Getting into home herbalism can be intimidating. There is a treasure trove of information about herbs, thousands of plants that you could use, and almost endless ways you can use them. Add this to the very common worry that you’ll cause more harm than good by using plants to treat ailments, and it’s easy to see how some people can be gun-shy when it comes to herbalism.
I hope we’ll eventually make you feel empowered and comfortable enough to dip your toes in the herbal waters to make medicinal teas, syrups, or salves, but for now I think a great entry level project into home herbalism is to try your hand at homemade beauty products such as DIY lotion.
Why DIY Lotion is a Great Place to Start with Herbalism
Since most people don’t see beauty products as true medicines—although they definitely can be—the mental barrier seems to be lower. Plus, it’s a fun science experiment, and the end result makes for great gifts (for you or someone you love).
Along the way, you’ll also get to know certain plants (here, we’re going to dive into the sunny yellow goodness of calendula), learn herbalism processes, and hopefully get more comfortable with your home herbalism practice.
The one caveat here is that making herbal beauty products is a decidedly more complicated process than your standard herbal medicine. While it’s not hard, it is definitely not as easy as plopping some dried herbs in some boiling water to make a medicinal tea.
Once you’ve got the process down for this Healing Calendula Moisturizer, you’ll be able to make tons of organic, healing, all-natural, nourishing lotion with ease in your own kitchen—and for pennies on the dollar compared to store-bought stuff.
Why Calendula is THE key to this moisturizer
Browse the beauty product section of your local health food store, and you’ll see tons of creams, salves, ointments, balms, and soaks that include calendula—it’s so popular for good reason! Calendula is the herb if you want to treat and nourish the skin. Calendula is a vulnerary—meaning it heals wounds and promotes cell repair. While powerful, calendula is also incredibly gentle, meaning it’s been used for centuries to treat all kinds of skin conditions in children and babies—diaper rash and cradle cap included.
If you’re a gardener, calendula is also one of the easiest medicinal herbs to grow. Just sprinkle some seeds in a sunny spot in the spring—calendula isn’t really picky—and soon you’ll have mountains of beautiful yellow and orange blooms. If you’re low on green space, calendula is also quite potent in dried form, although like most medicinal herbs, not quite as much as the fresh form.
This is a NON-GREASY Homemade Moisturizer
When I tested this recipe, it was really important to me to land on a combination that was both deeply hydrating and non-greasy—not an easy balance to strike with natural products! I did a lot of research about the absorption time of different oils and tweaked and tweaked until I ended up with something I was really happy with.
You’ll see many DIY lotion and moisturizer recipes out there calling for lots of unrefined coconut oil, and while coconut oil is amazing (and super moisturizing), it also has one of the slowest absorption times of all cosmetic oils available. This works fine if you’re going to slather your feet in it during a pedicure, but for everyday use? I’d prefer not to have greasy elbows all morning, thank you very much. So out goes the unrefined coconut oil, and in comes grapeseed oil and sweet almond oil—both of which have medium to fast absorption rates. In the printable recipe below, I outline a few tweaks you can make to make this more or less moisturizing depending on your own skin type.
How to Make DIY Calendula-Infused Oil for Cosmetics Using Solar Infusion
The first step to making most herbal cosmetics is to infuse oil with the herbs you want to use. There are a handful of different ways to do this, but my favorite is the solar method. While this method is far-and-away the easiest and most potent, it is also the most time consuming. Fill a mason jar 2/3 full with dried or fresh calendula flowers, and then cover the herbs by 1-2” with a mixture of half grapeseed oil and half sweet almond oil. Cap and then place in a sunny spot.
Depending on the temperature of your sunny spot, the oil will be finished in 2-6 weeks—you’ll know it’s ready when the oil has turned very yellow and smells slightly floral. It’s hard (impossible, even) to over-infuse oils, so the longer it goes, the stronger the result will be. You can even add a fresh batch of calendula flowers halfway through the process to double the strength. Once the oil is finished, strain it through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth. Then discard the spent herbs, and you have a beautiful bottle of calendula oil to use in all your favorite cosmetic preparations.
How to Make DIY Calendula-Infused Oil for Cosmetics Using a Double Boiler
If you’re short on time, you can also infuse herbal oils using the double boiler method—place a glass bowl with the calendula and oils over a pot of gently simmering water and “cook” the herbs until the oil is bright yellow and smells floral, about two hours. You have to be very careful with this process to not overheat the oil—which would turn your herbal oil into deep-fried calendula and destroy the medicinal properties. Keep the temperature between 90-110°F for best results.
Depending on how hot it is outside, you might even be able to hit this temperature in the sunshine without the stovetop. We were having a heat wave while I was taking these pictures, and I was able to infuse my oil in the sunshine in just a couple hours—it was hovering right around 100°F in the oil all day.
Healing Calendula DIY Lotion Ingredients
Now that you’ve made your calendula herbal oil, let’s dig into the actual how-to for making the moisturizer. Here’s what you’ll need:
Calendula-infused oil using above methods :: We recommend half grapeseed oil and half sweet almond oil for a nice balance of moisturizing and non-greasiness, but you can refer to this chart to see the properties of other cosmetic oils and make your own combination if you wish to experiment.
Cocoa butter OR refined coconut oil :: This adds a hefty dose of silky moisturizing to the lotion. Cocoa butter is moisturizing, but still relatively light (and smells amazing). Refined coconut oil will be more greasy but also much more moisturizing—make sure it’s refined coconut oil, because unrefined will leave you greasy for hours. If you want a very light moisturizer, you can leave out this altogether and just add more of the infused calendula oil instead.
Beeswax pellets :: This is what helps to thicken up the moisturizer and keep it thick at room temperature.
Lavender essential oil :: Not only does lavender smell amazing, but it’s also supremely healing for the skin. It’s also a natural anti-microbial and pain-relieving, making this a great addition if you are using this lotion to help heal irritated skin.
Vitamin E oil :: This works as an all-natural preservative, and is also moisturizing and nourishing all on it’s own. Vitamin E oil is frequently used to reduce the appearance of scars and other skin blemishes.
Distilled water, rose water, or other hydrosols :: We’re going to make an emulsion here (similar to what happens when you make homemade mayo), which means we need equal parts of a water ingredient to balance out our oil ingredients. Distilled water works fine, but you can also use rose water or other hydrosols—water infused with flower essences. For extra credit (and extra healing), you can even use a calendula hydrosol.
Commercially prepared organic aloe vera gel :: Aloe is another excellent skin-soothing herb, and while you might be tempted to use fresh aloe gel from your own plant here, I recommend going with a commercially-prepared gel. Fresh aloe gel just doesn’t have the shelf life needed to make your DIY lotion last long enough to use it up. When purchasing aloe, just make sure to buy organic aloe gel that does not have any oil or artificial colors listed in the ingredients. You’ll probably have to hit up your local health food store for it—I couldn’t find any at our local pharmacies or big box stores. Or you can grab the brand I use on Amazon.
Healing Calendula DIY Lotion Tutorial
Let’s dig into the actual how to for making this moisturizer. We have a step-by-step photo tutorial ready for you to make it a little easier. Below this is a full printable recipe that you can refer to as you create. Let’s have some fun!
Step One: Melt oils and beeswax together
Combine the infused oil, cocoa butter or refined coconut oil, and beeswax in a double boiler. You can use a double boiler, a bowl fitted over a pot of simmering water, or my prefered method, a cleaned-out tin can sitting in a pot of simmering water. Why do I do this? Because, friends, beeswax is HARD to clean up—it’s impossible to get every last bit off. Long ago I decided that anytime I used beeswax in a preparation, I’d put it in a recycled tin can to make my life easier. I use a large popsicle stick to stir. You can also just designate a glass bowl as your “beeswax bowl,” and use it every time you make salves or creams.
Stir frequently until the beeswax and cocoa butter or refined coconut oil are completely melted. Remove from heat, add in both the lavender essential oil and Vitamin E oil, and then stash in the fridge to solidify.
Step Two: Mix water ingredients
While the oil combination is cooling, mix together your water ingredients. In a small mixing bowl, combine the distilled water or hydrosols and aloe vera gel. Set aside.
Step Three: Test Oil Texture
You want to cool the oil mixture until it’s the texture of a soft salve. Let it cool too long in the fridge, and it’ll have a hard time emulsifying. You can fix this by just setting it out at room temperature to warm up. Don’t let it cool enough, and you will have a runny (but still usable) lotion at the end. The right thickness is about the texture of a medium-soft lip balm. It takes my fridge 2-3 hours to get to this point.
Step Four: Combine the Oil Mixture and Water Mixture Together
I know, oil and water don’t mix—except when they do, thanks to a blender! Scoop the oil mixture into the basin of a blender. Make sure to really scrape out as much of the mixture as you can.
Place the lid on the blender and then turn it on medium-high. Slowly stream in the water mixture a little at a time as the blender runs.
The mixture will continue to thicken with the more water you add (I know, it’s counterintuitive). Once all the water is added, the mixture should be thick enough that the blender struggles to blend it.
That’s when you know it’s ready. Turn off the blender and voila, you have lotion! Depending on the power of your blender, the mixture may have heated up during the emulsion process—which is no big deal, it just means that the mixture will thicken even more as it cools back down to room temperature.
Step Five: Store, Label, and Use
Scoop your DIY lotion out of the blender and keep in airtight small jars. I like these straight-sided four-ounce amber glass jars. They’re a great size for gifting!
Make sure to label your containers. I created free labels you can use—they are designed to go onto Avery 22846 2” Square Kraft Paper Labels, which is a good size to use on any number of different containers. Once on the container, I always cover my labels with packing tape to “laminate” them and keep them from getting dirty. Download your labels here.
The Vitamin E oil does provide preservative qualities, so if you keep the mixture out of sunlight, the lotion will last up to six months at room temperature. For the longest shelf life (and an invigorating moisturizing session!) keep your DIY lotion in the fridge. You’ll get a year or more out of it in there. Enjoy!