DIY Blooming Belly Butter
Exciting news over here.
We’re adding another arrow to the Rooted & Relishing quiver in the New Year! Little Miss will proudly become a big sister (she is very, very excited), and we will transition from a family of three to a family of four (which I’ve heard from some is more challenging than going from none to one).
One of the most common concerns I hear from other mamas-to-be is about stretch marks and if there is anything that can be done to prevent them.
Conventional wisdom says there is nothing you can do and if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen because of genetics, predisposition, etc. Pregnancy, puberty, and rapid weight gain can all cause stretch marks to develop due to the tearing of the dermis, the layer of tissue in the skin that lies below the outer epidermis when rapid growth and stretching of the skin occurs. This results in the familiar dark stripes that eventually fade to a whitish pink tone. Well, we know that genetics are not a life sentence, and I firmly believe there are things that can be done to avoid or limit stretch marks during pregnancy.
Stretch marks result when there is reduced pliability and lack of support in the skin tissues. What we see as stretch marks is scaring of the tissues in the skin from tearing. How do we help prevent that?
First and foremost, a nutrient-dense diet. The body has an amazing ability to repair and restore its tissues when given the proper building blocks and enough of them, and the layers of the skin are no exception. When I was going through puberty, I was not exactly observing a nutrient dense diet and I got my share of stretch marks during that time. Conventionally, that should mean that I am prone to them, and yet I never developed a single one during my pregnancy with Little Miss. I had also been following AIP for over a year by that time. Coincidence? I think not.
Staying hydrated is another key to maintaining healthy skin tissue and avoiding/minimizing stretch marks. Adequate water is so, so important to our health and is especially important during pregnancy. The growing levels of amniotic fluid in the uterus alone are recycled three times a day. Combine that with often frequent urination, food aversions or morning sickness making it difficult to eat well or keep things down, and the drastic increase in blood volume that occurs during pregnancy, that makes for some pretty strong water demands. Maintaining hydration helps improve circulation and enables better flow of nutrients to tissues, including the skin.
As part of the nutrient dense diet mentioned above, I made significant extra efforts to include bone broth and gelatin/collagen in my diet. These foods provide the building blocks of connective tissue in our bodies, and our skin has some of the highest concentration of gelatin of all our tissues. If we want to maintain healthy, intact skin tissues, we need to feed our body what it needs to build that tissue.
While I do not believe that anything we can put on our skin is going to be as effective as what we put in our bodies to support healthy skin tissue and avoid stretch marks, a good belly butter can certainly help support nutritional efforts. I could not find anything available commercially that I was satisfied with so endeavoured to create my own belly butter. Certain oils have been known throughout history for their skin healing benefits. After doing some thorough research, these are the key ingredients I settled on.
Shea butter comes from the fruit of the Karite Tree, indigenous to Africa. It is naturally high in vitamins A, E, and F and provides the skin with essential fatty acids necessary for collagen production. It has also been shown to be particularly effective at penetrating deep into the skin, making it a very good option in belly butter for targeting that dermis layer where stretch marks originate. Compounds found in shea butter have also been found to have an anti-inflammatory effect, making it additionally helpful for preventing skin damage.
Cocoa butter is the part of chocolate that gives it its silky, melt-in-your mouth texture. Cocoa butter is a great source of antioxidants and polyphenols and helps heal and maintain healthy skin tissue from the inside out. Like shea butter, it is quite effective at penetrating the skin to get in deep where it is needed to heal or prevent the tears the cause stretch marks. The high polyphenols in cocoa butter have been shown to improve skin elasticity and promote better collagen production in the skin – both things we want in a belly butter to help protect against stretch marks. Cocoa butter has a lovely chocolate aroma, as well.
Cacao butter, like cocoa butter, also comes from the cocoa bean but is a less-processed version than its better-known counterpart. Cacao butter is raw and cold-pressed, maintaining more of the beneficial nutrients and enzymes than cocoa butter. I find it also retains less of the chocolate scent, so you may want to opt for cacao butter if you don’t want to go around smelling like a chocolate bar.
Tallow has been used topically for centuries to address skin issues but fell out of favour with the anti-saturated fat craze of recent memory. Thankfully, it is regaining its rightful place in the skin health realm, and for good reason. The lipid profile of tallow is a very close match to our own skin, much closer than any plant-based oil, making it very readily absorbed by the skin and a great addition to belly butter. Which makes sense, since this is a fat coming from another mammal. Tallow is also abundant in highly bioavailable forms of fat-soluble vitamins A (as retinol), D, K and E. Further, tallow from grass-fed animals is high in conjugated linoleic acid, which is known for its anti-inflammatory properties.
As with any animal product you choose to use or consume, the source matters. Not only is tallow from grass-fed animals superior in its nutrient profile, there are many toxins that conventionally-raised animals are exposed to that may be stored in their body fat, making it less than ideal to be applying fat from such animals to one’s skin.
Essential oils have been used for millenia to address human health and wellness issues, not least of which involve the skin. While caution should be exercised when using essential oils during pregnancy, there are many safe oils that can be used when properly diluted. Frankincense essential oil is particularly beneficial to the skin as it promotes cell regeneration and reduces the appearance of scaring. It penetrates the skin easily and has strong antioxidant effects which help keep the skin soft and healthy. Helichrysum is another one with strong regeneration properties, helpful for scaring, and keeping the skin soft and healthy. Geranium essential oil has been found to promote collagen production and maintain skin elasticity. Patchouli is another one promotes collagen production and has good antioxidant properties which benefit the skin. Neroli essential oil is known for reducing the appearance of scars and aids in skin cell regeneration and wound healing.
There are many others, but these were at the top of my list to include in my belly butter when addressing stretch marks and they are all safe for use in pregnancy. When using essential oils topically, they should be used at no more than a 1% dilution. Since sense of smell is often heightened during pregnancy, many women, including myself, prefer an even lower dilution.
Vitamin E oil and rosehip oil are also good additions to a belly butter recipe. Vitamin E, known as the skin vitamin, is healing to the skin and acts as a preservative in the butter. Be sure to get your vitamin E oil from a reputable source and still to naturally-occurring sources of vitamin E. Those with Celiac’s or a wheat or gluten sensitivity may want to avoid the use of vitamin E oil sourced from wheat germ oil. Rosehip oil has shown some fantastic skin benefits and healing properties.
- Equal parts (by weight) of the following: shea butter, cocoa or cacao butter and tallow. For a vegan option, mango butter or coconut oil can be used, but be careful with coconut oil as some people find it drying rather than moisturizing.
- Essential oils of choice (frankincense, helichrysum, geranium, patchouli, and neroli are good options) at an amount that totals no more than 1% dilution with the above carrier oils (6 drops of essential oils to each ounce of carrier oils)
- Vitamin E oil at a minimum of 0.04% for preservative purposes, but I use more for additional skin healing benefits (I use 1-2 tablespoons per pound of belly butter).
- Melt shea butter, cocoa butter, and tallow together in a double boiler until just melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool but not solidify.
- Add essential oils and vitamin E oil and stir in.
- Allow to cool until the mixture begins to solidify (you may place in the fridge to speed this process as long as you can monitor so it doesn't get too hard).
- Using a hand mixer, beat the mixture until it resembles the consistency of heavy whipped cream. Do not over mix as it will start to heat the oils and cause them to start melting and you will loose the fluffy consistency.
- Transfer to glass jars with air-tight lids and store in a cool, dark location. I store my extra in the fridge until I'm ready to use it and keep the jar I'm currently using at room temperature. Allow several hours or overnight for jars removed from the fridge to soften.