Homemade Hand Cream

I am a crocodile. Well, not literally, obviously (opposable thumbs being a great boon to typing ability) but my skin is so dry, especially in winter, that it feels more true than not. Given that both of my grandmothers were Irish and one grandfather was Scottish, 75% of my DNA is used to a moist, mild climate. Not the description I would use for this buried-in-snow, always-below-freezing New York winter.

Just before Christmas, I stumbled upon this recipe for homemade hand lotion and thought that, together with my homemade body scrub, it would make nice Christmas gifts. I made up a few batches in fancy jars for some of my girlfriends and I also made up a few 4-oz jars as party favors at our annual Christmas party. So far, everyone who has tried this hand cream loves it, and I have to agree: it is awesome. Very thick and rich without being greasy; since you make it yourself, you can control how much (or how little) scent, the type of oil (I’ve used both avocado and sunflower), the type of container you like best, etc. Best of all, you know that there is nothing else in it: wax, oil, essential oils, and water. Oh, and the cost? Literally pennies a jar. I wish I had figured this out years ago.

I will say that the recipe (such as it is) can be a bit finicky: I’ve made this several times now over the last couple of months and I’ve had a few batches simply refuse to emulsify. I’m careful now to make sure I use my thermometer on the oil & water when I am combining (target temps are included in the recipe below), but even so, the last batch I made separated on me while sitting overnight. (If this should happen to you, I’ve had luck with re-heating in the microwave, whisking together to blend, then pouring back into jars to cool. I’ve also just hit the cooled, separated cream with an immersion blender; this can work, but it’s tough if you only made one jar, or half the recipe below). I haven’t quite determined a fool-proof method as of yet: if and when I do, I will report back.  Despite the finicky nature of the recipe however, this is really worth trying: I don’t think I’ll ever buy hand lotion again.

Adapted from Handmade Hand Lotion by Kendra at A Sonoma Garden (The links to wax & essential oils in the recipe below go to Kendra’s affiliate page at Mountain Rose Herbs; shopping through these links will send a few pennies her way, which I think is a nice way to say thank you for sharing her recipe with us!)

I swear I'm not 102 years old; it's just my cheap Irish skin.

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 Homemade Hand Cream

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup emulsifying wax
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • about 10 – 20 drops essential oil (I use about 15 drops of lavender, or 8 – 10 drops each of grapefruit & bitter orange)
  • 1 and 1/4 cups filtered water

METHODS

  1. Add oil and wax pastilles to a small heat-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 1 – 2 minutes, or until all the wax is completely melted and the oil clear (temperature will be about 150 – 160 degrees at this point). Add essential oils, wafting your hand over the hot oil in order to smell when the aroma is strong enough.
  2. Microwave the water on high for 1 minute, or until it is very warm but not hot (about 120 degrees).
  3. Add water to oil-wax mixture; it will immediately emulsify and turn opaque. If your water-oil mixture does not emulsify into a smooth, creamy liquid, but clumps instead, it is probably because either the oil or the water were not hot enough. You can try to re-heat the entire mixture for about 1 minute in the microwave; whisk vigorously, and if it looks creamy, pour into a jar to sit. 
  4. Pour into clean jars, cover and allow to sit undisturbed overnight. In the morning, you will have hand cream!

Yields just under a pint.

OPTIONS

  1. Emulsifying wax is a vegetable-based wax from naturally occuring fats & esters and commonly used in cosmetic formulations. The ingredients are cetostearyl alcohol and ethoxylated sorbitan ester (extracted from plant fats) which are considered fairly benign by the Cosmetics Database. For additional information, see the fact sheet at Mountain Rose Herbs.
  2. Any combination of essential oils can be used; simply add them to the oil/melted wax combination until it smells good to you. I haven’t yet experimented with infusing oil with fresh or dried herbs, spices, or citrus rind, but it seems like a good idea if you don’t have access to essential oils or can’t find one in the flavor you want. Essential oils are usually available for sale at whole foods markets; often yoga, massage, or acupuncture centers will carry them as well.
  3. The base oil is also optional; Kendra at A Sonoma Garden uses olive oil; I’ve tried both avocado oil (which yields a very thick, rich cream, great for post dish-washing hands; it turns out a beautiful pale green color and it smells strongly of avocado, so if this is something you don’t like, choose a more neutral oil) and sunflower oil (which yields a lighter hand cream; the essentials oils really come through and it is a brilliant white color). Almost any oil will work from specialty massage oils to the canola in your kitchen cabinet.
  4. Vitamin E is known to be good for a variety of skin conditions; you can pierce a few capsules and squeeze the oil into your oil-wax mixture prior to adding the water.
  5. I tried a vanilla version, using 1 and 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract, but the lotion separated; possibly the alcohol in the vanilla extract interfered with the emulsion. Next I may try to infuse some oil with vanilla by soaking a vanilla bean and using that for the hand lotion; I’ll report back.

STORE

At room temperature, indefinitely.

SEASON

Year round.

Homemade Hand Cream

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33 comments

  1. Kaela, this post made me laugh, because a dermatologist once actually said to me that I have “crappy English skin.” Can you believe? Do you think I ever saw him again, even if it’s true. I can tell from the picture that you, at least, are not a nail biter. Ahem. Anyway, I have been regularly loving up the homemade body scrub I made from your recipe in December, and I would really like to try this next.

  2. You know, I almost commented on the nails myself, because I NEVER HAVE THEM. I’m not a biter, but mine are just brittle & weak (cheap Irish nails, I guess), so between washing dishes, hiking, rock climbing, etc., they are usually non-existant. It’s either the magic of this hand cream, or the fact that I now have jars of it by the bathroom sink, kitchen sink, on my desk and by my nightstand, so I’m never further than 3 feet away from moisturized nails. :)

    And, really? “Crappy?” Are doctors even allowed to use that word? (I mean, other than proctologists, of course. Ahem.)

  3. This is genius! I too have issues with dry skin, especially since I have radiator heat and those suckers leave every room bone dry. I’ll have to give this recipe a try.

  4. Kat

    I made this lotion a month or so ago, and have been loving it! I made it with lavender essential oil, and can’t wait to try it with the grapefruit or citrus oils. Both my husband and I get tattooed on a regular basis, and this lotion is so much better (and less expensive) than ANYTHING else! I’m glad that you’re spreading the word around.

  5. I will have to try this. Hopefully I won’t eat it, as it looks really delicious! My hands are horribly dry right now, and I have a gash on my index knuckle due to cracked dry skin. Ugh.

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  7. Hi Kaela, can you tell where I can get the wax? I’m in NYC and I’d love to try this!
    It looks amazing. Thanks for all the detailed info. Love your blog. Paula

  8. My initial thought was “not a great idea.” Zinc is quite toxic and I’d be worried about ensuring homogeneity of the final product, such that there is suffiient zinc to block the sun’s rays throughout all of the moisturizer. I did a little Googling.. and while there are recipes out there, there is also this:

    http://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/blogs/dont-make-your-own-sunscreen

    I tend to agree (depsite the LARGE amount of sunscreen I go through every summer). I suspect sunscreen is one thing best left to the professionals.

    • I do make a beeswax version for a friend of mine, with avocado oil, but it ends up more like a salve than a handcream. I have heard that if you cool the beeswax slowly, and mix it with an immersion blender as it cools, that it will emulsify and become smooth like a hand cream; I just haven’t tried it yet.

  9. Jojobean

    Mine separated – waxy top, liquid bottom. I put it back in the microwave for 1 minute, and then blended it with my handheld immersion blender and it turned into a fluffy/moussey hand cream…awesome!

  10. Hannah

    I finally bought the emulsifying wax! I have had this recipe pinned for a long time, and I am finally going to try it. Can’t wait!

  11. Justine

    This looks like a fantastic recipe for hand cream that I really want to try. Just wondering, but would it be possible to use beeswax instead of the emulsifying wax? Would this produce similar results?

  12. Reaya

    Love this idea for Christmas presents! Can you give me a tip as to how much a 1/4 cup of the emulsifying wax weighs? It looks like it ships in 1 lb or 5 lb aliquots. Just trying to figure out how many batches a pound would make.

    • A 1/4-cup is pretty light: maybe 1 oz? I’ll try to weigh it today when I get around to making more and let you know. But I bought the 1-lb bag and it is still going a year and a half later.

    • Hi Kellie,

      I would try warming it a bit in the microwave, then whipping it with an immersion blender or hand mixer. That often helps to emulsify the cream; some people will blend it a few times over 30 minutes or so, as it cools, in order to ensure a thick, creamy texture.

      Hope that helps!

  13. dre

    I love this recipe. I’ve noticed that with some of my cream it starts to mold in about a month. Do you know what could be causing this? Thanks!

    • Hi Dre,

      I’ve never had mold, which kinds of surprises me, honestly, because we live in a quite mold-prone area. It might help to switch up the oil you are using: I tend to use either sunflower or safflower oils; both are high in anti-oxidants which are natural anti-bacterials and mold preventers. I also always use organic oil – possibly makes a difference? I don’t really know. I have heard that a few drops of tea tree oil can help to prevent mold. The other thing I can suggest is to make the same size batch, but divvy it into small jars, and keep only one out at a time, while the rest stay in the fridge until ready for use.

      Hope that helps,
      Kaela

    • Rachel

      Hi Dre, it has been a long time since you posted this, but the reason this molds is because of the water in the recipe. Anytime water is involved, mold will often come about if there is no preservative. Especially if it is held at room temp. It will last a bit longer if stored in the fridge. I’m desperately trying to discover a non greasy recipe that doesn’t have water because I want to avoid using preservatives. I’ve had no luck so far with my concoctions.

      • Rachel,

        As I say above, I haven’t had a problem with mold, even with creams that have stayed at room temp for months. But you might try using distilled water and putting the cream into sterilized jars; or olive oil, Vitamin E, Vitamin C are all natural anti-bacterials. Citric acid could also be added; it would act as a preservative but is benign as far as ‘chemicals’ go, mainly derived from lemons.

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  15. Peta-Ann

    Hi, I’ve been trying different recipes and this one of yours hs the same ingredients as mine. Try melting wax first over a double boiler, I use a cereal bowl over a saucepan, then add oil and bring up to same temp as wax. I then take it off the heat and add the water slowly. I use room temperature water and have never had it separate. I have just made a batch with coconut oil which is so soothing. :-)

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