How to make homemade infused herbal lotions and topicals
Make your own moisturizers, salves, and balms in three easy steps.
Herbs aren’t just for smoking, vaping, or eating. You can absorb them through your skin and get localized relief if you infuse them into a topical.
A topical is an infused lotion, ointment, balm, or oil that is used externally on the skin. Topicals are available at most shops and dispensaries, but making your own topicals is easy, saves you money, and lets you customize them to fit the needs of your body.
How to make an herbal infused topical:
- Step one: Heat herbs to increase the bioavailability of their psychoactive components
- Step two: Infuse/extract herbs into oil or alcohol base
- Step three (optional): Mix additional ingredients into base to add desired sensory qualities
Note: If you’re really in need of quick relief, you only really need to do steps one and two and then you can start immediately using your infused base on your skin!
Activating your herb with decarboxylation
Step one comes with a complicated name, but don’t let that scare you – it’s easy to do in a home oven. Known as decarboxylation or decarbing, it is the simple process of activating the chemicals in the herbal flowers and buds by heating them at a constant temperature for a controlled time period.
Any beginner can decarb, though to maximize activation, we recommend checking out our guide to decarboxylation and using our DecarBox. The DecarBox comes with a oven-safe silicone box and thermometer so you can control the active compounds in your finished product by controlling the exact temperature and duration of decarbing.
Once your activated botanicals are ready, you’ll infuse them into a base in step two. Choose a base and extract your herbs into it by grinding, heating and stirring them. You can do this manually, but you’ll have an easier clean up and the best potency if you use a laboratory-grade botanical extractor like the MagicalButter MB2e.
Choosing an oil for topicals
The best topical oil bases for herbal infusions is coconut oil, but olive oil, grapeseed oil, sunflower oil work as good substitutes. Coconut oil works particularly well because it is solid at room temperature, yet it melts to the touch. To get a similar texture from liquid oil, you typically need to add beeswax which involves the extra steps of grating and melting.
To get the most potency out of your topicals, avoid using oils with low saturated fat content like canola oil, because they are physically less efficient at absorbing active ingredients of your herbs and they also tend to be on the unhealthier side.
When you’re choosing an oil, also consider its versatility. If you use a food-grade oil, you’ll be able to use it in culinary applications as well.
Pros and cons of oils for topical herbal infusions
High absorption of active herbal compounds. Solid, easy melting texture. Neutral aroma if refined.
If unrefined, it may add unwanted coconut aroma.
High absorption of active herbal compounds.
If unrefined, it may add unwanted olive aroma. Liquid at room temperature.
High absorption of active herbal compounds. Neutral aroma.
Liquid at room temperature.
Liquid at room temperature.
Adding fragrance and other moisturizers
Here’s where the real fun starts. When you make your own topicals, you can boost them with fragrance, moisturizing, cleansing, or texture-enhancing properties by adding extra ingredients to your herbal base.
Examples of natural ingredients add-ins:
- Essential oils
- Moisturizing oils
- Cocoa butter
- Leftover herb sludge from infusion
Though it doesn’t sound very appealing, leftover herbal sludge is an awesome addition. Adding it to your topical will maximize medicinal qualities while also providing a bit of exfoliating grit.
Essential oils and spices are very popular additions for their fragrance and anti-microbial qualities. Oatmeal soothes the skin and aids exfoliation. Cocoa butter and beeswax add mild scents while also adjusting consistency and moisturizing properties.
As you make your own topicals, be creative and experiment with what works best for you. Keep in mind you can tweak your recipe with each batch to make it better suited for your particular skin qualities. Most recipes are relatively simple so you can tinker with the recipe and add new ingredients as you craft like an expert chef.
Homemade topical recipes
To get you started, let’s look at a couple of beginner-friendly recipes. These recipes help you make the most of the active properties of your herbs.
Lemon honey lip balm
Using herb-infused lip balm doesn’t just moisturize your lips – if you lick your lips while wearing it, you can get a buzz. What a sneaky new way to microdose!
Our lemon honey lip balm is made with all-edible ingredients so you could, if you wanted to, lick it up all day. Made with real beeswax, it will also give your lips a moisturizing shine.
- 5 tablespoons honey
- 5 tablespoons infused coconut oil
- 5 tablespoons beeswax
- 3 drops lemon essential oil
- Melt honey, infused coconut oil and beeswax together. This can be done in a microwave safe glass bowl in the microwave at 10 second intervals or in a saucepan over a low heat burner.
- Add in lemon essential oil.
- Put melted solution in tubes, tins or jars. Allow it to cool and solidify.
This recipe makes 75mL of lip balm total. Instead of pouring into containers, we recommend using a large plastic syringe to control it and avoid spillage. Just make sure your balm is warm enough while transferring to not solidify in your syringe.
Relaxing herbal salve
Herbs have long been used for external relief. The anti-inflammatory properties of comfrey and calendula(marigold) make them ideal support for muscle recovery. Wintergreen contains methyl salicylate which is the active ingredient in IcyHot and is similar to the salicylic acid compound in willow used in aspirin.
- 2 cups refined coconut oil
- 1⁄2 cup dried calendula flowers
- 1⁄2 cup dried comfrey leaves
- ½ cup dried wintergreen leaves
- 14-30 grams of activated herb
- Put all ingredients in the MB2e machine. Set it to run for 2 hours at 130°F.
- Pour through a fine strainer.
- Pour into tins or jars. Let it cool.
Store the finished salve in a cool place. If it melts, just cool it down again to below 78°F (the melting point of coconut oil) to make it resolidify. You can also keep it in your fridge to avoid melting.
If you use just a base infused oil like coconut oil, you’ll have a finished product that has a thick consistency more like a salve than a lotion. If you want to make a pumpable, easy-to-pour lotion, combine oil and water with an emulsifier like sunflower lecithin.
These recipes offer a glimpse into the many ways you can use herbs in topicals. Dive deeper and discover herbal-infused hand salves, soaps, bath bombs and more by exploring our collection of MagicalButter topical recipes!