January 2, 2013

Going Crunchy: Handmade Hard Lotion Bars

The third post in the series Going Crunchy.

Hard Lotion Bars

There are super-moisturizing bars of hard "lotion" that you rub between your hands to apply.  I think they need a sexier name, because they are at least a little bit amazing.  They are said to be effective against eczema and they seem to be effective for my dry hands.  I'm impressed enough with them that I've made multiple batches to give away to ladies I know who could use some hand-pampering and the moms of kids with eczema. 

There are recipes posted online for these bars in multiple places, but the basic formula is this: one part moisturizing oil such as coconut oil or almond oil, one part shea butter or cocoa butter and one part beeswax.  Simply melt the oil/butter/wax together over low heat in a saucepan, then pour into molds (soap molds or a simple muffin tin).  They harden in less than an hour, at which point I wrap them in parchment for storage or gift-giving.  Using three ounces by weight of each oil/butter/wax yields 4 or 5 half-inch thick two-and-a-half-inch discs (using a standard muffin tin as a mold).  I infuse* my oil with calendula and chamomile because they are said to be soothing and healing to dry skin.

Grace has been using one of these bars nightly on her hands for a week.  The evening before she started using it, her hands were suddenly so red and dry that even applying coconut oil (my go-to moisturizer) to her hands made her cry in pain.  Her hands seem less itchy since she's started using the bar.  Last night when she came into my room after bedtime to say that her legs were itchy, I told her to get her bar, keep it by her bed and rub it on any body part that she was tempted to scratch.  I'm interested to see whether her winter itching and eczema are relieved with daily use.

I don't have eczema, but I've struggled with finding a suitable hand moisturizer for winter.  Most commercially manufactured lotions contain ingredients that contribute to dry skin (alcohol, water,etc), not to mention ingredients of questionable sources.  I've used some "creams" and "butters" before that were more effective, but as I've run out, I haven't replaced them, because I want to get away from their sometimes synthetic ingredients and sometimes harsh scents.  I use coconut oil as a moisturizer frequently, but I've found hemp oil to be more effective on my hands in the winter.  Hemp oil is a hassle, though, because it should be stored in the fridge, and both oils absorb so quickly that they don't leave my hands feeling soft.  I like these hard lotion bars because the shea or cocoa butter and the coconut oil moisturize while the beeswax creates a protective barrier against the winter cold, so my hands feel softer and moisturized longer, at least until I wash my hands again.

And do you know what cocoa butter smells like? Chocolate!  I find it to be a very pleasing smell, not overpowering at all, just pleasant, maybe even luxurious.  And of course, beeswax smells faintly of honey, so that's a nice smell as well.  Shea butter's scent is a little nuttier/earthier than cocoa butter.  If I used all shea butter/no cocoa butter, I think I would want to infuse the oil with something with a pleasing smell or add a drop or two of an essential oil, but when using all or part cocoa butter for the butter part, additional scents are unnecessary.  (Using half shea butter and half cocoa butter, which I've done with later batches) makes me less tempted to want to eat the bar.)

As well as a hand moisturizer, I find this bar to be a perfect lip balm.

I've also been using this bar as a "belly butter" for my itchy, pregnant tummy.  It's more effective than an oil alone, but I want something that spreads a little more easily.  During my last pregnancy Burt's Bees Mama Bee Belly Butter was easily the one product I couldn't live without. It was amazing for my itchy tummy.  I think I could make something similar by increasing the ratio of shea/cocoa butter to beeswax in this lotion bar recipe, maybe subbing jojoba oil in place of half of the coconut oil, and storing the product in a shallow jar.  I'll let you know if I try it.

UPDATE:  I made a belly butter.  I've been extremely itchy in the last week, but I've found that if I use coconut oil in the shower or bath (or a moisturizing scrub) on my whole body and then follow with a generous amount of belly butter on my tummy, hips and upper legs (all those parts where the pregnancy stretches the skin), I am not so itchy that I can't sleep. Woohoo!  I didn't really measure well when I was making the belly butter, and the vent fell out of the hood over the stove as I was finishing it, but here's what I remember:

I infused a few ounces of coconut oil and sweet almond oil with calendula and chamomile overnight. After straining out the herbs, I combined the oil in a small saucepan with about two tablespoons of melted beeswax, about an ounce of shea butter and about two ounces of cocoa butter (I would have used more of both butters, but it's time to restock.  I added a couple drops of sweet orange essential oil to give it a fun scent (yum, chocolate-orange), and poured it into a shallow 8 ounce mason jar.  It's very solid, so I have to scrape it out with the back of my fingernail.  It spreads easily (much more easily than a lotion bar).  It moisturizes and creates a protective barrier.  I apply it twice a day.


*To infuse the oil with herbs:  Turn oven to lowest setting.  (If using coconut oil, melt it in a small saucepan over low heat.)  Add one tablespoon each calendula flowers and chamomile.  Place lid on saucepan.  Turn off oven.  Place saucepan in oven and let steep at least four hours or overnight.  (If using coconut oil, the oil may harden, simply warm it on the stove over low heat.)  Strain out the dried herbs and return the infused oil to the saucepan to continue with the lotion bar recipe.


I purchase my coconut oil online from Nutiva.  I purchased my beeswax in a block from Borden-Huitt Ranch at the Chico Farmers Market.  (They are the ones who sell the flavored almonds and candles.)  Cocoa butter, shea butter and herbs are available at Chico Natural Foods and S&S Produce and online. 

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