Sodium lauroyl isethionate, stearic acid, sodium tallowate, sodium palmitate, lauric acid, sodium lisethionate, water, sodium stearate, cocamidopropyl betaine, sodium cocoate, sodium palm kernelate, sodium chloride, tetrasodium EDTA, tetrasodium etidronate, maltol, titanium dioxide.
Mix these together and what do you get? A Dove beauty bar. Notice how I didn’t say soap? That’s because it’s a detergent made from synthesized ingredients and not soap. Now, let me be clear…just because a product has a long list of ingredients doesn’t mean that it’s a bad product. However, you should do yourself a favour and figure out what those ingredients are, and then you can decide if it’s something you want to put on your skin every day. Some of the ingredients listed above are also found in true soap, like what I make, but others are simply there to make the bar foamy and to make it last a really long time, with no actual benefit to your skin.
I like to make my own soap because I can choose what goes into it and I don’t have to google a long list of ingredients to figure out what it’s made of. Choosing my soap ingredients also means that I can make environmentally conscious decisions about what I use and put back into the earth. I can choose where my ingredients are sourced and make a conscious decision about what I’m supporting. Speaking of which, let’s get down to it!
If a beauty bar isn’t soap, what is? Simply put, soap is oils mixed with sodium hydroxide (lye) and water. This mixture goes through a saponification process and becomes soap.
So what’s in my soap? I start by carefully mixing up lye with water. Ok, let’s stop there. At markets I have often been asked the questions “do you use lye to make your soap?” or “is there lye in your soap?”. The short answers are yes and no and no lye means no soap. If lye is not added to fats, soap cannot be created and you will just have a bowl full of oil. Once the lye is added and mixed well with the oils, the liquid goes through a process called saponification, the resulting product is a hard bar called soap. Once saponification is complete, there is no lye left in the soap. This means that yes, I use lye to make soap (there’s no other way!), and no, there is no lye in my soap.
I’ve also encountered a few people who have been told by their doctors to use glycerin soap instead of “lye soap” to avoid allergic reactions caused by lye. I’m not sure if I should really be the one to break it to them, but glycerin soap is also made with lye which is transformed in the saponification process – just like any true soap. What about “lye-free” soap kits? Well, those kits, known as melt and pour soap kits, do use lye, it’s just already been done for you. I’m not incredibly familiar with melt and pour soaps because I don’t make them, but if your goal is to know what’s in your soap and/or to make an environmentally friendly soap, melt and pour is probably not the way to go.
So I’ve mixed the lye and water while wearing stylish safety goggles, an apron and protective gloves. You may also choose to don a mask to avoid inhaling fumes. Don’t let lye dissuade you from trying to make your own soap. Using lye is no different from using bleach – learn how to use it and take proper precautions before diving in. If you enjoy video tutorials, the Soap Queen has a great rundown and video series on lye safety.
Once the lye is mixed with water it gets very hot. While the lye is cooling down, I melt my hard oils on the stove. My go-to oils are coconut oil, sustainably sourced palm oil (RSPO certified), and cocoa butter. To avoid heating the oils too much, I melt one of the hard oils first, remove it from the heat and add the other hard oils, letting them melt in the first hot oil. Once the hard oils have melted, I pour in the soft oils – sunflower, castor and olive. Using an immersion blender I mix them all together and add in some clay. Clays add a nice exfoliant and cleanser and it also works to remove impurities without removing the skin’s natural oils.
Once the lye water and the oils have reached 100°F, I carefully pour the lye water into the oil mixture. Using the immersion blender, I mix until the soap has a pudding-like consistency. At this point I add any scents or essential oils and add colours. All of my fragrance oils are phthalate and paraben free. To colour my soaps I use micas and oxides. These are minerals that when extracted naturally contain toxic metals like lead, arsenic and mercury, so the micas and oxides used for cosmetic purposes are created with the same molecular structure in a lab to ensure purity.
Once the scents and colours and mixed in, I pour everything into a wooden mold lined with parchment paper. If I’ve used a few different colours I may pour them in separately to achieve a particular pattern. Sometimes I will use a chopstick or a hanger to create different motifs. Once I’m happy with the pattern, I spray the soap with 99% rubbing alcohol to prevent soda ash from resting on the top. I cover the mold with a plastic wrap, lay a piece of cardboard over the top and wrap the whole mold in a couple of towels to keep it insulated. Turn out the lights and let the magic happen!
2 days later I unwrap the mold, open the box and pull out my freshly saponified loaf of soap. Each bar is cut about an inch thick, lined up on a well-ventilated rack and left to cure for 4-6 weeks. If used before then the soap will dissolve very quickly. Since my soap and many handmade soaps don’t have preservatives in them, it’s a good idea to keep them out of the stream of water if you’re using them in the shower. I like to keep mine on a little toothed disc that has good drainage. Yummy soap for months!
I’ll have lots of soaps in the upcoming months at the Esquimalt Market Pop-Ups, craft fairs, festivals and markets. You can also find my soaps at Point Ellice House – some delicious rose and lavender soaps will be available there just in time for Mother’s Day! I also take custom orders for all your soaping needs.