I’ve been getting a lot of questions about substituting one ingredient for another in a body butter or lotion bar recipe. I wanted to give you some guidelines when choosing to substitute ingredients in a skin care or salve recipe.
Each ingredient has a specific role in the recipe and it’s important to understand the role before you try to substitute one ingredient for another.
Why substitute one oil for another?
Allergies and sensitivities
People can be allergic to the ingredients in a recipe. In this case it’s important that you substitute for an ingredient that is unrelated to the allergen. For instance, don’t substitute castor oil for Turkey Red oil if the person is allergic to castor bean, since Turkey Red oil and castor oil are both made from the caster bean.
Sometime vegetarians will avoid beeswax, even though no bees are harmed in the harvesting of beeswax. Others will desire to avoid ingredients that are imported over long distances due to the carbon foot print imposed on the ingredient. Others will want to substitute an ingredient due to the fear of overharvesting , or the threat to endangered species.
Sometimes the texture or smell of an ingredient will bring up negative emotions and memories and in that case it’s better to substitute a different ingredient to avoid the negative emotions.
Some ingredients in natural skin care and salve recipes may be outside of your budget. It’s important to understand if the ingredient is essential to the therapeutic action of the recipe before you chose to leave it out. If it is an essential ingredient to the recipe, it may be better to choose a different recipe rather than substituting because the recipe won’t be as effective.
Ingredients that aren’t essential to the therapeutic actions of the recipe may be substituted for alternatives that are less expensive.
Substituting waxes for beeswax
Beeswax is therapeutic and offers skin care advantages to a recipe. It is moisturizing, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory. It adds vitamins and minerals to any recipe it is used in.
Bayberry wax is a good substitute for beeswax. Bayberry wax comes from the Myrica pensylvanica, or bayberry fruit. The wax that is extracted by simmering the berries is anti-inflammatory and contains vitamins and minerals. It is about three times the cost of beeswax, though you won’t use very much in a skin care or salve recipe.
Candelilla wax is another plant-based wax that may be substituted for beeswax on a tablespoon per tablespoon basis. It lacks the therapeutic benefits found in beeswax but will offer a similar texturizing effect.
Soy wax is not a good substitute for beeswax in a recipe meant for skin care or salve. Soy wax is created by hydrogenation, making it unsafe for skin care products.
Substituting butters which are solid at room temperature
Cocoa butter is emollient, soothing, moisturizing and gives an amazing chocolate scent to the finished body care product, moisturizer, or balm. For those who prefer not to use cocoa butter, shea butter can be used instead. Both Cocoa butter and shea butter have amazing skin care and soothing properties. They also texturize lotion bars and body butters giving them more structure, while still allowing them to melt when applied to the body. Babassu butter is another substitute for cocoa butter and it has its own skin soothing properties.
Mango butter or avocado butter can also be used in the place of cocoa butter. These butters are made from liquid oils that have been hydrogenated. They will create a softer final product and behave more like liquid oils in the final balm or salve.
Sheep, goat, deer, or Beef tallow can replace cocoa butter in a recipe. These generally come with a scent which may need to be masked in the final product, with the use of essential oils.
Coconut butter and coconut oil is sometimes suggested as a substitute for cocoa butter or shea butter in a skin care recipe. However, coconut oil is quite greasy when applied to the skin. As a standalone moisturizer it might do in a pinch, but it isn’t a good substitute when mixed with liquid carrier oils which may increase the greasiness and slip of the final product.
Substituting Carrier Oils or Liquid Oils
When substituting liquid oils or carrier oils you have a lot of leeway. There is an amazing variety of liquid oils available right in your local grocery store and most of them can be used in skin care products, like lotion bars. Since any pesticide residues will be concentrated in the oils it’s a good idea to stick with certified organic carrier oils. You’ll also avoid genetically modified organisms if you stick with organic oils.
Specialty skin care oils can be found at soap supply stores, as well as herb stores like Mountain Rose herbs, the Bulk Apothecary, and even in your local health food store. The prices vary greatly. Since some of these oils go rancid quickly, choose your purchases from a store or online supplier with a rapid turnover, to ensure that you get the freshest supply.
Carrier oils are divided into 3 classes based on whether they are drying oils or non-drying oils. The third class is the semi-drying oils. For our use drying oils are the liquid oils that are rapidly absorbed by the skin and leave the skin feeling moisturized but not greasy. Semi drying oils offer some of the faster absorbsion rate, but also leave a layer of protective oil on the skin surface. Non-drying oils take a bit longer to be absorbed by the skin. Some folks will tell you that a moisturizer made with non-drying oils feels slippery and greasy. Although all oils should be absorbed by the skin over time.
Drying oils are high in polyunsaturated fats, while the non-drying oils are higher in saturated fats. Drying oils will go rancid more quickly than non-drying oils and should be kept in a cool place, protected from heat and light. Buy only what you know you will use up within 6 months of drying oils. Non-drying oils have a longer shelf life.
When making substitutions you’ll want to match the drying qualities of the oil that you are substituting out. For instance if the lip balm recipe calls for castor oil but you don’t like the taste of castor oil, you’ll see in the chart below that castor oil is a non-drying oil. In a lip balm it offers slip and shine, as well as body. You’ll want to use another non-drying oil like coconut oil or olive oil in place of castor oil. The finished product won’t be exactly the same, but it will have a similar consistency.
|Liquid Oil||Drying Oil||Semi-drying Oil||Non-drying Oil|
|Pomegranate seed oil||X|
|Poppy seed oil||X|
|Raspberry seed oil||X|
|Rosehip seed oil||X|
|Sea buckthorn oil||X|
|Sweet almond oil||X|
|Wheat germ oil||X|
You can download this chart
I created a free printable of this chart so that you can download it and slip it into a binder so that you can reference it as you are creating your own personal care lotion bars and body butter recipes. I hope you find it helpful.
This should give you a better understanding of how each ingredient in a lotion bar recipe serves the whole so that you can make substitutions wisely, without a lot of costly and time consuming experiments.
Let me know if that was helpful, in the comments below.
Thank you!! I’m looking into doing lotion bars as gifts and one person has a LOT of very serious allergies. There’s a science to getting the recipes right and I really appreciate that you took the time to explain exactly what changes when making the substitutions. It’s also good to know that soy wax is actually dangerous; I’ve seen other websites say it’s fine to use as a substitute for beeswax in lotion bars. Glad I research multiple sites and that I found yours! It was so kind of you to share this.
Joybilee Farm says
I’m glad you found it helpful, Heather.
Very helpful! ! After making 3 different batches of lotion bars, and only keeping in mind the solid and liquid oil percentages , I knew there was more to it. I got some bars that were perfect and some that were greasy. Now I know why! Thank you
Can I use coconut manna (butter) in place of coconut oil? or in place of shea butter? Trying to use up the coconut manna Thanks!
Karen Schumacher says
This has been one of the most helpful sites I have found for making my own face moisturizer. I did a batch just off the cuff last year and it was wonderful. I, however, had no clue what was what and did not write anything down. Now I’m ready to be a bit more strategic and your information was excellent. Thank you! Will look for you on social media. 🙂
A wholesale client wants solid lotion bars and lip balms made without coconut oil, mango butter, or nut oils & butters, but then says shea is OK? So far she has suggested only beeswax, sunflower oil and olive oil. Is that even possible? How conditioning, slippy with that be?? I will have to reformulate both of my base recipes completely! I am not sure what to use.
Hi Chris, interested in all your wonderful info on substituting ingredients in lotion bars. Please can you tell me what beans can be used in these massage lotion bars, I know Aduki and red bean and coffe beans are common, is there any reason why I couldn’t use haricot or kidney beans please. Thanks
Brindha Shunmugavel says
Thank you for this useful information.
Can beeswax be subtituted with honey?
Also can i use cow’s butter instead of shea butter/ cocoa butter?
Joybilee Farm says
No honey and beeswax are different products. Honey will not work in this recipe. Cow’s butter will not work in place of shea butter. It will become rancid quickly because of liquid that is in the butter.
Mrs. A. says
I have many allergies and can’t use commercial hand creams. Thank you for this post. It was very helpful.
My daughter has a reaction to coconut oil and beeswax. I am making body butters for my girls and wonderwhat to substitute for coconut oil.
Joybilee Farm says
Sunflower oil, EVO,
Any thoughts on refined vs unrefined butters? It looks like both are options when I poke about online…
Joybilee Farm says
Normally I’d use unrefined. However, with shea butter you will want the refined version or a deodorized version. Shea butter can be rank, if unrefined.
Susan Ann Budzinski says
Can I substitute Kokum butter for cocoa butter. I’m over the scent of cocoa.
Can ceresin wax in replace of beeswax in shea butters to make them more heat stable?
What can I substitute for vitamin E oil?? In a pinch here:/:/
Joybilee Farm says
You could leave it out. It’s added to prolong the shelf life of the product and prevent rancidity. Vitamin E is an antioxidant.
Thank you for all the great information AND for the Facebook invite. I love your site. This chart will make blending/making so much easier.
Anne Karjalainen says
I was wondering whether beewax can be substituted with cocoa or shea butter? Melting point is of course lower but will the consistency be any similar? And how much are these butters needed instead of beewax?
Joybilee Farm says
You can substitute cocoa or shea butter for beeswax but it doesn’t work in products like lip balm or lotion bars as those rely on wax for firmness. However for salves, ointments, and moisturizers you would be fine to leave out the beeswax. If you plan to make a lotion (mixture of water and oil) you’ll need an emulsifying wax if you want to replace the beeswax in the recipe. The combination of beeswax and sunflower lecithin give lotion it’s volume and mixes the oil and water. Without that your product will separate.
Thank you, Chris, for all of your wonderful information. I can’t wait to try some of this out!
Hi! I stumbled upon your blog on a google search! I love this chart and all the information about substitutions.
Denise Walker says
Brilliant! Thank you so much for taking the time to write this article and explain the why’s that go into pairing butters and oils to create a product. I will refer to this many times I’m sure! Thanks again.
Jodi Marie says
Thank you for this great article and free chart to download! I so enjoy all your post!
This article is extremely informative and I’ve been making personal skin care products for several years now.
Thank you for the printable chart and please keep up the amazing work!