The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

January 4, 2008

Hand lotion. Is it for the bees?

Have you ever wondered how honey is harvested from beehives? This fall, Michael and I got to find out firsthand while visiting our friends, Jerry and Mea, at Draper Farms in San Anselmo.

The hives are wooden frames with beeswax starter cells. The bees fill the cells with honey and, as each cell fills up, cap them with their own beeswax. When the hives are full of honey and ready to harvest, the beeswax caps are removed from both sides of the frame with an electric heated knife. This was the first part of our demonstration. The hives had already been gathered into the barn prior to our arrival and the bees sent on to create new hives.

Next the frames are placed into a centrifuge, where they will be spun to extract the honey. The honey flies out from the combs onto the sides of the centrifuge and then runs down the walls and out a spigot into a waiting bucket.

We all got to take home a jar of raw honey. Mmmmmm… but my question was what happens to all the leftover beeswax. Jerry said they make it into candles… or lotion, in small quantities. And that got me thinking. Because I’ve been looking for plastic-free hand lotion.

Burt’s Bees makes a hand salve that comes in a metal tin and contains beeswax. A member of my Green Sangha group uses it and really likes it. There is a small plastic seal around the lid, but this would be a minor plastic offense to me if it weren’t for the fact that the Burt’s Bees Company was bought by Clorox this year.

Clorox, if you’ll recall, bought the U.S. division of the Brita water filter company back in 1988. And whereas today, the European Brita filter cartridges are being recycled in a comprehensive take-back program, the U.S. Brita filters are not recyclable and the Clorox Company has no intention of providing a way to recycle these hunks of plastic. Read more about my communications with Brita here and here. (Isn’t it ironic that a company that specializes in producing chlorine bleach also sells a product to take the chlorine out of the water?)

So I don’t have much faith in what Clorox will do with Burt’s Bees, I’m afraid.  So, what to do about lotion?

I found a tin of Moon Valley solid lotion bar at the Ecology Center in Berkeley, also made with beeswax and other natural ingredients. I like the idea of a solid lotion (as I do solid shampoo) which makes bottles, plastic or otherwise, unnecessary. And the Moon Valley lotion seems to work well and smells great. But it’s a bit pricey. And probably not available everywhere. So what if I could make my own?

I found a simple recipe for hand cream at


2 ounces beeswax (I found beeswax in a bulk bin at Juniper Tree in Berkeley and also at Whole Foods in the herbs and teas bulk section. I brought and filled my own bag.)

1 cup sweet almond oil (I actually used regular Spectrum almond oil from Whole Foods, which comes in a glass bottle but does have a plastic cap.)

1 cup water

10 drops essential oil (I chose lavender because I had some on hand)

Heat beeswax and sweet almond oil until the wax melts. In another container, heat water until warm. Both mixtures should be warm, but not so hot as to be uncomfortable to the touch.

Place warm water in a blender. Cover the blender, leaving open the small opening in the cover. With the blender running on high speed, slowly pour in the beeswax-oil mixture in a thin stream. When most of the oil has been added, the mixture should begin to thicken.

At this point, add the essential oil. Continue to add oil and blend until the mixture is sufficiently thickened. Turn off the blender. You should have a thick cream. Spoon into salve jars or metal tins.

And here is my creation. It’s pretty solid when it cools, so it’s not the kind of lotion you could squeeze from a plastic bottle or dip your fingers into. You kind of run your fingers around the top to get some on your hands and then rub your hands together. I’ll experiment some more. But for now, I think this will do. Thank you, bees.

03/10/2008 UPDATE: A reader tells me that she had a hard time cleaning out the blender pitcher afterwards. Turns out, her pitcher was made of plastic. My blender has a glass pitcher, and I had no problem cleaning it out with soap and hot water. Plastic, on the other hand, attracts oil, so maybe a blender with a plastic pitcher should not be used with oils.

Any suggestions for how she could get the plastic pitcher clean now that it’s all gunked up with beeswax and oil? Please read the comments for more info about what she’s already tried.

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5 years ago

How did water mix with oil and beeswax?how come it is not separated? If wAyer us used it us very difficult to store this hand cream for long time

12 years ago

This is a great idea, and when I have access to the stuff I need I think I’ll try this! But for an even simpler solution, which may be especially suitable when traveling, you can just use any cooking oil as a lotion. It’s a bit greasy, but the oil absorbs after a few minutes. I routinely use olive oil or even vegetable oil if my hands are dry and I don’t have any lotion around.

Matt Sharp
12 years ago

Hey Beth
Supposedly every Whole Foods Market takes back Brita filters as part of a national program. I have not tried it yet and I don’t know for sure what Whole Foods does with them. Does this sound credible to you?

12 years ago

what do you think of making it in a quart mason jar with the base of the blender screwed on to the jar? maybe start with blending only 1/4 of the ingredients, unscrew add the next 1/4, blend….etc.

13 years ago

Thanks for this recipe, I wanted to try making my own lotion as I make my own soaps.
As for the comment about LUSH, they do use less packaging but many of their products contain sodium lauryl sulfate which is bad news. :(

14 years ago

If you leave out the water, you can use this same recipe to make a terrific lip balm, adding a few drops of flavoring oil such as vanilla or peppermint. Also, I’d recommend adding a little honey or glycerin as both are natural humectants, drawing moisture to the skin.

15 years ago

At (Environmental Working Group) I leaned way back when I was also a huge Burt’s Bees fan (before they were bought out by Clorox) that some of their products didn’t rate well at all on the level of toxic ingredients ….I was shocked….then read the ingredients carefully and looked up each item in the Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients by Ruth Winter.

We have to be soooooo careful. The world is full of marketers who want us to buy their products. They feel out the climate for the latest, hottest trend and market to that trend. They grab us, make us fall in love with the smell and feel of their products, and leave us blindsided when we discover that what’s inside the little metal or glass container is not so innocent after all. Earth friendly packaging doesn’t insure human friendly products.

As well, my 22 yr. old son who is a vegan brought to my attention that the reason vegans don’t eat honey is because many honey manufacturers KILL the bees at honey harvest time!!! It is easier and less dangerous to poison/kill bees. These huge honey farms have so many bees, they transplant enough bees into new hives to begin fresh. It’s actually cheaper and easier to kill bees and start over. This is certainly not true for smaller, earth friendly honey producers that would never consider killing their bees. However, I can only guess that the honey Burt’s Bees uses is likely from a large honey manufacturer.

So that also keeps me steering clear of products that include honey. Making our own, as with this amazing recipe posted on the blog, is the best way to insure that we know exactly what ingredients we are applying to our skin — which happens to be the largest organ of the body and absorbs what we put on it directly into our bodies which affects our longterm health.

I can’t wait to try making some of this body bar. It sounds wonderful! Thanks for sharing it :)


15 years ago

instead of using a mixer, u can try a hand held electric beater. maybe that will help? use a glass bowl and the beaters are metal… so it won’t stick

Braid Studio
15 years ago

I don’t know if PoetLover… ever got their blender clean but in the salon a common trick we use to get color residue out of (plastic) bottles is too use hot water and salt. Here’s what I would do: Fill your blender up with hot water dish soap. Blend that together a few min. and let it start re-melting wax/oils. Pour it out after about 5 min but wash it while still hot. But put a good amount of table salt in your dish soap i.e. 1 part soap to 1 part salt. That should work, sorry so long.

Oh yeah love the site!

The Minimalist
15 years ago

Wow! I love your blog! I saw a comment you made on Lifelessplastic which is another awesome site and followed it here.I am trying to influence people and companies to make significant changes to help our planet on my blog Minimalistic Lifestyle.I am willing to write letters, boycott products, organize, etc. to this end. Please include me! I now live in Portland OR but grew up in Danville! Is Telegraph Ave still a fun spot?

Beth Terry
15 years ago

Hmm… I really don’t know. I think I’ll post a comment in the body of the post that maybe people should not use a blender with a plastic pitcher. And I’ll request suggestions for you.

15 years ago

Yes, plastic. Any other suggestions (besides replacing the pitcher)?

Beth Terry
15 years ago

Hi poetloverrebelspy. As I recall, I just cleaned the blender with soap and hot water and it wasn’t a problem. Question: does your blender have a glass or plastic pitcher? Mine is glass. Plastic might be harder to clean because plastic attracts oil.

15 years ago

I experimented with the recipe this week and was mostly satisfied.

+ It takes far longer to find all the ingredients than to actually make the stuff. The recipe took maybe 15 minutes, all told.

+ I chose coconut oil rather than almond oil, as coconut oil is solid at room temperature. One of the major problems with lotion bars is inadvertent melting on warm days.

+ My ingredients were almost certainly too warm, as I had a pour-ready liquid rather than a scoopable solid at the end of my mixing. I believe this led to ingredient separation in the cooling process.

+ 10 drops of essential oil were nowhere near enough to cover the scent of the beeswax. I added 4 times that amount and my roommate swears she can still only smell the wax.

+ How did *you* clean your blender? This is something I was concerned about from the start. I scraped away as much of the remaining cooled liquid as possible and washed immediately in hot, soapy water — repeating the process again after drying — and still have waxy oily remnants hanging around. I’d appreciate any advice on cleaning that up.

For those wondering about average price, I spent 3 euros on the oil, 4 euros on the wax (of which I used 1/3) and 5 euros on the scented oil (of which I used 40 drops, which is a negligible amount). For less than 5 euros, I ended up with the equivalent of 3 Lush lotion bars, which retail for 10 euros each! Amount saved = 25 euros (approx. $38).

If you have some clean-up advice, please share!

Idaho Locavore
15 years ago

OOooh, this looks very much like what I’ve been looking for – a “body butter” type recipe! I’m going to try it soon, and thanks for posting this! You’re a gem! :-)

15 years ago

Thank you so much for your recipe for solid hand lotion. I recently recommended solid beauty products for travel at my budget travel blog, Less Than a Shoestring. I’ve added a link to this page at the bottom of that post.

Solid Recommendations for Travel Beauty Products

I am excited to try the recipe myself, once I get the various ingredients together . . .

15 years ago

Also try Badger Balm. Yummy smells! I love it.

terrible person
15 years ago

Oops. Sorry for the mistype! Here is the correct URL for the Burt’s Bees article:

15 years ago

Beth, I still haven’t tried this (our blender is broken and I’m having a heck of a time tracking down the part I need for it) but I passed your post on to a coworker who made her own hand lotion this weekend.

Also, I checked at our coop and found they sell solid little bars of beeswax from a local apiary. In the bulk bin, no packaging. Yay!

There are about a million handcrafted soap makers in the twin cities but I haven’t run into anyone selling homemade lotion. It’s definitely an un-filled niche.

terrible person
15 years ago

Just in time, an article in the New York Times on Burt’s Bees: its commitment to the environment, how Burt got the short end of the stick (or did he?), what will be the effects on the company from being taken over by Clorox (and the effects on Clorox.) Funny comments by Clorox, about how bleach breaks down in the environment, and how they’re not just about bleach — they make plastic bags, too!

Oh, and here is another Times article, about the risks of plastic water bottles. Glad America’s newspaper of record has finally caught up with FPF.

15 years ago

Re: Starting a Brita Filter Recycling Petition and Letter Campaign: Sure, I’m interested (she says, having no clue what it may entail or just how much time this may consume). What do I need to do?

Juli in NYC

15 years ago

Oooh, very cool post. I haven’t had to find plastic free lotion quite yet, but I don’t think they have beeswax in the bulk section at the Whole Foods stores in Chicago (as you’ve heard me complain, the midwest isn’t so forward thinking in terms of bulk foods). I was able to find a few stores that might have beeswax on the Organic Consumers Association website, though. I’ll have to call around. I suppose that even if they don’t have beeswax, they should be a good source for locally produced items, so that’s good.

Beth Terry
15 years ago

Rosa, refilling from a big plastic bottle is still better than buying smaller individual bottles.

Juli in NYC, I don’t know of a Brita petition campaign. Want to help me start one?

Joanna, there are some examples of solid shampoo included in my Plastic-Free Guide, as well as other products I’ve switched to in order to save plastic.

And yes, Etsy is awesome!

J. E. Patterson
15 years ago

There are a number of wonderful crafters on making things of this nature (I get all my lip balm there).

15 years ago

check out lush. they make very yummy smelling stuff that is low packaging. solid shampoo, lotions, etc

15 years ago

Great blog!

If the economics don’t work, recycling efforts won’t either.

15 years ago

Does anybody know about this site ( ) ? I have seen other environmental sites with carbon calculators like yahoo and tree huggers, but I am wondering what the deal with is, is it credible? I saw they also published a list last month of the top ten greenest cities ( ). Does anyone know if this site is better than say WWF site? Fill me in

I took their carbon foot print test and it was pretty interesting, but they said that I put out 4.5 tons of carbon while another test gave me like 15 tons? I think I trust earthlab.coms test a little more (because my score is lower). Does anyone know about any other tests?

terrible person
15 years ago

What do you recommend putting on hands that have been munched on and scratched at all night by a very bad kitten?

Not something fish- or poultry-flavored, I hope!

Also, I thought that part of the point of using less plastic was to make oil LESS essential.

Unfortunately, humans are still looking for oil, and they are going to drill for it in places where polar bears live!


15 years ago

FABULOUS … now can you tell us about the solid hair shampoo?

Thanks for sharing

15 years ago

I’m right there with pfeng about Burt’s Bees now owned by Clorox. I’m so bummed. I had wondered why I was seeing so many more displays of their products in stores lately.

15 years ago

Beth, you are awesome. It may take me a while to run through all the various tubes of lotion in the house, but when I do, I’m coming back to this post!

Argh. I just bought a 6 pack of Brita filters for the year and was wondering about recycling them. Is there a letter campaign? A petition drive? Clorox needs to clean up their act!

Juli in NYC

har mar
15 years ago

Beeswax hand lotion bee bar: (from amazon

Product Description
2 ounce Bee Bar in a unique tin. The Beeswax Hand Lotion Bee Bar is a unique blend of natural oils and emollients. Rub the Bee Bar generously between your hands and you’ll see why we love this product. Providing hours of soothing relief to dry, cracked hands. Made of sweet almond oil, beeswax jojoba oil, Shea butter, coco butter, lanolin, and vitamin E oil, and our special fragrance (Parfum). Compare this to Burt’s Bees Butter Cuticle Cream, which is not 100% natural.

seems interesting. it’s in tin form…and it’s a bar. but they say it’s a good comparison to burts bees.

if it rains like this over the weekend i dont know if i’ll be down for the mint lounge. when it rains i tend to go into hibernation. did you figure out which day it’ll be?

Gruppie Girl
15 years ago

Very cool. You are like Mister Rogers giving the tour of the apiary.

I recently made the switch to beeswax taper candles for the dinner table. They are wonderful.

I also have a local apiary and their honey has helped my seasonal allergies.

I heart bees!

15 years ago

Dr. Bronner’s, which I believe you mentioned before, has an organic beeswax balm I love. It’s expensive, too, however. comes in a metal tin. Mor einfo about their lotions and this balm at Unfortunately, the regular lotions do appear to come in plastic. :(

15 years ago

Thank you! I’ve been refilling my plastic lotion bottle at the coop but that’s not really a solution because they just get it in a bigger plastic bottle.

You have no idea how much hand lotion I go through in the winter. I’m going to try this this weekend!

15 years ago

I am totally going to start doing this. Just trying to figure out how to start. Thanks for the link and the tutorial.

15 years ago

Thanks so much for the post. I was just thinking I should be doing more handmade cosmetics/body products to avoid the plastic.

15 years ago

Burts Bees bought by Clorox?!? NOOOOO! :(

But thank you for the alternative option. It looks really neat — does it smell like almonds, or more like whatever essential oil you’ve added? And burbanmom’s quite right, this would make lovely gifts.

Keep up the excellent work, you’re an inspiration and source of support!

15 years ago

Ooooh, very neat! How does it work? Does it compare favorably with commercial hand salves? I’d love to try this and hey… wouldn’t that make an AWESOME Christmas present for next year?!?!?