Savon de Marseille

Savon Extra PurHave you ever heard of Savon de Marseille? Blocks of this special soap have been made in the South of France since 1370, when the first soapmaker is documented in Marseille. Louis XIV passed a law in 1688 stipulating that only soaps made in and around Marseille could use the name Savon de Marseille. One of the main qualifications of Savon de Marseilles is that it must be 72% olive oil. True Castile soaps are 100% olive oil (which is why it bothers me that Dr. Bonner’s bills itself as Castile when it’s not even mostly olive oil), but many soapmakers prefer to add additional oils, especially coconut oil, so that the soap will have a bubbly lather. The resulting soap is often called “Bastile.” Olive oil makes for small, flat bubbles, but adding a bit of coconut oil makes for a fairly nice soap.

Savon de Marseille is made with water from the Mediterranean Sea, olive oil, and a mixture of other vegetable oils that varies according to the maker’s preferences. Most often, soapmakers use palm or a mixture of palm and coconut oils. It is traditionally unscented, but you may be able to find some scented versions. It is cut in blocks of about 300 grams and stamped as you see in the example above.

I was recently asked if I made any lavender soap. I haven’t yet. I did add some lavender essential oil to the first batch I made, but I was inexperienced at the time, and I didn’t realize I would have needed to have added quite a lot more lavender oil for the fragrance to survive the saponification process. I have decided to create a Marseille-style soap with French green clay and lavender oil. I won’t have the materials to make it until after the new year begins, most likely, but I’ll keep you posted about how it turns out.

If you are a soapmaker, are there any traditional types of soap you’re anxious to try (Castile, Aleppo, something similar)? If you are a fan of homemade soap, which traditional types of soap do you like best?

11 thoughts on “Savon de Marseille

  1. One of my favourite soaps to make and use is Castile soap. I use 100% olive oil, and like to boost lather through the addition of sugars – honey or a milk of some sort. Though I have to wait months before I can use it, I find that it has a lovely creamy lather and is incredibly conditioning. I use this soap as my everyday shampoo and my hair has never looked or felt better. It’s also fantastic in the winter to prevent dry skin.

    I think that Castile soaps have a bit of a bad reputation in the soapmaking community (the “sliminess” often described dissipates with time). Good luck with your project!

    1. Castile soap is very nice. I have heard that you should give it a good 6-month cure. Has that been your experience?

      1. It definitely gets better the longer you let it cure. I wouldn’t use it before 2.5 to 3 months, but the longer the better. I just made some yesterday that I intend to let cure for the year, to give at Christmas.

  2. Last year, I started my own bath & body products business and had wanted to make soap-from-scratch but got busy with craft fairs and boutiques and such. Finally I was able to start making my own soap early this year. My first batch of cold process soap was Lavender-Mint and it seized up as soon as I added the fragrance oil! Luckily, I was able to save it. I typically use a basic olive-coconut-palm oil base and add other oils or butters for extra conditioning. A Savon de Marseille type soap is definitely on my list of soaps to make.
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  3. Lovely article. I have an ironstone bowl full of Marseille Savon soap in my bathroom, I use it for everything! Including laundry. I was wondering if you know where to purchase the stamps. Or if need be, can I have them made without infringing on the original French soap company?

    1. I’m not sure where you can buy the stamps. I suspect that some of the designs might be trademarked, but I really am not sure.

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