I’m one of those weird people who *needs* 47 chapsticks or lip balms in strategic places around the house. And in the car, in my desk, in multiple purses, my gym bag, my pocket, melted in the dryer (oops…)
Our lips have it kind of rough, so they need extra love. Their stratum corneum (outer protective layer of the epidermis) is far thinner than anywhere else on the body. They also do not have sebaceous glands of their own to make protective sebum.
This stuff feels ah-mazing on dry, chapped lips. It has just enough wax to form a good protective barrier, but it’s not at all waxy feeling.
Full disclosure, I didn’t actually start out intending to make a lip butter. It was a happy accident that happened while trying to perfect a lip gloss recipe – a special request from a friend that I’m still working on. Long story short, I had an “okay” lip gloss in the works, but I didn’t care for the taste. While thinking about what to do about the flavor, I made myself a cup of tea with honey and it came to me.
Honey is well known for its skin healing properties. It’s a natural humectant that attracts water to the skin and holds it there, helping to keep lips moisturized and protected. Raw, unpasteurized honey is chock full of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and antioxidants that nourish your skin from the outside in. Natural enzymes act as a gentle exfoliant and antioxidants protect skin against the free radical damage and slows down the aging process, warding off wrinkles and fine lines. Raw, unpasteurized honey also contains beneficial bacteria that helps to balance the microbiome living on your skin. One specific kind of honey, Manuka honey, is so effective at rapidly healing wounds that it’s even being used by doctors in clinical settings.
I am a huge fan of tallow in cosmetic products. I use it daily on my face, lips and in my homemade deodorant. It has a remarkably similar fatty acid profile to human sebum. (Quick factoid: the word sebum actually means “tallow” in Latin… who knew??) Like our skin lipids, tallow is composed chiefly of triglycerides, since this is how fatty acids are normally found in nature. Generally, sebum is about 50% monounsaturated, 40% saturated, 10% unsaturated, while tallow is approximately 50% monounsaturated, 43% saturated, 4% unsaturated (3% “others”). Not too shabby!
So I’ll be honest. The first time I was exposed to the idea of smearing beef fat on my face, I was not instantly intrigued. It sounded like a recipe for clogged pores, greasy skin and ugly breakouts. But since I already had a ginormous 5-gallon vat of U.S. Wellness pastured tallow taunting me from the pantry and curiosity got the better of me.
In recent years, tallow-based skincare products are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Awhile back, I stumbled across an old 2013 issue of my Weston A. Price Foundation Nourishing Traditions journal, containing an enlightening article by Andrew J. Gardner entitled Traditional Nourishing and Healing Skin Care, describing how, once upon a time, tallow was a common, if not standard, ingredient in skin care.
Gardner points out that in modern skin care, there’s typically a separate product marketed for the face and one for the body, begging the question: why. Are the ingredients in non-face products too harsh for the face? If so, why are we comfortable using them on our body? “Tallow balm can be used for all manner of skin conditions, including dry, chapped, calloused, cracked and sun-damaged skin, rashes, burning, itching, wrinkles, and so on, because it gives the skin the nutrients it needs to heal itself.”
According to Gardner, “Tallow contains the abundant natural fat-soluble activators, vitamins A, D, and K, as well as vitamin E, which are found only in animal fats and which are all necessary for general health and for skin health.” Additionally, pastured tallow “also contains fats like conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as palmitoleic acid, which has natural antimicrobial properties.”
And because the makeup of tallow is so similar to our own sebum, it’s easily absorbed into the skin.
Introduced to the cosmetic world by the Egyptians thousands of years ago. castor oil is made from cold pressing the seeds of the Ricinus communis plant. It has a unique, thick, glossy texture that’s difficult to substitute with other oils. Studies show that castor oil is especially useful as a wound dressing, helping to heal wounds by reducing dryness, preventing the buildup of dead skin cells and stimulating new tissue growth. What it can do for wounds it can also do for chapped, cracked or sunburnt lips… creating a moist, protective barrier that promotes healing and prevents damaged tissue from drying out.
After a couple of batches of too-thin and not-so-great-tasting lip gloss, I tried adding honey and created an emulsified gel using cera bellina wax, a derivative of beeswax with gelling and emulsifying properties. It took me a few tries to get the texture right. The first batch, I replaced all the liquid oils except the castor with honey, and it turned an opaque white and was far too hard. I needed to add back some of the liquid oils to soften the product enough to use. Olive oil works well for this, but I’ve also made this lip butter with jojoba, squalene, rice bran oil and various other liquid oil blends. I chose olive oil for this recipe simply because most people have it in their kitchen.
Infuse your oils!
You can kick this lip butter recipe up a notch by infusing your oils with healing herbs. (Learn how to make a cold infused oil here.) I’m a big fan of comfrey, and have a jar of comfrey-infused tallow and olive oil in the pantry. I’ve also made this recipe infused with calendula, self-heal and St. John’s wort. Get creative!
Some infusions to try:
- calendula – speeds healing of cracked, chapped lips
- chamomile – calms and soothes irritated skin
- chickweed – ease irritated, swollen or sunburn
- comfrey – soothes irritated tissue
- cottonwood bud resin – achy chapped skin
- elderflower – cuts and skin irritations
- self-heal – cold sores and other wounds
- lemon balm – helpful for those prone to cold sores
- lavender – calms and soothes irritated skin
- mint – cooling and calming
- mullein – painfully dry lips
- plantain – cuts and scratches
- St. John’s wort – bruises, wounds, cuts, infections
- yarrow – sores, wounds, stops bleeding
A word about Cera Bellina wax
Cera Bellina is a hydrophilic (water loving) derivative of beeswax that, unlike beeswax, has weak emulsifying properties that are capable of binding the oils and honey together. I’ve tried this recipe using e-wax, and while it sorta works, I didn’t care for the texture as much. Cera bellina a very cool wax that’s great for creating oil-based gels anything that needs an ointment-y texture. It gives much better “slip” than beeswax, which can feel tacky at higher concentrations. I’ve purchased cera bellina from Lotioncrafter and Brambleberry. I highly recommend getting some to experiment with!
If you’d like, you can also add a bit of mica for tint and sparkle. The cera bellina works well to evenly distribute and suspend the micas in the emulsion. Get fancy! ???