Next-Level DIY Ingredients: What to Buy When You’re Bored with Beeswax and Coconut Oil

If you love DIY but hate being greasy (cc endless lotion bar recipes), let me introduce you to the wonderful world of beginner formulation. It’s scary: you sometimes have to use ingredients you can’t buy at the grocery store, but the reward is elegant-feeling lotions, cleansers, hair-care products, and no more bottles to throw away (so satisfying). 

It’s not for everyone, but for the initiated, it’s a creative, rewarding, educational habit that will reap lovely quality benefits (no more lanolin or petroleum jelly for you). There’s little that can rival the joy of applying a gorgeous, nourishing face cream that you MADE except for knowing that you saved money, trash, and skipped cheap fillers. 

[NOTE: some things you don’t want to DIY. Sunscreen is one of them. I don’t buy most skincare products anymore aside from some lovely The Ordinary serum concoction things that honestly rival wholesale prices, come packaged in glass, and allow me to customize the way i’ve grown… accustomed (heh)… to doing. But I will always, always buy professionally formulated and tested sunscreens. Please do not attempt this on your own. Josie Maran is a pricey but lovely pick for a nicely formulated, natural-ish sunscreen that you can get a glass bottle (I splurge on the four-ounce and share it with my husband).]

[NOTE: normally I would just link to Amazon for where to get all these products (listed above and more to come below), but given the strike and a bunch of other crap happening at that company, I recommend finding your ingredients at MakingCosmetics, Lotioncrafter, Brambleberry, or the like.]

[NOTE: where to find formulations: generally, anybody who gives formulas by percentages, in weights, and uses preservatives for products with water in them is worth a shot. My personal fave is Humblebee and Me but there are lots of other great sources out there too. Explore the interwebs!]

1. Preservativeperson-holding-petri-dish-3786248

This doesn’t need to be as intimidating as it sounds–I got mine (Germall) on Amazon. (Though given the strike it might be a nice time to get something on Etsy instead). Make sure to get something “broad spectrum” (ie. kills bacteria, yeast, fungus, mold, etc) and use as instructed. Most preservatives are used in the 1% of the formula range.

2. Vitamin E


Think of this as a preservative for your lovely oils. I recently used some expired Argan oil all over my face and broke out like crazy, so, even your oil-only formulas need help staying fresh or there will be consequences. Angry, bumpy, red consequences.

3. Emulsifier


This is your gateway drug to all things creamy, milky, and lotion-y. The right emulsifier gloriously unites water and oil, enabling you to make you a delicate facial moisturizer, a rich foot cream, a moisturizing spray, a conditioner bar, an easy-to-rinse-off cleansing balm, or a simply better lotion bar (re: actually absorbs, especially on wet skin).

Do your research, but know that emulsifying wax NF is usually good for basic lotions and creams, while something cationic, like BTMS-50, is better for getting “slip” as with conditioners (lest you make hair “lotion.” Ew).

Olivem 1000 is great for face creams, and polysorbate 80 or 20 is good for liquid solutions (depending on what you’re making).

Beeswax is… not an emulsifier and don’t let anybody tell you differently. Marie Rayma explains why better than I can.

3. Better Butters and Oilsclear-glass-container-with-coconut-oil-725998

Shea butter is cute and all, but if you’re ready for a more professional look and feel, mango butter is where it’s at for most lotion recipes. If you’re doing haircare stuff, Tucuma butter makes amazing bars (shampoo, conditioner, and face wash). And while cocoa butter is great, but murumuru and ilipe butters are lovely and lighter for facial formulations. Have you heard of absorption rate? If you’ve been making all your products with coconut oil, you might love something lighter or “faster” like hazelnut oil or jojoba (which is technically a wax, but absorbs so nicely into the skin). So many options, and they can make an incredible difference in how your finished products feel and perform.

4. Targeted Ingredientsperson-holding-white-and-gold-dropper-3762879

Evening primrose oil might be a gamechanger for you. Or maybe you’re more of a baobab person. Rosehip seed oil is a holy grail ingredient for others. Botanical extracts are something I haven’t gotten super into yet, but I know lots of folks geek out on them. Get creative, do your research, and chose a few “active” oils to start seeing skincare results (because, while skin feel improvement is wonderful, actually seeing a difference in your skin is SO exciting). 

BUT: remember my argan oil shit-suation? Know your shelf lives before ordering and get an appropriate amount. Then read the bottle for storage details. Most oils need to be kept cool and dark, but even more fragile oils, like Baobab, probably benefit from refrigeration. Oxidized oil is wasted money and skincare loveliness, so buy smart!

5. Co-emulsifiers/Cream-makersperson-holding-a-hand-cream-3059398

This is less of a must have for literally making oil + water combos and more about necessity for following real formulas. Most of my favorite “recipe” sites are sophisticated enough to call for a little cetyl or cetearyl alcohol in a formulation, and while they can sometimes swap in for each other, they’re hard to skip altogether. Depending on what you want to make (and definitely research a top ten list of “must-tries” before going on any shopping sprees), they might greatly expand your repertoire.

6. Surfactantwoman-getting-her-hair-shampoo-3993461

If you want to make anything that cleans or foams, you’ll need surfactant. Do your research to see what your most enticing formulas call for, but coco betaine (INCI* or “Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients” cocamidopropyl betaine) is usually a safe bet for face and body washes, while sodium cocoyl isethionate is an MVP for shampoo bars. Surfactant is also a sneaky way to get a water-based formulation to disperse an oil, so it’s great for say, mixing in a lavender-scented EO for a nigh-time themed micellar water. Also, surfactant is needed for making micellar water! TMYK… 

*INCI’s are a great thing to know when buying ingredients because suppliers will make up stupid marketing names for ingredients that make it impossible to know what the heck you’re getting. Exhibit A: who the heck knew “Surfpro CC-6” was PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Glycerides? Not me until I finally starting going straight to the INCIs.

PS. knowing your INCIs is also a great way to decipher intimidating cosmetics labels. Cera alba=beeswax. Consider yourself enlightened.

Bonus: What You *Might* Need, Depending on What You’re Making

Specialty Haircare Ingredients: woman-getting-a-haircut-3993457

Silicones and behentrimonium chloride. There are some naturalish subsitites like Broccoli Seed Oil and Daikon Extract, but for professional results, you’ll likely need a little dimethicone or cyclomethicone. Also, don’t ask me why, but behentrimonium chloride is an absolutely unbeliable detangling ingredient and it’s in almost every leave in or conditioning formula worth its salt I’ve ever seen. Stalking the ingredients on Lush conditioner bars will underscore how effective it is.

Bougie Skincare Ingredients

Water soluble actives can take your facial formulas to the next level. Willow bark for that skin-clearing salicylic acid, hyaluronic acid for plumping and deep moisture… just make sure you understand the solubility of an ingredient so you don’t waste something your skin can only absorb via a water-based or oil-based formula only on the wrong recipe. 

Essential Oils to Make Your Creations Smell Awesomeassorted-color-bottle-1365460

First, read about dermal limits and phototoxicity. Then, purchase a few treats in different scent families (camphorous, spicy, citrus (careful with these though with the phototoxicity stuff that you definitely read about, right? Please read about this!), resinous, floral, etc). And word to the wise, test your adventurous scent blends in their own little beaker before mixing in a big vat of expensive and painstakingly-crafted lotion. As someone who reaaaaally overestimated how much she was going to like geranium and peppermint mixed together, I promise you will thank me.

In closing: this may seem overwhelming, but try to think about strategically expanding your horizons a bit with maybe *one* product in each of these categories at a time, or one of each to get you started. Emulsifying wax NF, Germall, vitamin E, cocobetaine, mango butter, grapeseed oil, and an active ingredient (either oil or water soluble, depending on whether you’re testing out facial and body oils, or lotions and toners) are a wonderful place to start and can get you making so many fun things. 

Remember, make small batches, take pictures and notes, and learn learn learn. Good luck and have fun!


Zero Waste Grocery Shopping During a Quarantine

It’s a question I’ve been getting a lot: “Are you still doing zero waste right now?”

It’s surprising to me, because, true, bulk bins aren’t really a thing right now. But I am relying on my favorite reusable around-the-house items and, when I have to buy in packaging, I’m buying in bulk (like $50-pounds-of-flour-bulk) because I honestly want to avoid the grocery store as much as possible lately.

Here are a few strategies to keep your waste low and your grocery trips few and far between. They’re pretty compatible lifestyles, I swear!

Buy Dry


A lot has been said about shipping weights in the zero waste conversation, and I think it’s important to consider waste in terms of 1. how hydrated foods and jars/cans are to ship, and 2. how much less packaging is needed to hold (and then process for recycling) the equivalent amount of dried goods.

Now, I love a bulk bin for dried foods, but even if that’s not available right now, there’s a lot to be said for getting a huge bag of dried grains or legumes right now. First off, you’ll have so much cheap protein you don’t have to refrigerate. That’s a literal stockpile of healthy calories when you want to eke out a third week of meals without hitting your local grocery store, but still make filling, inexpensive meals. My favorite picks are:

  • Black beans/Pinto beans/Great Northern Beans
  • Quinoa
  • Bulgur
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Split Peas
  • Barley
  • Rice

With these on hand, I can make all my favorite foods:

  • Beans: Endless varieties of soups, many possible to make ahead with all dry ingredients and store in the pantry, like Cajun Bean Soup, Split Pea Soup, Curried Lentil Soup, 5 Bean Soup, and Italian Barley Soup. YUM. (I have made literally all of these multiple times and they’re all great: 6 Homemade Soup Mixes in a Jar.
  • bowl-of-soup-and-two-silver-spoons-1703272Lentils: A meal on their own, and a delicious companion to homemade naan.
  • Chickpeas: two words: homemade hummus–an endless supply on demand, without having to keep anything in the fridge until you’re ready for another batch. Plus high-protein baked goods and excellent additions to soups and stews.
  • Bulgur: I almost exclusively use this to make tabouli salad (goes great with the aforementioned hummus), and yet I’m still always running out…
  • Split Peas: Have you ever actually had split pea soup? I had always assumed it was disgusting until very recently when I tried eating it for the first time (not just looking at pictures and going *yuck* at the color). Reader, it’s delicious. You can also put split peas in a wide variety of bean-based soups, with hearty, nutritious results.
  • Rice: a no-brainer companion to bean or lentil-based soups, stews, and side dishes; a meal on its own scrambled with eggs and veggies, or tofu.
  • Barley: great in soups, or fashioned into a healthy risotto.

Skip Meat, or Buy Big and Freeze

Not is oping out of meat good for the planet, it’s way more efficient for food storage and meal making. I mean, have you seen the amount of packaging a single chicken breast comes in? Ain’t nobody got freezer space for that. If you do like to eat meat, be as efficient as possible: try buying the whole chicken, breaking it down into smaller “packages” of food at home, and then freezing for future culinary forays. Struggle Meals has a great breakdown of how to do this (as well as dets on how much money you’ll save!), but in a nutshell, know that breast and thigh meat can make lots of yummy, varied dishes, and you’ll be able to make gravy, stock, etc, to punch up your veggie meals for free (bonus!). Additionally, if you frame your meals around veggies instead of meat, you’ll be able to enjoy way more tasty meals for your meat buck. Try that aforementioned Cajun Bean stew with a little bit of sausage, or Cauliflower Tikka Masala with a bit of chicken and be amazed with how far you can stretch a package of something.

Get Creative with Dairy

There’s a lot you can do with a gallon of milk, and what better time to do it!

As long as your milk isn’t ultra-pasteurized, you can easily make yogurt and mozzarella at home–saving the plastic packaging, and yourself a few grocery trips. These items also freeze well, so it’s a great way to get more mileage out of that extra jug of milk* before it goes bad.

bowl-breakfast-calcium-cereal-414262.jpgAll you need to make yogurt is a big pot (I love using my crock pot), some good planning and time keeping, and a bit of yogurt, but know that mozzarella requires a little more babying and some rennet tablets you can easily and cheaply get delivered to your door (they fit in an envelope!).

*Bonus points if you’re able to get your milk in “trade-in” glass bottles, but even if all you can find is plastic, you’ll still love making your own “tubs” of delicious yogurt in your own Tupperware. Win!

Keep Pantry Staples in Stock

Once you have a bit of meat and cheese and a lot of dried foods, you’ll need the “pull it all together” staples to make meals. I highly recommend doing some research (this list is a great place to start for both stuff to keep on hand and recipes to make with said stuff) for ideas first, but generally you’ll need lots of:labeled-can-lot-on-shelves-2387343

  • Cans of diced tomatoes,
  • wild-caught tuna,
  • pasta,
  • cream of mushroom or celery soup,
  • olives,
  • coconut milk,
  • and a well stocked spice cabinet (with bulk supplies of garlic and onion flakes) can mean endless meals.

Just about all of these items are available in aluminum cans or glass, and you’ll be amazed at how many yummy, easy things you can make with them.

Shop for Ingredients, Not Supplies

I’m lucky enough to already have owned a bread maker, crock pot, soaping supplies, and some serious formulating deep cuts (cetearyl alcohol and magnesium stearate anyone?) since I’m been on the zero waste road for a few years now, but I realize others may not be in the same position.

If it’s possible for you to buy materials to make things like your own cleaning supplies (such as vinegar and baking soda for everyday messes), soap, deodorant, bakery items, dairy/dairy subs, etc, you’ll be fairly self sufficient, avoid future trips to the store, and obviously get to skip out on lots of packaging. It’s also really stress-relieving to tinker in the kitchen, for me at least. (Or better yet, the lab! Playing with beauty supplies is extremely underrated, and if you might be into this, start researching Humblebee and Me’s amazing shampoo and conditioner bar recipes now. You will not regret it).

But if that’s just not possible now, for any reason–and being really tired is an acceptable reason–please don’t beat yourself up. This is crazy. Things are crazy. You’re doing great, whatever that looks like. We’re all doing our best, and that’s more than enough.

So tell me: how are you doing with zero waste? Exhausted or rejuvenated? These strange and scary times have at least cleared room for a lot of us to reflect on how we’ve been living and perhaps get new perspective. I hope that while everyone stays indoors, getting crafty or creative can provide a comforting outlet–and maybe some new skills for when we all emerge.