A DIY Emulsifying Cleansing Balm: An Update

So lately I’ve noticed that my number one most popular post here is my recipe for a homemade emulsifying cleansing balm, which I posted at the beginning of this year. I started exploring DIY last year because I couldn’t find an emulsifying balm commercially that fit my needs. I needed something without shea butter (because it clogs my pores) and using primarily high-linoleic oils (because they help prevent spots for me). Most of the cleansing balms out there are targeted to dry, mature skins that would benefit from heavy butters and high-oleic oils. Or else they contain a lot of essential oils or fragrance, which I’ve found irritates my eyes when I use the balm to remove eye makeup. Or they’re designed to be steamed off with a washcloth rather than emulsified before being rinsed or wiped away, which would leave a residue that my skin can’t handle. I also suspect that beeswax is an ingredient that plays havoc with my skin, particularly in a cleanser.

So I decided to make my own with some oils, mango butter, and basically what amounts to a homemade emulsifying wax, which is a mix of polysorbate and a fatty alcohol. And it worked rather nicely. Of course, I later found a cleansing oil that was less expensive to buy, fragrance-free, and based on mineral oil, which doesn’t have either linoleic or oleic acid in it and is relatively neutral from an acne perspective. So I abandoned my DIY cleansing balm for a while.

And then my cleansing oil got reformulated. And now contains shea butter and high-oleic oils. Argh. I thought about trying another commercial cleansing oil, but the one I found that didn’t cost an arm and a leg, was fragrance-free, and based on a high-linoleic oil just didn’t thrill me. And it wasn’t exactly cheap for the amount you got anyway.

So back to my DIY. I’ve updated the recipe a bit. I’ve started to think that maybe all butters and hard oils will eventually clog my skin, and at the very least contribute to a balm feeling difficult to cleanse off my skin. So I put together a recipe with just liquid oil and a complete emulsifying wax. Since a complete emulsifying wax can emulsify a lotion on its own, I figured it would be a shortcut to an emulsifying balm. Sadly, while it did emulsify, it didn’t rinse cleanly without using a flannel. Now, I love my flannels, but some days I just don’t want to be fussed. So I popped in a little more polysorbate and it rinses cleanly with warm water.

Here’s my updated recipe:

Butter-Free Emulsifying Cleansing Balm

(makes 112 g, which fits in a 4-oz. jar)

20g emulsifying wax

30g jojoba oil

50g grapeseed oil

10g Polysorbate-20

2g Vitamin E liquid

Melt the emulsifying wax and liquid oils together and stir thoroughly. Add the PS-20 and Vitamin E and stir until they melt in. Pour into a sanitized jar. Allow to cool. To use, scoop an almond-sized blob into your hands and apply it to your face. It should melt into an oil from the heat of your hands. Then, add a little warm water to your oily hands and rub them together until the balm emulsifies into a milky consistency. Use this milk to emulsify the oil on your face and then rinse with water or remove with a damp flannel. I usually follow this with a second cleanse with a water-based cleanser.

My Homemade Emulsifying Cleansing Balm

Update: I’ve since updated this recipe and talked about it here.

I’ve mentioned my homemade cleansing balm in the past and, as I’ve just whipped up a new batch, I thought I’d share my current recipe. I made this balm last year with some lovely oils and a light scent from lemon and lavender essential oil, but this year I realized I needed something entirely simpler to remove eye makeup after I perform. It’s also high in linoleic acid for my breakout-prone skin. I managed to make it a bit firm this go around, but I’m going to keep the formula because I can gouge out a blob easily enough, and hopefully I won’t have to reformulate in the summer when our bathroom gets much warmer.

I based my recipe on some all-natural cleansing balm recipes I found online, but I knew I wanted an emulsifier to allow for clean rinsing. I decided to use cetyl stearyl alcohol and Polysorbate-20 because they work together and the fatty alcohol acts like a wax, eliminating the need for an additional wax. While they are not entirely natural, Polysorbate is used in foods, so you can find food-grade ingredients if you worry about contamination, and the fatty alcohols can be found from sources that list origin and purity.

I originally used mango butter alone, but decided to add babassu oil because it’s supposed to be lovely for skin care and I had it from making soap. Going back to all mango butter would probably make a slightly softer balm. Finally, I made this with a high level of grapeseed oil for its beneficial fatty acid profile. The oils and butters used add up to 43% linoleic acid and 24% oleic acid. If you have dry skin and don’t worry about spots, I’d highly recommend you try a richer, higher-oleic acid oil, or a more balanced oil, like jojoba oil.

To use this lovely balm, I scoop out about a grape-sized amount and rub it between my hands to melt and then apply it to dry skin. I massage it all around, making sure to get anywhere I’ve worn makeup. Sometimes I give myself a little massage. Then, I rinse my hands with warm water and wet a washcloth under warm-to-hot water. I lay the warm cloth over my face for a bit to steam and then wipe off the balm. If I’ve worn a lot of makeup or sunscreen, I’ll follow with a cream cleanser, but otherwise, I rinse my face with warm and then cool water. It rinses very cleanly and is a nice ritual to end my day. It was lovely to have the essential oils to scent it for a little aromatherapy while my pores steamed, but I found they irritated my eyes so I couldn’t use it to remove eye makeup. So I had to abandon them. If you have less sensitive eyes, feel free to add something to make it smell lovely, but please properly research any ingredients you choose to put on your skin.

One final note: I make this by weight for precision. I highly recommend you purchase a small digital scale if you want to make homemade personal care products. If you’re looking for sources of ingredients, I purchased my cetyl stearyl alcohol and Polysorbate from Gugu Soap Company, and my oils, butters, and Vitamin E from Wild Herb. I found babassu oil on Amazon.

Emulsifying Cleansing Balm

50g grapeseed oil
20g mango butter
20g cetyl stearyl alcohol
10g babassu oil
10g Polysorbate-20
3g Vitamin E liquid

Melt together the cetyl stearyl alcohol, mango butter, and babassu oil until completely melted. Add the grapeseed oil, Polysorbate-20, and Vitamin E liquid and stir until incorporated. If the room-temperature ingredients start to thicken or flake in the melted ingredients, warm it gently to get them to melt in, but don’t heat too much after adding the grapeseed oil or Vitamin E. Once it’s all blended, pour into a container. I use a wide-mouthed, rather flat 8-oz. Ball jar. Cap and refrigerate for a half an hour, or until just set. Then, you can keep it at room temperature. If you are careful to only put clean, dry fingers into the jar, it should keep for a few months at room temperature.

Shaking Up My Skin Care Routine

I’ve recently discovered a new skin care guru: Caroline Hirons. Of course this makes sense, with my love of all things British, but in particular I like her because she above all prizes clean skin, gentle treatment, and avoiding shea butter if you get spots. For years I’ve known that shea butter breaks me out, but so many brands love to put it in products for acne-prone skin. It’s irritating that it takes so much effort to find a moisturizer that I’m not 90% certain will break me out, and I sometimes feel like I’m the only weirdo freak that can’t let shea near my face. I even avoid hair conditioners with it.

Anyway, Caroline’s routine is not exactly simple or minimalist, but it is also not a 12-stepper either. She first and foremost advises proper cleansing, with a hot washcloth and a good cream or balm cleanser. Already I’m listening, as I loved balm cleansing. I mixed up a batch of my homemade emulsifying cleansing balm anyway, and also bought a hot cloth cream cleanser from Human + Kind that I’ve been eyeing at Sephora for mornings. Sadly, I’m not fond of the scent of the cleanser, so I have my eye on a couple more to try out when that runs out.

Now, in the past, I’ve said that I feel like cream/balm cleansers make me feel a bit congested after a bit. Enter Hirons’ second step: acid toning. Rather than using an alcohol-based toner, she advises using an acid-based exfoliator on a daily basis (maybe even twice a day). Of course, I recently discovered that a salicylic-acid-containing moisturizer was helping with my breakouts, so I figured I’d give it a try in toning. I’ve been using First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance pads and enjoying them, but I’ve also ordered a salicylic acid pad from Garden of Wisdom.

After that, it’s hydration. First, in mist form, which I already love. No need to deviate from my favored rosewater and glycerin mix. Then, eye cream. I’ve picked up a sample of 100% Pure’s bestselling coffee eye cream to try out. And then serums, oils, and creams. So I keep my rose hip seed oil at night, and in the morning and to end my evening routine, I use my Andalou 1,000 Roses Beautiful Day Cream (the night cream contains shea, boo). It’s lovely and moist and smells of roses, which is always a plus for me. And I recently went moderately nuts on Sephora’s website and bought a serum, plus a few other deluxe sample goodies. And I think I might consider a lighter weight eye cream for the future, as the 100% Pure cream is rich and the nutty scent clashes slightly with the 1,000 Roses cream.

As far as results, it’s been not very long, but I have to say, not only are my existing spots clearing up, but my perpetually-bumpy forehead is also looking smoother. And my skin has a bit of a radiant glow to it that I don’t always see. Boyfriend’s mother’s cousin actually commented on how beautiful my skin was when we met before my play and I wasn’t wearing a scrap of makeup because I was about to go put it on backstage. Lovely.

My Bathroom Sanctuary

I’ve recently gone through a bit of a rough spot emotionally. I was busy, yes, with tech and performances for my play. But I’ve also just felt generally unmotivated and blah. So I’ve decided to organize my life a bit to add beauty and light to it. And there is one place that never fails to add beauty and light to my life: my lovely bathroom.

I love the bathroom in our house. It’s all white, with clean white tile and a clean white tub and clean white walls. I’ve accessorized it minimally. It also had a skylight, which I highly recommend for any bathroom connoisseur. One thing it does not have is a bath tub, but ah well, one can’t expect utter perfection in a rental.


But I decided to tweak it just a bit to make for a lovely relaxing sanctuary of a bathroom. I’ve decided to try balm cleansing with a homemade cleansing balm (recipe later, if I’m very nice), but balm cleansing requires a hot cloth. And hot cloth cleansing generally mucks up the cloth you use, so it requires lots of fresh cloths and a system for dealing with them.

So I’ve devised a new system. I have two dozen cotton washcloths that I laundered, rolled up, and set out, seven at a time, on the side of my sink. Next to that, I have my jar of cleansing balm, and jars of cotton pads and cotton buds. So every evening, I can remove my makeup, steam with a fresh cotton cloth, wash the day away, maybe tone with something delicious and rosewater-based, and dab away bits of eye makeup that escaped the balm with a cotton bud. Then, I proceed with moisture and oil.

I’ve also found myself muddying my beauty routine in the name of novelty, so I’ve strived to simplify that as well. As of yet, I haven’t settled, but I’m trying one new thing at a time, rather than half a dozen. And it is much more relaxing. I hope to hear about all of your bathroom sanctuaries.