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 🙂 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!