Thursday, May 7, 2020

Learned something new today but I'm not sure what...

I've been planning a line of coconut oil soap for a wee while now. Coconut oil soap is probably the most lathery soap I've used. It's also very moisturizing. I've made hot processed coconut oil soap, there are still a few bars in my shop, but I am trying to switch back to making cold process soap.

I prepared my base recipe that I'll be using (coconut oil, coconut milk, essential oil, lye, water) and ran the numbers through SoapCalc to get the proper amounts of water and lye.

I removed four ounces of coconut oil and halved it, two ounces would have alkanet root as a colorant, the two were left plain.

I melted the coconut oil then added the coconut milk, blended it well.

I made the lye solution with the lye and water.

When the lye solution and oil were in the 80-85 degree F, I blended it to emulsion, added the lavender essential oil then blended together to almost a medium trace. I split the batter in half and added the alkanet oil to one half and the plain oil to the other half and stirred them each well.

I decided to try an "in the pot swirl" and poured the lavender batter into four different spots into the plain batter, gave it a quick stir and poured it into the mold, giving it some swirls on the top.

Looking kinda pretty!
I check the temp of my soaps frequently to watch for anything unusual...


Definitely starting to heat up...it's been about 5 minutes since it was poured. As soon as I put the thermometer down and turned back to my soap I saw this...


I stood there while watching it crack before my very eyes...


I watched as the gelling soap from the inside started pushing up through the crack. I was really worried about it causing a volcano and spewing right out of the mold so I placed the mold in a pan.

The temps reached 140F, honestly not extremely hot for a soap that's going through the gel phase, but what was an issue is that it did that all within 15-20 minutes. The top was already setting up (coconut oil makes a hard bar of soap) and when the inside started gelling it expanded and cracked the top.

I'm not exactly sure why all of this took place, maybe the lye reacting with the sugars in the coconut milk and heating up? Maybe I should skip the coconut milk in the other batches of my coconut oil soap?

I will have to do some research before I make more. I'm anxious to see what the soap will look like on the inside. Will the swirls still be there? Will the color change a bit...or drastically? Will I be able to cut it since coconut oil soap bars are hard and I have to let it cool and solidify from the gel phase? Will I end up with one big uncuttable hunk of soap? We'll see...

Monday, December 16, 2019

Why handmade soap...

Have you ever had to cook something and gotten oils or even shortening on you hands then noticed how soft you're hands felt afterwards? Me too.

That is one of the benefits of handmade soap. Soapmakers build their recipes around moisturizing the skin, cleansing and sometimes exfoliating. Many soap makers go beyond that by decorating their soaps into some beautiful bars. I watch several on YouTube that I admire a great deal, but that's another post for another day.

In order to make soap moisturizing it's necessary to superfat your recipes. If you weren't to superfat every oil/butter molecule in your recipe would saponify into soap with no extras to linger behind for the moisturizing properties we like. I have a Castile For Real bar that isn't superfatted and made with olive oil. It's great for making laundry detergent because there is no extra oils that will get into your clothes. It could also be used for people with extra oily skin.

The percentage of superfatting isn't as tricky as it sounds because so many people have made soap that there are some general rules of thumb. Most soapers start recipes at no less than 5% extra oils and adjust from there. I generally soap at 7-9% depending on the recipe. If you superfat too high, it results in a soft bar of soap that will turn to mush when used.

So handmade soaps are generally more moisturizing to your skin.

Why else is handmade soap great? Depending on the soap maker, there's not extra crud added. Some people add micas and fragrance oils to their soaps, I don't consider them crud. When you do this you can pretty much know what your soap is going to consistently look and smell like. There are some beautiful bars of soap out there!

Other soapmakers stick to natural ingredients, and while everything pretty much comes from nature, some things are altered by humans. Changed chemically, mixed with other things that have little resemblance to what they were in nature, then don't tell you exactly what it is. This.

If I can't make an informed decision on what I'm adding to my soaps, how can I list the ingredients for people who may have allergies?

I don't purchase certain brands of essential oils for this same reason. One of the things that first grabbed my attention here was when I was looking for vanilla essential oil. I don't think it would be financially sound for a company to sell (what they say is) 100% vanilla essential oil for $13 for a 4 ounce bottle. Any reputable company will tell you that it is blended with another oil and tell you what that oil is (in my case it's coconut oil and it will be listed as such in my ingredients).

If I can't tell my customers each ingredient, I wouldn't feel right about putting it in my soap. It's the same with colorant. Micas are beautiful and add gorgeous colors to soap but not knowing exactly what is in the mica, I can't list those ingredients in my soap.

In all honesty I've never heard of anyone having a reaction to micas and most people learn through trial error which fragrance and essential oils they are allergic to. There are a multitude of people who will react in a multitude of ways to a multitude of things so for me, personally,  I'd rather keep things simple.

I hope that doesn't sound like I'm complaining about soapmakers who use these things because I'm not. Just trying to explain why I choose to keep my soaps simple.

The best thing to me about handmade soaps, isn't so much about the things I leave out, but rather, the things I put in. Oils and butters have so many beneficial properties as do essential oils (even though we're not allowed to say that).

I've had people tell me if they have to use store bought soap after using my soap their skin gets dry to the point that it's itchy. I've had others tell me they no longer have dry, scaly skin. And even a few claim that using my soap got rid of rashes that were still there after taking prescriptions. I will never claim my soap fixes or cures anything. I think its possibly a blend of things that's left out of my soap that may be in store bought soaps. Dyes, perfumes, preservatives that maybe their bodies reacted to without them knowing what the exact problem is.

It does my heart good to hear such things though because that's what it's all about for soapmakers. People who find something that feels good on their skin. Something they love and gives them great results.

I highly advise that everyone try handmade soap, even if it isn't mine. Our skin is our largest organ so it's just as important to care for it as it is the insides of our bodies.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Imperfect soap...

Sometimes I have to kind of laugh when I look at the soap images on my shop page. I see all of the little imperfections on my soap bars. Marks from knife cuts, finger smudges from handling the bars while moving the bars to drying racks, not so perfect edges or corners, some soda ash. I think there's a couple of coffee ground drag marks on the Gma's Jittery Mocha Latte Soap picture.

I do have a device that cleans up the bars, it bevels the corners and smooths the flat surfaces. My Dad built it for me and it works great! The thing about doing that is it can take off quite a bit of soap. I would either have to sell smaller bars or make the bars bigger to account for any trimming. Then I have to do something with the trimmings because I'm not going to just toss them.

It's possible to rebatch the trimmings by melting them in a crock pot to make bars for personal use. I have three lunch bags full of these plus 16 bars of rebatched soap at the moment.

As much as I would like my soaps to look perfect, I made the call to stop trimming them. Once the soap is used, all of the imperfections disappear. It's like magic...or something. It's soap. I realize people may want perfect when they buy something but the thing most important to me is how the soap treats skin. How it is made with only natural/organic/nonGMO oils, butters, scents, botanicals and colorants. The finished bars have no harsh chemicals (yes, I use lye but it's no longer in the soap once the soap has cured, it's science), no unpronounceable ingredients (though I do have trouble saying Ylang Ylang and for years I pronounced Calendula CalenDULa).

Minor imperfections are...well...rather minor when it comes to something that's going to disappear as soon as it's used. I really think the amazing properties of my soaps speak for themselves...if they could speak.

Whipped body butter

Loren and I decided to try making whipped body butter last week, it's been something I've been thinking about quite a bit.

I work in a clean room environment which means I have to wear gloves for at least three hours a day. I don't know about you but my hands sweat when I wear gloves like that. Not sure what they're made from, I do know they're latex free. On top of that, my skin doesn't seem to like the soap dispenser soap I use all day at work, either.

My skin was getting so dry at work that it was starting to crack. I've been using lotion bars that I made (oils/butters/beeswax) but the moisturizing quality was very short-lived.

I looked into other things that might do the trick and stumbled across whipped body butter. The recipe I came up with was formulated by what I already had on hand. As a soapmaker I had quite a few options and went to my notes on the beneficial properties of each oil and the percentages that would be best for a leave on product.

Shea butter makes up 50% of the end results. Now, to be quite honest shea butter is not my favorite smell. I can't pinpoint what it is but sometimes when I smell it I am fine with it, other times not so much. And I'm talking about the same brand and package.

Anyway, making a small test batch we needed to use a hand mixer, which can take up to 30 minutes to whip the oils into a solid butter (halfway through the process my Mom informed me that the mixer had a stand, that was a very handy contraption).

We ended up with an amazing product, nothing but oils, butters and a tiny bit of arrowroot powder to keep the body butter from being sticky. Have to say I'm really loving this! I used it daily at work and my hands are back to normal! The slight greasy feel disappears almost immediately as does the shea butter scent. There are no added colors or scents, I may leave it like that. Just pure and natural moisture for dry skin!

I'm having it tested by my volunteers...and I'm sending some samples in soap orders as well. Hopefully we've come up with a recipe that others will love as much as we do!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Going cold...

When I first started making soap I used the cold process method. After mixing the oils and lye solution you pour the soap into a mold of some sort and wait for four or more weeks before you can use the soap. Saponification doesn't usually take quite that long but you want to be sure there is no live lye in your soap and you want to give the bars a chance to harden.

With hot process soap you basically cook the soap batter either by heating it in a crockpot until it volcanoes and goes through applesauce, mashed potato and Vaseline stages, or by soaping at high temperatures (in the 200F area) in a stainless steel pot/plastic container, all of the stages happen pretty quick when soaping that hot. It's pretty fun to watch this all take place within a half hour.

There are a few advantages to the hot process method. First, it's fast, once the cook is over, saponification has taken place and you can use the soap immediately. Usually you give it a few weeks to evaporate some of the moisture and give the bar a chance to harden. Another advantage is you're able to add the superfats to the soap after saponification so you can add the really good fats then, giving you the chance to control which awesome oils aren't eaten up by the lye. It's good practice to use the more pricey oils at this point. It can also help to add essential oils after the cook so they're not superheating and loosing their oomph.

There are a couple of disadvantages to the hot process method as well...at least for me. One is, the soap batter is pretty thick and while it's possible for some soapers to get some amazing swirls, it's not as easy to get the pretty bars that you get with the cold process method...at least for me. Another disadvantage is that there can be quite a bit of stirring of the hot batter which is like stirring a mix between brownie batter and cookie dough.

Due to the job I have, my hands and wrists already take a beating and stirring a thick batter gets extremely painful. Over the summer I've been working on cold process soaps because it's not as hot as working over very hot soap batters. Making the cold process soaps made me realize how much easier it was on my hands and wrists and I'm thinking I may have to go back to that method.

One concern I have is not having the ability to choose which oils/fats will superfat my soaps. I'm not even sure it will be noticeable. I'm going to give it a try and see if there is any difference in the properties of the soaps. Quality, moisturizing soaps is my number one goal. I'll do what works best to achieve that!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Christmas Soaps

A few months ago I started thinking about various soaps to make for my shop that represent the upcoming Holidays. There are still some bars of the Autumn Pumpkin Soap available for now but I wanted some soap for Christmas as well. Making organic/natural soaps can make that a little bit tricky.

It's been difficult to find a natural colorant that makes soap a Christmas red so I passed on that pretty quick. And many of the scents we associate with Christmas (cinnamon,  nutmeg, clove) can only be used in very minute amounts because they are "hot" oils that can be irritating to skin.

I asked for input on Facebook and received some great suggestions!

I ended up with three different soaps, Gingerbread Soap, Eggnog Soap and Christmas Tree Soap. I used the bare minimum of essential oils but like any new skin care item I really...highly...recommend you use these only on your hands and wrists at first to make sure you have no issues with the essential oils. And as always, check the ingredients lists to make sure you have no allergies to anything in the soap.

Gingerbread Soap

The Gingerbread Soap has some pretty awesome moisturizing oil: avocado, castor, coconut, shea butter, etc. It also has a bit of annatto seed oil and cacao powder for color, maca powder and apricot seeds for a bit of exfoliant, ginger essential oil and a bit of ground nutmeg sprinkled on top (didn't think ginger would show up very well). I love the little orange speckles and it smells so good! The bars are a bit shorter but they are also wider. You can see that it went through a partial gel, there's a darker oval that reaches almost to the edges of the soap.

Eggnog Soap

I love Eggnog, so rich and creamy and...noggy. Pretty amazing oils in this soap, too! I added a tiny bit of turmeric to the bottom to give it a creamy color and left the top plain for a bit of whipped cream. It also has nutmeg sprinkled on top, bentonite clay and nutmeg essential oil. It smells amazing!

Christmas Tree Soap

I love the way this soap smells! It has fir needle and cedarwood essential oils and it smells very Christmas tree-like! Spirulina powder was used to add color for this "tiger stripe" swirl. Still getting the hang of those swirls. 

All of my Christmas soaps will be listed in my shop on December 1st and there is a very limited quantity available!

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Gma's Jittery Mocha Latte soap...

I started making this soap because so many people love coffee and coffee has great benefits for the skin. The first batch I made had coffee as part of the water in the lye solution and coffee grounds as an exfoliant.

Current Gma's Jittery Mocha Latte soap...

It is a pretty great soap with castor, coconut, grapeseed, olive, sweet almond and avocado oils, as well as cocoa butter. It also has yogurt and heavy whipping cream. I really wanted this soap to smell like coffee and I have searched for a roasted coffee essential oil for months.

During that search I started reading about the benefits of coffee bean oil (not essential oil) and there are a lot of them. I'm one of those people who kind of take miracle cures/fixes with a grain of salt even though I've had tremendous luck with essential oils for so many different things.

Some of the claims that coffee bean oil proponents promote include...
  • Reduces acne
  • Diminishes cellulite
  • Soothes insect bites/stings
  • Soothes puffy eyes
  • Acts as an antioxidant and fights free radicals 
  • Reduces fine lines/wrinkles

I definitely felt like it was worth the investment to add this to Gma's Jittery Mocha Latte Soap. To make recipes for soap I use a soap calculator (SoapCalc) that lets you...well, calculate soap ingredients. Most importantly, it calculates the safe amount of lye to use in your batch.

When I want to see the properties of a specific oil, I just add that one oil to get an idea of what it does for soap on it's own. So here are the results of coffee bean oil...


I mainly pay attention to the top 5 "Soap Bar Quality" numbers and I can see that coffee bean oil adds hardness to the bar, is conditioning and provides a creamy, rather than bubbly, lather. So it seems like a good addition to soap because SoapCalc is going by the oils properties (fatty acid chains and stuff), not by what the internet says about coffee bean oil. You can see that it has no cleansing properties in and of itself, however if you're using it to wash your hands your hands will still get clean...because you're washing them. In comparison, check out what happens if a bit of coconut oil is added...


It becomes a much harder bar, it has great cleansing qualities and now it has some bubbles. But, the conditioning and creamy qualities go down. Ahhhhhhh! I can spend hours working on recipes to get the best possible properties I can. So why does this happen? No idea. Obviously coconut oil has different fatty acid chains and they may react to water molecules in a whole 'nuther way.

Anyway, what was I talking about? Coffee soap! So I made more Gma's Jittery Mocha Latte Soap yesterday and added roasted coffee bean oil and coffee essential (I wasn't sure if the coffee bean oil scent would stay through the curing process). I just have to say that both of these smelled amazing! I was pretty excited about making a coffee soap that smells like coffee.

So the batch was mixed and I split a tiny bit of the batter off. To the larger portion I added organic cacao powder...it is a mocha latte, afterall. I left the smaller portion as it was and poured...

Textured the top with a spoon and sprinkled ground organic coffee and organic cane sugar on top.

Now I just clean the kitchen and start waiting to see if it gels...

The soap did gel, the hottest temperature reading was 114 degrees F.

And this morning it was ready to slice...

You can see the lighter drop swirl at the top of the bars.

This soap should darken a bit, at least the part with the cacao powder, it's a bit hard to see but there is a darker rim around the sides and bottom of the soap. This "discoloration" is part of the curing process. I was a little perplexed by the fact that the coffee grounds look like they're encased in air bubbles, I try pretty hard to eliminate air bubbles in the soap before and after the pour.

The biggest issue I have at the moment is that...I smell very little coffee. I didn't necessarily want it to be a hit-you-in-the-face coffee scent but I didn't want it to be a I-think-I-smell-coffee-but-it-might-be-my-imagination scent either. I'm hoping when the "new soap smell" wears off, the coffee scent will shine through. If not, at least it will have real coffee, coffee grounds and coffee bean oil. That's about as coffee as I can make it and it will be listed in my shop at the end of October.

If you can't wait until then to grab a bar of Gma's Jittery Mocha Latte Soap, there are a few bars of the original version left in the shop.