Creams! Body creams, facial creams—it is thrilling (seriously!) when I get to make one when teaching or a client is most agreeable about a cream being the best way to deliver essential oils to them, whether it is for emotional, mental or physical reasons. I find creams luxurious, luscious and lavish! Yet, they are often seen as “scary.” Creams, by definition, contain a water component (a.k.a., “water phase”), and when water comes into the equation we need to give a nod to our bacterial and fungal friends’ existence and start to consider using preservatives and other manufacturing practices. However, I’m a stickler for advocating that we (aromatherapists) create preservative-free delivery methods that are created in small batches, as-needed which suit individual client’s needs. For example, let’s say I create a 2 ounce bottle of cream for my client and my instructions are to apply to their hands and arms every morning, evening and any time after washing their hands to help soothe dry hands and address underlying anxiousness about their recent move to the area. That cream will be used up rather quickly, most likely in less than 4 weeks, which means a preservative is not called for.
First, let’s get into the benefits of creams and why we may choose one as a way to deliver essential oils to an individual’s mind-body-spirit. Creams are moisturizers; they help attract and hold in water to the skin. By definition they are called emulsions: water is combined with a fixed oil and an “emulsifier” (let’s call this “glue” for illustrative purposes) must be added to the mixture in order to bring these 2 parts together using centrifugal force (sounds fancy but that’s really just using a blender). Remember: oil and water don’t mix. One of the classic “glues” is beeswax which is used in the recipe given below. Compared to butter-based (e.g., shea or mango) or strictly oil-based (a.k.a.; anhydrous) products, creams are generally more readily absorbed by the skin and lighter in texture.
There’s something about the water component of a cream though….and we know that like attracts like. So what’s the deal? Our cells, our skin, are made of phospholipids and our natural oils (i.e., sebum) are based on—you guessed it—lipids. A fundamental part of working with water and oil is that like attracts like: water sits on our skin (like how water rolls off a duck’s feathers) and lipids (fats) want to go into the skin. When working with creams, water is only there to help bring the other ingredients to the skin, not necessarily bring hydration (Amy Galper, 2018). But when water is combined with oils and a “glue” we get something that is dreamy, magical, fluffy, light to the touch and generally absorbs quickly. SO, from a holistic perspective we:
- Hydrate from the inside out by drinking water and eating vegetables and fruits
- Protect our lipid loving skin and support our natural sebum by applying fixed oils to our skin; this application of oils helps us stay hydrated by keeping water in our body and helps prevent trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL).
- Realize the water component in creams helps deliver the goodness of the cream’s components to our skin, tissues and even into the blood stream.
Given the aforementioned background—are you excited about making a cream? Following is a simplified version of Rosemary Gladstar’s classic rose cream: only 4 ingredients! This guideline will give you approximately 10 ounces by volume. Feel free make more or less by working in “parts” and even take it further to “scale up” by working in percentages.
Crème de-la Crème: A Simple Cream Recipe for the Holistic Aromatherapist
- Isopropyl alcohol (70% to 90%) & other cleansers of your choice for sterilizing
- Heat source
- Double boiler
- Stirring rods
- Glass measuring cups (e.g., Pyrex)
- Jars (lidded) or bottles (with pump or flip tops)
- Water components: 5 fl oz distilled water or preferably a hydrosol (e.g., rose, lavender, chamomile, calendula) [Note: my go-to is rose hydrosol when I make a big batch in a workshop or class]
*Note: never opt for tap water which inevitably contains bacteria, minerals and other components not welcome in a cream
- Oil components:
- 5 fl oz nut/seed oil of your choice (or a combination of fixed oils) [Note: my go-to is jojoba]
- Vitamins A and E (Optional)
- Essential oils: I recommend a 1% dilution rate using 3 essential oils to keep it simple
- Emulsifier: 0.5 oz beeswax
How to make:
- Make the essential oil synergy:
- Create your essential oil blend beforehand. Combine your chosen oils into a small glass jar with a cap. Set aside and wait for 24 to 48 hours for the essential oils to combine.
- Get things spic-and-span when you are ready to make the cream:
- Clean and sterilize your jars, lids and equipment and work surfaces to get into the mindset of Good Manufacturing Practices (see below).
- Start with the water phase first:
- Put your chosen water component (or components) in a glass measuring cup and set aside to come to room temperature.
- Combine the emulsifier and fixed oils:
- In a double boiler over low heat, melt the beeswax then add the oil components to the melted wax.
- Stir the mixture to combine.
- Remove from heat and bring the wax and oil mixture to room temperature.
- You may speed up the cooling process by putting the hot mixture in the fridge but keep an eye on it so it doesn’t become too hard.
- Note: Once the water and oil/wax mixture are at the same temperature (i.e., room temperature) you are ready to combine them. This “same temperature” rule is critical otherwise the mixture will likely separate.
- Start blending:
- Place the water component into the blender and turn the blender on the lowest setting.
- Put the lid on the blender to minimize splashing but remove the small center piece so you may slowly add the cooled wax mixture.
- Slowly drizzle the wax and fixed oil mixture into the blender, being sure to add your essential oils half-way through or towards the end of blending. Note: The essential oils are added toward the end, when the oil mixture is being added, to minimize evaporation and adhere to the principle that “like attracts like”: essential oils are lipid-loving and will take to the fixed oil and wax mixture.
- Note: go “low and slow”—it takes time for the cream to thicken and for the waters to incorporate in the oils. The blender may “choke up” from time-to-time. When this happens, shut off the blender and use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the blender and remove any air-pockets that may be at the bottom near the blades. Do this as needed. You know the cream is emulsifying when it smoothly folds into itself and the sound changes. Once you make a cream a few times you know the tipping point and signs it is ready.
- Use a spatula to transfer the cream to your clean jars or bottles.
- Label each jar: give your cream a name, list the ingredients and note the creation date.
Points of Consideration for Containers and Usage
- The cream will “set” (i.e., “firm-up”) within 24 hours
- Keep the cream in the refrigerator if not using daily to delay spoilage
- Use 1, one to two ounce jar within 7 to 14 days
- On a personal note: I have used small batch cream, many times, over the course of a month with no problems.
- If your container is a jar: Use clean hands if putting your fingers in the jar OR use cosmetic spatulas to take the cream from the jar instead of using your fingers.
- Reduce contamination by putting the cream in a bottle with a pump-top dispenser or flip-top to lessen contact with the environment.
If you are interested in getting deeper into the world of shelf-life and preservatives, like you plan on selling products with water components that will sit around waiting to be shipped or on retail shelving, you need to investigate using preservatives, good manufacturing practices and hurdle technology:
- Here is a post regarding preservatives within the context of the aromatherapy practitioner who is focused on client-driven delivery methods but elucidates upon preservatives.
- According to the FDA: Good manufacturing practices (GMPs) are “part of quality assurance aimed at ensuring that products are consistently manufactured to a quality appropriate to their intended use.” These guidelines are informed by ISO standards and overseen by the FDA and its supporting agencies. In a nutshell: GMPs give quality guidance for streamlining manufacturing in a clean environment so a manufacturers products have less a chance of harming consumers.
- Hurdle technology is a process which combines several factors to help keep spoilage (i.e., bacteria, fungus/yeast/mold) at-bay. The word “hurdle” is used to indicate that the microorganisms present in a food or cosmetic product should not be able to “leap over” the measures used during the preservation process. The “hurdle effect” takes into account the interactions the following factors have on keeping microbes in check to make foods and cosmetics safe for consumption and use: temperature (heating, freezing), reduced water activity (drying, curing), acidity (pH such as adding citric acid), redox potential (removing oxygen or adding an anti-oxidant) and preservatives (natural such as fermentation or chemically derived).
- I hope this post gives you the confidence and curiosity to create your very own small-batch creams. You may realize my positive bias towards creams—they are so luxurious yet so easy to make! They are a perfect marriage of Art and Science: Beauty and the Beast.
Amy Galper, C. D. (2018). Plant Powered Beauty. Dallas: BenBella.