With the weather staying mild so late this year, Christmas has snuck up on me before I am ready for it and I realise now, with just three weeks to go, that it’s time to get into action.
Since beginning this blog, the topic I have been questioned about more than any other is how to make creams. Unlike simple salves and balms cream making can be notoriously tricky as it requires mixing together oils and waters which naturally want to separate. There are a number of ways to achieve a nice cream with a good consistency and, over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting the main recipes I have used, hopefully in time for you to make some for your own Christmas presents too.
In this post I want to introduce some of the ingredients which can be used in cream making to enable you to adapt the recipes more to your own specifications. There are so many different base oils, herbs, essential oils etc. that its impossible to cover them all here, but I’ll include the main ones I have found useful after much experimentation. If you have any questions or want anything clarifying then do ask in the comments section and I will try to answer if I am able.
The three recipes I will post are:
A simple cream involving no emulsifier – my own variation on Rosemary Gladstar’s classic.
A cream using emulsifying wax – as seems to be most popular in herbal recipe books.
A cream with VE and MF emulsifiers – as used by many UK herbalists and popularised by Aromatic in their courses.
In my experience, different recipes work better for different people. I’m a firm fan of the first but others I have met prefer to use emulsifying wax. It’s all down to personal preference as some like a richer cream whilst others like something lighter with a higher water content. If your cream is for therapeutic use then you need to consider whether the condition you are treating is dry, flaky and in need of protection, in which case a richer cream with a higher oil content is preferable, or whether it is red, itchy, weeping and hot, in which case a lighter cream with a higher water content and cooling, astringent oils will have better results.
Ingredients used in Creams include the following:
Base oils and herbal infused oils – Base oils are usually vegetable oils, pressed from nuts, seeds, kernels and other fatty parts of fruits and vegetables. Things to be aware of when choosing base oils include the consistency and smell. Some oils are rich and moisturising and good for drier skins like avocado, hemp, macadamia, argan and rosehip. Often you would only use these in a smaller percentage along with a lighter oil like almond or apricot. Oils like rosehip, hemp and macadamia can have quite a strong aroma, especially if they’re high quality and unrefined so factor this into your recipe and don’t use too much. Lighter oils that are good for oiler skins include hazelnut, grapeseed and jojoba. Sensitive skins respond well to apricot oil. As this topic is something of a vast one, I will dedicate a post to exploring some different base oils in further detail soon. Be aware that some wonderfully nutritious skin oils like borage and evening primrose have a very short shelf life, around 6 months, so ensure you get them from a good supplier and store them in the fridge. Never buy oils that smell rancid and be aware of using nut oils on those with allergies. Herbal infused oils are simply vegetable oils infused with herbs. You can read my post on how to make them here.
Solid oils and butters – These include cacao butter, coconut oil, avocado butter, mango butter and shea butter and they are rich and moisturising as well as adding body to a cream. For a lighter effect which sinks in to the skin easily use coconut, or for a rich, nourishing hand cream opt for shea. Cacao is nice in both body and face creams and, if you get it food grade, it lends a delicious chocolatey aroma to your finished product. Somewhere between a liquid oil and beeswax or plant waxes in consistency, fats will partly absorb into the skin but will leave something of a protective film behind.
Beeswax and plant waxes – These thicken and add body to creams and also help a little with emulsification. They are not well absorbed into the skin creating a protective barrier that helps it maintain its own moisture and keeps it hydrated, especially during these wintery months with their high winds.
Waters – These include spring water, floral waters, herbal teas and aloe vera. You can vary them endlessly to suit your purpose. If you are making a plain base cream try using just spring water or if it’s a luxury face cream then use rose floral water. If you want a soothing cream with anti-inflammatory properties then try a strong tea of chamomile and calendula.
Vegetable Glycerine – Glycerine is a sweet, syrupy, clear liquid that helps draw moisture to the surface of the skin. In very dry climates it can apparently take the moisture from deeper layers of skin so best to avoid using it, but if you live in the damp UK, it can be a nice addition and improve the consistency of your creams.
Tinctures – A small proportion of a suitable herbal tincture will add therapeutic value as well as helping to preserve your cream. Try calendula in a soothing cream, comfrey in a bruise healing cream or yarrow in an anti-inflammatory cream. Do beware though that alcohol can irritate sensitive skins.
Essential Oils – The volatile oil content of the plant is distilled, pressed or extracted with solvents leaving a highly concentrated and powerfully aromatic liquid that can be used for strong therapeutic benefits or simply to make the product smell delicious.
Emulsifiers – These help the water and oil parts of a cream to mix and leave a homogenous finish. Common ones include emulsifying wax, vegetal and VE/MF emulsifiers all derived from vegetable sources, albeit after some intense processing! Another commonly used and readily available emulsifier is borax, though I have heard mixed reports of its safety and prefer not to use it myself.
Vitamins and minerals – These can be added to creams and usually come as a powder or in liquid form. Vitamins A, C and E are the ones most commonly used as they are good anti-oxidants and can help prevent oils going rancid. Sometimes minerals like zinc are added to sun creams to create a barrier against the suns rays.
Natural preservatives – These include rosemary extract and grapeseed extract. Both are powerful anti-oxidants that can increase the shelf life of creams. They have some anti-bacterial action but most agree it is not powerful enough for products sold commercially. Grapefruit seed extract is more powerfully anti-microbial but there is much evidence out there that suggests it is harmful so I suggest reading the research yourself before using it.
Synthetic preservatives – Creams are much like food. If you plan to use them quickly (how quickly will depend on the recipe) and keep them cool then you have no need to go down this route but if you are planning to keep them for longer than a few weeks or if you wish to sell them you will need to add a synthetic preservative which will protect against moulds, yeasts, bacteria etc. Though there is conflicting evidence as to whether all types of parabens are carcinogenic, I personally avoid them altogether. Some of the safest ones seem to be Preservative 12 and Preservative Eco, both sold by Aromantic. I often avoid using these where possible but for creams with a high water content they are always necessary.
I will post the first recipe in the next couple of days so check back soon.