This silky smooth, light-as-a-feather solid facial serum is really neat. It has all the satiny, lightweight loveliness of a liquid serum, but it’s easier to transport (no leaks!), and application is even easier thanks to the elimination of the dropper bottle. Lightweight, super-glidy cetyl alcohol transforms olive and evening primrose oils into an oh-so-cool solid facial serum, and I may be a dweeb, but I think this is super exciting.
Ever since I did my cetyl alchol and liquid oil experiment, I’ve been really intrigued by the ability of cetyl alcohol to create what can only be described as thick or solid oils. When you combine a liquid oil with wax to thicken or solidify it the wax (somewhat obviously) adds some waxy characteristics to the mix.
Beeswax is creamy and slower to absorb, candelilla and carnauba waxes are thin and glossy, and there’s no escaping that if you’re working with a wax. Sometimes this is awesome and exactly what you want, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you just wish your favourite oil wasn’t liquid, but you don’t want to add wax—especially for use on the face. With warmer days sort of here (knock on wood), I don’t want thick, creamy beeswax on my face. I don’t want a balm—I want a solid serum!
Now, before anyone asks—yes, it must be cetyl alcohol. That’s the whole point! You could use different liquid oils if you like, but using a wax or stearic acid instead of cetyl alcohol will create a drastically different final product. From what readers have shared of their experiences with cetearyl alcohol, you may be able to use it instead of cetyl alcohol, but I haven’t worked with isolated cetearyl alcohol, so I’m not at all sure if (or how) that would work out.
I learned something really neat about using cetyl alcohol as as thickener/solidifier at this level while working on this recipe—it likes to crystallize and separate a bit if left to its own devices. For my first go I simply poured the melted liquid into the jar and popped it in the fridge to set up. When I pulled it out I had a very firm top, but once I pressed through it there was a core of runny honey like oil in the middle. Like a Cadbury Creme Egg! That was pretty neat, but not exactly what I was going for. So, try two—melt it, and then stir as it cools. You’ll get some crystals and a sort of apple-saucey visual texture, but the melting point is so low that it feels silky smooth to the touch.
Let’s talk oils! Olive oil is rich in antioxidants and squalene, and it’s pretty inexpensive, which is always nice. Evening primrose oil is rich in two special fatty acids—linoleic (~72%) and gamma linoleic acid (~10%). Gamma linoleic acid “has been shown to be one of the most effective agents for the treatment of skin disorders and for the maintenance of healthy skin… based on the strong research showing that it is of benefit in the treatment of various skin conditions, including dry skin, eczema, inflammation, wounds, and dermatitis” (Source). Evening primrose oil has done some pretty amazing things for my skin, so I’m always looking for ways to include it in assorted concoctions in ways that help mask some of its less desirable traits (it’s quite heavy and smells pretty oily).
I chose South African Chamomile (Cape Chamomile/Eriocephalus punctulatus) as my essential oil for this because I cannot get enough of the way it smells. It’s quite different from Roman and German chamomiles; I find it to be very apple-y and bright, without the strong herbal note of Roman and German chamomiles. It is a bit hard to find these days, though, as New Directions discontinued it (boo), so if you don’t have it, feel free to use a few drops of an essential oil or two that your face loves. Lavender, tea tree, rosemary, cedarwood, and carrot seed oil would all be good choices, depending on what you have and what your skin needs.
I’m loving this lightweight serum, not least of all because it’s impossible to spill. The chamomile scent, silky texture, and gamma linoleic acid are all brilliant for my skin, and I definitely think you should give it a try 👌🏻
Solid Olive Primrose Facial Serum
8 drops South African chamomile or other essential oil of choice
Weigh the olive oil, evening primrose oil, cetyl alcohol, and vitamin E into a small heat-resistant glass measuring cup. Place the measuring cup in your prepared water bath to melt everything through.
Once the mixture has melted through, remove it from the heat and stir it as it cools; we’re doing this so the mixture keeps together rather than separating out as it’ll do if left to its own devices. At first this will take a while, so give it a few minutes between stirs. When you start to see some solid bits accumulating around the edges and on your spatula, scrape ’em down and stir more frequently. You’ll eventually end up with something that looks like it has a applesauce-y consistency, but is silky smooth and melts instantly when touched.
When you’re at the applesauce stage, stir in your essential oil(s) and transfer the mixture to a small jar or tin. I used two of these cute 25mL/0.85 fl oz jars. Let the serum set up the rest of the way in the fridge.
To use, glide your finger over the surface of the serum; you’ll pick up quite a lot of it straight away as the melting point is quite low. Massage that into your face, taking care to spread it around well so you don’t look oily when you’re done. Enjoy!
Makes 41g (1.45oz).
Shelf Life & Storage
Because this salve is 100% oil based, it does not require a broad-spectrum preservative (broad spectrum preservatives ward off microbial growth, and microbes require water to live—no water, no microbes!). Kept reasonably cool and dry, it should last at least a year before any of the oils go rancid. If you notice it starts to smell like old nuts or crayons, that’s a sign that the oils have begun to oxidize; chuck it out and make a fresh batch if that happens.