The Truth About Lotions and Natural Butters

August 14, 2013

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In today’s vanity driven culture, skin care and beauty product companies spend millions and millions of dollars convincing you that you must have a lotion for this and a lotion for that. After all, you deserve to age gracefully, have clear skin, and reverse sun damage.

But did you know that your lotion addiction is actually bad for the health of your skin (and the rest of you too!)

Using lotions and skin creams can actually weaken your skin’s resistance to the elements and create a dependency on skin products. I can attest to this! I used to be addicted to all kinds of lotions. Seriously. There must have been over a dozen different lotions and creams in my beauty regime every day. And guess what? They did more harm than good (but it took me a long time to realize this).

What we know today as “body lotion” is an emulsion. This is simply water and oil (or wax) mixed together. Most body lotions are what they call an oil-in-water emulsion. Basically 80% water with a little bit of oil. This doesn’t sound so bad right?

Let’s explore this for a moment.

In order to create an emulsion, you need an emulsifier which is an agent that will combine the water and oil (because if you have ever tried to mix the two, you know it won’t happen naturally). The most common way of doing this is with a chemical emulsifier like stearic acid, cetyl alcohol, PEGs, or vegetable emulsifying wax. These emulsifiers will give you that typical creamy texture that you would expect in a lotion. Even lotions that claim to be natural still rely on synthetic emulsifiers, many of which are contaminated with dioxane. Trust me, you don’t want anything on your skin that contains dioxane.

Remember when I said that most lotions are 80% water? Marketing ploys would certainly have you believing that this is a really good thing! The more water in the lotion, the more hydrating it is right? While this is somewhat true, there is a huge risk to having water in a formula.

In lotions that are a water and wax blend, the waxes form a protective sort of layer on the skin, which helps to hold moisture in. Because lotions and creams hold in moisture they seem to work well at first, but as time goes on the wax barricade prevents oils from delivering nutrients, like essential fatty acids, to the skin, leaving it less equipped to prevent trans-epidermal water loss. Then guess what happens? The skin loses moisture which means you put on more lotion which then leads to drier skin and the cycle gets worse and worse!

Water in lotions and creams also opens the door for potential pathogens to grow. We’re talking bacteria, mold, fungus, and other nasties. In a water containing emulsion, you have to have preservatives. Preservatives typically equal harsh chemicals most notably parabens, urea, and methylisothiazolinone. Go do an internet search on parabens if you are not already familiar with them. It will make your stomach turn.

Now there some organic ways of preserving. You can use essential oils or organic ethanol. Blends of preservative essential oils have a tendency to be quite strong-smelling, so they end up taking over the scent of the product. If you are wanting to creating an unscented lotion using essential oils as preservatives, it will be impossible. Essential oils will create a fragrance. Plus, they aren’t 100% foolproof. Mold can still grow despite the presence of certain anti-fungal essential oils.

Organic ethanol is what a lot of the organic skin care and soap companies’ use. The big problem here is that ethanol dries out your skin very easily. So while you might be avoiding harmful preservatives, you are actually not doing your skin any favors by slathering it in ethanol.

So if lotions aren’t truly good for your skin, then what is?

Easy! Natural butters and oils!

Body butters and natural oils are more hydrating than common lotions because of the special way in which they made. During formulation, the seeds and nuts are ground or cold-pressed until the oils from them are extracted. The process stops here for oils but for butters, the crushed seeds and nuts are then heated until the remaining fat and oils present themselves. This process results in a rich emollient butter.

Butters and oils nourish the skin and penetrate quickly without the worry of added chemicals, preservatives, or scents. They leave your skin feeling smooth and looking radiant without leaving a greasy film. Butters and oils each have different therapeutic value which means you can use the exact butter or oil for your unique skincare need!

Like the rest of your body, your skin needs fats and oils for lubrication and optimal function, not the wax I mentioned earlier. Wax build-up can also clog pores. Waxes, not butters and oils, are one of the main causes of acne and other blemishes.

While commercial creams and lotions can strip your skin of vital nutrients, butters and oil actually provide your skin with all kinds of nutrients including Omega-3s, and Vitamins A and E. Because applying butters and oils in their natural state allows for optimal penetration, you are actually getting a pretty high dose of these nutrients every time you apply a body butter or oil.

I have been using natural butters and oils for several years now and have been so amazed with how great my skin looks! Seriously. My skin looks completely different than it did just a few years ago.

I don’t do anything special to my butters and oils. I basically use them “raw” meaning I don’t turn them into a cream or lotion. I grab a small piece off of my hunk of raw shea butter, rub it between my hands to melt it a tad, and the rub it on! Same goes for my coconut oil! In the warmer months it stays nice a melted but in the cooler months, I just pinch a chunk off, rub it between my palms to melt it, the apply it as needed.

Obviously I have done a lot of research on butters and oils since I use them as ingredients in my soaps. What I would like to do is share my three favorite butters with you and tell you just a little bit about what makes them great!

Shea butter comes from the mangifolia, or karite nut tree which is indigenous to West and Central Africa. Rich in fatty acids, shea butter protects the skin and locks in moisture. It has a buttery texture which easily soaks into the skin. Shea butter is rich in vitamin E and also contains vitamins A, D and F. Shea butter is not only used as a moisturizer but to also treat burns, insect bites, diaper rash, eczema and psoriasis.

Cocoa butter is extracted from the cacao bean. This moisturizer is one of the most highly concentrated and stable fats available and has been used for thousands of years in lotions, soaps, skin care items and of course, chocolate. The benefits of cocoa butter for preventing stretch marks during pregnancy are well-known. Also, cocoa butter contains cocoa mass polyphenol or CMP. CMP has positive effects on cholesterol, blood pressure, cancer cells, heart disease, arthritis, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. The use of cocoa butter boosts the immune system and promotes a feeling of well-being.

Mango butter is extracted from the shelled fruit kernel of the mango tree, which is a tropical evergreen. This butter is highly emollient, softening and soothing to the skin. Mango butter has protective effects against UV radiation and also helps treat skin rash, eczema, insect bites, and poison ivy. Mango butter can help protect and heal skin from the damage caused by sunburn and frostbite. While mango butter is excellent for skin, it is often mixed with other ingredients because it is much harder than shea butter and can frustrate the heck out of you if you are trying to break a piece off. I have no problem hacking a piece off but wanted to give you fair warning!

Without getting to science-geek on you, I hope that this post has opened your eyes and spurred you forward in doing more research on replacing your lotions and creams with natural butters and oils. Your skin and your health will thank you!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sasha August 16, 2013 at 3:15 am

Thanks for all the great info! I don’t suppose you know of a good source for mango butter?


Victoria November 12, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Thanks for the interesting read and information to contemplate. I’m pretty new to this “crunchy” skin care game. I’m curious, a lot of home recipes use beeswax and jojoba oil (wax). I’ve never read anything negative about their use, do they also clog pores like the emulsified waxes you mention in your article?


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