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Balm Making

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Organic Herbal Balms have been the surprising success of the Perfumery’s organic range since we formulated them in 2008. People just seem to love them, and regular customers buy them in 4's and 6's year after year. Ally spent several years as our Balm maker before handing over to Rose, our Cosmetic Chemist.  Ally is now pursuing her interest in creative writing and we hope you enjoy reading her description of how our balms are made as much as she enjoyed making them:

Lined up at the back of the Creams Room sit enormous drums of precious, organically certified oils, and on the worktop, scales, measuring jugs, beakers and silicone spatulas. First, beeswax pellets are measured into a double boiler where they melt quietly, releasing an unmistakeable sweet, almost spicy, warm and comforting smell into the room while the rest of the ingredients are poured, measured and weighed in readiness. Glass measuring beakers are filled, their limpid viscous contents illuminated like pale yellow, orange and green gems by the sunlight slanting down from an overhead window.

Oils of olive, sunflower and sweet almond are chosen for their ability to soften and sink into the skin, avocado and calendula to soothe and heal and for their anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial properties. Beeswax is used for its capacity to create a usable consistency and provide a protective, moisture holding barrier which doesn’t clog the pores (as do petrochemical derivatives). It’s also anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. And the magical jojoba oil is brought into play for its resemblance to sebum, (the natural secretion of the human skin) and for its resistance to oxidation. It’s a complex picture and one in which each oil plays many parts. Finally there are the distinctive oils for the four types of balm which make up the range: golden arnica, straw-yellow almost green borage, buttery-yellow calendula and the darker greenish comfrey.

Once the oils have been measured out and quantities logged, they are mixed into the melted beeswax, removed from the heat and stirred until the mixture has cooled to a consistency that is no longer wet but still liquid enough to pour. Catching this odd alchemical moment makes all the difference to the pouring and the result. Too early and it will set with a fingerprint-like dip in the middle, too late and it won’t leave the jug at all. The smooth milky balm, neither hard nor soft, is not poured so much as nudged into each tin until it bears a subtle resemblance to an aerial view of the nearby sacred mountain of Mullagh Mór with its limestone whorls. By lunchtime, the workbench is covered in tins filled with pale golden balms. First thing tomorrow morning they will be ready for lidding and labelling.

Like creams, balms moisturise the skin, but they go further than that, working at the dermis level to soften and protect and at the epidermis to nourish and repair. With no water content, they don’t need preservatives to keep them fresh, but like any natural product, such as spices and herbal teas, their benefits become weaker as they age. I keep my balms in the fridge, especially in the heat of summer to stop them from melting and I use them as a catch-all product for most skin concerns.

I use Arnica Organic Herbal Balm or Borage Organic Herbal Balm for bruising and joint pain, Comfrey Organic Herbal Balm for insect stings and Calendula Organic Herbal Balm for all round soothing and healing. In the summer when my feet become dry and cracked, I rub Calendula Organic Herbal Balm onto the soles and pop on a pair of socks before bedtime. Central heating, cold temperatures and raw winds can dry out hands and face in winter too. Smoothing a little balm on before bed works a treat and can also be used the night before a special event for that extra glow. I use it sparingly on my face the morning before a long day’s exposure to winter weather. And if your hair is prone to frizz, which mine is, especially when the weather is ‘soft’, a small amount rubbed into the ends usually does the trick.

Easy as it is to be tempted to slather yourself in all the goodness a balm has to offer, be warned, balm takes its time to sink into the skin and a little goes a very long way. When it comes to balms, less is definitely more.

My hands were never so smooth, my face so radiant, nor my hair so glossy as when I spent my Tuesday mornings tucked away in the Creams Room at the Burren Perfumery turning oil into balm.

Note: Herbal balms should never be used on broken skin.

Ally Rafftery