Make Your Own Powerfully Fragrant Body Butter

I got my first reader request, and it was for homemade body butter! But saying “body butter” out loud makes me feel kind of gross because it’s like butter made out of a body? Or like a bodily fluid that you put on toast? I tried to think of an alternate name, but “thick lotion thingio” wasn’t a whole lot better, so “body butter” it is!

Why would you want to make your own body butter? Store-bought body butter (pictured) has usually gone through a refining process in a factory, which can diminish its moisturizing properties and add potentially irritating chemicals. So if you have dry or sensitive skin, homemade body butter may work better for you than the stuff you get at Bath and Body Works. Or maybe you just like making DIY stuff that smells good.

In any case, you’ll need the following ingredients (adapted from here with some changes):

1 and 1/3 cups shea butter
1/2 cup olive oil (I bet other oils like grapeseed or sunflower would work too)
1 tsp vitamin E oil
1 tsp (or less!) of an essential oil of your choice

That greasy hunk of yellow Play-Doh in the foreground is one pound of pure unrefined shea butter. I bought it on Amazon and subsequently found out two important facts about it:

  • It might not actually be shea butter. After watching this YouTube video and doing some additional research, I learned that yellow “African butter” or “kpangnan butter” is similar to off-white shea butter but comes from a different tree. But sometimes shea butter turns out yellow-ish because the nuts were harvested in a different season, or it was cooked at a different temperature, or people dyed it yellow, so who knows?
  • I may have exploited West African women by buying it. They’re typically the ones who harvest and prepare the shea nuts, but they tend to see only a tiny fraction of the profits when corporations buy shea butter and make skin creams out of it. To avoid my mistake, you can buy fair trade shea butter here, but of course it costs a bit more.

Now that we’re all psyched up about deceptive selling practices and economic injustice, on to the recipe!

1. Heat the shea butter in a pot. It melts into a translucent brown liquid.

2. Mix in the olive oil.

3. Let it cool for 30 minutes. (I don’t know why you’re supposed to do this here instead of after adding all the ingredients. Is this step…some scrambled-up bullshit?)

4. Add vitamin E oil and essential oil. Keep in mind that if you add like one drop too much of essential oil, you and your whole house and everyone in your family will smell like jasmine or lavender or whatever every time you use your body butter.

5. When the mixture is cool enough to be handled safely, pour it into the container(s) you’re going to store it in.

6. Stick it in the refrigerator overnight to set. Once it has set, you can store it wherever you want. If you accidentally added too much essential oil, an ideal storage area is under the passenger’s seat of an enemy’s car.

7. Try to wash the pot and measuring cups that had shea butter in them. Try again. Try again.

8. Try again. You got this.

And now you have homemade body butter!

It’s a little thicker and takes a little longer to sink into your skin, but otherwise it’s pretty much just like store-bought body butter. I know this because I tested it out for a week, putting my homemade butter on my left leg and some Tree Hut butter on my right leg. My legs are exactly the same as each other, except that now one permanently smells like jasmine. Guess which one.

Ultimately, I think the only scenario where it’s really worth it to make your own body butter is giving a thoughtful handmade gift to a friend who likes lotion-y stuff. Unlike many DIY projects, this one won’t save you money unless you’re making it in bulk, and the quality isn’t any better than you’d find in a store (at least, mine wasn’t). Unless you have extraordinarily sensitive skin — and maybe even then — you’re probably better off buying body butter from a fair-trade source like Alaffia or Shea Yeleen.

Previously: Pleasant-Smelling Natural Insect Repellent.

Lauren O’Neal grew up near Berkeley, California, but didn’t become a dirty hippie until after moving to Texas.

Top photo via Flickr