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Homemade hand and body lotions can be a sweet all-natural alternative to commercial brands that have enormous lists of ingredients, some completely unrecognizable. It might seem weird that many recipes for homemade lotion include the cleaning agent and detergent booster borax in the ingredients. Borax is a natural mineral compound, however, and it's in lotions for a good reason.
Borax, technically known as sodium borate, is a naturally-occurring mineral compound consisting of boron and sodium. It's prevalent in desert areas of some western states, and the brand name 20-Mule Team Borax is an authentic reflection of a time when workers really did use teams of 20 mules to haul borax from mines. Borax dissolves easily in water and makes a good water softener. It's also an excellent emulsifier in lotions.
An emulsifier effectively blends two or more liquids that normally can't be blended. You might have heard the old expression, "Oil and water don't mix," which people generally use as a metaphor about how some personality types don't get along with one another, but it's also literally true. Because lotions contain both oil-based and water-based ingredients, the ingredients stay separated unless you keep mixing them together manually or unless they contain an emulsifier.
Borax homemade lotions often contain beeswax as an emulsifier. On its own, beeswax isn't effective at keeping the oil and water blended over time, however, so recipes typically also call for a small amount of borax as well. This is generally a matter of convenience for the user. If a homemade lotion with beeswax doesn't contain borax and it separates, you can shake it to blend it, or use a clean stirring tool.
Although borax is a natural substance, it can cause mild skin irritation in some people. Whether you're whipping up your own homemade lotion or looking to try someone else's, alternatives to borax are available. A couple possible options include acacia gum, made of hardened sap from acacia trees, and lanolin, a waxy substance derived from sheep's wool.