Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hand Balm Tutorial

Okay, the moment no one has been waiting for: My first tutorial! I figured those wee little hand balms would be a good thing to do since none of my close blogging friends have a hand balm tutorial yet. Let's go!

*Disclaimer 1* If you are a soap maker, this will bore you to tears. Like, for real. Read the recipe and then skip to the end where I show the nifty way I put the shrink bands on.

*Disclaimer 2* The recipe I use calls for a blend of beeswax, solid butters and liquid oils and is a modified version of a recipe I found online.
The most important thing about the recipe is to maintain even amounts of liquid oils and solid butters. You can tweak the beeswax and starch amounts according to your personal taste, but you must use equal amounts of oils and butters for them to properly solidify. Anyway, if you do a quick search for "solid lotion bar" or "solid hand balm" it should bring up a slew of different recipes for you to choose from. I will share my favorite here:

2.5 oz grated beeswax (or beeswax pastilles)
3 oz liquid oils (I've used a bunch of different combos of the following: avocado oil, sweet almond oil, golden jojoba oil, rice bran oil, wheatgerm oil -- still searching for my favorite blend)
3 oz solid butters (I've used varying amounts of each of the following: unrefined shea butter, cocoa butter and mango butter)
1.5 tbsp starch (I was using corn starch, but I have switched to arrowroot)
1 - 2 mL fragrance oil or essential oil (depending on desired strength -- you be the judge, but I prefer my scents on the lighter side and generally don't exceed 1.5 mL)
*This recipe makes 12 mini-muffin sized balms

You will need:

•Any combination of the oils listed above (or substitute your favorites!)
•Any combination of the butters listed above (or substitute your favorites!)
•Fragrance, if desired (you can find skin safe fragrance oils at most craft stores with the soap making supplies, or you can use essential oils)
•Mini muffin pan "mold" (I use both silicone and non-stick metal pans with success, but the flexible silicone pans are MUCH easier to release the balms from)
•Kitchen scale that measures at least in half ounce increments
•Utensil for stirring
•Ladle for pouring melted balm into "mold"
•Crock Pot set to LOW, double boiler over LOW heat or oven safe dish in a warm oven
(no more than 200° F) ***The key is to use an indirect heat source.*** Amber's Ambry is not responsible for horrendous kitchen fires caused by irresponsible wax melting ;)
•Individual containers for finished balms (Snack size baggies will do the trick, but don't expect your balms to retain their lovely little shapes that way. After a few trips in your purse or pocket, they will get smashed and smear all over the inside of the baggie. Still usable, but extremely, um, gross looking, so don't say I didn't warn you.)

Step One:
Measure your solid ingredients.
Start with your beeswax so it gets a head start at melting. However, it is not necessary to melt it completely before adding the other ingredients.

hand balm tut. 1
Measuring mango butter.

Step Two: Add solid ingredients to melting device and cover. (Covering is not necessary if you are using an oven.)

hand balm tut. 2
Butters and beeswax pastilles in warm crock pot.

Step Three: Measure your oils.

hand balm tut. 3
I measure my oils all together until I get to my desired ounce total -- in the case of this recipe: three ounces.

Step Four:
Add oils to melting device.

hand balm tut. 4
Adding the liquid ingredients to the solids.

hand balm tut. 5
All ingredients added and ready to melt.

Step Five: Twiddle your thumbs and wait for everything to melt. Stir occasionally. Wash some dishes or something. The time will go faster than if you are hovering over your pot waiting for the chunks to disappear. Not that I know this from personal experience...

hand balm tut. 6
Oh my gosh, it's finally melting!

When your mixture has melted completely, it will be totally clear, with no little pieces floating in it. You may experience some fine sediment at the bottom of your pot from several sources, especially hand-grated beeswax and unrefined shea butter. This is nothing to worry about and you can just stir it in with the starch in the next step.

hand balm tut. 7
Ingredients completely melted.

Step Six: Add starch. This is an easy one. Just measure and dump carefully so as not to splash and stir thoroughly with a wire whisk or a fork.

hand balm tut. 7
Starchy goodness.

hand balm tut. 8
Whisking with fork.

Step Seven: Add fragrance. If you are leaving yours unscented, ignore this step. Otherwise, measure 1 - 1.5 mL of your desired fragrance and stir it into your melty balm mixture.

Step Eight: Ladle into molds.

hand balm tut. 9
Erm, ladling into molds...

hand balm tut. 10
Almost completely solid.

See the color difference in the above two photos? The pictures were taken about fifteen minutes apart, but the balms will actually start to set up pretty quickly in a cool room. Use care not to move or bump them during this process or they will develop unsightly cracks and uneven areas.

Step Nine: Release from molds and place in containers.

hand balm tut. 11
An army of balm.

You did it!!! Now enjoy your balm and give some to all your friends. They will be so delighted with your crafty-ness AND they will have nice, soft hands when they give you the pat on the back you so richly deserve...

*Now for the packaging addendum:
If you are going to sell your balms and need to seal them with shrink bands, I have a neato little trick I use to keep them from rolling away when I turn the heat gun on them.

I place two thick oven mitts or hot pads on the table and I place my broiler pan (the kind that used to come with new ovens) on top of them. Then I line up the shrink bands over my tins and place the tins on their sides in the grooves of the broiler pan. The pan keeps them from rolling while the heat gun is shrinking the little bands, and it provides a heat resistant surface (with the help of the oven mitts underneath) so I don't have to worry about scorching my countertop or table.

hand balm tut. 12
Shrink bands in place, ready for the heat gun.

hand balm tut. 13
Awesome heat gun action shot.

blueberry hand balm group
The finished product.

Alright, that does it! I hope you enjoyed Hand Balm 101. Please check back much, much farther in the far off distant future for more tutorials. But first I have to think of things that I do that don't already have eighty bajillion tutorials devoted to them. ;) For real though, I hope you enjoyed it. Have fun making hand balm!


Meg said...

awesome! post your finish balms! they are so pretty <3

Amber said...

Thanks Meg! I added a finished product picture. Thanks for the suggestion. :)

egassner said...

Oh, Oh! I've been wanting to play around wiht solid lotions....have you tried these in those push up sticks?

sherrieg said...

This is a great tutorial, Amber! I haven't made these before, but I don't know why. Now I'm thinking of all kinds of people to make them for... thanks for the inspiration!

Amber said...

Elizabeth - I haven't tried the push-up sticks yet. I have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with the little tins, so I've only been using them... I was thinking of the push-ups for whenever I finally get around to making some arnica sticks and what not.

Sherrie - Thanks! If you make some, you will be totally adddicted. It's a lot of the fun of the soaping process, without the danger and the risk of bad batches. :)

Sarah C said...

The little balms are so cute! I'm going to have to try this - thanks for the tutorial :)

Amber said...

Sarah C - Thanks so much! :) It was my pleasure. Once the hand balm bug bites, life will never be the same... ;)

Mischell said...

"Okay, the moment no one has been waiting for"


You're amazing, my darling. If only my skin didn't react negatively to every oil in the universe...

Heidi said...

Awesome tutorial!! Thanks so much for the recipe!! I made mine a few weeks ago and am in love =D I made teeny tiny stars that my kids love to use. I can't wait to make more...

Ms. Tee said...

THose little balm tins are so cute - I always wondered how they got wrapped! I may have to try this if I get really adventurous - thank you for sharing and good luck with your paper/online classes! :)

Annie said...

Thanks for the tutorial! I like how you've made yours for knitting hands! I'll have to make some for myself and all the other knitters I know!

Amber said...

Mischell - Glad you still appreciate my "sense of humor". ;) And I am very sorry that your skin does not like oils. Although it seems like an exciting challenge to find something your skin does like...

Heidi - I bet your little stars are super cute!!! Are they the same molds that you made those adorable little star soaps in? Ethan LOVED those. Like, a lot.

Ms. Tee - Thanks! And you should definitely try making these someday. They're a lot of fun and really much easier than they sound.

Annie - You're welcome! I always wanted to do a tutorial, so this seemed like the right one for me. Mark my words, your knitting friends will adore these. I know mine do! Unless they're just saying they do to be nice... ;)

Joanna said...

ok, groovy-mcFly. You rock, as usual. But I m still stuck on round labels. I am just downright awful at centering and creating that design thing. I know you are wildly creative, so I know it came from the juice in you, but do you have a tutorial for little ole shits like me who cannot think outside the BOX, literally?

Amber said...

Joanna - I'll email you about this, but you're not going to like what you hear. ;)

Christina said...

I saw your tutorial at The Soap Bar, and just had to come see your site firsthand. It's beautiful, by the way! I will definitely be coming back to visit.

I've made solid balms before and have read many other recipes, but I've never see the addition of cornstarch. What does the cornstarch add to the mix?

Amber said...

Hi Christina, thanks for stopping by!

As far as I know, the addition of starch helps with the "glide" when you apply the balm to your skin. I've had some with way too much starch in them and I find that to be unpleasant, but ones with no starch seem to feel more sticky and waxy to me.

Hope that helps!

Christina said...

Thanks Amber! I've never heard of that before, but I'm definitely going to try some cornstarch in my recipes now. Thanks for the tip!

Anonymous said...

Great instructions !! Thanks. Can you use a professional hair dryer (that gets really hot) instead of a heat gun? Thanks Patty

Anonymous said...

I wandered over from Tipnut. This looks so easy to do for small neat prezzies with the personal touch.

Is there any reason not to use a jug for the melting stage, so you can pour directly into the container, to avoid the ladle and that tiny bit of wastage?

Also, any reason not to pour directly into the tins rather than into mini-bun tins and relocate?

Anything to simplify life round here. Thank you!

Andrea said...

I was wondering the same thing - if you already have the tins, is a big deal to just fill them directly?

Alan said...

Hi Amber,

Thanks for this tutorial. It looks so easy even I will have a go at this.

I've been looking for a recipe for my wife as her regular shop product is running out.
A question is this, can this recipe be used on the face as well as hands?

alan Teather

Amber said...

Patty - Sorry for the delay in my response. These newest comments were eaten by my email. :(
You could certainly try a very hot hair dryer and probably get the same results as a heat gun. I haven't tried it, so I can't say for sure, but I imagine it would be just fine.

Anonymous from Tinput and Andrea - Yes you can fill the tins directly. I choose not to because I find the balm to be easier to apply if I can pop it out and rub it between my hands, especially in the colder months when it doesn't melt as readily.

Alan - I have used this on my face in a pinch, but not for regular use. While the fragrance I use are skin-safe in all applications, I choose not to use any artificial products on my face, so that is one reason. The other reason is that the heavy moisturizing quality of the recipe I use is a bit too greasy/waxy for my face. Your skin might respond differently. And of course if your wife is selling these, she will probably want to choose ingredients that she likes to work with and those may be just fine for a facial application.

Alan said...

Thanks Amber,

I have been looking for a recipie for my wife as she currently uses a "white musk" body lotion from a big ethical chain store if you know the one,lol.
I'll make a batch and not add any scent and let her try it.



Mountainrose said...

You have me confused.. do you measure the liquid oil by weight or volume? I see you pouring into a measuring cup, but it's on a scale.

Amber said...

Mountainrose - It is actually a small Pyrex bowl you see in the pictures, not a measuring cup. I measure all liquids by weight, not by volume. Hope that helps!

Cheryl said...

I've made three batches and have loved them for about a week when all of a sudden they loose their scent or go bad or something horrible. Any suggestions? The one's I bought from you last spring are just as lovely as when they arrived at my door. I'm using sweet almond oil or olive oil and bramble berry scents if that helps.

cindy629 said...

where did you get your shrink bands? if you could provide me with a website that would be great!

Connie said...

Instead of Beeswax could I use something else. I'm allergic to beeswax.

Thehorsefloat said...

What awonderful tutorial.
I just love it.
Thankyou very much.

Guest said...

What size are the tins you're using? 1/2 oz, 1 oz...? And where do you get them? I'm in love with them too, and the whole thing looks great! Thanks!

Carolgrant4 said...

Since you are weighing your liquid oils, why not weigh the beeswax? Different grate- or pastille sizes could cause the amount in the formula to vary greatly.

Steph said...

You could try using candelilla wax instead of beeswax. I think it's a bit harder but you can increase your liquid oils if you needed to.

You can buy tins at

She is weighing the beeswax - those measurements are in weight, not ounces.

rationalmind said...

I love the tutorial - and can't wait to give these a try! I, too, am curious about the labels - they are lovely! Do you have any pointers on DIY, or referrals to professional printers? Thank you!

Amber said...

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you have fun making these! As far as the labels go... Well, I order my blank, pre-cut labels from Planet Label and the rest is sort of a crap shoot. ;) My husband and I made templates in Adobe Illustrator and designed the graphics to fit. The biggest problem is getting them through the printer without jams and poor alignment. I go through a LOT of sheets until I get a properly printed one, but it still seems to be cheaper for me than getting them professionally printed.

If you have a printer with a bypass tray, it will be a godsend! Sorry I can't help more. All the printers I looked into wanted a lot of money to create a special die for that size label and I just couldn't do it. :(

Sayabsoap said...

I love your tutorial, thanks !!!

Mcamp 2006 said...

I have to say that I, too, love your tutorial. I had ordered the hand balms from you before and was distraught to find you no longer sell them. Desparate enough to buy supplies and try to make my own. Your tutorial was wonderful enough that even a non-crafter was able to get good results.

I reduced the recipe so that I could make only two at a time, so that I can try different combinations of oils, etc. and not end up with way too many hand balms.

Would you mind commenting on some of your favorite fragrance combinations? The first ones I made were "unscented" but, as they contained cocoa butter, they smelled like chocolate. The next ones I will use less fragrant butters and oils so that I can maybe add something light, maybe herbal smelling. Ideas?

anyway, thank you again! You are so talented and creative, and you write so well, that you should be in business that pays you well for using those gifts!

Amber said...

I'm so glad the tutorial worked out so well for you!

And I'm deeply saddened about my abrupt decision to stop selling my products online. Without killing you with details, new FDA regulations made it impossible for me to continue selling my hand balms, and that disappointment, suddenly rising shipping costs and some other personal issues made me decide to just give it up.

Fragrances are really trial and error. The recipe I like best uses cocoa butter, because I love its properties and the scent -- but you can also buy deodorized cocoa butter if you want the benefits without the odor!

I've used fruit, "food", herbal and woody essential oil scents with great results. The key to me was finding things that complimented the cocoa undertone.

Thank you so much for your comment. It really brightened my day. :)

Gsanchez said...

Where did you find the tins for the hand balms?? I'm doing my first craft fair and I really want to make this recipe.

Amber said...

I had been getting my tins from Specialty Bottle, but I know there are other suppliers with very similar ones. I liked the no minimum order and good customer service at Specialty Bottle, so I ended up using them. Have fun and good luck at your craft fair!

Kodiak1 said...

I usually make soap but decided to try something different.  I've made 2 small batches of lotion and they both came out great!  They've left my friends (my guinea pigs...) crying for more.  I've been looking for a good balm or salve recipe for dry, chapped and cracked hands, and yours sounds like what I've been looking for.  I'm puzzled, though.  Do you not use any preservative?  I've read that if you don't, you need to make small batches and store them in the fridge.  I also love your tutorial!

Janhickling said...

you did a good job with your descriptions - I think I can actually get this to work. Thanks Hope you put out  more.

Altair421 said...

Where do you get the little tins?

Altair421 said...

Just saw the answer, sorry ; )

Aimee said...

Do you have any tips on label making for these?

Anonymous said...

I really wanna make them I just don't have the stuff or time to go get it you need to make a lotion tht uses every day items but I really LOVE your ideas they r so cute

Anonymous said...

I wish I could try it

AlanM said...

Great blog...thanks for sharing!