Zero waste DIY: All-purpose balm

I am a big fan of unscented lotion — I really don’t like manufactured smells and I have sensitive skin prone to itching — but my favorite lotion is packaged in a plastic. I could recycle the container, of course, but that seems like kind of besides the point of a zero waste year. And also everything I’m reading about plastic is downright depressing — it’s a lot of, well, it’s super easy to recycle but there’s a lot of confusion and it’s a lot of downcycling — i.e. plastic containers into plastic bags — and then there’s a general lack of demand. Here’s a blog post by Columbia University that covers plastic recycling and manages to come to a somewhat positive conclusion with the discussion of turning plastic into fuel — but the overriding message is, dudes, just don’t use plastic in the first place (um, liberally paraphrasing). The very FIRST article that popped up in my search engine, incidentally, was a glowing article about how great plastic is and how easy and useful it is to recycle, but then I noticed it was written by the plastics industry, so yeah, I’m a little skeptical of that particular source, so forget that link.

All of THAT is just to say that I am out of my favorite lotion. My grocery store sells unscented lotion in bulk, so that’s an option, but I’ve been saving that as a Plan B while I try to work out a homemade version of something I can live with. (I mean, bulk items have to get to the store in packages too, right?)

One staple in my bathroom, but one that is also fairly underused (because my favorite lotion is my favorite for a reason), is Bea Johnson’s All-Purpose Balm from Zero Waste Home. (I have the book on my Kindle because I am all kinds of poser. Tangent alert: Her website was the first place I ever read the phrase “zero waste.” I thought it was fascinating and completely insane.) This really is all-purpose. I use it primarily on my body, but I’ve also used to to give my shoes a quick shine and to moisturize the ends of my hair. Eric swears it’s great in the winter for chapped hands. One problem: Don’t lock yourself in the bathroom and then use it or you won’t be going anywhere for a while (slippery door handle, in case that didn’t translate. Or maybe I just make it too oily).

Bea has specific measurements, but I just kind of wing it, because if it doesn’t turn out how I want it, I can just remelt and add more of something to even it out. Plus check out my hulking hunk of (bulk) beeswax. A tablespoon? I have no idea what that would even look like. Math is hard.

Although I did get smart the other day and nuke it and then shave pieces off. But it's a beast to deal with.

Although I did get smart the other day and nuke it and then shave pieces off. But it’s a beast to deal with.

To make the balm, you only need beeswax and oil, like olive or sunflower. (I’ve used both.) Melt the wax in a jar placed in a pan of water and add the oil —  I give it a good glug. I probably use a ratio of 1 part wax to 3 or 4 parts oil because I like it oilier rather than waxier. After it’s all melted and incorporated, take it out of the water to cool. You can just leave it and it will be very pretty when it’s solid again, or you can stir it every so often as it cools and that kind of whips it and makes it easier to use, which is what I do:

This is what I mean when I say "melt the wax in a jar placed in a pan of water."

This is what I mean when I say “melt the wax in a jar placed in a pan of water.”

All whipped and gorgeous.

All whipped and gorgeous.

Anyway, this is what I’m using at the moment. I miss my favorite lotion something fierce, I’m not going to lie, but at least I get to feel all high and mighty and earthy and stuff when I use this totally zero waste version. A girl has got to have SOMETHING to hold on to.

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9 Responses to Zero waste DIY: All-purpose balm

  1. I’m guessing you get your beeswax in bulk/no packaging? Are you able to get the oil in bulk, too? That has been one of my hang ups with making my own stuff. I end up with 4 or 5 containers of ingredients instead of just the one container if I had bought whatever it was I made.

    I need to try this recipe! I’ve been using coconut oil, but that comes in a jar… I’m pretty sure there are a couple local stores that sell olive oil (and maybe even other oils) in bulk. Now, I have to figure out where to get beeswax!

    • Yes to both. My grocery carries it — I used to be able to get cute little 4 ounce bars of beeswax, and then one day all there was were these one pound monstrosities. I have barely made a dent in the thing.

      Oh, and yeah, I’m with you — if you have to buy a bunch of packaged stuff to make something, what’s the point?

  2. Sounds like a great recipe. I make/use Whipped Body Butter recipe on Wellness Mama’s site. It contains olive oil, coconut oil, shea butter and cocoa butter. I keep one jar in bathroom and the rest in the fridge. Works great on our super dry and sensitive skin. Have also used it to condition leather items

    • I’ve seen other recipes, but I can’t get most of those ingredients in bulk, so I haven’t tried them. I would LOVE to find bulk cocoa butter! I appreciate your review though. Who knows, maybe some day I will be able to find “exotic” ingredients? A girl can dream!

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