Lavender Chamomile Facial Soap

I recently made a new facial soap designed to be kind to dry, mature, and/or sensitive skin. Volunteers tried the soap, and based on their feedback, I plan to add it to my regular line.

Lavender Chamomile Facial SoapI have decided to call this soap Lavender Chamomile Facial Soap. You will likely not smell the chamomile flowers in the final soap, but you will feel the benefits. I infuse the olive oil in the soap with chamomile, which imparts soothing properties to the olive oil. The soap also has lavender essential oil, a 100% natural fragrance that is used in aromatherapy for its calming qualities. French pink clay cleanses and clarifies the skin, removes dead skin cells, and creates and overall refreshed appearance. Buttermilk also helps clarify the skin and helps remove dead skin cells. Lavender Chamomile Facial Soap contains rich shea butter, chamomile-infused olive oil, coconut oil, rice bran oil, apricot kernel oil, avocado oil, and castor oil. In addition to all these goodies, this soap is made with coconut milk, which is cleansing, but not drying or irritating. The fatty acids in coconut milk help to eliminate dirt, impurities, dead skin, and other blemish-causing materials, but they also increase hydration and replenish moisture in your skin.

In other words, this soap is chock full of goodies for dry, mature, and/or sensitive skin!

Here is what the beta testers had to say about this soap:

  • “I’ve used the soap twice a day for over a week. It lathers well for a facial bar. When I rinse my face then dry it my skin is tight for about a minute, then it feels so soft.”
  • “As far as I’m concerned you have a winner. I love it and would buy it!!!!”
  • “Oh I love this soap! Its very creamy and smells very good! It does not leave my face dry. I do not need moisturizer after. I love it!”
  • “I’ve been using your facial soap for around two weeks now and truly love it! After washing my face, my skin barely feels tight at all! It smells great and leaves my skin feeling so soft and smooth.”
  • “I enjoyed the way it made my skin feel clean without drying it.”
  • “When washing it feels so smooth, then when my face is dry there is some tightness, but I put a small amount of moisturizing cream on, and it is perfect.”

Two testers have also reported that some mild skin irritations have cleared up since trying the soap. I cannot guarantee you will have the same results. Any soap will probably make your skin feel tight initially, but the testers seemed to say over and over that this feeling is much more temporary with Lavender Chamomile Facial Soap and that they are loving the way their skin feels.

If you do use this soap, I recommend that you still use a bit of moisturizer if your skin is very dry. Try using the soap without moisturizer for a few days to see whether or not the soap alone is conditioning enough for your skin.

UPDATE: You can pre-order this soap from the Etsy store.


Here are the making and unmolding videos of the making of this soap. I will be making a new batch this weekend, so you can look for this new facial soap in my store soon. Let me know if you would like to reserve a bar.

Do You Know What’s in Your Soap?

Clean Hands
By Arlington County on Flickr

Handcrafted soapmakers have some choices about how they describe ingredients, but commercial soapmakers are bound by stricter conventions and must list the ingredients according to INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) regulations because many of them make cosmetic claims about their soap. As a result, consumers often don’t realize what is in their soap because they do not know the chemical names for the ingredients.

The FDA does not require labeling on soap. If a soap is marketed only as soap and makes no claims about other cosmetic concerns—for example, that it moisturizes or exfoliates—then technically the maker does not need to label the ingredients in the soap. It’s a good idea, however, as so many people have allergies and would appreciate knowing what they are putting on their skin.

Before I started making soap, I was a huge fan of Yardley’s English Lavender soap, widely considered to be a good soap. It smells wonderful—best-smelling commercial lavender soap, in my opinion.

Here is a list of the ingredients in Yardley’s English Lavender soap:

  • sodium tallowate
  • water
  • sodium cocoate
  • glycerin
  • fragrance
  • lavandula angustifola (lavender) oil
  • sodium chloride
  • titanium dioxide
  • tetrasodium EDTA
  • iron oxides

Ingredients are listed in order of amount—the first ingredient listed makes up the largest percentage of the soap, and the last ingredient makes up the smallest percentage. I am not going to take the usual tactic of pointing out that the names of the chemicals are unpronounceable and therefore bad for you. Everything is chemical and has a chemical name. Butyrospermum Parkii sounds horrible, doesn’t it? It’s shea butter, which is valued for its moisturizing properties.

So what exactly are these ingredients in Yardley’s English Lavender soap?

Sodium tallowate is the name for the chemical that results when tallow (beef fat) is combined with sodium hydroxide (lye). Sodium cocoate is coconut oil and lye. Glycerin is produced when the oils and lye combine. It is a byproduct of the soapmaking process, and many commercial soapmakers take it out of their soap, which is one reason commercial soaps can be more drying than handcrafted soap, which retains all its natural glycerin.

The fragrance is probably a synthetic fragrance oil. Lavender oil is also used for fragrance, which probably explains why Yardley’s smells so good—it has real lavender essential oil in it. Sodium chloride is just salt. Titanium dioxide might sound scary, but it’s just a natural white pigment that you will find in everything from food to sunscreen. Tetrasodium EDTA is a chemical that makes hard water softer. It helps make a stronger lather and reduces soap scum. There is some debate about how harmful it may or may not be, especially to the environment rather than to our skin, but the Cosmetic Ingredient Review evaluated tetrasodium EDTA and concluded it was safe in moderate amounts. Iron oxides, like titanium dioxide, are natural colorants. They are simply a combination of iron and oxygen. Rust is one form of iron oxide, but there are many kinds.

Yardley’s English Lavender is a pretty good soap. There are not really any scary chemicals or horrible carcinogens in it. Handcrafted soapmakers use most of the ingredients in Yardley’s (with the exception of tetrasodium EDTA). As commercial soaps go, it’s one of the best you will find.

What about Ivory soap? It used to be billed as 99 and 44/100% pure. What was in it?

  • sodium tallowate
  • sodium cocoate
  • sodium palm kernelate
  • water
  • sodium chloride
  • sodium silicate
  • magnesium sulfate
  • fragrance

Sodium palm kernelate is palm kernel oil and lye. Sodium silicate is commonly known as liquid glass. It makes soap last longer and increases its detergent qualities. Magnesium sulfate is an inorganic salt. It is often encountered in the form of Epsom salt. One could argue about whether or not some of the ingredients are necessary, but Ivory was essentially pretty good soap, too. Nowadays, Ivory may also contain palm oil, palm kernel oil, and tetrasodium EDTA. It is no longer labeled as “soap.”

What about Dove?

  • sodium lauroyl isethionate (a detergent that has actually been known to irritate or dry out skin)
  • stearic acid (a fatty acid common in animal fats and some vegetable fats, such as cocoa butter and shea butter)
  • sodium tallowate or sodium palmitate (palm oil and lye)
  • lauric acid (a fatty acid)
  • sodium isethionate (a synthetic detergent)
  • water
  • sodium stearate (stearic acid and lye)
  • cocamidoproply betaine (a synthetic surfactant) or sodium C14-C16 olefin sulfonate (also a synthetic surfactant)
  • sodium cocoate or sodium palm kernelate
  • fragrance
  • sodium chloride
  • tetrasodium EDTA
  • tetrasodium etidronate (another water softener that helps prevent soap scum and helps boost later)
  • titanium dioxide

Dove is actually a less pure soap than Ivory or Yardley’s. Dove contains a lot of synthetic detergents rather than natural oils and fats. Dove is widely considered to be gentle and moisturizing, so what gives?

In fact, if you look at Dove’s packaging, you’ll notice that it’s not even labeled as soap. It’s called a beauty bar, a cream bar, a beauty cream bar, a cream beauty bathing bar, and a number of other variations on the same. They even market the product by deriding pure soap as bad for your skin: “Soap strips your skin of its natural moisture.”

As you can see, however, Yardley’s, Ivory, and Dove all contain synthetic detergents to boost the lather, and all three also contain tallow. There is nothing wrong with tallow per se, but if you are a vegetarian or vegan and avoid other animal products like leather or fur, you should also avoid commercial soaps with beef tallow, which can be difficult, as the vast majority of commercial soaps are tallow-based rather than vegetable oil-based.

Why do commercial soapmakers use tallow? It’s cheap. Vegetable oils like olive oil are more expensive. Tallow is a perfectly fine soap ingredient. It’s been used in handcrafted soap for centuries. The only drawback it really has is that it’s an animal product.

So do any commercial soapmakers make all-vegetable oil soap?

What about Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Buttermilk Soap? Surely that’s gentle and animal-fat free. It’s for babies!

  • vegetable soap base
  • fragrance
  • buttermilk powder
  • oat flour
  • titanium dioxide
  • limonene (a chemical found in citrus peels; used as fragrance and cleanser)

Which vegetable oils? We don’t know, and vegetable soap bases are made with a very wide variety of oils and fats, though we can assume here that there is no tallow or lard, as the base is vegetable. However, some vegetable soap bases contain surfactants and emulsifiers in addition to vegetable oils. I looked at ingredients lists for several vegetable soap bases on the market, and the most common oils appear to be coconut oil, palm oil, and safflower oil. You can buy olive oil bases, but my guess is that Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Buttermilk soap is made from a base of the more common vegetable oils, as they are less expensive than olive oil. Still, the ingredients in the soap are natural enough and are probably familiar to handcrafted soap makers. But you can do better than Burt’s Bees with handmade soap.

Why? What is in handmade soaps like New England Handmade Artisan Soaps?

The ingredients in my soaps vary, but the first ingredient is usually the liquid I use to mix with the lye, whether that’s water (distilled water, though I don’t usually specify that it’s distilled), coconut milk, aloe vera juice, goat milk, buttermilk, tea, or whole milk. If I use yogurt, this ingredient will not be listed first because it must be combined with water, and therefore is not the largest percentage of the soap.

I use olive oil in all of my soaps. I also use coconut oil in all of my soaps and palm oil in most of my soaps. The bulk of my soaps also contain either shea butter or cocoa butter in amounts varying from 5-20%, depending on the recipe. I also use castor oil to boost the lather in my soaps rather than synthetic surfactants and detergents. I also use moisturizing oils like avocado oil, sweet almond oil, and apricot kernel oil, which I was unable to find in the ingredients lists of commercial soaps. All of my soaps are vegetarian-friendly, but some contain milks and honey and are not, therefore, vegan-friendly. However, I have a wide variety of soaps that are vegan-friendly.

After I started using homemade soap for the first time, I could tell the difference. My skin just felt better. I had fewer problems with dryness or oiliness or acne. The tone evened out (I used to be prone to some reddish spots on my face). As a result, I can use less makeup to even out my skin tone.

Homemade soap is a little more expensive than commercial soap—that’s true. But it is affordable as luxuries go. If your skin is the largest organ on your body, and the one that protects you from the outside elements, why not treat yourself and use the good stuff?

The Best Soap I’ve Ever Used

Lemongrass Sage Soap The first handmade soap I ever used was purchased from Indigo Bath and Body at the farmers’ market in Georgia, where I used to live. I loved the soap. It smelled wonderful (lavender and spearmint essential oils), and it felt amazing. The best thing I’d ever put on my face. Until this week.

I hate to say it because it sounds a bit boastful, but my lemongrass sage soap is even better for my face than the wonderful handmade soap I have been using whenever I can get my hands on it. I even stocked up prior to my move!

I have combination skin. My skin is oily in the T-zone. I rarely have issues with dry skin, but I do use a moisturizer formulated for oily skin in the morning. I have large pores on my nose and surrounding areas, and I have always been embarrassed about them, particularly when I purchased makeup and the helpful cosmetic counter assistants pointed them out to me (as if I didn’t know about them) and tried to steer me toward products that would hide or minimize them. The last salesgirl who pointed out my large pores tried to sell me some kind of mask that costs way more than anything I have ever put on my face, and is certainly more than I can afford. No way. I have tried Clarins’s Truly Matte Pore Minimizing Serum (which was pretty much the most expensive beauty product I’ve ever used on myself). I have tried Mario Badescu’s Silver Powder. I have even tried baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. These things all worked a little bit, but they never had a long-lasting impact, nor did they seem to make more than a small difference.

I had given up and decided that the best I could hope for was simply to mask my large pores under makeup.

When I made my first batch of lemongrass sage soap, I made too much for my mold and balled up the rest into two large “eggs.” I have been using one of the eggs this week, just since Sunday when I cut my soap into bars.

Incredibly, my pores are smaller. Like, tiny. I can hardly believe it. And it’s definitely the lemongrass sage soap because that’s the only new product I’ve started using—the only variation in my routine. I can’t say that it is necessarily the oils I’m using in the soap—olive, coconut, palm, and shea butter—although these oils make a nice conditioning, cleansing bar. I have wiped a cottonball with astringent over my skin after washing off my makeup with the lemongrass sage soap, and there has only been the barest trace of makeup right around the edges of my face. If I used a washcloth, I’m sure I wouldn’t have even that small amount because I can tell the residual makeup is at my hairline, and it’s just hard to get all of it. I have read, however, that lemongrass is good for oily skin and acne, and I have to wonder if the secret ingredient in my soap isn’t the essential oil I added only for fragrance.

It seems kind of silly to spend so much time extolling the virtues of something I made myself, but I have honestly tried everything there is, and I had just given up. For this reason, if no other, I’m so glad I learned how to make soap.

You will be able to buy my lemongrass sage soap from my Etsy store before the year is out.