Basic DIY skincare: some dos and don’ts

Finally! After a busy start to the year, I have a moment to sit down, go through and try to finish all the half-written posts I’ve been writing and saving these past few months ūüôā The idea for today’s post (which I started writing over a month ago)¬†came to me when I was developing some new product ideas; I was reviewing my notes (mainly containing¬†ideas¬†that didn’t work) when¬†it occurred to me that my unsuccessful attempts¬†may well make for an interesting read. After all,¬†when we fail, we learn – right?

So, here’s¬†a list of dos and don’ts – compiled based on my own experience – which I hope some of you may find useful on your own DIY journey (or find relatable, at least, if you’ve experienced similar situations).

[Note: this isn’t an exhaustive list – I may revisit this post from time to time and add to it!]


  • Keep a record of all the ingredients you buy. Include information such as product name, date of purchase, supplier, size, cost, expiry date (if it has one). Revisit and update this list regularly to make sure you don’t overbuy or keep ingredients that have expired.
  • Keep a record of all your project ideas (ingredient amounts, steps, observations during/after product’s been made). It’s good to get into a habit of making notes so you have a record of what works and what doesn’t.
  • Research your ingredients before using them: reputable suppliers will provide safety information for¬†raw materials they sell (they are known as material safety data sheets or MSDS). There are limits on how much of certain ingredients you can have in a product – so always do your research (The Cosmetic Safety Assessment¬†website is a good place to start).
  • Make sure you’ve got all the utensils and equipment laid out and ingredients weighed out before you start. There’s nothing half as annoying as (1) realising when you’re just about to pour your cooled golden lip balm mixture into the tubes that you’ve left your pipette in another room, or (2) realising you’ve¬†not got enough shea butter left in the jar to make your body butter when you’ve added all the other ingredients into the double boiler.
  • Do wash your hands before you start!
  • Do use silicone/glass utensils (they’re easy to clean) and avoid wooden ones¬†(you wouldn’t want to run the risk of having tiny splinters in your product!)
  • Whether you’re devising your own or following a new recipe, the first batch you make should be¬†a small one: no point wasting precious ingredients, especially if the recipe doesn’t work or you hate what you’ve made!
  • Always check a recipe before following it; check to see if the ingredient ratios look right. There’s nothing more frustrating than following a poorly devised/an irresponsible¬†recipe! A couple of questions¬†to ask yourself when reviewing a recipe:
    • Does the recipe ask for an excessive amount of essential oils? Some essential oils are not safe for children or babies, or on lips, for example, so be weary of a lip balm recipe that uses¬†lots of drops of EO
    • Do the amounts of the individual ingredients add up to the total amount¬†the recipe says it will make? (An example: if a recipe says it makes 50g of body butter, the amounts of ingredients required¬†should add up to 50g)
    • If a skincare recipe calls for water, does it also call for some kind of preservative? Unless it’s made to be used up straight away, a water-based product should include some kind of preservative because water-based product will be¬†susceptible to microbiological proliferation. (If you’d like to know more about preservatives, take a look at this very useful¬†blog¬†by DIY skincare expert Susan Barclay-Nichols.)
  • If you’re making a gift for someone, ask if they have any allergies before making the product – there’s nothing sadder than spending time and effort making something that the other person cannot use.
  • If you’re making something as a gift, always remember to provide a list of ingredients so the receiver knows what’s in it.
  • When¬†experimenting with essential oil blends or even just trying out a new essential oil, always remember to test the scent (or scent combination) by adding a few drops of oil on cotton wool balls (whilst making a note of how much you’ve used and what the scent was like), rather than mixing them straight into your base mixture (essential oils aren’t cheap, so let’s not waste them!).
  • If you’re making a scented product using essential oils, do think¬†about whether or not the other ingredients in your base mixture has any distinctive scent of their own, and how that might affect your essential oil blend and the scent of the finished product. Remember, while your scent blend may smell gorgeous in isolation on a cotton wool ball, it is likely to¬†smell very different¬†when mixed with certain strong-smelling oils or butters, such as coconut oil or cocoa butter.¬†Real-life example:¬†I once tried to make a gin-and-tonic-scented skin salve with coconut oil; I thought I had got the essential oil blend (in terms of oil ratio and overall ingredient ratio) just right, but the finished product smelled only of coconut! Always test by making a small batch first.
  • When you’re developing something new, do keep asking your friends and family for feedback throughout the whole process!


  • When working on a new idea, don’t just try to ‘wing it’: take your time to research the ingredients and scents when creating a new product. You wouldn’t want to (1) waste your ingredients, (2) make something that doesn’t work or smells awful, (3) make something that could be harmful to those who use it.
  • Don’t buy ingredients from a supplier¬†just because they sell the cheapest oil or butter anywhere online; do your research – always buy from a reputable supplier.
  • Don’t get essential oils mixed up with fragrance oils – the two are quite different. For more, see this older post I’ve written.
  • Don’t randomly substitute one¬†ingredient for another. Every ingredient has its unique set of properties (different melting points, colour, scent, texture, health benefits), so think about which of the properties you’d like your product to retain, and substitute accordingly.
  • Don’t waste your ingredients – if you’re making something for the first time, make a small batch…
  • ¬†… But don’t hoard ingredients forever either just because they’re expensive! If an oil smells off, it probably is off. Using it in a recipe might affect the overall quality of your product (and may even make you unwell), so¬†use your own judgement wisely – don’t be reluctant to throw ingredients away as and when necessary.
  • Don’t just pour your leftover mixture down the sink – it will very likely block your drains, especially if the mixture contains beeswax! Use a kitchen towel to wipe leftover mixture or, if there is a lot, pour it into a container you no longer need and throw it away in the container.

I hope you’ve found these lists useful – feel free to get in touch if you’re a fellow DIYer and have more tips / advice to share!

Sweet chocolate orange lotion bars

Today’s DIY project looks and smells so divine it’s almost good enough to eat! Inspired by Terry’s chocolate orange, a classic British confectionery, my mini lotion bars will make the perfect last-minute stocking filler, as well as keeping your hands soft¬†and nourished, which is especially important since¬†many of us will have¬†hours of gift-wrapping¬†fun ahead. (Ahhh, the mere thought of handling endless rolls of wrapping paper and sellotape is making my hands feel dry already!!)

The key ingredients in these lotion bars are beeswax, sweet almond oil and avocado butter:

  • Beeswax keeps¬†the lotion bars solid and acts as a barrier on the skin to help prevent moisture loss.
  • Sweet almond oil is a great emollient.
  • Avocado butter is deeply conditioning.

To re-create¬†the warm, sweet scent¬†of chocolate orange, I’m using cocoa butter and a combination of essential oils (sweet orange, lemon and benzoin). The¬†subtle honey scent from the beeswax also adds to the sweetness.

Argan oil, a thick and non-greasy carrier oil rich in vitamin E and essential fatty acids, is included for added luxury. Natural vitamin E (tocopherol) soothes¬†dry and itchy skin, plus it slows down the oxidation process in the¬†oils¬†(which is what causes rancidity), so I’m using it to help extend the shelf life of my lotion bars.

Finally, some golden mica is added for a hint of shimmer.

Because the lotion bar is solid, you can keep it in a tin and not worry about it squirting out of a tube and making a mess in your pocket or bag by accident!

Ingredients and tools

  • 22.4g beeswax
  • 22.4g sweet almond oil
  • 16g avocado butter
  • 8g cocoa butter
  • 8g argan oil
  • 40 drops (1.6g) natural vitamin E
  • 20 drops (0.8g) sweet orange essential oil
  • 10 drops (0.4g) lemon essential oil
  • a few “blobs” (0.4g) of benzoin
  • a sprinkle of golden-coloured mica
  • ¬†silicone mould (I used a Christmas-tree-shaped ice cube tray!)
  • a heatproof measuring jug
  • a small saucepan
  • a heatproof stirrer

The above will make around 80g worth of lotion bars. If you prefer a harder bar, you can try upping the amount of wax and/or butter slightly, or reducing the amount of oils. The amount of essential oils I have used in this recipe amount to 2% (1.6g) of the combined weight of all the ingredients (80g).


  1. Clean and dry your utensils before starting.
  2. Prepare a double boiler by first filling one-third of a small saucepan with boiling water, and leave it on the stove to simmer.
  3. In a heatproof measuring jug, add in the beeswax. Carefully lower the jug into the saucepan of hot water. The heat from the water will gradually melt the wax.
  4. When the wax has melted, turn off the heat but leave the jug in the saucepan. Add in the cocoa butter and avocado butter, and gently stir until both have also melted.
  5. Now add in the sweet almond and argan oils, and stir (don’t let the mixture harden; if it does, turn the heat up a little for 20 seconds or so).
  6. The mixture should now¬†resemble golden¬†syrup. Take the measuring jug out of the saucepan, wipe its base dry with a towel; let the mixture cool down a little. Keep stirring it though – don’t let it solidify.
  7. Once the mixture has cooled down to the point where you can comfortably wrap your bare hands around the jug, add in the essential oils and vitamin E drops. Stir to mix everything.
  8. For a subtle shimmery effect (it’s Christmas, after all!), sprinkle some golden mica into the mixture and mix thoroughly.
  9. The mixture should begin to thicken now, so now is the time to pour it into the cavities of your mould.
  10. Leave the mould in the fridge to harden for a few hours before popping the lotion bars out.
Quick tips: Don’t rush when pouring the mixture into the mould cavities – you want the mixture to get into all the corners of the cavity. Also, don’t fill right to the top – the bar (when hardened) will bulge otherwise.
They make great stocking fillers!

Alphabet soap

Due to other commitments, I’ve had to¬†put my DIY projects and ideas¬†on the back burner for a while. So imagine¬†how happy I was earlier this week when, for the first time in months, I was able to spare an afternoon¬†for a spot of DIYing! And what better way to celebrate¬†this mini joyous occasion than to make a few¬†soapy gifts¬†for some dear friends, to mark (belatedly) the (infinitely more) joyous occasions of their weddings?


Resembling gummy alphabet sweets, these soap letters look good enough to eat!
Resembling gummy alphabet sweets, these soap letters look good enough to eat!

Ingredients and tools

  • clear SLS-free melt-and-pour soap*
  • white SLS-free melt-and-pour soap*
  • a selection of different-coloured mica
  • essential or fragrant oils of choice (note: the total amount of oils you put in should not be more than 2% of the total weigh of the soap)
  • a silicone alphabet mould
  • a heatproof measuring jug
  • a small saucepan
  • a heatproof stirrer
  • rubbing alcohol


*I’ve not specified how much soap to use as it depends on the size of the letter-shaped cavities in your mould and how many letters you want to make. The cavities in the mould I use have a depth of 2cm, a height of 5cm, and a width of between 1cm to 4cm depending on the letter shape. For my soap letters, a 60g cube of M&P soap base can make ¬†3 to 4 letter ‘halves’ (i.e. one layer), depending again on the shapes of the letters.

Steps (for making two-layer soap letters)

Before you start: If you wish to create soap letters with a white base, remember Рthe letters in the mould are reversed, so the coloured mixture for the top layer goes into the mould first.

  1. First, decide which colours you would like for which letters. It’s easiest to do all the letters in the same colour first. (Less washing up to do!)
  2. Cut the M&P soap into cubes.
  3. Place the cubes in a heatproof measuring jug and melt in a microwave (in 15-second bursts). Do not boil the soap.
  4. Take the jug out of the microwave, and carefully place it in a saucepan filled one-third with hot water simmering over a stove on low heat.
  5. Gently stir the mixture, taking care to ensure it doesn’t boil or start to bubble (if it does, turn off the heat).
  6. Once the soap base has melted completely, take the measuring jug out of the saucepan and dry its base. Leave to cool for 30 seconds, but keep stirring the mixture so it doesn’t harden.
  7. Once the mixture has cooled down (i.e. the jug is warm but not hot to touch ‚Äď and the mixture should still be liquid), add in the mica (you only need a tiny pinch each time). Stir to mix everything together, and watch as the mica stains the liquid soap base. Add more mica if you want a more intense colour. Spray a bit of rubbing alcohol into the mixture to stop the mica from clumping together.
  8. Now add in the essential or fragrant oil(s), and give the mixture a final stir.
  9. Carefully but quickly, pour the mixture to fill half of each letter cavity.
  10. Spray rubbing alcohol on top of each soap letter to burst any bubbles forming inside the soap.
  11. As soon as you have completed the first layer of your soap letters, prepare the soap mixture for the second layer (this means repeating steps 3 to 8, but leave out steps 7-8 if you want to keep the second layer white and fragrance-free).
  12. Spray some rubbing alcohol into the half-filled cavities again before filling each one to the top with the second-layer soap mixture. Spray more rubbing alcohol to disperse any air bubbles.
  13. Wait a few hours for the soaps to harden, then you will be able to turn the soaps out of the mould.
  14. Now repeat steps 1 to 13 for your second lot of coloured letters, and so on!
Waiting patiently for my soap letters to harden…
“L is for the way you look at me; O is for the only one I see…”