A while back I had started getting into homemade beauty products. After my husband and I returned from a month long lomi lomi immersion at Ho’omana Spa Maui, I became more aware and more enthusiastic about using organic and natural products. Overall, just trying to keep it simple and reflective of what’s in nature. One of the courses we took while on Maui was on ancient Hawaiian plant medicine. In it we learned how to make a number of different things for the face and body that are beneficial.
Around the same time, at our old martial arts school, we had the opportunity to partner with the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Our martial arts lineage had a recipe for dit da jow, zheng gu shui, and this herbal tonic that a doctor over at the college worked with us to translate. Apparently the recipe we had was barely a guide. It had notes that were phonetic but also a bit quirky so it took the doctor a bit of digging to figure out what herbs were meant.
Dit da jow and zheng gu shui are pretty common herbal medicines and it’s not uncommon to see kung fu schools with various recipes. We used to get a family recipe from Brendan Lai’s Martial Arts Supply when they used to have a storefront in the Mission District of San Francisco. It was really good. Around that time, I think we were learning leg sweeps and my calves were so torn up. Ugh, awful. I looked like a weird leopard. The folks at school recommended the dit da jow and I seriously became hooked because it rapidly reduced my healing time. And, I think when you’re a woman doing martial arts, there’s just a certain amount of scrutiny about various bruises you may have collected that you just don’t want to deal with.
Anyway, we ended up partnering with the doctor to do a seminar at our school. As luck would have it, the school had been broken into, so quickly relocated the group to a nearby park since it happened to be a nice day. We made the three formulas right there in the park and the concoctions have been stewing ever since. I hear it’s kind of like wine in that it’s supposed to get better the more you let it sit. This batch has been stewing for about two years now.
Making the hit medicine and then being exposed to ancient Hawaiian la’au lapa’au has helped me to see opportunity in a lot of different areas. My family is a big influencer on my pull to grow and make things. At our old house, we had a backyard that was pie-shaped and contained lots of cool things like pomegranate trees, plum trees, and soon we put in raised bed vegetable and herb gardens. We were always pickling or jamming things. Then, my brother got into beekeeping so we had a hive on the property with access to raw honey. And one of the plants that grew well in the California coastal climate was lavender.
So, one of the things I first tried to make was a solar infused lavender oil. The bees LOVE lavender and also a lot of spearmint and lemon thyme we had. I used dried lavender from the yard as well as olive oil and coconut oil and then stored it in a mason jar which I kept out on the porch for about three weeks. It actually probably has some moon energy too because I wasn’t taking it in at night too, so there’s that too. On a later batch, I also added in lemon blossoms and orange blossoms from our little potted citrus trees outside.
The solar oil just has a light tough of the lavender, though when I tried calendula flowers in oil (after hearing they were really good for skin), that combination is much more potent – like a really heavy marigold scent.
When my brother gave me some of the beeswax from the hives, I got to thinking about salves and lotions. He had suggested salves since they are easier to make. I had originally intended to make this dit da dow salve or my dream was to make a lotion out of it. Since dit da jow is a liniment, I find it difficult to rub into the skin. It’s super watery and gritty from the herbs/minerals in the formula, so I would always have to take this extra step of mixing it with one of my lotions or oils in order to rub it into the skin a little better. But the lotion or oil I would mix was always a little off on consistency and had the chemicals or scents of whatever carrier oil/lotion I was mixing it with at the time.
With the wax, I started looking up recipes for lotions since I prefer that and how it’s less sticky than a salve. There are a lot of simple recipes out there. I had one in this book of herbal remedies that used a solar calendula oil to make a “rich, luxurious cream”. It’s similar to this basic recipe from Wellness Mama only you use the calendula infused oil in place of the almond/jojoba oils listed.
In my first try, I really learned the importance of prep and tools. Wow. I must have burned myself a number of times…
The wax I had was not like what you get at the herb shop that comes in small little beads that melt easily – think shredded cheese into a roux. My wax was a huge chunk that looked like it came from a block of artisan cheese. I thought I could cheat a step and just melt the whole thing in saucepan. Nope, it gets wax all over the pan that’s near to impossible to get off. This is where I felt I learned a new found respect for the double-boiler. Also, having grated wax to begin with. That would have made the process so much easier and avoided some hot wax splatters on my skin. Ouch!
The next part of the recipe that I find to be the trickiest is when you’re supposed to combine the oil-wax mixture with aloe vera. Since I ultimately wanted to combine the dit da jow, I really needed to follow these more complex recipes that had a cooling and second combining process. Enter, the blender. By the way, don’t use a blender to make lotion, it’s really terrible. What happens is the oil-wax can cool too quickly as you’re mixing in your blender and then it gets all piece-y and chunky in your blender. Plus, the blender ends up getting a lot of body product junk on it.
Heed my warning! Don’t use the blender. Probably I should have just used one of those handheld immersion blenders and bought separate equipment for making body products. So, what resulted was a lotion that was very moisturizing, but had these pockets of wax that you really had to rub into the skin. Now when we moved and were making it through our first winter in the Rockies, the extra protection barrier the wax created was kinda nice. It helped my dry skin a lot, but other than that, it wasn’t a functional every day lotion.
I consulted a friend who’s a cosmetic chemist to see if there was any way I could salvage what I had done. I mean, here’s this homegrown lavender and beeswax and it would have been potentially just totally wasted. Luckily, she said I could go through the heating and mixing process again and that should fix it. And it sorta did, but it was still off. Then, I had one tub that was very liquid-y with bits of wax not quite melted and incorporated. And another batch that was super sticky waxy.
Between my friend’s advice and this other site, I also incorporated a couple tips to get the kind of lotion I wanted. I definitely have a new appreciation of chemistry and emulsifiers after this.
So here’s how I fixed it.
I got the double boiler set up and also a whisk.
I monitored the heat really closely while pouring in my waxy lotions and whisked the heck out of them. Not fast, but consistently so that the waxy lotion was at least better blended.
Then, I’d add the liquid-y lotions more and more while still mixing and making sure everything was blended.
The problem was I had more liquid-y lotion than waxy so I also decided to incorporate this other face lotion, I’d gotten from Lush that was kinda like a salve but left a powdery finish. If I wore more makeup, this product would have been really good as a primer. Or, if I was in a really humid climate, but since it’s dry where I live now, I knew I’d never really use it.
I think by combining this product into my lotions, it helped out so much. And I found out later because you can’t use beeswax in a lotion in place of your emulsifying wax. Wow. Learn something new every day!
Still, the process taught me so much and while it may be a long time before I attempt a lotion again, I have more of a sense of this process now and what all is involved in it.
What really makes me happy though, is knowing exactly where these ingredients are from. I hand selected all of them (except for the Lush stuff). When I wear the lotion, I know that there’s infused oil from my old backyard and wax from the bees. It’s a nice feeling for something I will probably use up in a couple months.