Body Lotion Bar DIY: Beef Tallow Part Deux

lotion

Rosemary-scented lotion bar, made from beef tallow and cocoa butter

I was at my desk around 2:30 p.m., and my stomach was hard at work digesting my lunch, while every other cell in my body wanted to be napping. I spaced out for a few minutes. When my brain came back to the present, my eyes were focused on the crook of my left elbow, which, I suddenly noticed, was dry, wrinkled, and looked about 20 years older than it should. And what were those dark blotches all the way down my arm and wrist? Could they be liver spots? I suddenly noticed that the skin on the back of my hand was red, chafed, and scaly.

What. The hell.

I felt like I went to bed a healthy 32 year old and woke up an armadillo. And I resolved that it was time to start moisturizing. 

However, the first ingredient in my bottle of Bath & Bodyworks Aromatherapy Body Lotion is water, which does not moisturize at all. Water is cheap, however, and it is an easy filler for many skin care products. The moisturizing components of the lotion are the oils, but oil and water don’t mix well, so you need emulsifiers like cetyl alcohol and sodium hydroxide to bind the oil and water together. I also found petrolatum (which comes from crude oil) as the primary “fat,” and a bunch of preservatives and parabens later on the ingredients list. The oil is the ingredient that my skin needs; does it really need tocopheryl acetate, propylene glycol, or methylparaben?

I knew that the soap I made out of beef tallow had turned out marvelously well: it is moisturizing, lathers well, and is hard enough to last a good long while in the shower. Could tallow be used as a lotion base as well?

The Weston A. Price Foundation certainly thinks so:

“Currently there are virtually no skin care products available made with animal fats. Interestingly, such topical products disappeared at the same time that animal fats in our diets did. Among the animal fats used for skin care, it appeared from my research that the one used most overwhelmingly was indeed tallow. “

The website also acknowledges the modern taboo against using animal products in skin care, but points out:

“Tallow fat is typically 50 to 55 percent saturated, just like our cell membranes, with almost all of the rest being monounsaturated,21 so it makes sense that it would be helpful for skin health and compatible with our cell biology…In regard to this compatibility of tallow with the biology of our skin, we should note that we are animals rather than plants, so the modern taboo against animal products in skin care products would seem unfounded and even illogical. In addition to containing very little saturated fats, plant products do not have the same levels of other nutrients needed for healthy skin. Tallow contains the abundant natural fat-soluble activators, vitamins A, D, and K, as well as vitamin E, which are found only in animal fats and which are all necessary for general health and for skin health.”

I was convinced. I found a recipe on the Wellness Mama website that used tallow in equal proportion to a body butter (shea or cocoa), with some beeswax for firmness. Essential oil optional. And that’s it. No steryl yadda yadda propylparababble.

The Recipe

(from wellnessmama.com)

I used cocoa butter with my beef tallow, and about 40 drops of rosemary essential oil for scent. You can melt the semi-solid oils with the beeswax over low heat in a small pan, or in a glass Mason jar in a simmering hot water bath. Let the oils cool a bit and then add the drops of essential oil. I poured my lotion bars into a muffin tin, but you could use anything as a mold, including a small plastic tupperware. Once entirely cool and solidified, pop out of the mold and rub some on your skin to check the consistency. Does it melt too fast in your hand? Add some more beeswax and reheat to melt.

Next time I make these lotion bars, I’ll use shea butter instead of cocoa butter, only because cocoa butter has a strong scent. Every time I moisturize with it, Joshua tells me I smell like Oaxaca, which made me first think of bean farts and seasoned pork, but I quickly realized he meant that I smell like chocolate. And while I do love chocolate, I don’t want to smell like it always, and the cocoa butter is so powerful that my 40 drops of rosemary oil barely even compete. So next time, shea butter, which is more odor neutral.

The Results

I would like to conclude this post by reporting that my scaly, spotted, and flaking skin has been restored to the youthful even glow of a 16 year old! But that would not be true. It does, however, more closely resemble the skin of a fair-skinned 32-year old (who has not been diligent about sunscreen her whole life), which is still a good deal better than looking like the spawn of an armadillo.

Linked up at: Skip To My Lou The Chicken Chick

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Saponification!

I had plans to make candles out of last weekend’s rendered tallow, and after I had the candles mastered, I planned to graduate onto soap, which is more chemically complicated. But once I started reading soap recipes, learning about the chemistry, reading tutorials, candles sounded boring. Soap it is!

Do you know what your soap is made of? Unless you buy handcrafted soap at your farmer’s market, or a natural brand that emphasizes the absence of animal products, there’s a good chance your soap contains beef fat, which is called sodium tallowate on the label. That includes all the biggies: Dove, Jergens, Zest, Ivory… don’t be alarmed! Beef fat makes great soap, and specifically hard soap, so your bar lasts a good long time. Other fats contribute different properties. Coconut oil, for example, creates a nice lather. Olive oil makes a soap creamy and conditioning. There are a bajillion types of oil to create a soap to suit every purpose.

The recipe for soap is simple: fat+sodium hydroxide (lye) = soap. Everything else is just decoration. I wanted to keep my soap natural, so I decided to use turmeric, paprika, and Brazilian red clay as colorants, and lemongrass essential oil for scent.

There are some very good soap-making tutorials out there, specifically the excellent Humblebee & Me blog, which includes photos of the entire process. Since this was my first time making soap, I’d caution you against using this post as a tutorial. There is much greater wisdom out there on the interwebs!

This Soap Calculator is an essential tool for the soap maker. It calculates the amount of lye, water, and fragrance you’ll need in both ounces and grams. I knew I had at least 4 lbs of beef tallow to work with, but after doing some research, I learned that I should probably mix the tallow with some other oils to improve the properties of the soap. I was aiming for a 5 lb loaf of soap, so that meant reducing my tallow quantity. In the end, I calculated the following:

  • 36 oz tallow
  • 16 oz coconut oil
  • 16 oz olive oil
  • 25.8 oz water
  • 9.7 oz sodium hydroxide
  • 2.5 oz essential oil

Note these ounces are by weight, not fluid ounces.

First, bring the oil to liquid state at the lowest temperature possible. You’ll eventually have to get it back down to around 110ºF, so any temp above that is heat you’ll just have to lose later.

Melting tallow

Melting tallow

I brought my coconut oil to liquid state in a warm water bath and mixed with the olive oil, then dumped in the frozen tallow. By the time it was all completely melted, my oil was up to 175º, so I brought it outside to cool.

The next step is mixing in the lye, which is supposed to be almost exactly the same temperature as the oil when it’s added. Timing the temperature turned out to be the most complicated part of the whole process. After you mix your carefully measured lye with your carefully measured water, the solution immediately heats up. I expected this to happen, but I didn’t know how much it would heat up. I made the mistake of cooling my oil down to 120º before mixing the lye and water in a plastic pitcher, and the lye heated itself up to 189º! Then it was the lye’s turn to sit outside and cool. By the time it finally cooled to 120º, my oil was too cool and needed to be heated back up on the stove. But then I overheated it. Back out to the porch to cool. You get the picture. The end goal is that the oil and lye solution should both be between 110-115ºF when you mix them.

Once temperature nirvana was at last achieved, I added the lye to the oil. In the old days, you had to stir by hand for an hour or more to fully combine the substances, but we’re lucky that immersion blenders significantly speed the process. The goal is to achieve “trace,” which is a thickness of similar viscosity to stirred yogurt. It took about 10 minutes with my immersion blender.

Once a thin trace is achieved, it’s time to add any scents or colorants. My loose plan for this soap was to be half yellow and half red, with a thin straight line of vibrant red-orange paprika between the two layers. After adding the lemongrass essential oil, I dumped what I guessed to be half of the soap into a second bowl, added the turmeric to the first and the red clay to the second, and continued blending with the immersion blender to bring the yellow layer to a firm trace. This took longer than expected. Once I could finally drizzle the soap on itself and see the “trace” of the lines left behind, it was ready to pour into the mold, which Joshua sweetly built for me earlier that morning. I lined it with freezer paper. After pouring into the mold, I dusted paprika over the yellow layer using a tea strainer.

But by the time I got to the red clay portion, it had cooled a bit and came to firm trace FAST, much faster and thicker than the yellow layer. The yellow bottom layer would need to be thick enough to suspend the red bottom layer without breaking through the surface tension. I held my breath and gently poured. The red layer sunk and swirled, and the paprika gushed up toward the top. Sigh. It was ambitious for a first soap, perhaps. In hindsight, I should have given up on the neat color blocks at this point and just deliberately swirled the colors, but I left it as poured just to see what would happen.

Molded!

Molded!

The next step is to insulate your soap to allow the second chemical process to happen: saponification. After molding, the soap heats itself back up again and gels, and something in this process is what officially transforms the caustic lye into benign body soap. I don’t really get it.

24 hours later you can cut your soap. After cutting, I realized that my gestalt 50/50 red and yellow was WAY OFF. Next time I’ll measure. I would also use more turmeric for a deeper yellow. My dad says these look like slabs of raw bacon, which is maybe appropriate, given the origins of this project. Maybe next time I’ll make bacon scented soap. The dogs think this is an excellent idea.

Word of caution, repeated from Humblebee & Me: lye should be treated with a healthy dose of respect. Many soap making tutorials recommend wearing gloves and goggles when working with lye. I had no intention of touching the stuff, and I mixed it outside so the noxious vapors wouldn’t stink up the house, so I ignored both of these suggestions. But I still had to stir the hot lye to help it cool, and the steam it gave off as it cooled was enough to mildly burn my hand, which was itchy and raw for the next 24 hours. Next time I’ll wear gloves.