, 14 little jars of it, scented with lavender and rose geranium with a little sweet orange thrown in. ¬†It’s thicker and waxier than it normally is, more a body lotion than a face lotion and probably spectacular for tired winter-dry feet, but it’s nice and rich and soaks into the skin beautifully without leaving a greasy residue. And when I use it in the morning on my hands and legs and elbows (especially elbows!), I can then run my hands down my hair to cut back a little on the static electricity it leaves.

So, eventually I pulled this off. ¬†But it was WAY more work than it should have been. ¬†I’m so over this crafty stuff…

Posted on December 16, 2010, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hi! I have experienced the same frustrating problems, today in fact :s

    This is my second attempt at a beeswax-based lotion/ rich hand cream.

    I was wondering what temperature you have found works best for emulsification?

    Also, do you have a great recipe to share??!

    Thanks so much for writing about it!!


  2. Hi Natalie! Thanks for stopping by!

    My official recipe is found here ( and a follow-up is here (

    I’ve never actually measured the temperature for emulsification, though maybe I should…generally I start with cool-but-not-cold water (room temperature-ish), and I begin the blending when the oil mixture has JUST hit fully melted. This tends to work for me…I wish I had something more scientific to offer you!

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