As Monk said, “It’s a blessing… and a curse.” That’s me and my enthusiasm for, well, many, many things. When I first started making body stuffs, I was instantly sucked into a swirling void of ingredients, and I wanted to try everything, regardless of cost or the fact that there are literally hundreds of things to try in the natural body ingredient world. The same thing happened with sewing (I currently have 300+ meters of unused fabric in my basement), fancy paper, cookbooks, spices, fonts, stationery, gel pens (c. 2002), Beanie Babies (c. 1998), and even those utterly awful Lip Smackers (c. 1999). I’m sure there have been others, those are just the easiest to remember. The point, however, is, that I have a tendency to go over-board with stuff.

So, that brings us to my concoctions cabinet. I eventually managed to restrain myself from trying everything after my bank balance reared it’s ugly head and scared the living daylights out of me. Lack of 100% experimentation aside, I still think I’ve tried a solid array of oils, butters, and other hippie-type stuff that falls into the reasonable price category. I’ve found some favourites, and hopefully I can spare you the same stuffed-cupboard fate.

This should also save you some money, as I’ve listed the average price you should expect to pay. If you don’t want to buy a full litre you might end up paying more than half of the per litre price, but definitely not more overall. Whatever you do, don’t buy your oils your local organics or handmade cosmetics shop. They usually charge at least twice as much as online. These prices are sourced from New Directions Aromatics, my favourite online shop for this type of stuff. They have great shipping prices, and locations in many large countries so you probably won’t have to pay duty and border-crossing fees. I also like Saffire Blue. They’re cool, have great prices, and often carry things NDA doesn’t.

Almond Oil, Sweet
($9/L)—This is an inexpensive, low-odour carrier oil that is great for massage oils, lip balms, and lotions

Aloe Vera Juice
($8/L)—I love using this instead of water for making lotions and facial masks. If you’ve ever had a sunburn, you probably know that aloe is great for your skin. Just make sure you use the juice, not the green goop from the drug store! Pro tip: order the 200x powder if you can find it, it’s a much better deal if you mix it properly, and lasts longer. I got mine from Saffire Blue.

Apple Cider Vinegar
($3/L)—Apple Cider Vinegar (or ACV, as it is often referred to online) has a very devoted following of people who use it for everything from weight loss to detox to aftershave. I really only use it as an ingredient in a post-shampoo rinse (about 1/2 cup to 2 cups of water), but it’s great for that, and it’s nice to know I could use it for tons of other things if I wanted to. I just buy it at the grocery store, it should be pretty cheap there.

Argan Oil
($13/100mL)—This oil is now so essential to me that it comes pretty much everywhere with me. It’s not as cheap as some oils, so I tend to just use it on my face, and it’s perfect for that. It soaks in quickly without any greasiness, and I promise it won’t clog your pores or cause any epidermis explosions. If I could only have one oil, this would probably be it. I even use it to remove my eye make-up.

Baking Soda
($3/kg)—No one seems to appreciate simple sodium bicarbonate for all the awesome things it can do. Body-wise, it’s a great exfoliator, a gentle facial cleanser, and a handy-dandy deodorant ingredient.

Beeswax
($10/lb)—Get the natural stuff. It should still smell like honey and be a nice golden colour. Buy it locally, if you can. I use beeswax for body butters, lip balms and glosses, and some soaps. It’s wonderful.

Camellia Seed Oil
($26/L)—I first read about this oil in a museum, believe it or not. It’s the oil from the seeds of the plant that gives us tea (Camellia sinensis), and it has been used for centuries in Asia for hair care. I think my favourite thing about Camellia Seed Oil is how quickly it absorbs into my skin. It sinks right in, leaving behind silky smooth delight. I love it in serums, facial creams, and hair products.

Castor Oil
($7/L)—This oil is a must-have for soap making. It adds both moisturizing and lathering properties that can’t be matched with other oils. It’s also great for hair, and for adding shine to lip balms and glosses.

Cocoa Butter (Raw)
($22/kg)—Raw cocoa butter smells like expensive chocolate, and who doesn’t want that in their body products? It’s my favourite option for brittle fats.

Refined, Bleached, & Deodorized Coconut Oil
($8/L)—This is a must for soaps as it gives you great bubbles!

Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
($18/L)—It’s more expensive than the refined, bleached stuff you use for soap. Use this wonderfully coconutty version for hair, body butters, lotions, and lip balms.

Glycerin, vegetable
($7/kg)—Glycerin is a humectant, so it attracts moisture out of the air and to your skin in lotion and cream applications. Just make sure you use it as an ingredient, and not straight, or it might start pulling moisture out of your skin, which is probably the opposite of what you want. It also makes things shiny, and adds a sweet taste to things. Just make sure you add it to the water portion of an emulsion, or it will turn into little gritty beads in something like body butter.

Grapeseed Oil
($10/L)—This is one of the cheapest oils that sinks into the skin quickly. Great for lotions!

French Green Clay
($20/kg)—This one took a while to grow on me, but now that it has, I never want to be without it. Mixed with a bit of aloe vera juice, jojoba oil, seaweed powder, and a few drops of essential oils, this clay makes a mask that sucks crap out of your face like you wouldn’t believe. My problem areas (chin) are noticeably smoother after using, and blemishes heal in no time after an application.

Jojoba Oil, Golden
($40/L)—It’s not the cheapest oil you’ll come across, but it is super-rich and you don’t need much to reap its benefits. I love it for hair products and lotions.

Olive Oil
($20/3L)—I buy olive oil in large amounts because I use it so much for soap making. Because it’s also a great food item, this is one of the few ingredients you can often buy for less at the grocery store. Watch for deals!

Bee Propolis
($15/50mL)—Bees make this handy substance as an antimicrobial for keeping their hives spic and span. It contains every known vitamin (with the exception of K), and is pretty much every kind of ‘anti’ you can imagine. Nature’s polysporin, pretty much. I love it in lotions and creams.

Shea Butter
($12/kg)—This was one of the first ingredients I started using, and I LOVE it. So much. The smell can be a bit off-putting to some people, but there’s always the deodorized stuff. I find it smells a bit like dirt or old lipstick, but I don’t mind it. Shea butter makes amazing body butters, soaps, and lotions. It’s also great straight, and does things for my dry feet that nothing else has.

Vitamin E
($10/100g)—It’s great for your skin (promotes healing, good for scars), and is an anti-oxidant, so it can help prolong the shelf life or products that contain water.

Emulsifying Wax
(~$8–15/500g)—There are lots of different kinds of emulsifying waxes, but they all do more or less the same thing—create a super duper easy emulsion at percentages of 5–10%. They also thicken, so you’re guaranteed a lovely lotion like concoction when you work with them. My favourite is emulsimulse. If you want to make lotion, get some of this. I have yet to find a way to make a satisfactory light, non-greasy lotion without emulsifying wax.

Essential Oils
I realize this is highly subjective, but I love: Cardamom, Cinnamon Bark, Fir Balsam, Grapefruit (Pink & White), Lavender (French), Lemon 5-Fold, Lemongrass, Orange, Patchouli (Dark), Pine Scotch, Rosemary, Spearmint, Spruce (Black Wild), Tea Tree (Australian), and Vanilla 10-Fold.

Starter Kit Shopping List

If you have everything on this list, you’ll be able to make lotions, creams, masks, body butters, lip balms & glosses, serums, and soap (just add lye). And you should be able to get it for about $100CAD, assuming you go with smaller sizes.

  • Almond oil, sweet
  • Argan oil
  • Baking soda
  • Beeswax
  • Castor oil
  • Cocoa butter
  • Coconut oil
  • French green clay
  • Jojoba oil
  • Olive oil
  • Shea butter
  • Vitamin E
  • Emulsifying wax

Bare Bones Starter Kit

This one is closer to $70. It doesn’t have the makings of soap, but it will let you make lotions, lip balms, creams, masks, and facial oils.

  • Almond oil, sweet
  • Argan oil
  • Baking soda
  • Beeswax
  • Cocoa butter
  • Extra virgin coconut oil
  • French green clay
  • Shea butter
  • Vitamin E
  • Emulsifying wax

This entry was updated on December 2, 2013.

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