Chemistry for Fun & Profit: Cracked Heel Balm

Alright, mostly for fun, not so much for profit. Unless you count a good foot ointment as profit (which I sort of do)…

I suffer from dry skin and cracked heels on my feet. Used to be, I could just use whatever body lotion I was using on the rest of my skin (I also get really dry skin on my knees and elbows, so body lotion is a thing I have opinions about). I have tried using just a straight skin-friendly oil, which works pretty well (I believe that coconut oil is popular in the African American community, so I tried that, but it’s too heavy for my skin; olive oil or almond oil works for me), but as I’ve gotten older and my skin has started to inevitably lose elasticity, my feet have become more of an issue.

Don’t get me wrong, I still use oil or moisturiser on them – but they need something more to keep the calluses from walking around barefoot from turning into cracks and then wounds as the hardened skin cracks down to the red bit and hurts. Not fun.

For the last several years I’ve been using a particular product which is (was) marketed as being a lip- and body-balm, called Pur Papaya. Australian brand, small bio-ethical company, I felt safe relying on it. And then it got too popular, the company was bought by a larger conglomerate, and – presumably – told to increase their profit margin. The recipe has changed (which I can tell because the ingredients list has changed, just slightly) and the packaging has changed, probably to disguise the fact that the stuff now comes in smaller tubs at a higher price per weight.

I’d take the shrinkflation, honestly, if the recipe was unchanged. It’s not much more expensive, and it is (was) a good product (I haven’t tried the new version and cannot comment). And if they’d left the packaging and size/price alone, I might not have noticed the change in recipe. But they didn’t, and I di, and thus I have engaged in chemistry for fun and profit again.

Today I made my first test batch of papaya & calendula foot ointment, based on previous experiments making lip and body balms, and on the ingredient list from the original product. It’s come out really nicely, the right consistency, absorbs well into my skin (equivalent to the original), and I like the smell – which is good, since the essential oils I used were chosen for their antifungal and healing properties rather than for their scent, so changing the scent would be tricky. I have no pictures right now, but I’ll post some at some stage.

Over the next week or two I’ll be using this test ointment on my feet to check if it works the way I want, but in the meantime I thought I’d share the recipe in case anyone else wants to try it.

Oil phase:

  • 12.5g shea butter
  • 12.5g cocoa butter
  • 12.5g beeswax
  • 10g macadamia seed oil
  • 10g jojoba seed oil
  • 5 g coconut oil

Essential oils:

  • 2 drops tea tree essential oil
  • 2 drops clove essential oil
  • 2 drops lavender essential oil
  • 4 drops styrax benzoin resin oil *

* Alternatively, if you can get styrax benzoin gum as a powder, use 0.75g stirred into the water phase.

Water phase:

  • 7.5g (7.5 ml) water
  • 2.5g (2.5 ml) Carica papaya extract
  • 2.5g (2.5 ml) Calendula officinalis extract
  • 0.75g sorbitan olivate (an emulsifier)


  1. On a low heat, melt the butters, waxes and liquid oils of the oil phase together. Remove from heat.
  2. Gently heat the water phase ingredients together and stir until the sorbitan olivate is completely dissolved.
  3. Stir the essential oils and the warm water phase mixture into the melted oil phase. Stir well, then pour into a small jar and leave to cool.

Some of the ingredients are quite pricey, but you only use a tiny amount, so overall this recipe comes out at about AU$25 / 100g (as of Apr 2024). If you want to make it more cheaply, you could replace the calendula extract and papaya extract with strong infusions (calendula and papaya respectively), or with water if you don’t care about the healing qualities of those ingredients. You can also leave out the styrax benzoin – my research indicates that it has antifungal and antibacterial properties, as well as acting as a preservative, but it would be safe to leave it out.

The essential oils are chosen for their antibacterial and antifungal properties, so I’d suggest keeping the ones listed, but there are other essential oils with known healing and antibacterial properties (cinnamon, lemon, most eucalypt species, anise, …) so if you’d like to experiment, do it.