Arthritis balm – ‘capsicum cream’ in push-up sticks

‘Lipbalm’ sticks with chilli or capsicum ointment for arthritis sufferers – the idea hit me as I contemplated making my lovely mother-in-law another batch of ginger and chilli oil for her poor fingers.  She has been given capsicum cream from the doc but finds it inconvenient to use sometimes as it leaves her fingers sticky – not a good feeling when you are about to do piano practice or needlework.  So, I thought, how about a stick of something with the same / similar ingredients that may be a little more easy to use.  Just rub it on exactly where it is needed, minimally sticky paws, and easy to carry around in your handbag.

I have some good chilli oil, of the ‘blow your head off’ type, just waiting for this opportunity to show its true worth outside the culinary field.

Having spent a fair amount of time researching for and experimenting with making solid hand moisturisers, I have developed the beginnings of a ‘feel’ for what is hard enough to stay solid in a stick.  This was scuppered – entirely – by my foolish decision to ‘look up some recipes’ before starting.  One book I consulted went on about the need for more beeswax for a stick than a balm-in-a-tin – reasonable – then gave a recipe with a ratio of beeswax to oil 1 : 1.  Hmmm, thought I, that’s quite high, but maybe it does indeed require that much wax.  So, I duly weighed out 15g beeswax and 15g chilli oil, melted them down, and filled a couple of sticks, with some left over for a 15g pot.  More on the tricky art of filling lip balm sticks below.

Result? Almost no hint of chilli in the preparation at all!  There MAY have been a little reddening on my finger as I rubbed it on, but I suspect that was caused by my… rubbing it on.  No heat, not even any discernible warmth, and certainly no sting.  Oh dear, I thought, (since I am a lady) and melted down the pot’s contents to try a different ratio.  Having learned so recently how to fill lip balm sticks, I left those intact, not wishing to break the spell.  Weighing the brew, I found that somehow, in the 15g pot, there were 19g of wax/oil mixture.  So, to turn this into a 1:2 ratio, I need to halve the 19g and add that amount, 9 1/2g, of chilli oil to the mixture.  This I duly did and refilled 2 lib balm sticks and a slightly larger pot.

Well, firstly, the ratio of 1:2 feels much better than 1:1 and goes on much more easily.  As for the efficacy of the preparation, I am confused, and I suspect the proof of the pudding will be in the actual use on arthritic fingers.  As before, there was no discernible sting or warming, and no reddening on my finger, but a little on the inside of my (very white) arm.  I was a little bemused by this, and decided to perform the ‘lick-it-and-see-if-there-is-any-chilli-in-it’ test.  My tongue is still stinging.  Huh?

For anyone wanting to reproduce the experiment, the ratio is 1:2 beeswax to chilli oil, and I used 15g organic beeswax to 22.5g chilli oil, melted them down, by circuitous means, in a double boiler and then filled the lip balm sticks when the beeswax had melted.  The chilli oil is olive oil which has had chopped up chillies sitting in it for a month or so.

Filling lip balm sticks:  yes… not as easy a task as might seem at first glance.  The sticks need to be sat, according to the author of the book I shouldn’t have used for the lip balm wax-to-oil ratio, in a bowl of iced water, fill them one quarter full to begin with, so they don’t leak out of the bottom (very good point) and then, when the bottom ‘plug’ is solid, fill them to the top.  Fairly straightforward, no?  The picture in the book shows lip balm sticks standing upright in a bowl, all one quarter filled.  Many of you will be anticipating the problem, but I just ploughed on blithely.

Oils hot, hot enough to need a tea towel to grasp the glass jar, ice and water in bowl, sticks at the ready.  Place a stick carefully into the icy water, and… no, of course not… the stick won’t just stand there, will it?  It will float!  It is plastic, unfilled, and there is nothing that will persuade it to root in the water.  Oh dear.  Notwithstanding, I held the stick steady, poured in the oil and waited.  And waited.  Why was it not solidifying more quickly?  The ice water did not reach the bottom of the section the oil was sitting in.  Expertly I flicked the teatowel around the bottom of the still hot jar, to set it down, then, cradling the bowl in my arm and still holding the stick upright I made my way to the cold tap to add water, not wanting to remove the stick from the cold in case it leaked.  So with the addition of water the plug solidified and I could fill the stick up to the top.  Oh no I couldn’t – the hot oils in the glass jar had also been waiting and as the plug had solidified… well, you can see the problem.  Back in the bain marie went the glass jar to remelt its contents before I could fill the stick to the top.  At this rate I would take four days to make lip balm Christmas stocking fillers for the family.  The second stick went marginally more quickly, but I am left with the feeling that the photo in the book is somewhat dishonest – and the direction to ‘stand the sticks in iced water’ is ludicrous.  Next time I shall crush ice and wedge the sticks in firmly.

It only remains to label the sticks carefully, warning of the dangers, and hope, hope, hope that nobody ignores the label and tries to use them as lip balm 🙂