10 Common Questions about Soap and Answers:
#1: What is the difference between handmade soaps & commercial bar soaps?
The two biggest differences are the glycerin in handmade soaps and the lack of detergents.
Glycerin is naturally produced during saponification. It’s a humectant which means it draws moisture from the air to your skin so it leaves your skin soft and moisturized. Commercial soaps remove the glycerin and sell it separately and/or use glycerin in more profitable products like moisturizers.
Detergents are synthetic often petroleum based cleansers whereas soap is simply oils and butters saponified with lye. Detergents strip your skin, leaving it dry whereas soap cleanses without stripping.
Another issue with detergent based soaps is that the preservatives required to keep these acidic soaps from growing bacteria are toxic and drying as well. A well formulated handmade soap will outshine a detergent based bar soap any day!
If you are new to handmade soaps, you are in for a huge treat because they leave your skin feeling completely different than commercial soaps. We super-fat all our soaps by about 5%, which means that I leave 5% extra oils/butters that doesn’t get turned into soap. Those extra oils/butters leave your skin moisturized but clean.
#2: Why is the labeling on bar soaps so confusing? Why do many of those ingredients on store bought soaps start with sodium? Why do I not seelye as an ingredient on many soaps?
We really enjoy deciphering labels on commercial soaps now that we make soap. It can be very confusing simply because here in the US we do not have regulations on how the soaps need to be labeled. So sometimes you will buy handmade soaps that have no labels, and store-bought soaps are not all labeled the same. Here are some basic guidelines:
Sodium hydroxide is lye. Some soap-makers list what goes into their soaps and some list what the product is. So, for instance a bar that only contains olive oil, lye and water may have those three ingredients listed or may say “sodium olivate” as a single ingredient. Sodium olivate is the saponified version of olive oil. We like to list ours in the common names so it’s easier to understand for the majority of consumers. So we list all the oils and butters as saponified oils of… because we think customers understand “saponified olive oil” more easily than “sodium olivate”. We want you to know whats in our products!
“Fragrance” a catch-all word that could mean many things. Fragrance oils are synthetic replications of actual scents, and those are proprietary blends so companies aren’t going to list out the ingredients in a “fragrance”. The other issue with “fragrance” is that a buyer may have sensitivities or allergies and need to know what is in a product.
“Natural” ingredients can also be irritating and activate allergies, but at least if you know what exactly is in your products you can steer clear of items that irritate your skin. There are certain essential oils that aren’t recommended if you are pregnant, and if you have allergies, you want to be sure and read the labels carefully.
Another confusing thing that you will find on commercial soaps is fragrance added to soaps that are “unscented”. They add fragrance to cover the scent of the natural oils/butters. Read your labels!
One of our “unscented” bars of soap will still have somewhat of a smell because the oils and butters have their own scent. Plus we infused the oils with natural botanicals like Chamomile (calming) and Calendula petals (anti-inflammatory) like in our Gentle Castile Soap.
#3: What does curing a soap mean? Why does that take 4-6 weeks?
Curing the soaps simply means we slice it and place the slices on a rack that allows good air flow turning the soaps occasionally. Most soaps take 4-6 weeks to cure, although any soaps that are mostly olive oil or all olive oil can take 2 months to cure. Our Gentle Castile Soap is 100% Olive Oil.
The cure time allows two things to happen. First, the water in the bar slowly evaporates which causes the bar to become hard. A hard bar will last much longer than a soft bar that hasn’t cured long enough. Secondly, curing allows the bar to become more gentle. Every week that bar cures adds a whole new level of gentleness. Since it is a natural product you will want to use it within 12-16 months of purchase.
#4: What is the difference between cold process, hot process, milled and melt & pour soap?
Most of us handmade soap makers speak up about the fact that our soaps are cold or hot processed because we worked hard to make these soaps and want people to know we didn’t just use a base pre-made soap.
“Cold process” refers to the fact that no heat was added to the soaping process. You mix an exact amount of lye water with whatever oils & butters you are using, then your mixture naturally heats up on it’s own. You let it process in a mold, then cut and cure the soap for 4-6 weeks (or longer for some soaps).
“Hot process ” refers to making the soap in the same way except adding heat to the process to speed up saponification. That usually occurs by putting the fresh soap in a crock pot. Hot process soaps work the same way as cold process, but hot process soaps have more of a rough texture usually. Cold process makes a harder and smoother bar of soap,
Milled soap/French milled soap/rebatched soap is soap that was originally created through the hot or cold process. The soap is shredded, a little liquid added, and then it’s cooked and molded. This is a great way to redo soap that didn’t turn out pretty and it’s a great way to add fragrance that sticks around since the saponification has already occurred.
Melt & Pour “Glycerin” Soap
Melt and pour soap is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It’s a base soap that you purchase pre-made. Most melt and pour doesn’t meet our qualifications for “natural” and the finished soaps are wrapped in plastic so they don’t lose too much water and become crumbly, adding to the plastic waste in the landfill. Many elaborately designed soaps that you find in stores are melt and pour. These are often called glycerin soaps and many have a transparent look
#5: Why specify that some soaps are palm free and ones with palm state that they are made with sustainable and fair trade palm? What is wrong with palm oil?
Palm oil is generally used in place of tallow or lard in vegetable based soaps for hardness. You can make a bar of hard soap without palm, but it will usually take longer than 4-6 weeks to cure. The issue with palm oil is that rain-forests are being destroyed in order to produce it. Palm oil is used in many food products as well as soaps.
With the growing concerns over the sourcing of palm oil, we are committed to only purchasing through sustainable and fair trade companies. There are some consumers who do not want to purchase items with palm oil at all which is why we create some soaps that have no palm oil.
#6: Why specify that some soaps are vegan?
Traditional soaps contain animal fats – lard, tallow… these ingredients make a fabulous bar of soap that is hard, lasts long, and lathers great. We understand people have preferences so we create some soaps with no animal fats. We render our own tallow which comes from The Pastures of Rose Creek, LLC, a local farm known for their superior cattle and ethical treatment of animals.
We do make milk soaps and honey soaps with vegetable oils and butters so those are vegetarian, but not vegan. We always list ingredients so you can choose for yourself. Either way our soaps are amazing and you’ll love it whether vegan, palm free, or traditional.
#7: Can I use these soaps on my face?
Your face is more sensitive generally than your body, so the essential oils and butters/oils that may work well on your body, could be irritating on your face. Typically, our regular soaps will be great all over and many customers use our soap on face and body but everyone is different. Try it out first.
This Rosie Charcoal soap features activated charcoal and rose clay, both draw out impurities and help wash away toxins. It also has pine essential oil which smells great and traditionally is used to treat skin problems.
#8: Store-bought bar soap irritates my skin. Can I use your homemade soaps?
Well, sure! What we do know and hear all the time is that many people are allergic to the detergents in store bought soaps. Those detergents can leave your skin dry and irritated. Many customers do find that their skin reacts very well to natural handmade soaps. But everyone is different and you could even have a sensitivity to natural ingredients like essential oils or plant dyes that we use for color. Your intuition will help you make the best choice for your skin, the largest organ on the body.
#9: I really love the smell of (insert botanical scent)…can you make a soap with that plant essential oil?
We love plant essential oils! But some plants/herbs/fruits will never produce an essential oil. In the plant kingdom there are more than 250,000 plants. Of those, there are about 450 plant species that produce usable essential oils . Of these only about 125-150 can be used in Therapeutic Aromatherapy. That means there are certain scents that we simply can’t replicate without using a fragrance oil. Lilacs, for example, produce no usable essential oil. We use a high quality fragrance to make our Lilac Love soap.
There are also many fragrances that would be very expensive to make with essential oils. You can replicate the rose scent with fragrance oils, but to make a rose soap with essential oil would be cost prohibitive. We want our skin nourishing soaps to be available to all people.
Cost Breakdown: Bulgarian Rose Essential Oil currently costs $356.50 for 1/2 oz. Soap requires between 1/2 – 1 oz of essential oil per pound. Basically, a bar of soap with only rose essential oil could cost you $200+. Jasmine is another scent that would be expensive to replicate.
#10: Is there lye in soap?
There is no lye in the finished soap, but you can not make soap without lye in the process. Lye is what makes the soap, soap. Lye reacts with the oils and butters through a chemical process called saponification and the end result is soap. Each oil and butter requires a specific amount of lye to saponify so measurements have to be very exact. Soap isn’t soap unless it was made with lye by the very definition of soap.
Some older people remember a time when soaps were marketed as “lye soap”. Typically those soaps were a basic lard soap or tallow soap.
Liquid soap uses potassium hydroxide instead of sodium hydroxide. Which is also a very fun process but takes a lot of time and patience to make liquid soap.