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Secrets revealed: how to make lotions and potions

Natural beauty, like clean eating, has generated significant enthusiasm over recent years with new ‘clean’ brands popping up all over the place.

And why not? We want our lotions and potions to be natural, ethical, organic and as free from chemicals as they possibly can be.

So last week I took that one step further and enrolled in a course to learn how to make my own skin care products. It’s a three-day course with Surrey-based aromatherapy and skincare brand, Naturally Thinking, which aims to teach students the fundamentals of creating natural cosmetic products from scratch.

These guys are the experts. They’ve been making their own range of skincare products for more than 20 years including moisturisers and skin serums, balms and body scrubs, facial wash and cleansers, shower gel and hair care products. They’re all made from the finest natural ingredients that are sourced from throughout the world or grown organically on their own farms.

Where?

Naturally Thinking is based in north-east Surrey on a farm near Banstead, just 25 minutes by train from central London. The fields surrounding the on-site education centre grow lavender, peppermint, chamomile, rosemary, basil, sage and thyme which distilled to produce the essential oils used in their products. The company also produces more than 100 different extracts from plants ranging from the humble dandelion to burdock root, echinacea and calendula which are used in their products.

The course

The product making course attracts people from all over the world and for all sorts of reasons. Some want to learn how to make their own lotions and potions for their own use at home, others are hoping to launch their own range of cosmetics products, or expand their current range. On my course there was a range of abilities – from complete beginners like me, to others with some knowledge of the cosmetics industry including holistic therapist based in London who wanted to expand the range of natural oils and balms she uses on her own patients.

There are between 10-15 students on most courses, and everything you need is provided including the notes, ingredients and equipment, protective aprons, gloves and goggles, packaging to take you’re creations home, and food, drinks and refreshments throughout each day (there’s a fabulous selection of pastries, a steady supply of fresh coffee, plus herbal teas and a healthy vegetarian lunch).

The teacher is Tom Brooks – who works closely with the company founder Dan Stanzl. But if you’re thinking serious scientist, you couldn’t be further from the truth. Tom is easy-going, chatty and informal. He’s super knowledgable and is passionate about producing natural products, and I think he’d be happy to talk about it all day.

In fact, that’s pretty much what happens for the first half of the first day. This is where you get the background and theory. It could easily be starchy and boring, but Tom makes it fun and interesting, engaging the class in discussions about the everything from what ingredients are considered ‘natural’ to the ethics of the cosmetics industry. He’ll also touch on profit margins, packaging, regulations and good manufacturing practices.

Of course there’s also the science and if you’re new to this world like me, you’ll learn the basic theory of science – of formulating your own productions, learning about preservatives, and become familiar with words like humectant, occlusive, surfactant, emulsifier and antioxidants – among many others. I’ll never look at the ingredients list on a cleanser or moisturiser in quite the same way again.

The making

After lunch we donned our aprons, lined up our ingredients and started making. First on our list? A moisture cream base. We took our places around a large solid table, with places laid out for each of us with bowls, weighing scales, heating pots, electric mixers and spoons, plus a big tray.

Tom gives clear instructions for what you need to do, and is happy to answer any questions. You have to be fairly precise when you measure your ingredients – so if you’re the kind of cook who, like me, just throws in approximate quantities you’ll need to shape up or it won’t work.

So I did – firstly mixing my aqua and glycerin in one bowl, then several other scientific-sounding ingredients in another bowl which were heated to 80C, blended then cooled until it thickened. We then added our preservative, essential oils and fragrances. My moisture cream – which I’m calling Amber’s moisture cream with evening primrose, camellia and pomegranate oil and essence of lavender, bergamot, clary sage, geranium and black pepper – turned out perfectly. It smells divine, and has a beautifully light texture but feels rich and moisturising. I was feeling pretty proud of myself, actually.

Day two is all about the production, and you’ll make a cleanser, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and a body butter. And on day three you’ll make an exfoliating product and moisture cream, before being let loose to create you own balm products.

It’s a fabulous and informative experience and you’ll come away with a really good knowledge of how to create your own lotions and potions – whether it’s for commercial or home use.

The cost

The course is £399 for three days which start around 9am and finish between 4-5pm. Courses are held once a month at the Naturally Thinking education centre in Wallington, near Banstead.

naturallythinking.com

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