(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on September 27, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)

Hand Creams of Yesterday and Today

Hand cream has been made using the same techniques throughout history. People used the resources handy to them, and sometimes imported special ingredients from far away places. We can choose to use our local resources, order from catalogs, or purchase online from Internet companies. The commercially produced creams have the same ingredients as our homemade creams, but are loaded with preservatives and fragrances that our bodies, or our noses, find objectionable. I purchase my ingredients from local resources for accessibility, and support of my local community. I choose herbs from my yard and garden to incorporate into my hand creams for their alleged medicinal properties (see blue sidebar information, below right.)

Finding a Hand Cream Formula

I searched the Internet and books looking for a basic formula for making a good all-purpose hand cream to help moisturize my dry hands, relieve soreness, and possibly heal bug bites, and superficial wounds, after a rough day's work in my yard and garden. I found many unique recipes for particular conditions, but no multipurpose solution. I determined that making hand cream was subjective, no right or wrong method or ingredients. However, I did find there were common basic components: solid oil, liquid oil, binder (emulsifier), and water. There are various optional herbs, fragrances, and preservatives that could be included according to preference.

I broke down the main ingredient into relative proportions (parts), for a formula that I could change as needed. I can add herbal infusions, or decoctions, in place of the water. I can make herbal oil infusions to replace the liquid oil. Infusions and decoctions take a little time to brew, depending on the desired strength, so there is advanced preparation to consider (see sidebar information).

1-2-3 Hand Cream Formula
1 partSolid Oillard, coconut oil, cocoa butter, lanolin, etc.solid at room temperatures; melts at body temperature
2 partsLiquid Oilsaffron, peanut, olive, Canola, jojoba, sunflower, etc.may be herb infused
1/3 partEmulsifierbeeswax*combines oil and water; stiffener
3 partsWaterdistilledmay be herb infused
* Use dry weight measurement for beeswax, everything else is a liquid measurement.

Components & Process Chart
1 2 1/3 3
homemade hand cream proportions and process graphic

A small test batch of hand cream can be made using one ounce measurement for each component "part" of the formula.

I prefer the hand cream making process similar to that used in Earthly Bodies & Heavenly Hair, demonstrated below, because it is easier to measure and blend ingredients.[1]

Making a Gardener's Hand Cream

hand cream ingredients and equipment Equipment:
  • Blender, food processor, or mixer (I prefer a hand mixer)
  • Glass measuring cup (to melt oils & wax)
  • Pan big enough to hold the measuring cup, or double boiler
  • Grater (for beeswax)
  • Chopstick (for stirring)
  • Mixing bowl (if not using a blender)
  • Small spatula (for scooping cream into jars)
  • Small glass jars with lids

Measure the solid and liquid oils into the glass measuring cup.

Weigh the beeswax, then grate, or cut into small pieces, into the cup of oils.

Measure water and set aside.

glass measuring cup in pot of water

Combine and heat oils by placing the measuring cup in a small pan of water to melt together over low heat. A chopstick is a great tool for stirring the mix.

Water temperature of an herbal infusion or decoction, needs cool to about 100 degrees F, or warm to the touch. If using distilled water, warm it to the same temperature. Place water in a deep bowl that can handle the volume of combined ingredients, or pour into a blender.

melted beeswax and oils

Remove oil from heat, after the beeswax is completely melted and mixed in (the water in the pan should not have gotten hot enough to boil).

Cool oil to the same temperature as the water, or just above body temperature. If it cools down too much, it will become a bit cloudy and start to solidify around the edges of the glass cup. If this happens, just reheat until the mixture clears up again.

hand cream ingredients mixed in bowl

Blend oil and water by drizzling the warm oils into the warm water, with the hand mixer (or blender) on low speed. The mixture will start to cloud up as soon as the oils are introduced. After adding the oils, increase the speed of the mixer/blender to incorporate as much of the water into the mixture as possible.

Optional ingredients can be added at this time, such as essential oils for preserving and adding fragrance.

finished hand cream

To finish, scrape out the hand cream from the bowl, or blender, and pack into small jars. If a little water settles atop the cream, it can be absorbed with a paper towel, or poured off after the cream settles. Keep your jarred hand creams refrigerated if no preservatives were used.

Label and date your jarred hand cream! Decorative labels, ribbons, and plastic lids, make your custom hand creams great gifts.

The Possibilities

Although my basic home-made hand cream, using coconut and olive oils, does wonders for dry chapped hands, I am experimenting with various herb infusions. An infusion of comfrey leaves makes a good all-purpose cream for healing scrapes, bruises, and bug bites. Be forewarned not to use comfrey for deep wounds, as it will heal the outer layers of skin, trapping bacteria in the wound, and possibly causing an abscess. I have found lavender essential oil is inexpensive, a preservative, bug repellent, and adds a nice fragrance to my creams.

My good friend Pam (DGer pdhickey) has found that a strong comfrey leaf decoction helps with arthritis pain and fades spider veins. She has had great results using lemon balm for clearing skin rashes and repelling bugs while gardening, too.

Please refer to the information on the blue sidebar for general herb uses and definition of terms that I have used in this article. I hope you have as much success using the 1-2-3 Hand Cream Formula to make your gardener's hand cream as I have.

I would love to hear from readers about their special ingredients, formulas, and experiences in making hand cream! Be sure to check the links for additional information and past Dave's Garden articles about making other herbal remedies in the green box below.

[1] Dina Falconi, Earthly Bodies & Heavenly Hair (Woodstock: Ceres Press, 1998)
[2] James Green, The Herbal Medicine-Maker's Handbook: A Home Manual (Berkeley: Crossing Press, 2000)


Latin decoquere; to boil down woody, hard, or dense, plant materials like roots, bark, seeds and stems, to extract medicinal or nutritional properties into a liquid solution (water or others).[2]
helps oil and water bind together.[1]
Latin infundere; a process of extracting the medicinal or nutritional elements from plant material into a hot or cold liquid, such as: water, vinegar, wine, or glycerin.[2]

Herb Properties

The following list is a sampling of herbs that can be used in a hand cream formula. Check herbal references, Dave's Garden PlantFiles, and other articles for additional herb information.

healing; antifungal; antimicrobial
heals skin rashes
heals broken bones and bad sprains; heals skin rashes, cuts, burns, spider veins; prevents scars; anti-inflammatory, helps relieve arthritis pain
antimicrobial; cleansing wounds and acne
antimicrobial; fights infections
warming; increases circulation
heals skin rashes, burns, and poison ivy wash; soothing
skin healing; cleanser; bug repellent
Lemon balm
skin healing; cleanser; bug repellent
cleanser; increases circulation
antifungal; relieves arthritis and rheumatism; hair stimulant
antiseptic; cleanser; stimulant
antimicrobial; use for bug bites and bee stings
St. John's Wort*
astringent; antibacterial; antiseptic; styptic; vulnerary; anti-inflammatory; used to cleanse wounds; reduce swelling, bruising, and varicose veins; repair skin and nerve damage; ease sunburn and muscular pain, and possible UV protection properties
antimicrobial; cleanser; use for bug bites and acne
antiseptic; cleansing acne and infections
anti-inflammatory; repairs skin rashes; soothing
antiseptic; analgesic; stops bleeding and heals wounds

* Added after publishing.

Optional Ingredients

emulsifier; cleanser; softens water
Essential Oils
highly concentrated plant extracts; effective antimicrobial preservative; most carry an intense odor from the extracted plant
humectant, moisturizer; an oil; preservative
Grapefruit Seed Extract
highly concentrated preservative; antimicrobial; water purifier
emulsifier; soothing; skin softener
PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid)
Vitamin B used as a sunscreen; water-soluble
Vitamin E Oil
antioxidant; moisturizer; anti-aging; helps repair skin and diminish scars
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