Make Your Own Vaseline
Welcome to Home Alchemy 101! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's time to put our money where our mouths are, and start crafting stuff that makes a difference. One item at a time, we're going to replace those bottles, jars, and tubs of dubious substances in your medicine cabinet with simple, homemade versions. You'll know what's in each one. You'll know how to make each one. And you'll know what they do, and why they do it. This isn't something most people do, these industrialized days, so it's going to feel a bit odd at first. Rather like this, in fact:
Henri Julien Dumont - The Alchemist
Ready? Let's go. We're going to start with a basic, 2-ingredient salve. It's dead easy to make, and replaces one of the most ubiquitous items the modern bathroom cabinet.
We're talking about Vaseline.
Item: Non-Petroleum Jelly
Replaces: Vaseline® and similar products
Yes, there was a time before petroleum jelly. Petroleum jelly is a by-product of oil drilling, originally derived from residue that built up on oil rigs' pumps. It works by creating a waterproof barrier that seals moisture in and inhibits germs from settling on damaged skin surfaces.
Now, just because something is derived from oil doesn't mean it's evil. One could argue that deriving petroleum jelly from naturally occurring petroleum deposits is not that different from, say, deriving salt from sea water. But there are great reasons to avoid using petroleum jelly, including possible carcinogenic effects, and the potential that skin is being harmed more than it is being helped. Check out this Huffington Post article for a decent summary.
(Caveat time! Petroleum jelly is recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration - FDA - and approved as a skin protectant, and they're really not on board with this whole carcinogen shindig. Obviously, they're the experts on product safety, so you really should listen to them and not me. There. Now, back to our regularly scheduled broadcasting.)
What we're making today is an ointment that has the look and feel of petroleum jelly, but is made of two familiar ingredients -- olive oil and beeswax. Like petroleum jelly this forms a protective layer on your skin, but it does so without the disadvantages of a petroleum derivative. Olive oil and beeswax also bring their own healing qualities to the party.
(Not in the mood to play alchemist? Grab a jar of Not Petroleum Jelly from our online store instead.)
Setting Up Your Alchemy Lab
It's time to gather your first home alchemy equipment. Consider these your basics -- you'll use them for nearly every ointment, salve, balm, and concoction you make.
A double boiler. Nothing ruins a favorite cooking pot faster, or smells nastier, than an herbal ointment burned onto the bottom of a pan. Enter the double boiler, which excels at keeping things from burning or overheating. Since melted beeswax can be really tough to completely remove from a pan, you'll want a double-boiler specially for your alchemy concoctions. I use this one. It's inexpensive, easy to clean, and fits over any of my existing kitchen pots.
A scale. You'll need a scale to measure your ingredients. You'll thank me when you start substituting ingredients. Sure, you can do it by volume (and I'll give you volume equivalents for this first recipe), but you'll get much more consisted results as you start substituting in your favorite oils if you're going by weight. Any cheap kitchen scale will do (like, say, this one here). If you want to get started and don't have a scale, just grab a measuring cup for now.
A spoon. Now we're getting sophisticated.
A container. You'll need something to put your finished recipe into. Glass is best, since the mixture will be hot. An old baby-food jar works just fine.
- A stove. Or a small cauldron perched on the embers of oak logs gathered during the full moon. Your choice.
Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble...
You are going to need:
9 oz. (1 cup) olive oil - the stuff in your kitchen cabinet is fine.
1 oz. (1/8 cup) beeswax - I use the remnants of beeswax candles. If you need to get some specially, try Mountain Rose Herbs.
Notice that this is a ratio recipe, with 8 parts olive oil to 1 part beeswax. This means that you can make the batch whatever size you want, so long as you stick to that ratio. For 5 oz. (a bit more than 1/2 cup) of non-petroleum jelly, use 4.5 oz. olive oil and 1/2 oz. beeswax, for a bigger batch, use 18 ounces olive oil and 2 oz. beeswax, and so forth. The double boiler I use holds 10 ounces, so, this batch size is perfect.
(You can also use any other carrier or infused oils instead of the olive oil, of course -- but that's another story for another day.)
Get your scale ready. The simplest way to do this is to put your double boiler insert on the scale, and tare (zero) it.
Hit that button to 'tare' your scale. The display will change to zero.
Now you can measure your ingredients straight into the double boiler, and not get oil all over an extra measuring container. You're such a pro.
Measure out your ingredients. Add olive oil to the perched-on-scale boiler till it reads 4 ounces. Then, add bits of beeswax till it reads 5 ounces.
In goes the oil.
Next, the beeswax.
Heat until melted. Bring a pot filled with just enough water to not touch the double boiler when it's sitting on top, to a simmer. Stick that double boiler over a pot of water on the stove. Wait for the beeswax to melt and vanish into the oil.
Patience, young grasshopper. This can take a while.
Just getting started.
Pour into container. That would be the baby food jar, peanut butter jar, or whatever it is you found while assembling your basic alchemy lab. Glass, not plastic, remember?
Pour. /pôr/. Verb. Flow rapidly in a steady stream. As in, "water poured off the roof."
Wait. Are you sensing a theme, here? Alchemy, it turns out, includes a whole lot of twiddling your thumbs. As it cools, the mixture will solidify a bit and turn opaque. If it gets too hard for your tastes, just melt it back down with an increased proportion of olive oil.
And just in time, too -- as you can tell by the changing shadows, evening was on its way by the time I finished up this back. And we don't use electric lights, remember? Ack! Time to clean up the kitchen before full dark. Just a little more to go...
The Finished Product. You should now have a container filled with oily goop. Congratulations! Stick a lid on it, label it, and put it in your cabinet where the petroleum jelly used to sit. Use your creation anytime you'd have reached for that petroleum product in the past.
It's a new kind of selfie! A homemade-goop-selfie!
Take a moment to savor what you just accomplished.
You're a rebel! Next thing you know, politicians will be accusing you of slowing the country's economic recovery by not buying enough stuff.
And that's just the beginning. Pretty much every product in your bathroom can be replaced by an easily made home version. Stick around, and we'll figure out how. Of course, if you'd really rather not make your own, you can also head over to our online store and grab some ready-made. No pressure. Just saying.
Addendum: Once this non-petroleum jelly sets, it has a smooth, hard-ish sort of finish. That's fine. Just give a bit of a push with your fingertip, and it'll disintegrate into the right texture. But if you're perfectionist like me, and want it to be as exactly like petroleum jelly as humanly possible, just take a spoon to it and stir like crazy:
The texture will break down nicely. This is even easier to do while the mix is still warm, by the way. Problem solved. When you're ready, head on over to Home Alchemy 102 – Making Your Own Hand Balm for the next installment.
What would you like to see us make on the Home Alchemist series? Leave a comment and let me know.
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