Sometimes I get eczema on my hands. I’m never quite sure whether it’s caused by stress or a reaction to an ingredient in soap or a cream. At these times I find simplifying what I’m using can help. However, it can be very difficult to find simple products with only a few ingredients, so to solve this I like to make my own balms.
A balm is basically oil mixed with wax to make a solid product that melts when applied to the skin. A very simple balm is olive oil with beeswax. This evening I made a couple of balms. One is to use on my hands and the other is to use as a nappy cream for my daughter (they are basically the same – but I prefer to keep their uses separate so made up a jar for each). They were both made with beeswax, extra-virgin olive oil and calendula macerated in sunflower oil.
I used to keep bees and was pleased to see that the beeswax I bought was certified organic. At one time I didn’t worry about this. But the miticide used to treat varroa is a wax soluble product. Good beekeepers will treat after harvesting honey and taking off the wax which should minimise problems with the wax being contaminated. But still, I’d rather be sure there was no chance of contamination – after all when buying beeswax it’s not possible to tell if the wax has come from the cappings when the honey is harvested (this will be the best quality wax) or from the combs after they’ve had a number of seasons in the hive. (For cosmetics I’d hope for cappings and for furniture polish the older – often darker – wax from the combs will be sufficient). I realise that the wax I’ve bought is quite dark in colour. So it may be older wax from the combs. But as beeswax can be bleached or even adulterated with paraffin wax to make it look lighter (and purer) this isn’t a good indicator.
Sorry about all those technical terms, when I started writing I didn’t realise I was going to get into beekeeping terminology!
Cappings: when the bees have finished making the honey they put a lid over the cell the honey is stored in. When the beekeeper harvests the honey they slice off the “lids” over the cells and this is the “cappings”.
Varroa: a parasitic mite of the honey bee that adversely affects beekeeping in almost every country in the world.
Miticide: is an insecticide used to kill the varroa mite in the hive but it’s delivered in low enough doses so that it doesn’t effect the bees (hopefully!)
Back to making balms!
I make my balms right in the jar using a microwave!
By volume I use approximately 1 part beeswax to 3 parts oil. I put the beeswax in the jar and top the jar up with the oils I’m using (It’s a good idea to leave a little space in the jar to allow the addition of more oil or wax if the final product is the wrong consistency).
I put hot water in a bowl and then stand the jar in the bowl. Usually the water comes to about 2/3 to 3/4 up the side of the jar. I then put this all in the microwave and heat it gently. At this point I want to emphasis the importance of doing this gently. That’s OIL and WAX in a MICROWAVE. You don’t want a fire. I put the microwave on about 1/4 power and heat for a minute at a time, taking the jar out and stirring regularly. The wax will melt at about 70 degrees Celsius.
Once the wax has melted you can check the consistency. I use a cold spoon and dip it into the hot oil/wax. The mixture will set on the spoon. It should be reasonably firm. You can then see how well it melts on your skin. If it doesn’t melt then you will need to add a little more oil. If the mixture is very soft on the spoon then you may want to add some more wax (just a little) and stir it until it’s melted. Then I put the lid on and pop it in the fridge to cool and set!
You can make this as complicated or as simple as you like. Olive oil and beeswax is as simple as it gets. Other vegetable oils can be used (e.g. Sunflower, Safflower, Avocado Oil) though I would always use a cold-pressed oil. The balm can also be scented with essential oils – just a few drops will be enough. Personally I like mine plain!
As you can see, although I used some “posh” ingredients in my balms tonight, the main ingredient came out of my (Mum’s) kitchen cupboard!