Thanaka is a new ingredient for me.  I came across it when browsing instagram and became instantly intrigued.  But what is this powder and where did it originate?

Thanaka, or Limonia acidissima or Hesperethusa crenulata is a common tree in Southeast Asia and is used for its medicinal purposes throughout the region.  It is commonly known as the sandalwood, applewood and monkey fruit tree. It is indigenous to Myanmar and has been used as a cosmetic product by the Myanmaris for over 2000 years, as a sun protectant, for skin decoration and also to cool the skin.   The fruit is very high in protein as well as vitamins and minerals and is used to make a local beverage.  Concoctions are made from the fruit to treat digestive problems as well as other ailments.

The powder comes from the bark of the tree which is ground into a fine powder.  When used it is mixed into an opaque yellow paste with a small amount of water and is used as an astringent, antiseptic, antifungal, anti-aging, cosmetic and sun protectectant and to prevent acne.  As with many traditionally used medicinal plants, Thanaka’s chemical properties have been studied.  Thanaka contains two active ingredients:  coumarin and marmesin.  The presence of coumarin explains it’s anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which make it good for treating acne and other skin conditions.    Interestingly, it is used predominantly as a sun protectant.  Seiverling et al found that presence of marmesin made it a pretty efficient UVA absorber when compared with titanium dioxide. It has also been found to have skin brightening properties which are attributed to arbutin, also found in the bark powder.

What is it like?


I had mine shipped all the way from Thailand.  I mixed it with a small amount of water and applied it to my face. It made a very smooth, creamy yellowish paste.  On application, it did have a very cooling effect and even when it dried, it did not feel particularly uncomfortable to wear.  It is supposed to have a fragrance but I found it to be neutral in scent.

Surprisingly, it washed off very easily once it had dried, unlike clay masks that take an age to remove if left on too long.  I can’t say I noticed anything particularly different about my skin afterwards, except that it did not feel taught and my skin wasn’t pink after application, as is normally the case with clay masks. I think I might need to use the mask for a while before making my final judgement but from first use, I would probably say this would be the perfect mask for sensitive skin.

Here is another easy mask formula you could try:

Thanaka and Honey Soothing and Hydrating Mask

To make enough for one application follow the ‘grams’ column.
Thanaka Powder924.5
Simply weigh and mix together in a bowl and apply.  Leave it on until it dries.  Its not like a clay mask, it can be left on over 10 minutes as it is not likely to cause any irritation or discomfort. I left mine on for far too long as I forgot it was there 🙂

That’s me wearing the Thanaka powder mask.



Wangthong S1, Palaga T, Rengpipat S, Wanichwecharungruang SP, Chanchaisak P, Heinrich M, Biological activities and safety of Thanaka (Hesperethusa crenulata) stem bark., J Ethnopharmacol. 2010 Nov 11;132(2):466-72. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2010.08.046. Epub 2010 Sep 6.


Anne Goldsberry MD MBA,a Alan Dinner PhD, and C. William Hanke MD MPHa, Thanaka: Traditional Burmese Sun Protection, March 2014 | Volume 13 | Issue 3 | Original Article | 306 | Copyright © 2014
Elizabeth V. Seiverling, MD1, Alyssa M. Klein MD1, Lindsay C. Bacik BS1, Christoph Gelsdorf MD2and Hadjh Ahrns MD3, Sun protection and other uses of Thanakha in Myanmar

A few weeks ago I showed you my Lush inspired Herbal Cleanser.  It has given me ideas for a few other products which will fall into the category of what I gave coined The Cleansing Putty. After I made the Herbal Cleanser I discovered coconut vinegar at the local independent supermarket. I also found some maize flour and polenta and thought I might try my hand at making face and body scrubs using these ingredients.

The Coconut Scrub Putty

So, in this scrub I made a solid paste of maize flour, kaolin clay, kewra water, glycerin, coconut vinegar and coconut essence for a coconut scent. I rolled the putty in generous amounts of cocoa powder.

Coconut vinegar is made from the sap (or tuba) of the coconut palm.  Once extracted it is allowed to ferment into alcohol and then further into acetic acid.  The smell is milder than white or rice vinegar. It contains approximately 4% acetic acid. Coconut vinegar is gluten free, if this is something important to you.

I also used kewra water which is a fragrant water distilled from the  flowers of Pandanus tectorius.  It is, like rosewater, a favoured  flavour in Indian Cuisine, and has similar beautifying properties.

Generous amounts of maise flour gives a high level of scrubbiness without being harsh on the skin.

To make this you will need the following equipment:

A few bowls for mixing

A few spoons for mixing and measuring

A butter knife

A container

The Formulation

1Maize flour40.50
2Kaolin Clay19.00
3Kewra water9.00
5Coconut vinegar6.5
6Coconut extract0.5
7Cocoa powderQS


  1. Weigh and combine stages 1 and 2 in a bowl and set aside
  2. Weigh and combine stages 3-6 and mix well
  3. Mix 1 and 2 together using a dinner knife
  4. You should have a wet doughy consistency that doesn’t leave any of the mixture on your hands.
  5. Roll out onto a table and set aside
  6. Sprinkle a generous amount of cocoa powder on the table and gently roll the putty onto it until it is covered in cocoa powder.
  7. Cut and put in a pot


You will notice that over the next few hours the putty will absorb all of the liquid ingredients so that it is crumbly.  This is completely normal. I wasn’t sure if I liked it when I first noticed this change however I used it in the shower and loved it so much I used practically the whole pot.  If you prefer it to be wetter then you can make a solution of water, glycerin and vinegar and add it to the putty. You might also just want to add glycerin? Make sure you calculate exactly how much you used so then you can recreate the putty again.  To increase the shelf life of this product and to make it softer you can increase the glycols – you could possibly use penylene glycol at 3% and reduce the water and vinegar or you could increase the glycerin so that there is twice as much glycerin in comparison to the water and the vinegar combined.

How to use

Break off some putty in your hands and mix with water. It breaks down into a gritty paste almost instantly. Massage onto wet skin and rinse with warm water.


Foaming Polenta Putty

This one is more like real putty but it foams due to the coco glucoside and exfoliates due to the polenta.   I made it a light pink colour and rolled it in nettle leaves which is optional but it is a nice contrast to the pale pinkness.  The coconut vinegar reduces the pH which would be quite high due to the clay and the surfactant.

The Formulation




  1. Combine all of phase A into one pot.
  2. Combine phase B in a separate pot.
  3. Add phase B to phase A and stir with a strong instrument
  4. Roll in nettle and put into a container


You will notice that this will get thicker over time.  So you need to watch what happens to it over the next few weeks.   If you want to make it more ‘wet’ use additional glycerin and vinegar to ‘loosen’ the putty formula.  Make a series of them with different levels of liquid ingredients.

To use:

Break a small amount of putty and mix with water until you get a foam. Massage onto wet skin and rinse with clean warm water.


Note on Shelf Life

I don’t know the shelf life but expect they will last quite a few months at least.  This can’t be guaranteed as I really don’t know your habits 🙂 If in doubt,  make small batches and use them quickly!  If you want to use a preservative please do, but this won’t necessarily guarantee they are less likely to spoil due to the large amounts of starches.





I was inspired by Lush’s Herbalism when formulating this one.  Herbalism is one of their ‘fresh face masks’ which means that you will find it in their cold section.  It has a use by date of around 4 months from manufacture, after which it is likely to start going off.  So keep that in mind when you make this version.

The original cleanser uses a large amount of ground almonds, kaolin clay and glycerin. They also use rice vinegar and a  decoction of rosemary and nettle, a combination, which cleanses and brightens the skin.  The vinegar would have a low pH, being an acid, and will gently exfoliate the skin.   If you squeeze the cleanser you can extract the oil from the almonds between your fingers, however, there is no oily residue when rinsing.  It also has rice bran which they say helps give gentle mechanical exfoliation. The bright green colour comes from chlorophyll water extracted from alfalfa. To scent they used a combination of blue chamomile, rose and sage essential oils and gardenia extract.

I have used Herbalism before, but that was a while ago, so I used my memory and looked at the texture and how it functions from images online and vlogger videos.  These demonstrated how it was used and the general texture when wet and dry.  From observation, I noticed that it needed some manipulation to make it into a paste and when wet had a milky and grainy texture.  I think the milkiness comes from the clay and the oils in the almonds. One vlogger said they didn’t appreciate the strong vinegar scent, which lead me to believe there was a notable amount of vinegar in the formulation.

So how did I make it?

I didn’t want to go out and buy additional ingredients so I used ingredients I already had in my pantry and work-space. I had most of the ingredients except the chlorophyll liquid so I used chlorella powder which has a high level of chlorophyll; about 3-4%.  I also didn’t have gardenia extract so I left it out.

You will need:

2-3 bowls or containers


Spoons or things for stirring

Dinner/butter knife for stirring

The Formulation

1Ground almonds57.00
2Kaolin Clay15.00
3Ground Rice2.00
4Chlorella Powder4.00
5Rosemary and nettle decoction5
7Rice vinegar4.5
8Rose essential oil0.1
9Chamomile essential oil 0.2
10Sage essential oil0.2


I started by making a decoction.  A decoction is like a herbal tea. I used 2.5g dried rosemary leaves and 2.5g dry nettle leaves and popped them in a tea bag.  I let it steep in 95g of water and left to simmer in a double boiler for 20 minutes. I let the tea cool to room temperature.


  1. Combine stages 1-3, stir with a spoon and set aside
  2. Combine stages 4-10 in another container and stir the liquid well
  3. Mix stage 3 and 4 and stir

At the latter stages of stirring I used a strong dinner knife as it is a thick paste and hard to blend together.  Next, roll it out, cut it and put it in a container.

How to use

Simply break off a piece of the paste and roll it in your hand.  Add a small amount of water until it is a soft to loose paste and mix with your hands until the consistency is as above (far right). Massage onto wet skin and rinse with clean, warm water.

Note on shelf life

I don’t know how long this will last. I expect a few months at least due to the high levels of glycerin and vinegar, but I can not guarantee the shelf life as I haven’t tested it or observed it for any length of time. But it was a fun thing to make and has given me plenty of ideas for future projects.


Coffee scrubs are all the rage.  People can not get enough of them, but what is so special?  It is thought that coffee’s  many chemical compounds including caffeine, can be good for soothing and detoxifying the skin. It’s believed to be good for dark circles around the eyes as well as to even out the complexion.   Though, it has to be said the research into the effects of caffeine is mixed.

Probably one of the most popular coffee scrubs on the market is by Frank Cosmetics.  It is a combination of ground coffee beans, sweet almond oil, soy bean oil, sugar, salt and orange essential oil. It’s a pretty simple formulation, so I thought I would try and make one.

For this interpretation, fresh coffee grounds were used, but you can use ‘spent’ ones that have fully dried. Doing the latter allows for the smell of the fragrance or essential oils to come through, but the downside is there are going to be less of the chemical constituents that are supposed to be beneficial for the skin.  What is really nice about this scrub is the  oil content. There only needs to be a small amount to coat the coffee grains and when used it leaves a light film on the skin and little in the shower or bath tub.  A moisuriser is not needed after and the risk of slipping is relatively low in comparison to other scrubs. However,  it is a bit messy to use – coffee tends to get everywhere – and there is a risk that over time it could block the drain.  Despite this, it seems to be a hit for a lot of people.


Almond oil 45g 30%
Sugar 22.5 15%
Salt 22.5 15%
Coffee 58.5 39%
Orange Essential oil 1.5 1%




Simply mix all of the ingredients together and pop them into a container.  I used foil pouches to keep mine in as it looks like something coffee would be in.  Feel free to play around with this one, try adjusting the levels of all the ingredients to suit your own preference.

Rebecca xx

I have wanted to make soap from ghee for quite a while but didn’t know what the SAP value was, until it was pointed out ghee is listed in soap calc.  I also wanted to do something a bit different and drawing on the ghee, make this a bit more Indian themed.  Ghee is traditionally used in Indian cooking and adds great flavour to food. Luckily my local Indian cash and carry has many fantastic herbs and spices that I could choose from and they also carry ghee.

What is ghee? In short it is clarified butter made from buffalo or cow.  Clarified butter is ‘milk fat rendered from butter to separate the milk solids and water from the butterfat. Typically, it is produced by melting butter and allowing the components to separate by density.’ (Wiki) It is in no way suitable if you are a vegan or if you have a problem using milk in natural cosmetic product’s.

The only time I have made clarified butter is when I had a thing for Eggs Benedict and that called for Hollandaise Sauce. That fetish went on for a while, but that’s another story.

Going back to Ghee; it is supposed to be a great moisuriser when used on its own and in soap. The SAP value of ghee is 0.162.  At room temperature it’s pretty hard, this is due to its fatty acid content: (approximately) 28% palmitic, 12% stearic, 19%  oleic  and 4% lauric acid.  Ghee has a very nice scent – it is sweet and well, buttery.  However, from investigating online, people reported  an unfortunate scent to their soap when enough of it is used.  Based on this information I used only 10% in my trial in the hope that it will give a nice creamy bar, and minimal smell.  I am not using any fragrance in these soaps.

Tumeric Brightening Bar

Along with the ghee, I used coconut oil for cleansing and bubbles, and olive oil for moisturisation.  I try not to deviate too much from my normal base recipe when I try something new, so then I can see what value it brings to the end product. The following, is as usual, a very simple formulation for ghee soap, with the addition of some other ingredients that are commonly used in the Indian kitchen. I chose food grade tumeric powder, nigella or black cumin seeds and crushed coriander seeds.   Coming from a mixed background, with an Indian grandfather, I am also quite partial to using these spices in my food. I also like using blackseed oil in my own product range, for its healing properties. None of the bars contain fragrance or essential oils.

I did use Kewra water, in the hope that it might add some perfume or another quality to the soap.  For anyone unfamiliar, Kewra water is is an extract distilled from the flower of the pandanus plant.  It features a lot in Southern Asian cooking.  I think it smells a lot like rose water but with lightly more earthy and fruity undertones.

Healing Blackseed Bar

The Soap Base (makes 500g)



Ghee, Bovine (10%) 50g

Coconut Oiil (25%) 125g

Olive Oil (65) 325g

Water 190g

Sodium Hydroxide 69.77



Coriander Scrubby Soap


To approximately 100g of soap batter I added the following:

Soap 1: 8g crushed coriander

Soap 2: 7g Ground nigella sativa (Blackseed)

Soap3: 1g Tumeric powder

Soap 4: Plain

I would unmould after 2 days and  leave these to cure for 6 weeks.


The Verdict:

I thoroughly enjoyed making these soaps which are creamy and luxurious. Halfway through the curing I did smell them.  The plain one (shown on the right) did have a slight eau de vomit, if I am completely honest. The blackseed bar was the best, as the peppery scent of the black cumin seems to have a deodorising effect. In short they do smell a little bit but I think the scent is so light it can be disguised with the right kind of essential oil or fragrance blend.

Also, to add, the plain one has discolouration and went from being a creamy white to a pinkish hue.


When I formulated the Gentle Honey Cleanser I was in no doubt that it was self preserving and stable. I had been researching preservation for a very long blog post at the time, focusing on various strategies for maintaining a fresh and clean product.

I had also been reading about honey and how it is used in cosmetic products, primarily because I wanted to copy Lush’s  ‘Fair Trade Honey’, one of my favourite products of all time.    Looking at the ingredients list for this product, it seemed like a faff and would include heating the product or some of the ingredients.  That didn’t appeal to me.  However, a combination of researching preservation and honey created a light bulb moment where it was possible to create a similar product that would be cold processed, super simple, and self preserving.  The theory was that if all the ingredients are self preserving and included at the right level (or ratio), then the end product would be too.

I put the formulation on the market.  It has been a best seller for me. However it has been controversial.  Straight away I had questions about preservation.  People, including those that bought the product, questioned the lack of preservative.  Some people publicly challenged the formulation and implied that it was ‘unsafe’.

There is also a lot of misinformation about the use of a preservatives.  There are many people that use the ‘just in case’  method where they use a conventional preservative in a product that  does not need one, this can be due to limited knowledge, lack of confidence or because they don’t, for whatever reason, want testing done. Over preserving can be as dangerous as under- preserving.  There are are also people that think any amount of water in a product means it needs a preservative. This is not the case.

I have always told people they need to take responsibility for their products, especially if they are bringing them to market and advise that I can not comment on their business model; if they feel the need for a preservative then they make that judgement call, they need to do their research and make a decision.  I do advise that to be safe they need the necessary testing.

Due to the misinformation and concerns raised, I decided to get a third party safety assessor to look over my formulation.  I could at last put this issue to rest. In the EU we are required to keep a Product Information File as part of the European Union Cosmetic Regulations.  A large part of this is the Cosmetic Product Safety Report (CPSR). This is a detailed analysis of the product and all the ingredients, packaging and how they are likely to interact with the end user.  The safety assessor has to be suitably qualified in their field. They also advise on whether a challenge test and stability test is needed.  They will not complete a CPSR if it needs either or both of these tests.

I sent the full formulation, including methods and packaging advice to my safety assessor and asked her whether it required a preservative and a preservative efficacy test (PET.)  Her advice was that due to the self preserving nature of the ingredients and the percentage they are in the product, it did not need a challenge test and did not need a preservative.  She would be able to do a complete CPSR on this product which would allow it to be bought to market pretty quickly.

This was just as I thought, but it was good to get an independent opinion and I wish I had done so sooner.

If there are any people who purchased the Gentle Honey Cleanser, and would like to get a CPSR to allow them to sell in the EU, please contact me and I can give you my safety assessors details.

This is a solid shower scrub with some extra special ingredients.  Most people like rose and this contains quite a bit of it in the form of rose flower wax and rose absolute.  I have combined shea and cocoa butter to make a solid body oil.    Ground walnut and almond meal aid exfoliation.

I know how to make a body butter, but I didn’t know how much exfoliant to add so decided to  weigh them in after I had melted my butters and waxes, calculating the percentages afterwards.

This is the basic recipe:

50g Shea Butter

40g Cocoa Butter

10g Rose Flower Wax

I melted the above in a bain-marie.

Once melted I added the following

40g Ground Almonds

12g Ground Walnut shell

0.75g Rose oil


This is what it looked like with 1/2 the almond and walnut.

I gave it all a good stir and put it in some soap molds. I put it in the fridge to cool and when I took it out, remelted the wax and added the following;

40g almond

12g walnut

It just wasn’t scrubby enough!!

This is what it would be in percentages:


And this is what they look like once cooled and hardened;



This smells great  and very rosy.  It melts readily when it is warm enough, so it is easy to apply.  If you think it is too greasy I guess you could replace some of the fats with an emulsifier. This will enable some of the oils to wash off.   I like the fact that it melts quickly however, admittedly, it is not as hard as some of the ones on the market. If you prefer it harder maybe add more wax or cocoa butter and reduce the shea butter.  All in all I am happy with this first attempt.


Having studied social sciences and humanities at post graduate level, I am well versed in the practise of primary and secondary research but I hadn’t really needed to use the scientific method. All I knew was this method wasn’t of too much use when studying the complexities of societies or human nature.  That said, I was probably introduced to the scientific method when doing some units in anthropology (which I loved) and I probably did it when studying sciences in school but until venturing into cosmetic science I had not practised the scientific method on any meaningful level.  I don’t call myself a scientist but I do use this tool when formulating natural cosmetic products.

The scientific method is a valuable device for making products of a high standard; that can be made repeatedly and accurately.  It is a way  to be systematic when formulating cosmetics and should inform most of the stages from conception to bringing the final product to market.  So, what is the scientific method and how can it be used to make great products?

Broadly speaking, the scientific method is a set of stages a person goes through to test a claim or hypothesis. However, the stages are not linear in nature and they can be adapted for distinct types of scientific inquiry.

Below is an infographic about the general steps within the scientific method.

How is the scientific method used when making cosmetic products?

When formulating it is important to experiment, test, record and observe in a methodical way. Below is an example to show how the scientific method can be utilised when developing cosmetic products.


So, I want to make a cream with a new emulsifier. At this stage my brain says “oh I fancy trying out that new emulsifier, I wonder what it is going to be like? I think I might make an emulsion with lots of oil in it.”  What do I do?

Here is a basic summary of the steps I might take:

  1. Research the specific emulsifier.  Peruse the supplier’s data/sell sheet as that will give lots of information.  They have normally done a great deal of work testing their ingredient as they want to sell it.  I usually take interest in things like the pH it works well at, what ingredients they advise to avoid or use minimal amounts of.  I look at the processes and methods they employ and do a google search to find out if there are any products on the market that use this emulsifier.  Often the ingredients list will give a lot of information.
  2. Start formulating on paper (or excel sheet). I use the knowledge I have gleaned from the supplier’s research as well as my own experience when formulating. But, this is a starting formulation and must be made in order to know if the emulsifier works the way I want it to. It could be said that the paper formulation is my hypothesis.
  3. Make a prototype. I carefully make a physical cream with the emulsifier, recording the method, conditions and details of how I make it, including any errors. The first formulation contains the recommended use rate for the quantity of oils used in the formulation, but it is an expensive emulsifier and I need it to be cost effective. I have to be aware that the company may also use the higher bracket of said emulsifier in their sales copy.  On that basis I formulate the same cream with different levels of emulsifier to find the optimum level.
  4. I do a stability test to see if the emulsifier works in my formulation. The one with the least emulsifier is not stable, it has separated however the others are fine. The stable one with the least amount of emulsifier is chosen.  To ensure this is truly stable, it is made again and tested again.

But I keep thinking about the one that didn’t pass the stability test.  I wonder, “Maybe it had nothing to do with the emulsifier, maybe it was something else?” I hypothesize what this might be and test it out again.  I rewind back to stage 2.  This might happen a few times while I try and trouble shoot especially if other things spring to mind.

Using the scientific method in formulating skincare is not difficult, providing good records and methodology are used.  It is easy to have negative results with a formulation and be tempted to change a few things at once. I have been guilty of this myself.  Then again, there are also times when I know I am so far off the mark I end up using the experience of the first prototype to start all over again. But when close to the desired result, it is always better to change just one ingredient at a time – it might be time consuming but at least I know what is happening and why.

This is a pretty simple whipped Shea butter.  I used refined organic Shea that had been pre-tempered. It might work with raw minimally processed types.  It is very occlusive and when I made it initially it felt quite greasy so I added some organic tapioca starch to cut the oiliness a little. I didn’t want to dry it out completely as that would be pointless.  In my opinion it sinks into the skin quite quickly for what it is. Below is the formulation and method.  Its scented with organic Orange and Lavender essential oils. As this is a leave on product it is better to use distilled Orange oil as I understand it is not phototoxic.

The formulation:

Organic Shea Butter150g93.75
Organic Tapioca Starch9g5.62
Organic Orange Essential Oil0.5g0.315
Organic Lavender Essential Oil0.5g0.315


  1. Partially melt the Shea Butter. Mine was half melted when I decided to whisk. After the inital whisk the temperature was 29c.  I then added the Tapioca Starch and essential oils. 2. I whipped every 10 minutes.  This is what it looked like when it was 27c3.  I carried on whipping, every 5-10 minutes.  This is the final picture after I whipped it at 23c.

I initially used the ‘add ingredients as I go along’ method of formulating and calculated the percentages afterwards.  You might want to just use this as a basic guideline and adjust accordingly especially if you like things a bit neater. This is a good starter, but you could easily swap out the tapioca starch for another starch and of course use different essential oil blends. You could probably get away with softening it slightly in a bowl of hot water rather than melting it.  Many people swear by using this method or continually stirring to stop it going grainy.

Shea butter has a really nice consistency. Its not extremely hard and quite easy to whip. Its very moisturising and many people use it on its own for dry and itchy skin conditions. Whipping it is a great way to make it user friendly as it is quite dense otherwise.

If you have problems with grainy Shea or want to know how to do all sorts of different things with it then you will find the book Working with Shea by Lise Andersen very useful.