Make Your Own Elbow Grease!

When the weather turns cold and windy outside, and interiors become hot and dry, our skin needs a little extra TLC. I made just what you need!elbow grease


Babybel chapstick


Just in time for the cold weather — if you run out of chapstick right when you need it most, don’t worry, you can quickly and easily make a replacement tube with ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen.

See detailed instructions here.

Bath Bomb for Valentine’s day


Bath bombs can be tricky to make, because they are very sensitive to humidity. Too moist, they fizz prematurely, too dry they crumble and loose their shape. Still they are so cool it’s worth the trouble.

Dry ingredients:

  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 1/2 cup citric acid
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 pack (3.2 oz) unsweetened dried milk
  • 1/2 cup epsom salt
  • 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

Wet ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp melted cocoa butter (10g)
  • 2 tbsp sweet almond oil
  • 1 tbsp chocolate fragrance
  • 1 tbsp water

Combine dry ingredients in a glass bowl. Mix well and crush any clumps.

Mix wet ingredients in a jar, and VERY SLOWLY dribble the wet solution into the dry ingredients, mixing all the time with a whisk. If the dry ingredients start to bubble, stop pouring and mix till the reaction stops. When all ingredients are combined mixture should look and feel like moist sand, and should hold together when pressed into a ball. If it still crumbles, add a few drops of water, preferably with a spritzer.

Press the mix into your mold, preferably a silicone baking mold. Let sit for about an hour, then gently remove from mold and let dry overnight.

These make great gifts for kids and adults alike. Getting them out of the mold without breaking can be tricky — which is fine because then you get to keep the ugly ones for yourself. If they all break you can crush them to powder, let the powder dry out, then store it in a sealed jar. Fizzy bath salts feel just as good as the bombs, and they look very attractive in a pretty jar. Use about 1/3 cup for each bath.

Store in an airtight container and protect from humidity.

Chocolate honey lip balm in pop art package

A couple years ago I concocted this tasty chapstick recipe, because my kids couldn’t stand the stuff, and I grew tired of smearing their cracked dry lips as they slept. I wanted a recipe they would use willingly; what better flavor than chocolate?

I quickly realized I had hit upon the perfect small holiday gift for all the casual friends, colleagues, and teachers in my life. It’s very easy to make in large quantities, inexpensive, and yet, since it’s home-made, it’s still a personal and cool gift. The only thing missing was a good presentation.

Problem solved! I just finished the design for this pop-up chapstick holder, inspired by the pop art master, Roy Lichtenstein. Our blond friend’s lips aren’t really sealed — they slide open to reveal the secret to her smooth lips: your tube of home-made lip balm. The template also includes a version with a blank speech bubble, in case you’d rather write your own message.

Bath Salts

Incredibly easy, fun, and cheap to make, bath salts are the perfect teacher’s gift. Your child can take an active part of the preparation. Accompanied by a self deprecating note about the need to relax after spending the day with your progeny, these pretty salts are bound to please much more than your toddler’s framed art work. If the teacher isn’t a bath person (strange, I know, but apparently those people do exist…) it can be “regifted,” unlike the gazilionth personalized mug teachers normally receive.

Want to make some? Here are detailed instructions.

The Sunscreen Problem

During the summer I like to have sunscreen with me at all times, but I do not like to carry around a lot of weight, nor do I appreciate it when bottles become uncapped in my purse and gooey cream covers all my belongings. So I’ve been designing a sunscreen which contains no water (no extra weight to carry around, plus no need to worry about mold or bacteria) and which has a texture solid enough to be stored in a recycled deodorant stick. Easy to carry, easy to apply! The active ingredient I use is zinc oxide. Anything else will cause my spouse’s sensitive skin to become unbearably itchy. I avoid the non-whitening nano particle size zinc because I suspect that in 25-50 years we will suddenly discover that stuff causes all sorts of horrible, painful long term diseases. This lesson was driven home by reading the (almost) one hundred year old collection of recipes, Henley’s. They used to think asbestos was great. So how to wear sunscreen without looking like a zombie? Melt some crayons into the formula, of course, just like my lipstick!

For my skin I chose one brown, one yellow and one red crayon which, when I first slid the deodorant stick on my arm, looked alarmingly red. However, as soon as I smoothed it on the color blended into the skin and gave me a nice slightly tan look. My waxy formula stays on really well, almost too well, even when wet. After my stint in the sun I took a shower and had to scrape it off with my fingernails!

I’m not publishing the formula yet — still tweaking it — but in the meantime you can try my sunscreen/bug lotion published on instructables.

The Ancient Art of Beauty

I almost never wear make-up so I had to force myself to think of the subject for this book — and what a trip it has been! Besides coming up with fun recipes like crayon lipstick, I also learned some very entertaining pieces of trivia, such as:

  • Modern day nail polish was developed in the 1920s thanks to technical advances in the car industry. Women today are painting their nails with car enamel. The Romans used crushed rose petals mashed with alum. During the Ming dynasty the Chinese used a mix of gum arabic, beeswax, gelatin and ground up pigments. The Ancient Egyptians never stopped using henna — it is still common in many parts of the world. I’ve tried to adapt all these recipes. Roman nail polish hurts when applied (it goes on hot), doesn’t have great color and washes away instantly the second you get your nails wet. The Chinese polish looks great (at least with the food coloring I used), glossy and smooth like the very best car body work, but it cannot resist water either. At least it tastes good when you suck on it, and it doesn’t kill your brain cells with its fumes… This would be a good choice for kids playing dress-up.
  • French aristocratic ladies are famous for powdering their faces with lead for a fashionably white complexion — but women used to swallow arsenic “complexion wafers” too. It was very effective, it gave them a genuine deathly pallor and they weren’t faking their languid behavior either. Then for a little contrast they would use cinnabar, the red ore of mercury to tint their cheeks and lips.
  • There’s no need to look in the past for outlandish treatments. I’m kicking myself for not bookmarking a site I found once with instructions for a DIY anti-aging formula which included instructions to do a head stand (or alternately lie down and hang your head over the edge of the bed) while slapping the cream on the face — for a minimum of ten minutes! Slapping. I have never been able to find those instructions again, which is a shame, because I was tempted to try it. Il faut souffrir pour être belle.

The above photo illustrates step one of my Egyptian-inspired eye shadow. Calcinated almonds, which I then grind into a paste with a mortar and pestle and apply to my eye lids with my finger. It makes a nice, deep brown but it also makes me smell a little burnt. Of course the Egyptians also used malachite for a bright green color, and ground-up beetles as glitter, but the 1980s are long gone, and if they come back I’ll have no part of it.