Today’s recipe comes from a recipe request from Felipe; he was looking for an “aftershave balm that is easily absorbed on the skin and helps the skin recover after the shave”. He also included a link to a product he liked, and a quick look at the ingredients showed that the product was a lotion, despite being called a balm. Knowing we’d be making an emulsion I was free to choose all kinds of water-soluble skin goodies to help soothe, refresh, and moisturize the skin. Fun!
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An aftershave should be a few things; soothing, moisturizing, mildly astringent, and refreshing (Many traditional ones also contain a good dose of alcohol as an antiseptic, but as Kevin McAllister learned in Home Alone, that stuff stings like the dickens, so I opted to ditch that quality!). With those requirements in mind I set out to choose some awesome ingredients with those properties.
Let’s start with soothing: we’ve got panthenol, colloidal oats, and aloe vera juice. All of those ingredients have great soothing properties in addition to bringing more moisturizing goodness to the table, which is pretty cool. I love all of these ingredients, but let’s take a quick moment to chat about panthenol (vitamin B5)—it helps reduce itching and it’s anti-inflammatory. It also helps reduce dryness and transepidermal water loss. It is inexpensive, has a long shelf life, and is fantastic in both skin care and hair care formulations. Booyah!
For even more moisturizing goodness we’ve got some great humectants—vegetable glycerin and sodium lactate. Both are strong humectants, and I’ve taken this opportunity to include sodium lactate, which isn’t terribly resistant to wash-off, as we don’t tend to wash the parts we shave multiple times a day.
A bit of mild astringency comes from some witch hazel. Witch hazel hydrosol is pretty darn cool; made from the leaves and stems of the Hamamelis Virginiana plant, it is not only astringent, but also acts as an antioxidant, is anti-inflammatory, and reduces redness. It also contributes to our last characteristic—refreshment! Most of our cooling, refreshing effect comes from some peppermint essential oil. Peppermint contains menthol, the compound responsible for that minty fresh tingle we associate with peppermint candies and essential oil, and it gives this aftershave cream a cooling, refreshing finish. I’ve included peppermint essential oil at 1%. I found this to be just enough to give me a slight cooling sensation on my face, but if you have sensitive facial skin or find menthol to be particularly eye-watering I’d recommend halving this amount.
Our oils are pretty simple and mid-weight in terms of absorption speed—you can easily use others if you don’t have them on hand. I’ve thickened the cream with some cetearyl alcohol to give it a fluffy, rich feel without making it greasier.
The end product is really light, vanishing into the skin in an instant, leaving it hydrated and refreshed. If you don’t shave your face I think you’d love it as a lightweight summer lotion for legs and feet—especially on hot days where you’ve been out and about!
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Soothing Aloe Aftershave Cream
Prepare a water bath by bringing about 3cm/1″ of water to a bare simmer over low to medium-low heat in a wide, flat-bottomed sauté pan.
Weigh the heated water phase into a small heat-resistant glass measuring cup. Weigh the entire lot (measuring cup + ingredients) and note that weight for use later. Weigh the heated oil phase into a second heat-resistant glass measuring cup. Place both measuring cups in your prepared water bath to melt everything through.
After about 20–30 minutes the oil part should be completely melted and the water part should be thoroughly dissolved. Remove the water bath from the heat and weigh it. Add enough hot distilled water to bring the weight back up to what it was before heat and hold, and then pour the water part into the oil part. Stir with a flexible silicone spatula to incorporate.
Grab your immersion blender and begin blending the lotion, starting with short bursts so the still-very-liquid lotion doesn’t whirl up and spray everywhere. Blend for about a minute, leave to cool for ten, blend for another minute or two, and repeat this blend-cool-blend cycle until the outside of the glass measuring cup is barely warm to the touch and the lotion is thick and creamy.
When the lotion is cool it’s time to incorporate our cool down ingredients. Because cool down ingredients are typically present at very low amounts you’ll need to use an accurate scale—preferably one accurate to 0.01g. As these more accurate scales tend to have fairly low (100–200g) maximum weights you won’t be able to put the entire batch of lotion on that scale without blowing it out. So—grab a smaller dish. Add a scoop or two of lotion, and then weigh the cool down ingredients into that, using the more accurate scale. Stir to thoroughly incorporate, and then stir all of that back into the master batch of lotion. Doing it this way minimizes the amount of cool down ingredients lost to the secondary container.
Now it’s time to package the cream! I recommend using a pot or tub as it’s quite thick and won’t do well in a pump bottle. A 60mL / 2oz jar is a good size.
To use, smooth a small amount over just-shaved skin. Enjoy!
Because this cream contains water, you must include a broad-spectrum preservative to ward off microbial growth. This is non-optional. Even with a preservative this project is likely to eventually spoil as our kitchens are not sterile laboratories, so in the event you notice any change in colour, scent, or texture, chuck it out and make a fresh batch.
As always, be aware that making substitutions will change the final product. While these swaps won’t break the recipe, you will get a different final product than I did.
- As I’ve provided this recipe in percentages as well as grams you can easily calculate it to any size using a simple spreadsheet as I’ve explained in this post. As written in grams this recipe will make 50g.
- If you don’t have the sodium lactate you can try replacing it with more glycerine or another humectant, like Propanediol 1,3 (USA / Canada)
- You can replace both the aloe vera, witch hazel, panthenol, and colloidal oats with more water, but this will negatively impact the end product (read the pre-amble to learn why they are in the product)
- You can use Emulsifying Wax NF instead of Polawax
- You can try cetyl alcohol or stearic acid in place of the cetearyl alcohol
- You can substitute other lightweight oils like sweet almond, grapeseed, or sunflower seed for the safflower and apricot kernel
- If you want to reduce the peppermint be sure to replace the missing amount with more safflower oil. You could also replace 20% of the distilled water with peppermint hydrosol and replace all the EO with safflower oil.