Got a common-sounding question about ingredients, the metric system, or conversions? You should find your answer here 🙂

Ingredients (18)

If a recipe calls for a a solid plant component (oats, ground almonds, cornstarch), can I use the oil of that plant instead?

Often times, if I include something like colloidal oats or rosehip powder in a recipe, I’ll be asked if something like oat oil or rosehip oil would be a good alternative.

The short answer is no. Those things are very different, despite coming from the same plant (sort of like the difference between steak and leather, despite both coming from a cow). If you were cooking and a recipe called for cornstarch, you wouldn’t use corn oil instead. If a cookie recipe called for chopped walnuts, you wouldn’t use walnut oil instead. In a bread recipe, you wouldn’t use wheatgerm oil instead of what flour.

However, that doesn’t mean it’ll break the recipe. It just won’t be the same. If the recipe is already mostly liquid oil, and you want to use a liquid oil instead of a solid ingredient, you could swap out some of the liquid oil in the recipe for some of your new liquid oil, and that will likely work to some degree.

Think about why we’re including the ingredient before deciding to make such a swap. If a recipe calls for ground almonds as an exfoliant, almond oil is not a good alternative because liquids are not exfoliating. If rosehip powder is called for as a colourant, its oil won’t work as a swap because it isn’t bright pink. Also remember to account for solubility and state.


Where do you buy your ingredients and packaging for all your DIY projects?

Most of my ingredients and packaging come from New Directions Aromatics and Saffire Blue, but also YellowBee and Windy Point—all of those suppliers are Canadian, so if you’re not, you may not want to deal with cross-border shipping. For cosmetics, I use TKB Trading and deal with the cross border shipping (ouch). I also have a handy-dandy Where to Buy Ingredients (and packaging) page that’s full of links to places you can purchase ingredients and packaging all over the world.

For packaging—If you’re in the USA, SKS Bottle has some great stuff (curse that cross border shipping, I’d order from them all the time if I could), TKB Trading has great makeup packaging, and Amazon has pretty much everything.

If you see any packaging that looks very unique/old, I likely picked it up at an op-shop, antique shop, or received it as a gift. In any of those cases, I’m afraid I can’t be of any help finding another 🙂 I always recommend checking local odds-and-sods shops for containers, though—you can find some fantastic ones!


I don’t like the sounds of emulsifying wax—can I use beeswax (or a plant based wax) instead?

Sadly, swapping out emulsifying wax for anything other than an emulsifier (which beeswax isn’t, sadly) is like using a paint chip instead of an egg because they’re both yellow. You can pair beeswax with borax to make an emulsion, but then you can only do a 1:1 ratio of oils to water, which makes for a very greasy lotion (borax also generally gets lower safety rating than e-waxes). I have seen plain beeswax emulsions achieved as well, but it’s a much more complicated process that melt & blend, which is what e-wax gives us (I’m still working on figuring out exactly what that process is—no luck so far after 5+ years!).

Emulsifying wax isn’t just one ingredient, though—there are a lot of different types, made from different ingredients. All of these ingredients are usually derived from plants—mostly coconut & palm because they’re very cheap. I like emulsimulse—not only does it make beautiful lotions, but it is ECOCERT approved for use in certified organic products, and it gets good ratings on Skin Deep. If you can’t get Emulsimulse/Ritamulse look for polawax, emulsifying wax NF, and ritamulse/vegemulse (other names for emulsimulse), and BTMS-50 (not BTMS-25!). All will do the same thing. Oddly enough, not everything sold as “emulsifying wax” is a complete emulsifier (some need to be paired with something else), so be sure to read up on the ingredient before buying it.


Can I use emulsifying wax instead of solubilizer, or solubilizer instead of emulsifying wax?

No. Emulsifying wax thickens products and requires a precise ratio of oils to water to form an emulsion, making it ideal for lotion type applications.

Solubilizers (including Polysorbate 20, Polysorbate 80, Olivem300, or a blend of Turkey Red Oil and guar gum) emulsify small amounts of oil into mostly water based concoctions without thickening them, making it ideal for room sprays, mists, and other almost entirely water formulas that require a small amount of oil or essential oils.


Can I use ____________ instead of _____________ in a recipe?

This answer is always a great big “it depends”, so I’ve written a few articles on substitutions. Please read them thoroughly before asking me more specifically 🙂


Can I use _______ wax instead of the wax called for in the recipe?

In the case of candelilla and carnauba waxes, go for it—they are very similar.

Otherwise, the answer is generally a sort of “yes, but in different amounts and the final product will have a different texture/scent.”

I recommend reading over some of my oil and wax experiments to get an idea of how different waxes behave in formulations:

If it’s a floral wax, that’s a slightly different case. Floral waxes don’t serve to thicken a formula—they are generally used in very small amounts for fragrance. They have the texture of a soft butter, like shea butter or mango butter, so if you don’t have the particular floral wax I’d recommend swapping it out for an equal amount of a soft butter, and adding a drop or two of the essential oil (or a similar one) to get a similar effect 🙂

If it’s orange wax, that’s another entirely different case. Orange wax is actually liquid—it’s not waxy in the slightest. A good alternative would be jojoba oil or another medium weight carrier oil with a few drops of orange essential oil. You could also blend the jojoba with a bit of buriti or sea buckthorn seed oil to get the orange tint that orange wax brings to products.


Are all emulsifying waxes (e-waxes) the same?

The short answer here is no—far from it.

Let’s start with a quick definition of emulsifying wax. It’s a waxy substance that’s a carefully blended mix of fatty acids and emulsifiers that will emulsify and thicken a mixture of oil and water into a lotion. These concoctions usually contain more water than oils, and the e-wax is counted as part of the oils part. E-waxes are really only useful for lotion type concoctions—they cannot be used for emulsifying things like room sprays.

The two broad categories of emulsifying waxes are incomplete and complete.

In my humble opinion, incomplete emulsifying waxes are dumb. These waxes need to be paired with co-emulsifiers to do their job, so despite being sold as an emulsifying wax, they are only half (or perhaps a third or a quarter) of an emulsifying wax. The necessary co-emulsifier is usually not specified, either, making these incomplete emulsifying waxes pretty useless if you aren’t really up on your chemistry.

Up next are complete emulsifying waxes, which are awesome. One package of pellets or flakes is all you need to bring together oil and water into creamy matrimony! They generally work at concentrations between 5–10%, but check with the retailer and/or manufacturer for usage guidelines.

Within the category of complete emulsifying waxes you’ll find differences in how the final product feels. I find BTMS-50 and Emulsimulse/Ritamulse create lotions with a more powdery finish than lotions made with Emulsifying Wax NF or Polawax. BTMS-50 also has the added benefit of being conditioning as it is cationic (positively charged), so it’s a must if you want to make hair conditioners.

These are the emulsifying waxes I usually work with and their INCIs:

  • Emulsimulse/Ritamulse ECG (Glyceryl Stearate, Cetearyl Alcohol, and Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate)
  • Polawax (Cetearyl Alcohol, PEG-150 Stearate, Polysorbate 60, and Steareth-20)
  • BTMS-50 (Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Cetyl Alcohol, Butylene Glycol)
  • Emulsifying Wax NF (Cetostearyl Alcohol and Polysorbate 60)

Make sure you’re always checking the INCI of whatever you’re buying! The brand/trade name of the e-wax may change depending on where you live or where you’re shopping, so the INCI is the thing you really need to pay attention to. There are loads of places to purchase emulsifying waxes around the world; check out my big list of places to shop to find one in your home country.


Can I use vanilla extract instead of benzoin/vanilla essential oil?

No—please, please do not do this. It is a waste of a lot of ingredients.

For starters, vanilla extract is formulated for taste, not scent—and especially not long-lasting scent. It doesn’t tend to smell very nice, and not for long, either.

Secondly, vanilla extract is in an alcohol base, so if added to anything 100% oil based it will bead up, giving you little pockets of brown vanilla extract in your final product.

And for the love of all things sudsy, do not put vanilla extract (or any other cooking extract) in soap instead of essential oils. Readers that have tried this have reported back with disastrous results.


Why don’t you recommend using citrus essential oils in many body recipes?

By default, citrus essential oils are photosensitizing. That is, if you apply them to your skin, they greatly enhance the effect of the sun on your skin, meaning you are very likely to get a burn.

A story I like to tell to illustrate this is from my earlier days of DIYing. I know about the photosensitizing effects of citrus essential oils, but figured it couldn’t be too bad. I made a batch of lotion (~125mL/half a cup) and added four drops of tangerine essential oil. I put some on my arms and went for a 20 minute bike ride at about 8am on a cloudy day in Calgary, Canada. I got a burn. Granted, I am pretty pale, but I would not normally get a burn under such conditions.

Some citrus essential oils have been treated to remove their photosensitizing compounds. Bergapatene-free bergamot essential oil is one example. Some suppliers also say their 5-fold citrus essential oils are no longer photo toxic due to extended processing, but I recommend checking with your supplier there. Otherwise, it is best to assume that any citrus essential oil should not be used (and left) on the skin.

Litsea cubeba, lemon myrtle, and lemongrass essential oils are great alternatives—they smell citrussy, but are not sensitizing.


The kind of silk I have is different than the one called for. Can I use it?

Assuming you don’t have a bolt of silk fabric, yes. Hydrolyzed silk peptides, hydrolyzed silk amino acids, and hydrolyzed silk powder are all generally interchangeable. The difference is in the mesh of the powder. Powder is the coarsest, peptides are the middle of the road, and amino acids are the finest. The finer, the more easily absorbed, but unless otherwise stated they can be swapped for one another without noticing much (or any) difference in the final product.

Tussah silk is silk that’s still in fiber form—you’ll get it in a sort of lump of wispy fibers that you can pull apart. It isn’t hydrolyzed, which means it won’t dissolve in water. We need silk to dissolve in water to work with it in our concoctions, so tussah silk really isn’t very useful.

If you’ve got liquid silk, you can still use it, but only in recipes that contain water and are already liquid; things like lotion, soap, and conditioner are a go, but powdered cosmetics or 100% oil based things won’t work out.


Can I get an organic version of _______?

If it’s a plant or animal based ingredient, you probably can. This generally means things like oils, butters, essential oils, herbal extracts, herbs, starches, honey (though a bit dubious as who is following the bees and monitoring their diet?!), tallow, etc. When I say “organic” here I’m talking about a version of the plant/animal that has been raised from non-GMO seeds without the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or antibiotics.

If it’s one of these things, you definitely cannot:

  • Clay
  • Mica
  • Oxide
  • Salt
  • Epsom salts
  • Baking soda
  • Titanium dioxide
  • Zinc oxide
  • Water
  • Sodium hydroxide
  • Potassium hydroxide
  • Magnesium stearate
  • Etc.

These are all inorganic compounds. Chemistry-wise this means these compounds contain no carbon, which means they are not of an organic origin—”organic” here having nothing to do with how the plant or animal was raised, but being a classification of matter that is unchangeable. All plants and animals are organic in this sense.

Because compounds like salt are naturally occurring, inorganic compounds, there is no such thing as an organic version. Salt isn’t raised using pesticides, but it’s still inherently inorganic.


Can I mix up a big batch of this face mask and use it later?

You can, as long as you keep it dry. That is, feel free to mix up the dry parts of the ingredients (clay, powders, botanicals) in a large batch, and store them in a sealing jar for later hydration in single-use sized batches. Simply note on the jar the number of teaspoons of powdered mix and water/aloe/witch hazel you’ll need to mix together for future reference.

If you have a coffee grinder you use for DIY projects you can also incorporate a few drops of carrier oils and/or essential oils. Simply place a few spoonfuls of the powdered mix into your grinder, add a few drops of your oil, and blend everything together. The powder should still look and feel dry. Blend that powder in with the rest of the batch and you’re good to go!

If the recipe calls for some liquid ingredients, you can either add those at the time of use, or you can see if you can find a powdered version and incorporate that into your dry version. You can purchase dried, powdered honey and aloe vera juice, and witch hazel is available as a powdered botanical extract. For things like Dead Sea mud, though, I’m afraid you’ll need to add those in the moment.

If a mask is almost entirely fresh, wet ingredients, I don’t recommend trying to make it in bulk for later use/hydration.

In the event you mix up far too much mask to use in one go, cover the leftovers tightly in clingfilm (press it right up against the surface of the paste), and store it in the fridge for up to three or four days. I’ve found masks sprout mould quite quickly, so it’s best to use them up quickly. To use, I’d recommend letting the chilled mask come to room temperature (or even submerging the dish it’s in in a hot water bath) before applying unless you enjoy cold goop on your face 😉

Wondering if you can just add a preservative to your wet mask mix? Unfortunately, clay masks are notoriously difficult to preserve, even for professionals, let alone at-home hobbyists with less-than-sterile making conditions. Face masks are positively loaded with delicious things for bacteria and fungus to munch on, and preservatives are not infallible. I really don’t recommend going the preservative route here.


What can I use instead of silk?

Silk is a very unique ingredient. It naturally manages moisture, attracting it to the skin when it’s dry out, and releasing it when it’s humid. Its make-up is very similar to that of our skin and hair, which helps it regenerate. Silk helps add bounce and shine to hair, along with a nice silky sheen.

The silk we use is hydrolyzed, meaning it has been modified so it will dissolve in water. You can try using another hydrolyzed protein as an alternative, hydrolyzed oat protein is a nice option.

In general, though, a recipe will never fail for its lack of silk (or any other hydrolyzed protein), so go ahead and make it 🙂


Let’s chat about benzoin.

Benzoin gum/essential oil comes from Styrax Benzoin. I often use what is sold as “Benzoin Essential Oil” or “Benzoin Resinoid” in products for it’s wonderful, warm, vanilla-like scent. The resinoid I get is sold by New Directions Aromatics, and its production technique is listed as “Solvent Extraction with benzyl benzoate”. You can also purchase benzoin gum, which is solid, but so far I’ve yet to include that in a recipe.

To use benzoin as I do, start by looking for something sold in a bottle, with a consistency described as thick and viscous, but still pourable. It should also be oil soluble (check the MSDS sheet).

When it arrives, the first thing you’ll want to do is take a whiff—mmmm! Then, pry out the little plastic orifice reducer/dropper and get rid of it—you’ll never get any benzoin out through that thing.

To use your benzoin, put the sealed bottle in a mug of just-boiled water for about 10 minutes before trying to pour it out—this will make your life far easier.

You’ll notice I often measure benzoin in “blobs” rather than “drops”. This is because benzoin is far too thick to form anything close to a drop… it’s more of a blob. Imagine pouring loose taffy for an idea of what I mean 🙂 It is a fairly mild “essential oil”, though, so a little bit extra won’t result in an overwhelmingly fragrant final product. There’s a bit of a margin of error there.


Can I use something other than coconut oil in soap?

Coconut oil is really unique in providing amazing, fluffy lather in soaps—that’s why you’ll find it the vast majority of soap recipes. The only other oil I’ve found that gives similar numbers for lather when run through a soap calculator is babassu oil, which is quite similar to coconut oil in terms of texture and feel. It is, however more expensive. You can get 4L of coconut oil for soaping for about $25CAD, whereas 4L of babassu oil will cost you about $42CAD. These prices will obviously vary by supplier, I got these from New Directions Aromatics.

You could replace the coconut oil with any other oil, really, but it’s hard to say how your final bar will turn out. Pay attention to the “Soap Bar Quality” area on SoapCalc after you calculate your recipe. Try calculating it with coconut oil and with whatever you decide to replace it with, and watch how the numbers change. Try to keep them within the recommended ranges (listed on SoapCalc in the “Soap Bar Quality” area).


Can I use peppermint essential oil instead of menthol?

Sort of/it depends. You’ll need to do a bit of research/math as well.

Different peppermint essential oils have different menthol percentages. Making this swap will work best with a high menthol peppermint essential oil—you should be able to get this information from your supplier, especially if they are reputable.

Say a recipe calls for 3g of menthol, and your peppermint essential oil is 50% menthol. That means that 3g of peppermint essential oil will contain 1.5g of menthol, so you’d need to use 6g of peppermint essential oil in the recipe to have an equivalent amount of menthol in the final product. You are, of course, also bringing an extra 3g of other pepperminty things to the recipe that were not originally accounted for when the formula was developed. In small amounts this usually isn’t a problem, but it’s still a consideration.

Perhaps your peppermint essential oil is only 20% menthol. Now you’ll need 15g (3 × 20 / 100) of peppermint essential oil to get 3g of menthol, and 15g is a lot more than 3g; I’d start to be worried about this swap throwing off the balance of the recipe. Peppermint essential oil is often liquid (especially if it’s relatively low in menthol) and menthol is solid, so now you’re using a lot of liquid in place of a small amount of solid. If you replaced a little bit of butter with 5x as much olive oil in a recipe, that would obviously have some serious implications—the same thing happens with DIY body/bath/etc. recipes.

I’ll use menthol in a recipe where I want concentrated cooling, and little else. Peppermint essential oil contains menthol, but it also contains other things that make it smell like peppermint, and because you’ll always need more peppermint essential oil than menthol, your final product will smell a lot like peppermint.

So… use your judgement, basically 🙂 It can be done, but there are some considerations to be made.


Are aloe vera juice and aloe vera gel the same thing?

No. Think of aloe vera juice as cocoa powder, and aloe vera gel as a chocolate cake that happens to contain cocoa powder, but also contains a lot of other stuff.

Aloe vera juice is a thin liquid that’s visibly indistinguishable from water. That’s what you’ll want to use for any recipes that call for aloe vera juice. You can also make your own aloe vera juice by re-hydrating powdered aloe vera juice.

Aloe vera gel is the sort of thing you buy in a pump bottle at the drug store. It’s often bright green and in addition to aloe contains added colourants, fragrances, preservatives, and pH adjusters. This kind of aloe vera gel isn’t an ingredient that you should be using; because it’s got so much other stuff in it you can’t be sure how it’ll perform, and it likely contains a bunch of stuff that you’re trying to avoid by making your own body products! It’s also got a completely different texture from aloe vera juice (semi solid vs. thin liquid), so that would be a bit like using yogourt instead of milk to make hot cocoa.

You can also get aloe gel/goo straight from the aloe plant, and while this stuff is lovely, I don’t recommend using it in anything that’s not going to be used immediately as it’s highly prone to spoilage and will take your lotion/spray/etc. down to moulds-ville with it.


What can I use instead of water?

In anything that calls for water you can play with the recipe by swapping that water for things that are mostly water. Examples of such ingredients include witch hazel, floral waters, hydrosols, and aloe vera juice (NOT GEL!). All of these things can be utterly lovely in a lotion, toner, or mist!

Do keep in mind, though, that these not-water water-like-ingredients contain delicious bug food (bits of botanical matter) that make our creations harder to preserve. For that reason, I do not recommend a 100% swap. If a lotion calls for 70g of water, try swapping 30g of that for a hydrosol or other not-water-water-swap.

And remember—when water is involved, a broad spectrum preservative is a MUST.


Measurements (14)

How do I use SoapCalc?

I know SoapCalc can be intimidating with all the fields and buttons, so I made a video to walk you through how to use it. It’s simple, I promise!


What is a gram/mL/etc.?

This is the awesome metric system! Check out my awesome two part guide here and here.


Why do you use the metric system?

Well, for the same reason I speak English, really—it’s what I was raised with. But it also makes a lot more sense. I talk about this in more detail here.


Can you convert your recipe into cups/tbsp/tsp/stones/pounds/etc.?

Sorry, but I have published over 800 recipes on this website as of mid-2016 and I would rather write more recipes than go back and do all those conversions.

Also, when you ask me to convert an entire recipe into volume measurements for you, what you’re asking me to do is to go get out all the ingredients, weigh them out, transfer them to a volume measurement, note down that measurement for that ingredient—and then do that for every single ingredient in the recipe. I’m sorry, but I really don’t want to do that! You are basically asking me to re-develop the entire recipe. Not only is it a ton of work, but the results aren’t going to be terribly accurate, especially when we’re dealing with something solid, like chunks of beeswax or cocoa butter. If my chunks are a different size than yours, our measurements are not going to be the same.

In the end, I’d really recommend getting a scale (~$15) and going by weight, it’s awesome! Less dishes, too 🙂 Here’s my guide on what to look for when buying a scale, and here’s a quick how-to video to get you started working in weights!


How can I convert your recipes into cups/tbsp/tsp/oz/stones/etc.?

Hmm. Well… you know how much you weigh, so how many cups are you? That’s kind of the same question.

Some things will convert fairly easily (5g of water = 5mL of water, 1L of water = 4 cups of water, etc.), but weight to volume conversions are not generally very accurate. Try looking online for conversion charts. Just remember that all ingredients have different densities (that old “pound of feathers vs. pound of lead” thing), making weight the more accurate way to measure most ingredients.

When you email me and ask me to convert an entire recipe into volume measurements for you, what you’re asking me to do is to go get out all the ingredients, weigh them out, transfer them to a volume measurement, note down that measurement for that ingredient—and then do that for every single ingredient in the recipe. I’m sorry, but I really don’t want to do that! You are basically asking me to re-develop the entire recipe, and I’d rather develop new ones. Not only is it a ton of work, but the results aren’t going to be terribly accurate, especially when we’re dealing with something solid, like chunks of beeswax or cocoa butter. If my chunks are a different size than yours, our measurements are not going to be the same.

In the end, I’d really recommend getting a scale (~$15) and going by weight, it’s awesome! Less dishes, too 🙂 Here’s my guide on what to look for when buying a scale, and here’s a quick how-to video to get you started working in weights!


How can I convert your recipes from grams to ounces and pounds?

Online converters are awesome. My favourite is typing something like “5g in oz” into Google—it’ll bring up a great little converter widget for you.


How much is a smidgen/dash/pinch/nip and how do I measure them?

I have a handy set of wee measuring spoons for just this purpose. I highly recommend grabbing a set, especially if you’re interested in making cosmetics as the precision is wonderful for developing recipes and achieving that perfect skin tone in your mineral makeup again.

In the set of spoons I have, this is what the cute names (dash, pinch, etc.) translate to:

  • 1 dash = 1/8th teaspoon
  • 1 pinch = 1/16th teaspoon
  • 1 smidgen = 1/32nd teaspoon
  • 1 nip = 1/64th teaspoon

These conversions are not universal! Different sets may use different measurements and different cutesy names, so I would recommend just grabbing the same set I have, or doing your research to be sure you know what each of your wee spoons is scooping 🙂


How do I use your recipes that are written in percents?

Using percents to measure with requires a bit of math, but the bonus is you can choose to make exactly as much of something as you want. Basically you start with the final amount you want to make, and then divide that number by 100. That gives you what 1% is. Then, multiply that up to get the amounts of each ingredient. I usually choose 100g because that means 1%=1g, so the math is super easy (and 100g is a good amount of lotion to make, it’s just under half a cup). So if I needed 20% of something, that would be 20g. If I wanted to make 50g of something, 1% would be 0.5g, so 20% = 10g. 100g is a really nice starting point for lotions, 50g is good for balms as you generally use less of them.

For soap, just use SoapCalc—it has a column that lets you enter the amounts in as percents, and then change the batch size elsewhere. It’s awesome and does all the math for you 🙂 I recommend starting with a 500g batch.


How do I use your recipes that are written in parts?

Parts are basically the opposite of percents, and is based on ratios. You begin by deciding what you want “one part” to be—it can really be anything, just keep it consistent. I like to work in weight, but you can use volume as well if the components of the recipe are all liquids. Before you decide what you want “one part” to be, add up the number of “parts” in a recipe to see how many there are so you don’t accidentally make 2 kilos of lip balm.

So, say a recipe has 50 different “parts”. If you decide 1 part = 1g, you will end up with 50g total product. If the recipe calls for 5 parts beeswax, that’s 5g of beeswax. If it calls for 15 parts of olive oil, that’s 15g. Got it? Yay!


How much does this recipe make?

Simply add up the weights/volumes of all the ingredients to get a total. You can then divide that amount by the size of your container. For example, if a lip balm recipe contains a total of 30g of ingredients, that will make 30g of lip balm. Lip balm containers typically hold 4.5g of lip balm, so 30/4.5= 6.66, meaning you will fill just under 7 lip balm tubes with that recipe. That same 30g recipe would fill one 30g/1oz tin.

A lotion recipe that uses 100g of ingredients will amount to just under 125mL/half a cup of lotion.

For recipes are written in percents the final yield is entirely up to you.

For recipes written in parts the final yield is also entirely up to you.


What should I consider when purchasing a scale?

Good question! Here’s some things to think about/look for:

  • Digital is best
  • Make sure your scale has a tare/zero function for easy weighing
  • Don’t buy anything that measures in increments of less than 1g/0.03oz
  • I have scales that measure down to 0.1g and 0.01g, and those are awesome for things like cosmetics/making two tubes of lip balm to test out a recipe. That level of precision isn’t totally necessary… but it sure is nice!
  • Where does the scale top out/what’s it’s maximum weight? My 0.01g scale tops out at 100g, which makes it useless for making larger batches of anything (remember, that maximum weight includes the weight of the container you’re weighing into), but fantastic for smaller projects. The scale I soap with tops out around 5kg/11lbs and is something like this.
  • How big is the scale, physically? If you’re soaping you’ll need a scale that can handle your soaping pot (the two scales I’ve linked to below cannot).
  • If you plan on doing both big batches of things and teensy batches of things, you might want two scales. They’re pretty inexpensive on Amazon, so it’s an idea 😉

These are the scales I’m currently working with (that I could find on Amazon, at least):

Wondering how to use a scale? I made a quick how-to video 🙂


How do I use a scale?

I’ve made a quick video to walk you through how to use a scale—it’s really easy and means far less dishes when you’re done!

Here’s the items used in the video:


Let’s talk about mini measuring spoons.

Mini measuring spoons are a super useful thing to have; they’re totally necessary when you’re making cosmetics or otherwise dealing with tiny amounts of potent ingredients. They’re also very cute 😉

From right to left; Fox Run's 4-spoon set, NorPro's 5-spoon set, and plastic gram-based scoops (1g, 0.5g, 0.1g, and 0.05g).

From right to left; Fox Run’s 4-spoon set, NorPro’s 5-spoon set, and plastic gram-based scoops (1g, 0.5g, 0.1g, and 0.05g).

You can buy mini measuring spoons based around two different measurement systems:

  • Most are extensions of the teaspoon system and come in amounts like 1/8 tsp, 1/16 tsp, 1/32tsp, and 1/64 tsp. These spoons are usually labelled with cutesy names like “tad”, “dash”, “nip”, “smidgen”, and “drop”. The dash in one spoon set may be different from the dash in another as those are obviously not real measurements. See the chart below for more details.
  • In the DIY world, you’ll often find plastic scoops that use gram measurements; that is, the weight of water each spoon would hold. Those will be labelled with amounts like 0.5g, 0.1g, and 0.05g (or cc; 1g = 1mL = 1cc when we’re talking about water). Most of the powders we work with are significantly lighter than water, so a 0.1g spoon will not weigh 0.1g of pigment or mica. These spoons are the ones you will often see labelled as a “scoop”, “big scoop”, “mini scoop”, etc. in recipes.

The teaspoon based mini measuring spoons are available from kitchen shops and Amazon quite easily, while I’ve only found the gram/cc based mini measuring spoons from online DIY suppliers.

So—what to buy?

These are the sets I’ve tried, and what the cute names translate to in terms of teaspoon measurements, as that is what I use for my recipes. I wrote Make it Up using the Fox Run set, but I ordered the NorPro set to check that one out as well, and it works! I’d recommend choosing the Fox Run or Chef Elite sets as my top picks as each spoon is half the size of the one before it. The 5-piece NorPro set would be my second choice (see the note below the table on 1/8 vs 1/12 tsp). Above all, I definitely recommend choosing a set that is metal—they are much more durable than the plastic gram-based scoops, and they won’t stain.

 Volume 1/4 tsp 1/8 tsp 1/12 tsp 1/16 tsp 1/32 tsp 1/64 tsp
 Weight of water
0.95–1.1g 0.45–0.6g 0.40–0.57g 0.25–0.35g 0.15–0.20g 0.05–0.08g
Fox Run (USA / Canada)
N/A Dash N/A Pinch Smidgen Nip
Chef Elite (USA) Tad Dash N/A Pinch Smidgen Nip
NorPro (USA / Canada)
Tad N/A Dash Pinch Smidgen Drop
Libertyware (USA / Canada) Tad N/A Dash Pinch Smidgen Drop
3-Spoon Set (USA / Canada) N/A Dash Pinch Smidgen N/A N/A
RSVP Mini Measuring Spoons N/A Dash N/A Pinch Smidgen N/A
Gram-based plastic scoops (USA / Canada) N/A N/A Large scoop/ 0.5g/ 0.5cc 2x Medium scoop / 0.2g/ 0.2cc Medium scoop/ 0.1g/ 0.1cc Small scoop/ 0.05g/ 0.05cc

You’ll notice the gram-based set of mini measuring spoons isn’t a perfect match if you compare it to the chart below (for example, 1/64 tsp should be 0.08g, but the gram spoon is just 0.05g), but I have both sets and I’ve checked, and the measurements are equivalent, even if they seem like they shouldn’t be.

1/8 tsp vs. 1/12 tsp: These are two different sizes you’ll encounter that are often labelled as a dash, and even though they are technically different, they are so, so close to one another. I did about ten measurements of each, and the two spoons have a massive amount of overlap when you account for measuring error. 1/8 tsp is technically 0.6g, 1/12 tsp technically 0.42g—that’s a pretty small difference, especially when we are talking pigments and not narcotics. Using water, I measured 1/8 tsp between 0.46–0.6g, and 1/12 tsp between 0.39–0.55g, and for our purposes, that’s pretty darn insignificant. For example, I weighed out 1/8 tsp and 1/12 tsp of sericite mica; 1/8 tsp = ~0.30g, 1/12 tsp = ~0.25g.

So, if you get a set that has a 1/12 tsp instead of a 1/8 tsp:

  • You can use the 1/12 tsp for 1/8 tsp measurements and measure a wee bit generously, and use a 1/4 tsp measure for any multiples
  • You can use two of the 1/16 tsp measures for 1/8 tsp instead
  • You can purchase a separate 1/8 tsp measuring spoon
  • Or, you can just not worry about it as it’s a fairly insignificant difference

How can I check the set I already have?

The best way to do this is by weight, and using the metric system, thanks to the easy 1g of water = 1mL of water conversion. You’ll be dealing with tiny amounts (so you’ll need a scale accurate to 0.01g), and thanks to the miniscus, you’ll get some irksome variation. Wahoo! On the plus side, the measurements are pretty small, so even though you’ll get some variation, it’s generally not enough to worry about.

Using a pipette, fill each spoon, taking care to avoid forming a miniscus (you don’t want an arched bubble top across the top of the spoon), and weigh those contents. You’ll probably get some variation as you won’t be able to get all the water out of the measuring spoon, and it’s easy to get an extra drop or two into the spoon thanks to surface tension. Repeat the measure and weigh thing a few times per spoon so you can get some sort of average. As long as you’re roughly around the numbers in the left-hand column, you’re fine.

Teaspoon volume The weight it should hold
Approximate weight you’ll probably measure
1/8 tsp 0.6g (0.6mL) 0.45–0.6g
1/12 tsp 0.42g (0.42mL) 0.40–0.57g
1/16 tsp 0.3g (0.3mL) 0.25–0.35g
1/32 tsp 0.15g (0.15mL) 0.15–0.20g
1/64 tsp 0.08g (0.08mL) 0.05–0.08g












How do I measure 3/128 tsp?

3/128 tsp = 1.5/64 tsp. So, it’s basically one and half of your 1/64 tsp measure. You won’t be able to do this super-precisely, but the amounts are so, so tiny that if you’re off by a few particles, it won’t make or break a recipe 🙂

You will definitely need a 1/64 tsp measuring spoon for this! Read this post for more information on tiny measuring spoons 🙂


Personal & Website (14)

Why am I getting two emails from you whenever you post something new?

At the beginning of May 2016 I switched my emails from the default, automated ones that WordPress sends out whenever a new post is published, to a service where I can properly build each email, meaning I can include more content and make much nicer looking emails. In order to do this I had to copy my existing email list over to the new email service, but one of the downsides of the old, automated list is that I can’t then remove those emails from it… so everybody will get two until they unsubscribe from the old ones. I cannot unsubscribe you from the old emails, you’ll have to do this yourself (unless you want to keep getting both emails, of course!).

Here’s how to tell them apart.

The New, Awesome Emails

They’ll come from me[at]humblebeeandme.com look something like this:


The Old, Boring Emails

They’ll come from [email protected] and look like this:


These are the emails that you should unsubscribe from. Scroll down to the bottom of any of these emails and you’ll see this (red box added for emphasis):


Click that “unsubscribe” link to remove yourself from the old, boring email list and now you’ll just get the new, shiny emails!

Hey, I’m only getting the old emails!

No worries, you can sign up for the new ones here!


Why can’t I see my comment on your website?

All comments from new commenters must be approved by me before they pop up on the website, and this can take a couple days (or weeks) depending on how busy I am. Have no fear, it’s not lost!

The auto-moderator can also kick in if there’s a few links in your post, or if you’re posting from a new computer, or if you’ve used a word that looks spammy, so sometimes you may find a comment of yours vanishes even though you’ve commented many times before. No worries, if it’s not spam I’ll approve it ASAP 🙂

This is what you’ll see when you comment if your comment requires approval (red box added by me):



Why haven’t you replied to my email/tweet/comment/Facebook message/etc.?

It’s because I’m busy, but I will get back to you. I work and have a social life on top of my blog, and while I do love all you guys and my blog, this is a hobby. I still require money to eat/ pay rent/ buy ingredients and all that good stuff, so my job (and the people I love here in my real life) take priority.

For reference, I generally prioritize correspondence as such:

  1. Comments on the blog and YouTube (Because everybody can read them and reap the benefits, though I don’t necessarily reply to comments in the order they were received). At any given time I usually have over 100 waiting for a reply, so if you end up waiting a week or two… sorry? I have to pay rent and feed my dog and sleep.
  2. Facebook comments and posts
  3. Instagram comments
  4. Tweets
  5. Facebook private messages & emails (private correspondence is at the bottom as only one person benefits from it)

Regarding comments on platforms other than the blog (Instagram and Facebook, I’m looking at you!): they kind of stink. I get a notification the instant the happen, and then they can just vanish into the abyss if I don’t reply immediately (which isn’t always possible). If you have a question about a recipe I’ve shared, please ask that question as a comment on the blog, not on another network.

YouTube comments are also dumb. The comments are organized by the date the parent comment was left, so if you reply to a comment that is a year old, that comment is starting its life out at the bottom of the ocean, and I am probably never going to see it. This makes back-and-forths difficult. Say you leave a comment on the 1st, I reply on the 5th, and you respond to my reply on the 7th. Between the 1st and the 7th there have probably been 50 new comments, so your reply on the 7th is 50 deep. How poorly designed is that!?

For blog comments: I do not reply to them in the order they’re received. I sort of jump into a pool of comments, grab a bunch, and reply to those. I tend to prioritize comments on newer posts as answering those promptly can head off multiples of the same question, and newer posts get more attention. I make time to reply to 10–20 comments a day. Depending on the time of year this can mean you hear from me in a few days or in a few weeks. If your comment is live on the site, it has not been lost or deleted; I simply haven’t gotten to it yet. There’s no need to re-submit it multiple times: I will delete duplicates.

Please know that I have received your email and I will reply when I can. At this point it might take two months. If your question can be posted as a comment on a relevant blog post, I highly recommend that approach instead—you will hear back much faster 🙂


Do you ever teach workshops?

I do, and I love doing it! In the past I’ve taught with Beakerhead and Market Collective here in Calgary, AB. I typically announce my workshops on my Facebook page, so I’d head over there and “like” me if you’re keen 🙂

If you’re in the area and you’d like to chat about running a workshop with me, please get in touch, I’d love to hear from you!


Where do you get the labels you use on your projects?

I buy round Kraft labels from Amazon and write on them with a permanent marker. I’ll use a compass to trace out smaller circles as needed, and I use the leftover sticker bits from the spaces between the rows to make smaller square/rectangular labels.


Do you sell anything you make?

Actually, yes! I just launched in December 2016. The inventory is still quite small, but I’m thrilled to introduce Humblebee Beauty & Skin. I’m currently shipping to the USA and Canada, and I’ve worked it out so both countries ship domestically, so there’s no fuss with customs or the cost of international shipping.

I’d be beyond thrilled if you wanted to check it out 🙂


Do you accept guest blog posts?

Not at this time. Please don’t email me to ask.


I want to make something, can you write me a recipe?

I’m sorry, but I really don’t have time to develop recipes for individuals. It’s time consuming, and when I take the time to develop a recipe it becomes a blog post for everybody to enjoy. You are welcome to submit a recipe request, though 🙂


Why did I receive a comment reply notification email, but there’s no comment reply on the site?

This is a result of the best workaround I have for a bothersome little problem.

In order to insure I’ve replied to every single comment left on my blog, I’ve installed a WordPress plug-in that puts all comments that have not received a reply from me in a queue. No matter how old a post is or how old a comment is, if I have not replied to it, it sits in this queue until I reply.

Normally, this is a pretty awesome thing as it means everybody who asks me question or leaves a comment gets a reply from me—nothing can fall through the cracks (to date I’ve replied to over 12,000 comments—I take comment replies seriously!). There is, however, one case where this plug in is less than awesome.

That is the case in which a comment does not require a reply from me. This usually happens if a reader directs a comment at another reader—in situations like this, if I cannot answer the question, I will reply with a single period/full stop or a smiley face, and then promptly delete the comment. This fools the plug in into thinking I’ve replied (and removes the not-directed-at-me comment from my reply queue) without bogging down the comment thread with some useless interjection from me. This can also happen if I’ve already been going back and forth with a reader and they’ve replied with a “Thanks!” or something similarly brief that doesn’t require a follow-up remark from me.

In situations like this, if you’ve checked the “notify me of a reply” box, you will get an email, but when you check the website, there will be nothing there. Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do about this. There is no way to mark a comment with “reply not needed” to remove it from the queue. If you find this to be a massive bother and would like to hire a developer to remedy this flaw in the plug-in, please get in touch! Otherwise, I hope you can appreciate that this plug-in is the thing that ensures you will always get an answer from me when you comment on my blog, and can accept these silly little emails as the small inconvenience they are rather than potentially never getting a reply to your queries.


What kind of recipes will not appear on Humblebee & Me?

Nothing that is medical—this includes sunscreen, skin lightening creams, and anything that is supposed to treat anything like psoriasis. I’m happy to create concoctions that you may find useful for conditions like psoriasis, but I am certainly not going to claim that I’m treating or curing it.

I’m also not going to make anything to go on anybody’s genitals, be it washes or lightening creams or whatever (yes, many people have asked!).


What type of education do you have for DIY?

Everything I know about DIY skin care and cosmetics I’ve learned through years of doing, trial-and-error, obsessive experimentation, and research. I have taken no formal courses specific to DIY (my degree is in graphic design). If you peruse the older posts on this blog you can definitely see how much I’ve learned over the years!

Here are some of my favourite resources for learning more:

If you are looking to take a formal course, the ones offered by Formula Botanica look good, though I haven’t taken any so I can’t speak from experience.


Can you make me just one or two of these and sell it to me so I can see if I like the recipe?


I have a store over at Humblebee Beauty & Skin, and that store contains the sum total of everything you can purchase from me. Yes, the selection is small—that’s because selling stuff is nowhere near as easy as just whipping up a batch, popping it in a container, and sending it off to a stranger in the post. Here’s a brief overview of things I have to do (or do differently) before considering selling things.

  • Submit my formulas to Health Canada and keep those up to date for every single product I sell; this is required by Health Canada and by my insurance.
  • Carefully test all products over the period of at least a year to ensure they are suitable for sale. I definitely do not do this for everything I share on the blog! If I did, this blog would definitely not be free, and it would be impossible to publish twice a week.
  • Source and test suitable packaging for every item that matches my brand standards and stands up to the intended use.
  • Design labels and have them professionally printed.
  • Track batch numbers of all my ingredients
  • Track batch numbers of all my products
  • I purchase separate ingredients for everything I sell so I can guarantee there hasn’t been any cross-contamination (that’s a liability), so if I don’t already sell that product, I would have to go out and purchase brand new bottles of every single ingredient to make you two of something… and that’s something you’ve told me you only want to buy from me once, and then you’re going to start making it yourself if you like it! That’s a pretty terrible investment for me.
  • I don’t sell anything that requires a broad spectrum preservative at this point as my insurance does not cover fungal exposure and I do not want to personally shoulder that liability.


I’d like to feature your recipes on my blog—can I? How should I?

Yes! I would love to be featured on your website, assuming your website is G-rated and focusses on DIY, natural/handmade skin care, or other related topics.

To feature a recipe, you are welcome to use a single photo from the relevant post (please leave the watermark), add some of your own teaser copy, and then link to Humblebee & Me for the recipe.

So, something like this is awesome:

How to Make Lemon Basil Soap

Lemon Basil Soap

Love basil? Have a hankering for Italian? This cold-processed soap recipe from Humblebee & Me features fresh, home-grown basil to create a fun layered pattern. It’s great for novice soap makers. Grab the recipe here!

It is 100% not ok to re-print a recipe, or list all of the ingredients and the required quantities. Basically, if somebody could look at your website and make the recipe without visiting mine, that’s not ok. Even with a credit link, this sort of feature leads to next to no click-through, so people never find Humblebee & Me. I’ve tried this with a large blog before and they sent me 2 visitors in a year+ period, despite the post being very popular on their website. It’s simply not worth it for me—at that point the recipe might as well be outright stolen 🙁


Safety (7)

What precautions should I take when working with fine powders?

We work with lots of fine powders when we’re DIYing up a storm—clay, oxides, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, arrowroot starch, and more. They’re all light, fluffy, and can be easily inhaled, and we should take steps to avoid doing that as this can be a cancer risk.

When blending powders in your DIY specific coffee grinder I recommend leaving it capped for a minute or two after you’ve shut the motor off to let the powder settle down a bit. I also recommend getting yourself a dust mask for such projects to further minimize the risk of inhaling powders.

What about final products? You obviously don’t want to wear a dust mask every time you apply eyeshadow.

  • Many products have the powder totally wetted out/weighted down, like in soaps and lipsticks. There’s no inhalation concern here, so no worries.
  • Products that stay powdery will call for a few drops of a liquid oil. This is to help weigh the powder down so it doesn’t “pouf” up much when used. Don’t eliminate the liquid oil!
  • Do not make lines of your powdery concoctions and inhale them like they do in the movies (albeit with different powdery concoctions)


I have read some terrible things about titanium dioxide and I don’t want to use it. Now what?

Titanium dioxide is a light, fluffy, white powder (500g is approximately a cubic liter of the loose powder). It appears in a lot of recipes because it is responsible for brightness and opacity. As you can probably guess, it’s a wonderfully versatile ingredient. In soap, it works beautifully to whiten and brighten bars. In face powders, blushes, and eye shadows it gives you a bright, opaque base to build other colours on top of—it is the canvas for your concealers, your tone eveners, and whatever else you like. It is the “white-out” of cosmetics.

When it comes to safety, I’m always glad when you’re doing your research into your ingredients! I’ve done lots, too, and I feel ok about using titanium dioxide.

For starters, the study that associates cancer with titanium dioxide was done in rats, and was with high-dose exposure to ultrafine titanium dioxide. These circumstances are not the ones we use titanium dioxide in at home! From the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety:

With such widespread use of titanium dioxide, it is important to understand that the IARC conclusions are based on very specific evidence. This evidence showed that high concentrations of pigment-grade (powdered) and ultrafine titanium dioxide dust caused respiratory tract cancer in rats exposed by inhalation and intratracheal instillation*. The series of biological events or steps that produce the rat lung cancers (e.g. particle deposition, impaired lung clearance, cell injury, fibrosis, mutations and ultimately cancer) have also been seen in people working in dusty environments. Therefore, the observations of cancer in animals were considered, by IARC, as relevant to people doing jobs with exposures to titanium dioxide dust. For example, titanium dioxide production workers may be exposed to high dust concentrations during packing, milling, site cleaning and maintenance, if there are insufficient dust control measures in place. However, it should be noted that the human studies conducted so far do not suggest an association between occupational exposure to titanium dioxide and an increased risk for cancer.

Here’s a few extra points:

  • It gets a 1–3 on The EWG’s Skin Deep database. That’s actually really good, in line with many of the carrier oils we use.
  • The higher rating (still just a 3/10) is for applications where a lot of it is inhaled. This risk can be mitigated by using dust masks and ensuring the final products are “weighed down”, as discussed here. To me, this is like wearing oven mitts when taking a hot tray out of the oven.
  • Micronized titanium dioxide is much more of a risk when it comes to trans-dermal concerns, and none of my recipes will ever call for micronized titanium dioxide.
  • Many fine powders are hazardous if inhaled (clay, silica), and many more things are bad for you if they end up in your lungs (water!). This doesn’t mean they are unsafe in all applications.

In most cases, titanium dioxide cannot be easily replaced. Zinc oxide works in some applications (like soap), but not all—especially not cosmetics! Readers have tried it and reported awful results.


What kind of container should I put this in?

When it comes to storing your concoctions, there are three big options for containers:

  1. Glass
  2. Metal
  3. Plastic

Here’s a quick overview of their strengths and weaknesses, and why you might choose one over the other.


Non-porous, does not corrode, available in lots of different shapes & sizes, pretty, looks pretty classy.

Quite breakable, and the broken pieces can easily puncture skin; light permeable; heavy.

Best For
Most concoctions, but especially concoctions with high concentrations of essential oils or extreme pH’s.

Avoid with
Anything that will be used in the bath or shower due to shattering + bare feet risk.


Strong, looks great, tins can dent rather than break, opaque

Some metals can leech into concoctions, especially ones with high concentrations of essential oils or extreme pH’s; denting can be unattractive; metal can rust.

Best For
Great for oil based concoctions.

Avoid with
Not recommended for lotions as the water can trigger rust.


Hard to break; inexpensive; available in a huge variety of shapes, sizes, colours, opacities; lightweight.

Plastic can can corrode and leech into concoctions, especially ones with high concentrations of essential oils or extreme pH’s.

Best For
Good for anything to be used around the shower, great for lip balm tubes, good for lotions and body butters. Good for most things, really.

Avoid with
Anything with high concentrations of essential oils or extreme pH’s.


Can I use this during pregnancy/on my new baby/for my cancer/etc.?

I am not a doctor, and as such I refuse to give advice about anything to do with this. Please consult a real doctor and not a stranger on the internet 🙂

This goes for all medical type advice, really.


Let’s talk about essential oil concentrations.

Depending on the recipe, you’ll see different recipes use different concentrations (or percentages) of essential oils.

Recommendations on these percentages vary from source to source, but generally fall between 2–5%. Lower concentrations are generally recommended for children, infants, pregnant/breastfeeding women, and the elderly; generally from 1% all the way down to none.

However, it’s important to remember that the 2–5% number is really a very broad generalization. You can easily purchase 150+ different essential oils, and just like the plants they are derived from, these essential oils vary wildly. Think of essential oils a bit like the herbs and spices you cook with. A dish that is 5% cayenne pepper will be very different from a dish that is 5% basil.

Lavender and tea tree essential oil are often cited as being safe for “neat” (straight, undiluted) application—that’s 100% concentration. While I wouldn’t recommend doing that, people clearly do and there are no reports of loss of limb or life from doing so (though sensitization [developing an adverse reaction to something from exposure] can and does happen).

On the other end of the spectrum, some essential oils are crazy irritating, even in very small doses. Honey myrtle (Melaleuca teretifolia, a relative of tea tree essential oil) is one such essential oil. I added a couple drops to my bandits blend and then tried diffusing a few drops of the blend in my house. Within minutes my eyes were burning from across the room—from what might have been a drop of honey myrtle essential oil diffused throughout an entire room. That, obviously, is well below the 2–5% recommended “safe use” and was still intolerable.

The Government of Canada publishes and maintains a Hot List of prohibited and restricted ingredients for use in cosmetics. The banned list only contains two essential oils, neither of which I’ve ever seen for sale. The restricted list contains a few essential oils, including Eucalyptus essential oil, which must be used at concentrations of not more than 25%—substantially more than that “safe” range. Feel free to peruse the list yourself—it’s quite an interesting read (human placenta is on it…).

When we use essential oils we generally use them for scent/aromatherapy benefits, or for physical effects (and sometimes both, though one is usually more important than the other). Examples of use for scent include lotion, lip balm, and body butters. Examples of use for physical effects would be things like tingly foot rubs, tiger balm, and cramp salves.

When adding essential oils for scent, and to “taste” (of your nose, haha), I find it’s hard to surpass the “safe” range. You’ll find your product smells plenty strong enough well before your surpass 5%. Assuming 20 drops = ~1 gram (a rough approximation), that means you’d want to use 20–50 drops of essential oil in a 50g batch of lip balm to be within that 2–5% “safe zone”.

When using essential oils for a physical effect, we’re generally talking about a warming (cassia, chili seed), cooling (peppermint, menthol), or clearing (eucalyptus, camphor) effect, or some combination of the three. I have found that 5%> concentrations simply do not deliver these physical effects to the desired level. I’ve made tiger balm with essential oil concentrations from 30–50%, and the 30% stuff produces a very, very weak effect.  A 50% concentration delivers the kick that you’d get from the shop-bought stuff, which leads one to assume the shop-bought (and government regulated) stuff contains a concentration of essential oils somewhere around 50%. The same can be said for shop-bought menthol muscle rubs. So, you will find that many of my “physical effect” essential oil recipes feature concentrations of essential oils well above 5%. This is why they work. I test them on myself, and never publish anything I find to be uncomfortably irritating. I also don’t recommend using these recipes while pregnant, or on children. All that said, these “physical effect” recipes use a fairly small selection of essential oils that are commonly found in shop-bought high concentration products—we’re generally talking about menthol, peppermint, chili seed, cassia, cajeput, and camphor. You won’t find recipes from me that are 10% Honey Myrtle essential oil, that’s for certain.

So… where does that leave us? You may want to do some of your own research. You are certainly more than welcome to reduce essential oil concentrations in recipes to suit your comfort level. However, if you’d like to keep all your essential oil use under 5%, I’d recommend staying away from the “physical effect” category of recipes—you’ll be wasting your ingredients.


Is _____________ ingredient safe?

This is a super broad question, with a frustratingly wide array of answers.

Some ingredients we can pop fairly safely in the “no” category—things like asbestos or agent orange.

For everything else, the answer is “it depends”. Yes, everything—even water can be dangerous if it’s in your lungs or you drink far too much of it! Remember that natural ingredients can be toxic, too (hemlock, poison ivy, nightshade, and even mistletoe!). Natural is not an indicator of safety!

The first thing you should consider is dose; how much of said ingredient are you using? Ibuprofen is considered a very safe medication, but if you take too much you can damage your stomach and intestines. The dose makes the poison.

The second thing you should consider is usage. Titanium dioxide (and many other fine powders) are perfectly safe as long as you don’t inhale them. Tea tree oil is toxic if consumed. Citrus essential oils are phototoxic in leave-on products. Water is safe to drink, but not to inhale. Anyhow, you get the idea, but do your research and ensure you are using the ingredient safely—something that is perfectly safe for topical application may become dangerous if inhaled or ingested, but that does not mean that the ingredient is inherently unsafe.

The third factor to consider is your personal sensitivities. Are you allergic to nuts? If so, it should go without saying that you should avoid all nut products, even though they are perfectly harmless to anybody without nut allergies. The same philosophy applies to all ingredient sensitivities; some people find Sodium lauryl sulfate to be very irritating, while many people do not. Some readers have told me they’re allergic to vitamin C, that doesn’t mean vitamin C is bad for everybody!

All that said, some ingredients are certainly more dangerous than others if used improperly. They might have a much narrower margin of dosing error, making it easy to use too much (think morphine vs. water; one has a far smaller margin of error than the other!). Some have much scarier side effects than others (endocrine disruption, carcinogen, etc.). Some are well documented irritants/health hazards and would be best avoided regardless of does or safe usage rates (parabens come to mind).

In the end, I’d recommend doing proper, science-backed research and deciding what you’re ok with. The EWG’s Skin Deep database is a good place to start; they bring together health ratings and warnings from organizations like Environment Canada, the FDA, and PubMed to help you get an idea of any potential hazards and usage considerations. Don’t just look at their number ratings, go in and read up on the ingredient. Sometimes it gets a good rating because there’s almost no data on it. Sometimes it gets a low rating but is still listed as “Classified as expected to be toxic or harmful”. Also, read the MSDS sheets for your ingredients; any reputable supplier should provide these for everything they sell. They will include all potential hazards, safety precautions, and how you should deal with any accidents.

I suppose the general gist of this is “think critically, do research, and make your own decisions.” I hear from some readers who won’t make anything with water in it because they refuse to deal with any preservatives, and that’s fine. I hear from some who are really enjoying playing with synthetic ingredients, and that’s fine, too. This is you, your body, and your hobby.


Why do you no longer recommend baking soda or other high pH cleansers?

Good question! Baking soda and other high pH cleansers like traditional soaps (castile, cold processed, hot processed, etc.) are frequently recommended on all kinds of natural/DIY skin care blogs, and on Pinterest you’re never more than five pins away from a baking soda scrub that promises to solve all of your skin problems—and these frequent recommendations are the entire reason I ever started using baking soda on my face—so I realize this is a bit of an odd stance to take in this “space”.

However, I’ve been doing lots of research, and it turns out that using basic (or high pH) substances (like soap and baking soda) on your skin (and especially your face) is really, really not good for your skin in the does-damage-over-time kind of way. Eek!

Our skin has a protective acid mantle that forms in the days and weeks after we are born (source, source). This acid mantle has a pH around 4.5–5.5 (it fluctuates with age, gender, and skin tone [source]), and that’s where our skin does best. Our acid mantle is a huge part of what keeps our skin effortlessly happy: “In the last decade it has been demonstrated that skin pH largely influences barrier homeostasis, stratum corneum integrity and cohesion, and antimicrobial defense mechanisms” (source). A healthy acid mantle means your skin naturally protects itself from gross stuff like bacteria, fungi, pollution, and drying out. When you repeatedly assault that acid mantle with products that have a drastically different pH, you start to destroy that natural protective layer and alter the pH of your skin (source).

When our acid mantle is unhappy, so is our skin. Your defenses are down and your skin is left open to inflammation, infection, dehydration, acne, general sensitivity, and a bunch of stuff that’s definitely on your oh dear heavens no to-don’t list for your skin.

Now, your skin will mostly correct its pH within 2–6 hours, so the odd exposure to a high pH substance isn’t the end of the world. However, “Small and sustained pH increases, like those caused by daily use of soap-based cleansers multiple times a day, adversely influence the barrier repair mechanism (source).” This fascinating study looked at two groups of subjects: one group washed with alkaline soap over four weeks, and the other washed with acidic syndet bars for four weeks. Both groups noticed a significant bump in skin pH directly after washing, but this was mostly resolved within two hours. However, over time, those using the acidic syndet maintained a stable or slightly declined pH, while those who used soap noticed an increase. “There are long-lasting effects with as few as two washing procedures of 1 minute each a day… according to a randomized open crossover trial, skin surface pH increases on the regular use of a conventional soap and decreases again after the change to an acidic cleanser (of pH 5.5) and vice versa… Hence there is amply evidence that there is both a short-term and a long-term effect on skin surface pH if a cleanser is used whose pH deviates from the pH of the skin surface to which it is applied. In keeping with this hypothesis, so-called natural cleansers [like cold process soap] are by no means neutral in a biologic sense (source)”.

These results were duplicated using two syndet bars to see if perhaps it was the soap, and not the pH that was the issue. One syndet bar had a pH of 8.5, while the other had a pH of 5.5. The participants using the pH 8.5 bars had a significant increase in propionibacteria population. “The results suggested that even minor differences—in the order of a single pH unit—in skin surface pH markedly influence the resident flora, in particular propionibacteria (source).” They went on to study soap vs. acidic syndet in acne-prone individuals over 4 weeks: those using soap experienced an increase in acne and irritation, while those using the syndet bar experienced a decrease in acne and significantly less irritation. Another study demonstrated “that high-pH
solutions even in the absence of surfactants increase stratum corneum swelling and lipid rigidity (source),” so we do know that it’s the pH, and not the soap that causes issues.

Because infants are born without an acid mantle and gradually acquire one over the first month or so of life, they’re great little case studies on life without an acid mantle. “Elevated pH is known to increase activity of serine proteases, kallikrein 5 and 7, which are involved in desquamation and degradation of corneodesmosomes” (source)—basically, when your skin pH is higher than it should be, you start to see your skin dry out as its barrier function degrades. “Additionally, key enzymes involved in the synthesis of the permeability barrier, β-glucocerebrosidase and acidic sphingomyelinase, which require an acidic pH are not fully activated in the newborn period resulting in decreased skin hydration (source)”. So, babies are prone to dry, easily irritated skin because their acid mantle hasn’t developed yet.

Skin pH: From Basic Science to Basic Skin Care discusses how several enzymes that are essential to the barrier performance (and barrier regeneration) of our skin are pH dependent. “Two key lipid-processing enzymes, β-glucocerebrosidase and acidic sphingomyelinase have pH optima of 5.6 and 4.5, respectively. Both are involved in the synthesis of ceramides, critical components of the permeability barrier. Activity of β-glucocererbrosidase is 10 times lower in situ at pH 7.4 than at pH 5.5.” If the pH of your skin is higher than it should be, the ability of your skin to protect itself drops significantly. “Studies have shown that elevations of pH in normal skin creates a disturbed barrier, linked to increased activity of serine proteases and reduced activities of ceramide-generating enzymes (source).”

Messing with the pH of your skin also throws off its microbiome—that is, it makes the good bacteria unhappy, and rolls out the welcome mat for the types of bacteria and fungus that causes problems. For instance, sweat contains Dermicidin, an antimicrobial peptide. In sweat it has been shown to have a bacteriocidal effect over 90% at a pH of 5.5, but that effect dropped to 60% in a pH of 6.5 (source).” That’s an efficacy drop of over 30% with a pH change of just 1! Having a higher than optimal skin pH means the bacteria in your sweat can more easily thrive, which means more body odor. Neat, eh?

We briefly looked at how a higher skin pH can cause propionibacteria to grow, so let’s look at that a bit more. There are three different types of propionibacteria that camp out on our skin: propionibacteria acnes (acne causing!), propionibacteria avidum, and propionibacteria granulosum. P. acnes (which causes acne!) is the most prominent. “While P.acnes grows very well at pH values such as 6.0 and 6.5, this is not the case at a pH of 5.5… a pH of 6.0 clearly promotes propionibacteria growth, while the opposite applies to pH values of 5.5 and 5.0.” (Source)

“Repeated washings with soap led to increased [propionibacteria] bacterial counts, after changing to the acidic syndet, counts decreased again. Moreover, there was a correlation between the skin pH and density of both bacterial species at the forehead. These observations indicate that (i) repeated washings with either soap or acidic syndet produce long-term changes in skin pH; (ii) different bacterial species forming the resident flora can be influenced differently in the long run by the type of skin cleanser.” (Source) Given the increase in propionibacteria bacterial counts in the group using the soap bar, we can conclude that their skin pH must’ve elevated to at least 6.0, while those using the sydet bar maintained a pH of 5.5 or lower. “In contrast to alkaline soap, [synthetic detergents with a pH of 5.5 or below] do not interfere with the cutaneous microflora, whose composition is linked to the skin surface pH.” (Source)

Now, let’s talk about the acid mantle in relation to pH: “The key to the bilayer formation and water-retaining capcity of the epidermal lipids is the pH of the system. Only if the pH is adjusted to that of normal skin (pH 5.5) are bilayers of these lips formed which are essential for the prevention of skin dryness and roughness… on the basis of these data, it may be suggested that individuals with sensitive skin such as atopics should preferably not use alkaline soaps.” (Source) Basically, the ability of our acid mantle to exist and do things like keep your skin smooth and hydrated relies on the pH of the skin being around 5.5 or lower. So, even if you’re not fussed about acne, there’s still plenty of reason to care! Studies have shown that people suffering from eczema, itchy skin, dry skin, ichthyosis vulgaris, Candidal intertrigo, irritant contact dermatitis, and athlete’s foot all have higher skin pH in the affected areas (source). Of course having a higher skin pH doesn’t mean one will get any of these conditions, just like walking about topless doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up with sunburned nipples—but in the event of exposure, one is much more susceptible!  “Indeed, a large proportion of the general population—those with a polar constitution of the skin surface that is either seborrheic or sebostatic skin—might profit from the regular use of an acidic cleanser, and there is no reason to believe that it might be disadvantageous in the rest.” (Source)

You can learn even more from F.C. over at his wonderful Simple Skincare Science blog. His post on the importance of the pH of our skin care products is incredibly comprehensive and informative, and worth every second it takes to read.

Some soap makers say that using acidic cleansers is a fad and unnecessary because the pH of your skin will revert to pre-wash levels within about 6 hours (source). Setting aside the fact that these assertions come from people who make their living selling soap, which makes them a touch biased, the evidence shows that this isn’t completely true as pH changes do accumulate over time with frequent washings (source). The key here seems to be the frequency. This study (which was sponsored by Kao Corporation, a company that used to be known as the Kao Soap Company and now owns brands like Biore… so a study sponsored by a company that sells both soap and syndet products found that both soap and syndet are appropriate cleansers…) looked at people who routinely used soap on their body vs. those who used syndets, and found little difference in the pH of their forearms. The studies showing long term pH change looked at washing twice a day, which one typically does not do to their arms. The arm study was not particularly comprehensive, either; they looked at 43 individuals who self-reported that they’d either used exclusively soap or exclusively acidic sydets over the past five years (and self-reporting is notoriously unreliable). The pH of their skin was then measured over the course of one day; once before washing, and then at 0h, 1h, 3h, and 6h after washing with their preferred soap or syndet. The study states that “By 3 h following washing, there were not any significant differences between any of the user groups at any measured time.”, but if one looks at the included chart those differences were typically at least 1 pH, and we’ve already looked at how a difference that small can mean the difference between the proliferation of p. acnes and a substantial decrease in the performance of naturally occurring antibacterials, so I don’t agree with their definition of “significant”.

This excerpt from this informative post explains why while your skin will strive to correct its pH, that doesn’t mean you should ignore the pH of your facial cleansers. “It literally takes a split second for an alkaline product to degrade the skin barrier enough for an irritant or damaging detergent to penetrate. Some people can handle this better then others, but long term daily use on the skin can contribute to long term issues on all skin types. As skin ages, or the barrier function degrades, it has more difficultly dealing with this type of stress. Even after 20 min or so, when the skin re-adjusts to its more normal pH (4.5 to 5.5) – it is already damaged, irritated and stressed. The damage recovery involves longer term healing. 14 to 17 days for acid mantle repair.” (Source)

Long story short—alkaline facial cleansers are out on Humblebee & Me. I won’t take down the pre-existing recipes, but I won’t be publishing any new ones ’cause I don’t want to encourage any kind of acid mantle disrupting silliness! Instead I’ll be focusing on gentle, pH balanced cleansers. I’ve been doing this personally for a couple months and I can’t believe how much happier my face is!

From what I can figure, this research doesn’t mean there are no uses for baking soda or soap in your DIY routine. In applications where baking soda is reacted with an acid (like bath bombs), it’s not an issue, nor is it an issue when a small amount is added to a huge amount of water, like in an occasional bath soak. I’m also happy to continue using soap on my body given the infrequency of use (though I am giving more acidic hand washes a go as I wash my hands more than anything). I may change my mind on this with more research, though!


Soap (7)

Can I use pre-made liquid castile soap instead of the liquid soap paste in your recipes?

Kind of, but there are better options.

Using a shop bought liquid soap like Dr. Bronner’s in place of liquid soap paste you make yourself is sort of like using a store bought cake instead of baking your own. You have no control over the ingredients, or how it was baked. You can decorate it however you like, but you can’t change the core ingredients, and you can’t change the dilution level. So, this will really only work for projects where we’d be diluting the liquid soap paste to the same consistency as the liquid soap you have on hand—soap paste based cleansing balms and recipes that call for a cream soap paste are out of the question. If you are using pre-diluted liquid soap in a recipe that calls for liquid soap paste, eliminate the soaking step and do not add any extra water.

A better option is to use a purchased liquid soap paste. Brambleberry has one that looks great (their high sudsing one also looks great!), and it’s much more cost effective than Dr. Bronner’s. You get 2lbs (0.9kg) of undiluted paste for the same price as 2lbs of pre-diluted Dr. Bronner’s. According to Brambleberry, 2lbs of liquid soap paste can make 7–8lbs of diluted soap, so that means you’d get up to 4x as much liquid soap out of that paste, meaning it’s a quarter of the cost! And, since it’s still a paste, you can use it in any recipes that call for liquid soap paste that don’t include dilution. You still cannot use it for recipes that call for cream soap paste as that is an entirely different thing (sort of like pancakes vs. Devil’s food cake… both have “cake” in the name and use flour, but after that the process and ingredients vary quite a lot!).

When purchasing liquid soap paste, make sure it’s just liquid soap (just saponified oils), and not liquid detergent, or a hybrid of soap and detergent (saponified oils + surfactants).


What can I use instead of tallow or lard in soap?

I wrote an entire article on this! You can read it here.


How can I make soap without using lye?

You can’t, and I wrote an entire article on why—you can read it here.


What is superfatting/lye discounting?

Every fat requires a certain amount of lye to turn it into soap. For example, 500g of olive oil requires 67.7g of lye, whereas 500g of lard requires 70.5g of lye.

When you are making soap the idea is to always use more fat than the lye can convert into soap. This prevents the presence of any excess lye in the finished bar, which means it will be a nice, gentle bar, and will not be irritating.

A 5% superfat is fairly standard (you don’t want to go much higher than 10% or the bar will be very soft and can go rancid). 5% superfat is not an ingredient, it’s part of how you calculate the recipe—the lye calculator you use will have an area asking what superfat percentage you want to calculate at. Put the number “5” in that input box for a 5% superfat.

With a 5% superfat, you would only use 64.3g of lye for 500g of olive oil instead of 67.7g. That means 5% of that 500g of olive oil will not be turned into soap, giving you a bar of soap that is 475g of saponified olive oil with 25g of leftover olive oil mixed into the bar to moisturize your skin and work as a buffer against any errors in measuring the lye.


How dangerous is lye?

This originally started as a video, and while many people said they agreed with what I was saying, and several people took the time to calmly and respectfully disagree, there was a handful of people who started attacking me over it. I wanted to have a discussion, not be attacked. So, down went the video. I still think the overall point I was trying to make is valid, though, so I wanted to write it out here:

Lye has the potential to be very damaging, but I would like to contextualize that within your day-to-day life and dangers you regularly face. A lot of the reading you’ll do on NaOH/KOH will have to thinking it is the most dangerous thing you’ve ever handled by a factor of 10, which will likely make you very afraid of it, and nervous whenever you handle it. When you’re afraid and nervous you don’t work very well. Your hands might shake. You might be more likely to freak out if you think something might be going wrong, compounding the problem. I would like to argue that you do not need to be afraid of lye. You need to respect it.

I would like to draw a parallel between a concentrated lye solution and boiling water. Both have the potential to do a lot of damage to you. I’m quite familiar with the boiling water side of this as I once sustained a second degree burn on my stomach from a cup of just-brewed tea. It’s no laughing matter. Photos I’ve seen of serious lye injuries look a lot like my scalding burn. Multiple layers of skin instantaneously blasted away, leaving the remaining skin raw and seriously damaged. OUCH.

Both boiling water and concentrated lye solutions are dangerous and should be respected and treated with care. However, when most people handle boiling water they are not afraid of it. They are well aware that they should not stick their hands in it, and should take great care to avoid spills, but they are not so terrified of it that they have adrenaline coursing through their veins whenever they have to work with it. Treat lye water with the same level of respect you’d treat boiling water, and you will be ok. Be calm, be careful, but do not get so worked up with fear that you’re quaking in your boots.

If you think treating lye water with the same level of respect that you’d give boiling water is encouraging lax lye safety… I don’t know what to say to that. I suppose I would encourage you to treat boiling water with more respect if that’s the case.

The concentrated lye water stage is the most dangerous part of making soap. This is the stage where you should be wearing gloves, eye protection, and perhaps an apron—especially if you are new to soap making. This is because this is the stage where you will sustain the most damage if anything goes very wrong. Start with all the protective equipment, familiarize yourself with the process, and don’t be an idiot. But also don’t be terrified.

Once the lye water has been blended into your fats, the danger factor goes down significantly. This is because the lye is now diluted in a bunch of oils and fats. As with all things, the dose makes the poison. Raw soap batter is nowhere near as dangerous as a concentrated lye solution because it is nowhere near as concentrated. Is it still very basic and caustic? Yes. But we are not in “instantly blasting off your skin” territory anymore. If soap batter ends up on your skin, you will likely not even notice for a few minutes. When you do, it’ll itch, you’ll wash it off with water, and that’s that. Side note: don’t use vinegar for this; it’ll react with the lye and cause extra damage. Just use lots of water.

In the comments on my original video, many experienced soap makers stated that they no longer wear gloves for this raw soap batter stage as they find gloves negatively impact their grip and made them more likely to slip or spill. They also all stated that this was a personal choice for them. I usually don’t wear gloves for this stage anymore, either, but that is definitely a personal choice borne from my experience with contact with raw soap batter. If given the choice of having an accident with one or the other, I would choose diluted raw soap batter over boiling water any day. Many other soapers said they still wear gloves all the way through because they prefer gloves to the raw soap itch, or because they’re particularly klutzy or messy. When you have years of experience behind making this call, I say go for it. This is you. Your body. Your hands. Your risk assessment. In my personal experience, the risk at this stage is fairly low, especially if you are being careful.

In the end, it is best for you to wear safety gear, for those just in case moments. Especially goggles. Your eyes are much harder to wash than your arms, and they don’t heal up nearly as well. However, I don’t want you to be afraid of lye. I want you to respect it. Fear is not productive or conducive to good decision making. Fear leads to the jitters, and jitters lead to spills. Don’t be afraid. Be respectful. Ensure your working area is clear of tiny intruders (aka children & pets). Don’t be an idiot. But don’t be terrified, either.


How long should I age my cold processed soap?

We age soap to give the water content in it a chance to evaporate off, giving us a harder bar that doesn’t immediately turn to soap slime when it gets wet in our shower or soap dish. The longer you age a bar, the more water will evaporate, and the harder a bar will be. In really long-aged bars you’ll often notice the surface is a bit concave as the soap visually contracts from water loss.

As soap ages you’ll reach a point of diminishing returns. You’ll notice substantial differences in hardness over the first couple days of aging, but after a bar is a couple months or years old, those differences will be extremely subtle.

The typically suggested period of time for aging a bar of soap is three weeks, and this is what all of my soap recipes are based around unless otherwise noted on an individual recipe. However, aging time can be influenced by a couple big factors:

  • The recipe. If your recipe uses a lot of soft/liquid oils, your soap will need a longer aging time (I’ve read 5 years for 100% olive oil soap). If your recipe uses a lot of hard oils (tallow, palm, lard), you may be able to age those bars for less time.
  • The environment. If you live somewhere very dry your bars will obvious age much faster than if you live somewhere very humid.

Something else to keep in mind is that as soap ages, other things can change as well. If you used essential oils to scent your soap, those will fade. If you used botanicals to colour your soap, those can oxidize and change colour, or fade. If you age soap for a very long time it will shrink, and decrease in weight. Things that do not change through aging are lather or how gentle or harsh the soap may be on the skin—those things are determined by the recipe, and once saponification is done, you won’t see any significant changes through aging.


My soap is drying out my skin—what am I doing wrong?

Honestly, you’re probably doing nothing wrong, other than perhaps having expectations for your soap that are a bit too high.

To start with, let’s look at how soap cleans, because that’s the crux of matter. Soap is made up of double-ended molecules; one end loves water, and the other end loves oil. The water loving end bonds with the water you’re washing with, and the oil loving end grabs the oils on your skin. When you rinse, the water loving end hitches a ride, taking the oil-loving end and the oil it’s scavenged up with it.

So, basically, soap cleanses by removing oil from your skin. This is how all surfactant/emulsifier powered cleansers work, but bar soap is unique in that its very concentrated and by definition has a very high pH. Because soap removes oil there is no way for this to not be at least a little drying to the skin. For this reason the idea of “moisturizing” soap has always been a bit baffling to me; the core function of soap is the opposite of moisturizing—it removes moisture. We can make gentle(r) soaps, but all they can really do is remove less oil. They will not be adding it. Fundamentally, soap is still soap, and if it’s working, it is removing moisture from your skin. If you have dry skin and/or live in a dry environment and wash frequently, you will need to be following up with something else to add moisture back into your skin. Soap is not a moisturizer.

The strength of soap can be diluted/tempered in a few ways. Superfatting is the most obvious, but it is typically not advised to exceed 5–7% superfat as that can create a bar of soap that will go rancid quickly, is too soft, or begins to sport “deadly orange spots” (DOS). Superfatting gives the oil-loving end of the soap some fat to grab onto that isn’t oil that’s already on your skin. Some of the superfat may remain on your skin, but if the soap is doing its job and cleaning, not much will. We can also dilute to some degree by including ingredients like clay, herbs, or fruit/veg purees. These are typically very small dilutions, though—the bar will still typically be 90% soap. Liquid soap can be an effective way to create a more diluted soap, but in order to get the consistency most people want (something with some body), it’s typically still fairly concentrated. If you really love soap, though, this may be an angle to try!

The high pH of soap is also worth mentioning, as it disrupts our acid mantle. I’ve written quite a lot about this here, but the general gist of it is that high pH cleansers like soap damage our skin’s protective acid mantle, and frequent use impedes its ability to repair itself. This can create and exacerbate dry skin.

Surfactant-powered cleansers can be more gentle/less drying than soap because they can be pH adjusted to a more skin-friendly pH (attempting to acidify soap will trigger de-saponification), and because the active matter of the cleanser can be more effectively diluted. Different types of surfactants can also be blended to create a milder final product.


Troubleshooting (3)

My lotion is either too thick, too thin, or it didn’t emulsify.

Most problems with lotions can be narrowed down to a few possible problems:

  • You didn’t use emulsifying wax—you cannot use beeswax, it won’t emulsify!
  • You didn’t use a complete emulsifying wax. This one is kind of dumb. You can purchase something called “emulsifying wax” that is just half of an emulsifying wax and requires co-emulsifiers to work. These so-called “emulsifying waxes” won’t work in my lotion recipes on their own.
  • You didn’t whisk until the lotion was cool. Some emulsifying waxes require somewhat constant whisking until the lotion has cooled to maintain the emulsion.
  • You added an ingredient that altered the pH of the solution enough to break the emulsion. Anything strongly acidic or basic can cause your emulsion to break.
  • Everything didn’t melt together before you removed everything from the heat. This will usually look a bit like just-sour milk, with little solid whispy bits in it. You can often fix this by gently re-heating the mixture until everything has melted together, and then whisking as it cools.
  • Some emulsifying waxes just need a few days to thicken up. Polawax and Emulsifying Wax NF are the two I know of—lotions made with them need three or so days to thicken to a lotion consistency, and are milky and thin until then.
  • You altered the proportions of the recipe enough to break the recipe. Most e-waxes work with relatively specific oil to water ratios, and changing those ratios too much can break the emulsion. This can happen by attempting to convert a recipe written in weight to volume measurements.
  • The preservative you added broke the emulsion. Optiphen Plus is notorious for breaking emulsions.


I created an abomination—help!

Don’t fret—it happens! Chances are you should learn from your mistakes and throw it away.

If it is an emulsion (especially a failed one), you cannot re-jig it. It needs to be binned.

If it includes a preservative you cannot expose it to any heat or add any more ingredients without throwing off the preservative balance; I’d recommend just chucking it.

If it needed a preservative and you didn’t include one and it’s been more than a couple days, you need to throw it away.

If it already has essential oils, exposing it to heat will damage them. That’s not a deal-breaker, but please don’t add more to try to compensate as you may over-do it and create something irritating or sensitizing.

If you want to write for troubleshooting help…

Imagine somebody sends you the following message:

Help! I combined flour, water, salt, yeast, mustard, ham, lettuce, sunflower seeds, cheese, and then I didn’t have mayo so I used whipping cream. It was supposed to be a sandwich but it’s awful! What did I do wrong? How do I fix it?

Think about all the questions you will have to ask this person to have any sort of idea what they’ve done to even start to offer troubleshooting advice. How much of everything did they use? What did they actually do? Did they actually bake the bread before trying to turn it into a sandwich? Why did they think whipping cream was a good alternative to mayonnaise? Were the following a recipe or did they just make this up?

If you want to write to me for troubleshooting help you need to tell me exactly what you used (in percentages and weights, NOT volume measurements), and exactly what you did. If you just send me a giant list of ingredients and a loose description of whatever you ended up with I can’t even begin to guess what you’ve done, let alone what you should change.

Also, please know that providing troubleshooting advice for recipes that are not my own is a very low priority for me. I always have more correspondence than a single person can reasonably handle at any given time, and I prioritize helping people make my recipes.


General Usage (5)

Why do your recipes produce such small amounts of product?

My recipes are designed for personal use, and as such, the scale matches.

With body products, a little goes a long way. Unlike with cooking, where a cup of rice or oatmeal isn’t that much food, a cup of body butter will quite literally last you months. Think about how long it takes you to use up a single tube of lip balm—that’s just 4.5g of product! So a 20g batch of lip balm will make 4–5 tubes of lip balm, and that’s a lot of lip balm, even if 20g really isn’t that much of anything in the grand scheme of things.

Additionally, part of my recipes being for personal use is their relatively short shelf life. Many of my recipes that contain water also contain lots of delicious bacteria goodies like oat milk, silk, honey, and herbal infusions. Even with a broad spectrum preservative, these products will not last very long, so making a gallon of lotion is a really bad idea—you will probably throw out 90% of it. Instead, like food, it’s best to make smaller amounts more frequently. 100g of lotion (my standard batch size) is still quite a lot of lotion! That will probably last you at least a month.

Annnnnd, last but not least, when you are bitten hard by the DIY bug (like me!), you’ll grow to appreciate small batch sizes. It lets you try out lots of recipes without rapidly filling your house with utterly unusable quantities of everything you make. That helps reduce waste, and ensures you never make too much of anything you might not love. When you try a new cookie recipe you wouldn’t make a 500 cookie batch, so the same goes here 🙂


What’s the difference between a vinegar/acidic hair rinse and conditioner?

An apple cider vinegar/acidic rinse corrects the pH of your hair, while conditioner “conditions” with the inclusion of a cationic ingredient (like BTMS-50 or honeyquat) as well as moisturizes it with oils and other nourishing ingredients.

An acidic rinse will usually be slightly acidic water, with that acidity coming from vinegar, lemon juice, kombucha, or powdered citric acid. The purpose of this rinse is to smooth the hair shaft back down after your alkaline (basic) shampoo bar raises the scales that make up your hair. If you don’t smooth them back down with an acidic rinse you’ll notice that your hair feels quite coarse and tangles really easily. If you don’t use a shampoo made from true soap with a higher pH, you won’t need an acidic rinse to counteract the effects of your alkaline shampoo. You can infuse your rinse with herbs, silk, tea, and other good-for-hair goodies, but the primary purpose of the acidic rinse is to smooth the hair shaft back down so your hair doesn’t catch on itself tie itself into knots. Understandably, this is much more important for people with long hair.

Conditioner can be a lotion or a solid bar. Lotion-y ones are usually mostly water with some oils emulsified in, often using the cationic emulsifier BTMS-50 to bring both conditioning and emulsifying to the conditioner. It can also have all kinds of other good-for-hair things in it like herbs, glycerin, honey, essential oils, and phytokeratin. The “conditioned” feel comes from the cationic (positively charged) ingredients, which adsorb to the hair, leaving an extremely fine coating that helps smooth, protect, and soften hair. Bar conditioners are usually mostly BTMS-50 (or some other solid conditioning ingredient) plus other hard ingredients (cocoa butter, cetyl alcohol, stearic acid), and some of the same good-for-hair ingredients like panthenol and hydrolyzed proteins.

Conditioner serves a difference purpose from an acidic rinse, though you’ll often read that an acidic rinse is a replacement for conditioner. This isn’t really true. The acidic rinse occupies the after-shampoo spot that conditioner usually does, so it can seemingly replace that part of your routine, but acidic rinses do not condition—they just pH correct. I’d recommend shampooing first, then using your acidic rinse, and then finishing up with some conditioner (being sure to use it sparingly and rinse it out quite thoroughly to avoid the greasies).


Can I use this product on a part of my body other than where the title suggests?

Most of the time—absolutely. The belief that certain products are only suited for certain parts of our bodies is usually just an excellent bit of marketing to get you to purchase 4 different lotions instead of one. I’ve used beard oils to moisturize my face, body butters as lip balms, hair serums as hand lotions, and all my homemade soaps usually end up playing shampoo, shave, face, and hand soap.

There are a few exceptions:

  • Anything containing toxic essential oils, like wintergreen or tea tree essential oil, should not be used around the mouth or nostrils for obvious reasons!
  • If your skin is quite acne prone, you should pay attention to how comedogenic (how pore clogging) the ingredients in something is before you pop it on your face. A bit of googling should sort that out for you pretty quickly—here’s a chart I found to get you started.
  • Scrubs for the body are generally too harsh for the face
  • Some essential oils taste just awful, which makes things made with them less that ideal for use around your mouth. My Honey Coconut Body Butter is a great example of this—yuck!
  • Anything containing lots of essential oils (like tiger balm) or irritating essential oils (like menthol, cinnamon, cassia, chili seed, etc.) should be used with caution/not at all around the face and mucous membranes

Now, just because you can put something pretty much anywhere on your body doesn’t mean you’ll like the experience of doing so, or that it will work. You’ll probably find a thick body butter too heavy for your face, and lip balm too sticky for your hands, but who knows—you might also love it!


Can you create me a basic recipe that I can use for my business?


If I did this, I would be charging for it. I am not interested in giving out free help so people can launch for-profit ventures, and at this time I have no time to be hired for this sort of thing. If you are planning on launching a business, you really shouldn’t need my help in any event. If you can’t develop and test your recipes yourself, you aren’t ready to launch your own business.


Should I take a course?

You may have heard this saying before: “Cheap, fast, good: pick two.” That’s pretty relevant if you are considering taking a course vs. teaching yourself. There’s a ton to learn in the amazing world of DIY skin care and cosmetics, and I often get emails from people impatient to know it all. You’ll never know it all (there’s always new ingredients to experiment with, new projects to try, new failures to understand!), but you can certainly learn a lot—and much can be learned without taking a course. However… assuming “good” is an important part of your desired outcome, here’s your options:

Cheap & Good

Teach yourself. Be meticulous. Follow recipes, learn from others, take tons of notes. Research everything, ask critical questions, make observations, and test, test test. Learn from your mistakes, follow your curiosity, and obsess over everything. This won’t be free as you’ll definitely need ingredients, and you’ll likely end up buying some books/textbooks/access to databases as well, but it’s cheaper than a course—assuming you don’t have a deadline of any kind. This will take years. They are fun years, to be sure, but it’s going to take you a really long time, and the hardest part about teaching yourself is figuring out what you don’t know so you can go learn it.

Fast & Good

Take a course, like the ones offered by Formula Botanica. Taking a high quality course will help you skip over a lot of the mistakes you’ll likely make as a new DIYer, and will quickly and accurately teach you what you need to know. This definitely isn’t free, though. It also won’t teach you everything as experience is invaluable, but it’s definitely a great kick-start to help you avoid common pitfalls and start with a really solid foundation.

Cheap & Fast

This is where you lose the “good”; where you try to learn everything yourself quickly (and here I’m thinking a year or less). There is a lot to learn in the great wide world of skin care, and a big part of learning is knowing what you don’t know, and setting out to fill in those blanks; that’s hard to do when you’re new to something, because you’re usually so new that you don’t know what you don’t know. I think many people feel like they know quite a lot after a year or so, but after a few more years of learning, they look back and realize they knew pretty much nothing (that was definitely me!).


Preservatives (9)

Preservative Calculator

You can use this handy-dandy calculator to figure out how much preservative you need to add to your final project. You can use grams or ounces, but it does need to be a weight measurement.

Remember, there is always more to preservatives than just the usage rate! Be sure to look at effective pH range, solubility, and anything else in your formula that might de-activate your preservative. I recommend using Liquid Germall Plus as it has a broad pH range, is water soluble, and you won’t easily de-activate it. You should use Liquid Germall Plus at 0.5%; the recommended range is 0.1–0.5%, but since our home laboratories are nowhere near sterile, it’s best to err on the side of more. Don’t use more than 0.5%, though—more preservative is not better!

If you want to use something else, please read up on it with Making Skincare. They have an amazing resource article on 27 different preservatives here, and it is required reading! That article will also give you the recommended usage rates for the second field.


Do I need to add a preservative to this recipe? How long will it last?

First off, there are two types of spoiling we’re worried about: rancidity and microbial (mould/fungus/yeast—living stuff).

Rancidity is a problem with oils, but it takes a very long time to set in. Oils, when kept somewhere cool and dark, will generally last years (though some are more shelf stable than others). You’ll know an oil has gone rancid when it starts to smell off, sort of like very old lipstick or a bag of 10 year old trail mix you found at the back of your pantry.

So, for things that are just made from different oils (body butters, lip balms, massage oils, etc.), rancidity is what you’re worried about, and you’ll generally have a few years before that sets in. You can delay it by adding an antioxidant like rosemary seed extract, grapefruit seed extract, or vitamin E oil. I store yet-to-be-started lip balms and body butters in my fridge.

Mould and other bacterial spoilage becomes a problem when water is involved. That includes emulsions (like lotions), mists and sprays, and things that can be contaminated with water (like a scrub that lives in the shower). Ingredients like witch hazel, rose water, floral hydrosols, aloe vera juice, and milk still count as water when we are considering shelf life—in fact, they count as water plus additional bacterial temptation, and concoctions made with lots of these ingredients are harder (or in the case of milk, impossible) to preserve. The shelf life of something with water will depend greatly on how the concoction was prepared, how clean everything was, and how it is used and stored, so it is impossible for me to give you any kind of a shelf life estimate. Generally speaking, though, things that contain water are probably only good for a day or two without a broad spectrum preservative.

You MUST add a broad-spectrum preservative to recipes that include water. Broad spectrum preservatives are not infallible, though—you can’t just add them to anything and expect it to last forever. Concoctions with lots of delicious bacteria food (herbal infusions, plant extracts, etc.) will eventually spoil regardless of added preservatives, especially because our kitchens are far from sterile. I make things in small batches, avoid as many temptations as possible, add a preservative, and watch for signs of spoilage, as I do with food in my fridge. If you notice changes in colour, scent, or texture, or you see mould or separation, it’s time to chuck it out.

Antioxidants like rosemary seed extract, grapefruit seed extract, and vitamin E oil are not preservatives and will do nothing to extend the shelf life of something that contains water and requires a broad spectrum preservative.

Trying to figure out how much preservative to add to your final product? I made a handy-dandy preservative calculator that you can use here.


What preservative should I use? How much of it should I add?

If you are making something that contains water, you need a broad spectrum preservative. Imagine a tub of soup left out on your kitchen counter; how long would it have to sit there before you wouldn’t want to eat it anymore or serve it to company? That’s the kind of timeline we’re looking at for bacteria setting up shop in your watery concoctions.

There are a lot of broad spectrum preservatives readily available from DIY suppliers. Here’s a few:

  • Germall® Plus (powder or liquid)
  • Optiphen™ (can de-stabilize emulsions)
  • Optiphen™ Plus (can de-stabilize emulsions)
  • Phenonip®
  • Leucidal® Liquid (not truly broad spectrum, but also not an antioxidant)
  • NeoDefend™
  • NataPres™ (not a true broad spectrum preservative)
  • Gluconolactone & Sodium Benzoate

These things are often sold in the “preservatives” section but are not preservatives—just antioxidants. They are usually far less scary/more natural sounding, but they will not do the job at all.

  • Sodium lactate
  • Grapefruit seed extract
  • Rosemary antioxidant
  • Vitamin E

As you’ve likely heard, some preservatives are safer than others, and I encourage you to do your own research and decide for yourself which preservative will work best for you. Skin Deep is a fantastic place to research the safety of different preservatives (and all ingredients, really). I also encourage you to read everything about the preservative from the supplier to determine if it will work for you. Effective pH range and solubility are important things to consider.

NeoDefend™, NataPres™, and GeoGard ECT™ are going to be the safest looking broad spectrum preservatives you’ll research, but unfortunately, from my reading, they aren’t great choices. This page is a fantastic resource to learn more. NeoDefend™ cannot be used with vitamin C and the final product must have a pH below 5. NataPres™ is not a true broad spectrum preservative and requires a secondary preservative. GeoGard ECT™ is insoluble in water and requires a pH of 5.5 or lower. For the home maker, these preservatives are difficult to use reliably.

So, with all that in mind, for relatively foolproof preserving, I use Liquid Germall Plus. It is water soluble, effective in small amounts, and has a broad effective pH range (3–8). It’s not easily accidentally deactivated. You are unlikely to need to test the pH or adjust it. It has a usage rate of 0.1–0.5%, though I would recommend erring on the 0.5% of things for home use, since our kitchens are far from sterile.

The two active ingredients (Diazolidinyl Urea [and] Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate) are a bit scary when you research them, but Liquid Germall Plus is 60% propylene glycol, meaning only 40% of your preservative is the scarier stuff, which means, at a 0.5% usage rate, only 0.2% of your formula will be “scary” ingredients. With the tiny inclusion of those scary ingredients, the rest of your formula will be protected from other scary things, like fungus and mould. In a 100g batch of lotion, that translates to 0.2g, which is barely anything, especially when spaced out over many uses.

Please see my Resources page for a list of links to places to purchase ingredients including preservatives.

How much do I need to use?

Each preservative will have a different recommend usage rate, which you can get from your supplier.

I made a handy-dandy preservative calculator that you can use here. Or, for the math:

Let’s say your preservative should be used at 1%; if your recipe contains 100g of ingredients, that’s approximately 1g of preservative. That’s not 100% accurate as 1% of 101g (original recipe + weight of the preservative) will be just over 1g, but with the small batches we’re working in the the accuracy level of the scales we’ve got at home, I consider it to be close enough.

  1. Figure out how much your recipe weighs. Either add up the weights of all the ingredients or weigh the final product.
  2. Figure out the recommended usage rate of the specific preservative you are using. Your supplier will provide this. Choose the higher end of the range since we’re not manufacturing in sterile labs.
  3. Multiply the weight of your product by the usage rate percentage, and divide that number by 100. So, if your concoction weighs 50g and the usage rate is 2.5%, that would be 50 × 2.5 = 125. 125 ÷ 100 = 1.25. That means you should add 1.25g preservative to your concoction.


Do I need to add a preservative to my soap?

If you are making your soap properly (that is, without a ridiculously high superfat percentage, and ensuring you’re measuring & calculating correctly)—no.

Soap has a high pH because it is made from lye, which has a very high pH. This high pH wards off bacterial growth. The high pH of the soap will not wear off over time.

If you superfat your soap much about 7%, you may encounter rancidity (the excess oils in your soap will oxidize) or DOS (deadly orange spots). The best way to avoid this is by not superfatting your soap above 7%.

Something else that can interfere with the shelf life of your soap is adding acid to lower the pH (I’ve read about people doing this for shampoo). I’ve never tried it myself, but logically speaking, lowering the pH of the soap means its pH may no longer be high enough to ward off bacterial growth.


On “antibacterial” ingredients

There are lots of ingredients out there that are touted to have antibacterial properties. These include things like honey, salt, and lots of essential oils and carrier oils.

While that’s all well and good, these things are not preservatives. Not even close. Honey, for instance, will last forever… on its own. If you mix it in some water and leave it out you’ll find it gets quite nasty, quite fast. Its antibacterial strength is in its purity, where its lack of water and high sugar concentration smothers bacteria. Diluted, this is no longer true. (The same is true for other syrups).

The same is true of salt; when used in high concentrations it’s a great preservative (used often to preserve meat), but you wouldn’t expect the teaspoon of salt you added to a batch of chili to preserve it indefinitely.

The gist of this is to say that just because something is antibacterial/has antibacterial preservatives on its own in no way means that it will bring those properties over to a final product in any meaningful shelf-life-extending way. That’s what broad spectrum preservatives are for.


Some common myths & misconceptions about preservatives

Whenever you’ve got water in a product, you need a broad spectrum preservative. Here are some common misconceptions about times when a preservative might not be necessary (spoiler alert… the preservative is still necessary!).

Ingredient X and ingredient Y have indefinite shelf lives, so when I combine them that mixture will also have an indefinite shelf life.
Ingredients like clay, honey, alcohol, and water can sit on shelves for ages and be fine, but this by no means translates to anything being made with them also having an indefinite shelf life! Think about flour, salt, water, and yeast—all will last for ages in their pure state when stored properly. Combine them into bread, and you will have a lovely loaf that will sprout mould in a matter of days.

Ingredient X has antibacterial properties, therefore it will preserve my entire final product.
No, it won’t. Once again, food is a great place to look for parallels. Spices like cinnamon, oregano, and cloves all have antibacterial properties, but you’d never make a curry with a cinnamon stick, store it at room temperature, and eat it a week later (I hope!). Ingredients with antibacterial/antiviral/antifungal properties are not broad spectrum preservatives. Please don’t try to use them as such!

Ingredient X is a store bought product that contains a small amount of preservative and since I am including that in part of a larger formula, I don’t need another preservative.
Proper preservation is not, unfortunately, contagious. The concentration of the preservative is very important, so when you dilute it, you weaken it and/or render it completely ineffective. Preservatives in store bought products are also carefully selected and blended based on the precise composition of that exact product, and that blend might not even work with the ingredients you’re working with. For a food metaphor; beef jerky has been preserved by smoking, but if you add it to a stew that stew can and will spoil!

Broad spectrum preservatives will prevent any and all spoilage for all eternity, regardless of ingredients, storage, and manufacturing methods.
Sadly, broad spectrum preservatives have their limits; especially when we’re working at home in less than sterile making environments. The more delicious bacteria food you add to your products (herbal infusions, food, milks, etc.), the faster they will spoil. Less than sterile making environment? Warm storage? Putting your fingers in things? All of those things will shorten the shelf life of your product, and while a broad spectrum preservative will help, it’s not infallible. Food analogy: consider (hypothetically or otherwise, haha!) putting the recommended amount of your broad spectrum preservative of choice in a pot of chili and leaving that on your counter for a few days. There is far too much bacterial temptation in that chili for the broad spectrum preservative to defend it, however valiantly it may want to. Erk!


How long will ______ last? What is its shelf life?

Long story short, it’s pretty impossible to give you an accurate answer to this, but I’ll try to help you determine a ballpark.

For 100% oil based concoctions (lip balms, body butters, massage oils, etc.)

Because these things contain no water, we’re only concerned about rancidity—that is, the oils that make up the product oxidizing. You’ll usually get at least a year out of a 100% oil based product, but that can be impacted by a few factors:

  • Storage. Cool & dark = longer shelf life. Warm & bright = shorter shelf life. (Store un-started projects, like extra lip balms, in the fridge before use for the longest shelf life.)
  • Ingredient freshness. Fresher ingredients = longer shelf life.
  • Ingredient shelf life. Some oils have longer shelf lives than others, and will shorten the shelf life of your entire product. Check with your supplier to determine the shelf lives of your carrier oils (good suppliers should include a “best before” date on the carrier oils they sell). Examples of carrier oils with short shelf lives (generally less than a year) include flax seed oil, borage oil, and evening primrose oil.
  • Added antioxidants. Adding an antioxidant like vitamin E oil or rosemary seed extract will help extend the shelf life of 100% oil based products. Antioxidants are not preservatives!
  • Contamination. If you get water in a supposed-to-be-anhydrous concoction, it joins the second category in this list and the shelf life will shorten drastically.

For concoctions that contain water (lotions, body mists, creams, etc.)

Because of the presence of water, these projects can and will quickly sprout mould, fungus, and other gross things quite promptly without the inclusion of a broad spectrum preservative. Even with a broad spectrum preservative, these things will eventually spoil as our kitchens are far from sterile, and many of the recipes we love to make/ingredients we love for personal use are difficult to preserve (aloe vera, botanicals, clay, honey, etc.). As with food, I would recommend that you are as clean as possible when making, avoid making more than you can use in a couple months, and watch for spoilage (changes in colour, texture, scent, or mould population).

Here are some factors that will impact shelf life:

  • Inclusion of a preservative. If the recipe includes water (and the water will stay in the recipe and not be dried out of it), and is more than a single use project (like a face mask), you need to include a preservative. Read this for more info.
  • The recipe itself. Some recipes are harder to preserve than others. The more bug food you include (aloe vera, botanicals, clay, honey, etc.), the faster the recipe will spoil. Preservatives will help extend that shelf life, but it will not be indefinite!
  • Freshness of ingredients. As with all things, fresher ingredients last longer. If you make a stew with nearly rancid meat, that stew will spoil faster than stew made with fresh meat. It is completely possible for an oil in your lotion to oxidize (go rancid) before bacterial spoilage sets in; short-lived oils like hemp seed and flax seed are definite candidates!
  • Storage. Cool & dark = longer shelf life. Warm & bright = shorter shelf life.
  • Cleanliness. Keep your kitchen and utensils as clean as possible while you’re making the project, and avoid contaminating it while using it (consider choosing pump-top bottles instead of open jars for lotions so you aren’t dipping dirty fingers into your final product).

So… how long will your product last? I have no idea. Sorry, but there are way too many variables! You can optimize the shelf life of your product by following the tips above, and you should get several months out of it, but I do not know for certain and can never provide you with anything resembling an accurate estimate.

Trying to figure out how much preservative to add to your final product? I made a handy-dandy preservative calculator that you can use here.

For concoctions that contain water, but are dried out (bath bombs, clay bars, etc.)

If you’re making something that has water in it, but the water will be evaporated off promptly, you often don’t need a preservative. For something like bath bombs, they are dry for the vast majority of their life and are then used up all at once, so no preservative is needed and the shelf life should be more or less indefinite, assuming you keep it dry (if you live somewhere humid consider sealing the bath bombs in an air-tight bag).

For projects that will be continually wetted and allowed to re-dry, like a clay bar… this one is a bit tricky, and depends on where you live. There are clay bars for sale which contain no preservatives, and while that’s not always a great indicator of best practices, one can assume that the company selling the bar does not want to sell a product that will sprout mould immediately. I live in a very dry climate, and have clay bars that I’ve used for years that have never showed any signs of spoilage as long as they’ve been left to dry between uses—but given the environment I live in, they always dry quite quickly. If you live somewhere humid, this may not be the case, and a broad-spectrum preservative may be advisable.

For Soap

Thanks to its high pH and low water content, bar soap should last for years. Using a higher superfat can lead to spoilage (look for orange splotches, also known as “deadly orange spots) or rancidity (too much unsaponified fat can go rancid in the bar).

Liquid soap paste will have a similarly long shelf life. Once diluted with additional water the pH should still be high enough to keep it from spoiling, but the final pH obviously depends on how diluted it is (more water = lower pH). You can also impact shelf life by adding lots of delicious bacteria goodies to your liquid soap (botanicals, clay, unsaponified oils, honey, aloe vera, etc.)—too much will impact the shelf life of your liquid soap. You can try adding a preservative if you are finding your liquid soap is spoiling quickly, but few are effective in high pH—from my reading, Liquid Germall Plus would be your best bet.


How will adding ___________ ingredient impact the shelf life of my product?

To start with, there’s two main categories of product when we’re talking shelf life: things that are 100% oil based (lip balms, body butters, salves), and things that contain water (lotions, sprays) or might come into contact with water (body scrubs designed to be used in the bath).

For things that are 100% oil based

The kind of spoilage we’re concerned about here is rancidity, which is oils oxidizing and starting to smell funky (like old crayons). Some oils oxidize faster than others, so if you add an oil with a short shelf life (check with your suppliers, but anything less than one year is considered short), that will shorten the shelf life of your product. You can extend the life of 100% oil based products by adding an antioxidant, like vitamin E, during the cool down phase.

Adding anything that contains water (not just water, but hydrosols, teas, extracts, etc.) will bump your concoction to the other category and will drastically shorten the shelf life.

For things that contain water

Anything that contains water needs a broad spectrum preservative, but those are not infallible. The more delicious bug food we add to our potions, the faster we’ll override that preservative and the faster our products will spoil. Here’s a list of things that will speed spoilage (it is by no means exhaustive):

  • Any kind of food (milks, flours, starches, honey, syrup, sugar, nuts, etc.)
  • Any kind of plant matter (aloe juice, hydrosols, etc.)
  • All herbs and herbal infusions
  • Clays

Some of these things will spoil faster than others. Dairy milk is notoriously difficult to preserve and I would not recommend including it in anything that you don’t intend to use up that day. Clay masks are also very hard to preserve, so I would recommend only mixing the dry parts up in advance.

The amount of bug food you use is important, too. 1% honey is very different from 10% honey. If you want to include some oat milk or hydrosol in a lotion recipe, try replacing only half or a quarter of the water with it instead of all of the water.

You should also take a look at commercially produced herbal infusions and extracts rather than homemade to extend shelf life.

For things that could become contaminated with water

Honestly, the easiest thing to do here is to not allow the concoction to get wet. Scoop out however much scrub you need for a single use and take that to the tub in a small plastic dish. Put bath oils in pump top bottles. Use a dry finger or popsicle stick to remove cleansing balms from their containers.


If I don’t have a broad-spectrum preservative, what can I use instead?

Nothing. Seriously. There is nothing that will replace a true broad-spectrum preservative. If you do not have one, you should buy one, or you should only be making products that contain no water, otherwise you are risking infection from fungus and bacterial growth.

Remember, vitamin E and rosemary seed extract are in no way broad spectrum preservatives. They are simply antioxidants. A broad spectrum is something like Germall Plus or Phenonip. You can learn a lot about preservatives here.


Makeup & Cosmetics (3)

What’s the colour blend to re-create this store bought lipstick/eye shadow/blush/etc?

I’m flattered you think I’m so good at colour blending that I can pull an accurate colour dupe out of thin air, but sadly I am not there yet 🙁 I do have a few tips to help you figure it out for yourself, though:

  • For any sort of a proper purple you will need carmine; red iron oxide is much too muddy
  • Most classic reds need carmine as well; red iron oxide is too muddy and brown to make a classic red
  • If you want a berry tone, try incorporating the blue-toned red iron oxide or blue ultramarine
  • Don’t discount the awesomeness of titanium dioxide (white) in a blend
  • You’ll need oxides and other pure pigments to get strong, lipstick worthy colour blends; micas are much weaker and don’t pack nearly the same colour punch
  • There’s both a dark brown and a light brown oxide; choose accordingly based on your needs
  • For super bright corals you’ll need carmine and titanium dioxide as well as yellow iron oxide. For even brighter corals, you might consider looking at a yellow FD&C dye.
  • Take notes for all your colour blends so you can recreate them, and label both the formula notes and the final product!


Can I use food/spices to colour my cosmetics instead of iron oxides?

Please, please, please do not. The thought is tempting, but it’s not a great idea, and possibly even a bad one. Remember, just because something is edible doesn’t mean you should be spreading it on your face! Here’s a few reasons:

  • Kitchen spices are not approved colourants for cosmetics, and they are not approved for a reason (the exceptions being annatto and caramel)! They can irritate (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, paprika, cayenne, etc.) and stain (paprika, turmeric, cayenne, etc.) the skin and mucous membranes.
  • The particle size may be large enough to irritate the skin and feel scrubby—not something you want in a cosmetic!
  • Colours of spices and foods vary from batch to batch and between suppliers; sometimes greatly. This doesn’t matter in food, but it does mean you may never be able to re-create that shade of foundation.
  • Spices aren’t typically very potent colourants, meaning you’ll need to use quite a lot more than you’d use of oxides, which is likely to throw off the entire balance of the formula.
  • The final product will smell, and probably not like something you want your face smelling like (cinnamon + turmeric + paprika = curry, I guess?)
  • Fresh foods will spoil in a day or two and drag your product along with it.


Let’s talk abut substitutions for Make it Up recipes

I get a lot of questions about substitutions in general, including queries about replacing some of the stranger ingredients used in Make it Up.

In recipes for things like lip balms and sugar scrubs, swaps are typically fairly easy. Using one light carrier oil for another likely won’t break the recipe. The scrub will still scrub, the lip balm will still hydrate your lips, and that lotion will still moisturize.

However, when it comes to cosmetics, there are WAY more variables. We are talking about:

  • Slip
  • Adhesion
  • Wear time
  • Colour
  • Consistency
  • Melting point
  • Texture
  • Opacity
  • And more!

As I was developing the recipes in Make it Up, I tested them thoroughly and obsessively, so when I say I’ve worn a lip paint through a whiskey tasting and it stayed on for hours, I’m saying that about the recipe as I made it. Once you start changing things, my promises of good results go out the window. I did not (and do not) have time to re-develop or check every recipe in the book with a different set of ingredients. This is why I am hesitant to tell you that “yes, you can use X instead of Y”—I have no idea how well (or if) it will work!

Some changes are more likely to be successful than others; using a different liquid oil in some powdered cosmetics, or in the lip gloss recipe likely won’t be disastrous. When it comes to powdered ingredients, though (things like boron nitride, magnesium myristate, and silica microspheres), well—I added those ingredients to those recipes because they make them better. I started without them, and added the because they improve the final product.

Generally speaking, no one ingredient is the “linchpin” of a recipe’s success, but you might be looking at the difference between 5 hours of wear with it, and 30 minutes without it, or something that feels skiddy and awful when applied vs smooth and creamy. I’d call those things recipe failure. You may not.

So, the general gist of the answer to “is there an alternative for X ingredient in X recipe in Make it Up?” is: maybe. I haven’t tested it, so you are on your own. Refer to the chart on page 57 to learn about what different powders do in cosmetics to get an idea of why they’re there—that should help guide your search for alternatives. Good luck!


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