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.

A Beautiful Floral Facial Oil

One of my favorite DIY blogs is Marie Rayma’s blog Humblebee & Me. She has a beautiful approach to DIY, creating products for herself and her friends for the joy of it, and never selling. Because she does not sell, she can also go into discussions of the healing benefits of certain products, and she tends to provide recipes that make a reasonable amount of product (for example, five tubes of lip balm instead of fifty).

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She recently posted a recipe for a facial oil serum based on mixing her favorite, argan oil, with evening primrose oil to help heal and prevent hormonal acne. Now, I’d looked at evening primrose oil for that same reason, although I don’t use argan oil. I decided to try blending it with my preferred oil: rose hip. I finally got my order of fresh rose hip oil and a bottle of evening primrose from Mountain Rose Herbs and have been using my oil blend of fifty-fifty rose hip to evening primrose for a few weeks now. It is a heavier oil than rose hip alone and took some getting used to. It also has a bit of a deep-fryer scent to it.

To remedy that, I decided to add some skin-regenerating essential oils, inspired by True Nature Botanicals Face Oil. Now, I love the scent of their oil, but the particular blend skews higher in oleic acid than I like. The oil itself is quite dear, but the ingredients are not a whole lot cheaper than the finished oil itself. That said, the formula is not what I would consider ideal. So I found an Etsy seller who would sell me small amounts of precious floral oils.

I blended 1/16th of an ounce each of jasmine, rose, vetiver, and neroli essential oils, along with ten drops of frankincense essential oil into my bottle of rose hip oil, which had about 3.5 oz. left in it. This I mixed well, and then blended half and half with evening primrose oil. It works out to about a 3% dilution of the essential oils. It has a light fragrance and just covers the oily scent of the oils itself, plus the essential oils are known for being good for healing skin and helping it retain moisture.

I’ve been using the oil for the last several days in the evening, and it is a lovely experience for all my senses, I think having a lovely-smelling facial oil prompts me to take a bit more time massaging my face in the evenings. And I don’t smell quite so much like a fast food restaurant when I go to bed!

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.