As you know I have been on an experimenting stint on body and bath stuff. Today I decided that I was going to make lip balm, an unexplored territory, though it’s supposed to be one of the easiest things you can do. So, I found a basic recipe, which recommended

  • 3 parts carrier oil (I put 1 part wheat germ oil, 1 part avocado oil, 1 part sweet almond oil)
  • 1 part beeswax
  • 1 part solid butter (I used shea butter)
  • essential oil – (start with 1 to 2 drops per tablespoon or 1/2 ounce of ingredients, adjust as desired)

You put all the oils into a heatproof glass beaker, except for the essential oil that goes in later during the cooling phase,  put it into a double boiler (see figure below), melt the oils together, and then when they’re fully melted you put them into containers of lip balm.

Illustration of a double boiler

Illustration of a double boiler, not to scale

Fairly foolproof. One could probably do it with a hand tied behind one’s back.

But, pride comes before a fall. I did everything nicely up to the point of mixing everything into the beaker. I put the beaker into an empty bowl, and poured some boiling water into the bowl – and what happened? The tiny beaker started floating, capsized, and water started flowing in!

Nooooooooo! I cried, possibly followed by a mix of choice profanities. Within the split second that I needed to react and tilt the beaker upright again, x amount of water had invaded my lovely oil mixture. In panic, I added in y amount of emulsifying wax, and started stirring vigorously. Poured some more boiling water into the double boiler,  beaker threatened to capsize again, another round of profanities ensued – such drama!

In any case, the beaker was stabilised, and I stirred it quite a bit, and added some ylang-ylang essential oil and a few drops of preservative after I took it out of the double boiler. At this point, as you have noticed, I’m not even pretending to measure things anymore. This ship has capsized, and sailed (I realise that the metaphor makes no sense here).

Little containers of cream and not lip balm

Little containers of cream and not lip balm

So while the cream was starting to set, I poured it into two tiny containers. I didn’t really want to use too many of my limited tiny containers to put some dodgy accidental cream in, so I only managed to store about 2/3 of the cream, and was left with 1/3 to use on the spot. When the cream solidified to a thick mixture, the texture wasn’t that bad, except that there’s some sort of sticky after-touch, if you know what I mean. Given the high amount of oils in it, it’s also rather greasy.

I tried to use as much as I could, on myself and on the exposed parts of the immobile Leo who was working on the couch – but ended up having to throw a big pat of the cream away. Oh well.

Stiff thick accidental cream that I had to throw away

Stiff thick accidental cream that I had to throw away

Part Two

Armed with lessons learnt from the humiliating defeat, I went at it again. Cleaned the beaker, spatula, teaspoon, stirring chopstick – an unenviable task – and restarted the process. Everything was carefully measured, and poured into the beaker. This time, I poured the boiling water into the bowl first before putting the oil beaker in, ensuring that I had a good grip on the beaker.

I stirred and stirred. The shea butter melted easily enough, and the beeswax took a little more persuasion. But at the end, everything melted into a light golden viscous liquid, and it was time to pour the mixture into the lip balm containers. As my hands are not the steadiest hands, I mobilised Leo to come help with the pouring.

Being very inexperienced and frankly, in retrospect, rather stupid – we used a small funnel to help with the pouring. As you might expect, the waxy oily liquid set very quickly and left a layer of residue inside the funnel. At the same time, the liquid was also solidifying on the mouth of the beaker. We managed to pour a smidgen in and were discussing a better course of action, when I asked Leo to stick the beaker back into the double boiler to stop the solidifying – and –

It capsized again!!! NOOOOOOOOO!!!!

In equal parts disbelief and dismay, we surveyed the damage. It was a deja vu of a beaker filled with oily hot water, with no resemblance to the final product it aspired to be. We had succeeded in pouring about 0.5cm of lip balm into the tube before the funnel discussion happened, and that was all that we had to show for the entire night of toil. And we had ruined a funnel, which till now is still waxy and oily despite of multiple attempts to clean it.

Less than 0.5cm of lip balm in a tube

Less than 0.5cm of lip balm in a tube

I was tempted to throw the mixture away there and then, but stopped when I considered the clogging that might happen. Cleaning a funnel may be annoying but a stuck pipe would probably be another world of pain. So I dejectedly left the beaker on the counter, crime scene untouched, and retreated to the safe space behind my computer screen. I would clean the mess up later, together with the shards of my shattered dignity.

Leo serenely picked up his work again, and I proceeded to give a blow-by-blow account of the second defeat to Eva through gchat.

Part Three

After an hour or so, bed time was approaching so I reluctantly went back to the disaster area to clean things up.

To my astonishment, the failed lip balm mixture had now separated into very clear layers of water and oil. I had a retrospective eureka moment – OF COURSE that would happen! Oil and water do not mix, and when the water cooled down the lip balm solution would also harden into a layer sitting on top of the water.

Water and oil do not mix

Water and oil do not mix

Cautiously, I ran a fingertip across the lip balm layer, and found that it glided very similarly to how it would if I were to glide it on real lip balm.

I sprang into action. I pricked two holes through the lip balm layer so that the sealed water could be poured out (two holes because the water would not pour if air could not enter to fill the void), and drained the water easily.

One hole for draining, one hole for air

One hole for draining, one hole for air

Boiled water again, for the umpteenth time, and filled the bowl with the boiled water to make a double boiler. Stuck the beaker in again. Stirred and stirred. The lip balm mixture melted easily back into liquid. It was looking good.

It was as though the oil and water debacle had never happened. (It did though. Twice.)

Leo came and helped again with the pouring process. This time we did not use the funnel, which turned out to be a completely redundant procedure, and filled up a tiny tub, and 2.5 tubes with the long-suffering lip balm solution.

It set beautifully. It feels a titch too oily on the lips, but that may be helpful in the cold and dry European weather that I’ll be experiencing in a couple of weeks. I’m also setting aside the Accidental Cream for that purpose.

Notes and thoughts

  1. Oil and water repel each other because water is a polar molecule, and oil is not. According to this link, “polarity is when one end is positively charged while the other end is negatively charged. Each water molecule is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. But the atoms are not arranged in a line. The two hydrogen atoms cling to one side of the oxygen atom making the molecule look something like a Mickey Mouse head. The electrons in the molecule spend more time on the oxygen side of the molecule, giving this side a negative charge and the hydrogen side a positive charge. Only other polar molecules can dissolve in water because polar molecules dissolve only in polar solvents and non-polar molecules dissolve only in non-polar solvents.”
  2. If I had more chemistry sense I’d probably remain calm in the first instance when disaster struck, because I’d then know immediately that I just had to set the mixture aside for an hour or two, drain the water and restart the process. I am a little embarrassed about missing the obvious, but the joy of seeing the water-oil separation when I had lost all hope makes it almost worthwhile!
  3. Cleaning oily things is annoying, but not half as annoying as cleaning oily AND waxy things. I’ve not given up on the oily and waxy funnel though. It’s a nice size and I’d like to salvage it. Note to self – never pour oily wax through a funnel.
  4. I guess I’d like to make another batch of lip balm that is less oily. I think that requires more beeswax and less oil, according to what I’ve read.
  5. Success is not a given, and failure actually teaches much more. More experiments lie on the horizon, more stupid mistakes to be made.
  6. Science rules, bitches. And it’s comforting to know, that however crazy the world is, and however you feel like the only sane person in a mad world sometimes – oil and water will always repel each other under normal conditions and without emulsifiers.