S.O.A.P. Panel Fragrances: Fragrance #1

Fragrance Oil #1Initially, I thought I detected fruit in this fragrance, and then I smelled a sort of piney, fir-type scent with hints of floral. I wonder if this is a juniper berry scent. I tried smelling some gin to see if I detected juniper in the fragrance, but I’m just not sure. I have smelled a juniper scent used in a well-known bath and body store, and I thought it stank horribly, but this is very pleasant. So, I’m just not sure what it is.

As you can see, it is a dark yellow out of the bottle. I had planned to use the fragrance at 6%, which would have been 25-26 grams in my recipe, but there was only 22 grams in the bottle, so the usage rate is slightly less than I planned, but not by a lot. It is still probably on the stronger end of the typical usage rate.

The recipe I used is 45% olive oil, 25% coconut oil, 25% sustainable palm oil, and 5% castor oil. I used full water (38%) and a lye discount of 6%. I combined the lye mixture and oils at approximately 100 degrees. I blended the oils and lye to a light trace. I used no additives or colorants.

Base Oils and LyeWhen I added the fragrance oil, it turned a buttery yellow, but initial discoloration was quite minimal, despite the dark orange tone of the fragrance. Here is a picture of the soap with the fragrance blended in.

Soap with FragranceThere was no acceleration or ricing at all. The fragrance behaved very well, even with additional mixing with the stick blender.

Soap in MoldI poured the soap at a light trace. I let it set up overnight, and then I unmolded it. I have never used this mold before, so one lesson I learned is that it’s not quite ready to unmold the next day! The corners of my soap were a little torn. I don’t think the fragrance had anything to do with it. I think it’s the nature of the mold not to allow much air in, so the soap was still somewhat soft, even after gelling.

Soap I cut the soap. As you can see, there is absolutely no discoloration. The soap is the same neutral color as when I don’t use a fragrance at all. I was sure, when I saw how dark the fragrance oil was, that it would discolor yellow. I will monitor how it changes over the course of the next week, but at least initially, this fragrance oil performs beautifully. It is very easy to work with and soaps well.

After saponification, the piney scent has retreated a little, and the fruity floral has come to the fore a bit more. There is a definite woody scent to it—almost a sort of fir needle scent. I have to admit I didn’t think I liked those kinds of scents, but I really like this scent. I think the fruity floral blends well, and it doesn’t wind up smelling like a Christmas tree. That said, I think it might make a nice holiday scent for soapers to add to their line. I envision that it would go well with a blue and green palette of colors, too. I don’t see it as a unisex scent. The floral makes it a feminine scent that women who typically like more unisex or masculine scents would probably like.

Two thumbs way up! This fragrance is great. I would definitely buy it.

S.O.A.P. Panel Fragrances: Initial Impressions

S.O.A.P. Panel Test FragrancesI received my S.O.A.P. Panel test fragrances from Bramble Berry on Thursday. Fragrances often smell different out of the bottle than they do once they’ve gone through saponification, but here are my initial impressions of the eight fragrances:

  1. Piney type scent. Very pleasant. A bit floral. I like the way this one smells.
  2. A sort of apple or pear scent. A little bit of a sour bite. I detect more pear, but there is a definite bite to it. Smells good.
  3. Floral, very feminine. Clean. A honeysuckle-type note. Maybe jasmine. Smells very nice.
  4. Sort of masculine. A water/fruit note. Smells clean. Smells good.
  5. A sort of neem oil note to it. A grass note. Earthy. I don’t like this one out of the bottle.
  6. Fruity and floral. Summery. Citrus note. I like this one.
  7. Pretty, feminine, floral. Very springy. Smells good.
  8. Masculine. Smells sort of like a sexy man. A fruit note.

I handed the last one to my husband Steve and said, “Smell it. I think it smells like a sexy man.”

Steve replied, “Why yes, it does smell like me.”


I will be testing each fragrance in a one-pound batch with full water and will take notes on how the fragrance behaves, particularly regarding acceleration, ricing, and discoloration. I will be using a recipe of 45% olive oil, 25% coconut oil, 25% palm oil, and 5% castor oil. I will use the fragrance at the rate of 6%, which I find is usually enough to have a nice, strong scent with a fragrance that sticks well. I will gel the soaps so I can determine whether gelling impacts the fragrances’ sticking power. Lastly, I will keep notes on how well the fragrance sticks after some time has passed.

I’m very excited to try the fragrances out!

Woah, There: When Good Fragrances Misbehave

Most soapmakers experience accelerated trace at some point. Trace, of course, is the term for oils and lye that have been emulsified to the point that when a dribble of soap is dropped on top of the rest of the soap batter, the dribble stays on the surface of the batter for a short period of time and leaves a “trace” on the surface. Trace can accelerate for a variety of reasons.

In his book Scientific Soapmaking, chemistry professor Kevin Dunn says that trace can be accelerated based on three elements:

  1. water content
  2. temperature
  3. the presence of catalysts (e.g., ingredients in some fragrances)

If you want to slow down or accelerate trace, the easiest thing to do is control the water content or temperature. For example, if you know the recipe you are using is slow to trace and you want it to move more quickly, you can discount the water and mix the oils and lye at a higher temperature. This is a handy tip for making Castile soap, as olive oil is notoriously slow to trace when it makes up 100% of the oil content. Instead of using full water (38%), you can discount to, say, 33%, and you can mix the oil and lye at 110°.

It’s always a good practice not to discount water or mix at a higher temperature when you are working with a fragrance you haven’t used before, precisely because sometimes fragrances contain ingredients, such as clove oil, that will accelerate trace. If you have already discounted water and mixed at a high temperature, you could wind up with a seize, sometimes known as “soap on a stick.” It takes an experienced soapmaker to save soap that has seized, and sometimes, even experienced soapmakers aren’t able to salvage it.

I recently experienced some major acceleration using a new fragrance called Pumpkin Cheesecake.

Just about as soon as I added the fragrance to my soap, it started to thicken up, and it was just about all I could do to get it into the mold and attempt a swirl before it completely hardened.

I knew the soap would likely discolor because it was such a dark, reddish color. As you can see in the video, I separated the soap into three parts, two of which I colored. I was still able to get a nice swirl with a spoon, but I was really afraid the soap would be ruined because it looked like it was starting to rice in the mold, and if I had tried to stick blend it at that point, the soap would have been utterly ruined.

I took the soap’s temperature before I put it away, and it was already 104° on the bottom of the mold. Even if I had wanted to, there would probably have been nothing I could have done to prevent the soap from gelling. If I had tried to decrease the temperature by putting it in the freezer, it would have at least partially gelled. I am not a fan of partially gelled soap.

I decided the best thing to do was just to let it gel and monitor the temperature closely. If the soap looked like it was heating up too much in the mold, I planned to let it sit in a cool spot, perhaps even turn a fan on it. The temperature stayed within a “safe” range under 140°, so I did not worry too much about it getting hot.

I expected I might have some glycerine rivers in the soap, and I did, but not as bad as you might think, given the way this soap moved. Glycerine rivers can result when soap gets too hot. Essentially, they look like clear veins in soap, and they can give a sort of “crackle” effect to a finished bar. I think they actually can look pretty cool sometimes. But I don’t always want them!

If I use the fragrance again—and despite how it behaved, I might because it smells absolutely delicious—I would not stick blend after adding it to the soap. I would just stir it well. I would also lower the temperature at which I planned to mix the soap to 90° rather than about 100°, which was about the temperature I used. I already used full water, but I think that lowering the temperature and stirring rather than stick blending will make this fragrance more workable.

If you have a fragrance that sets up your soap really quickly, here a few tips to try so that you can save your soap:

  • Examine your recipe. Some oils, such as palm oil and cocoa butter, can accelerate trace. If you are working with a cranky fragrance, try increasing the amount of olive oil and/or eliminating oils that accelerate trace. Always run changes through a lye calculator so you don’t wind up with lye-heavy soap.
  • Lower the temperature at which you mix your soap.
  • Use full water (if you discounted; if you did not, adding more water might cause other problems).
  • Add the fragrance before you add the lye. You can more carefully monitor for signs of acceleration.
  • Don’t stick blend your fragrance in. Just stir it well. Stick blending will cause trace to accelerate more quickly.
  • Bang your mold on the counter. Soap that is accelerating often leaves air pockets.
  • Let it gel. It is already getting hot, and by trying to prevent gel, you will likely cause more problems.
  • Monitor the temperature as it gels. I checked my soap every so often with my infrared thermometer.

I find that gelling the soap will fix a lot of the problems you see with accelerated trace. Just let the soap do its thing. If it doesn’t work, chalk it up to a learning experience.

There are some actual benefits to accelerated trace. The soap is ready to cut faster than soap that took longer to trace. If you want to sculpt the tops, a fragrance that accelerates trace will give you a great opportunity to create peaky tops.

Some types of fragrances that tend to accelerate trace include floral fragrances (I use a lilac one that moves terribly fast) and spicy ones (which often contain clove oil or cinnamon). Sometimes sugars can accelerate trace, too. For instance, using honey or beer in soap can cause it to move more quickly.

The soap actually turned out really well considering the problems I had. You can see I had a little minor “glycerine river” issue, but in this case, I kind of liked the look. Lucky me that i liked it because if I didn’t, oh well! I suspect the bottom part to which I added the fragrance may darken more. So what caused this fragrance to misbehave so badly? It’s hard to say, as companies do not need to publish fragrance oil ingredients, which are considered trade secrets, and this particular fragrance had no reviews.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Yummy Soap

RaspberryI have to admit I have a personal preference for two types of soap: lavender-scented and food-scented. I don’t go in for the perfumy soaps as much, though I do make them and enjoy them. My favorites—the ones I can’t stop smelling myself while they’re out on the curing racks—are the foodie ones.

Back when I regularly bought Bath and Body Works, my absolute favorite scent was Sun-Ripened Raspberry. I also love their Warm Vanilla Sugar for winter. In fact, I love most of Bath and Body Works’ foodie scents. I also liked their Velvet Tuberose and Japanese Cherry Blossom, which are floral scents, but for the most part, the kinds of scents I tend to like best are berry scents or vanilla scents.

The last issue of Saponifier had a great interview of Jo Lasky by Beth Byrne called “Creating a Scentsational Product Line.” Jo covers a great deal of ground in the interview, including what happens in the olfactory receptor neuron and the brain when we smell an aroma, the difference between fragrance oils and essential oils, the top ten list of best-selling scents for 2012 as voted by readers and her thoughts as to why those scents moved more products, fragrance trends, and advice for soap/candle/bath suppliers looking to put together an appealing scent line. If you are soapmaker, it’s worth the price of the magazine subscription to access this article alone.

For the first time since the inception of the annual survey of top ten best-selling fragrances, lavender was not number one in 2012—it was vanilla.

Vanilla Sugar Cane
My Vanilla Sugar Cane soap

I found this revelation interesting, particularly as vanilla products seem to be gaining more traction in recent years in stores like Bath and Body Works than some of their traditional scents. Sun-Ripened Raspberry used to be one of their most popular fragrances, if not the most popular of all, but it has been discontinued in stores and is now only available for purchase online. My personal opinion is that it was replaced with Black Raspberry Vanilla, which has a similar scent, but with the vanilla base, which also eventually went to “online exclusive” only. Bath and Body Works’ website reports the following are their most popular scents (they do not specify if this is in order, but it is probably not because the list is alphabetical):

  • Aruba Coconut
  • Bali Mango
  • Berry Flirt
  • Daisy Dreamgirl
  • Forever Red
  • Honey Sweetheart
  • Japanese Cherry Blossom
  • Moonlight Path
  • Rio Rumberry
  • Sweet Pea
  • Warm Vanilla Sugar

Of the scents on this list, my guess is that Berry Flirt is probably the closest to Sun-Ripened Raspberry because it is described as a blend of red berries and blond woods. However, I haven’t smelled it, so I can’t be sure it’s close at all. I am not surprised to see Japanese Cherry Blossom on the list, as it has been a good seller for a few years now. I am surprised that of the rest of the list, the only ones I’m familiar with at all are Sweet Pea and Warm Vanilla Sugar.

I am sure Bath and Body Works likes to change up their scent line so that they can stay fresh and competitive, but I have always thought they risk alienating customers when they do away with popular scents, which they seem to do regularly. I have certainly found that aspect of their business model frustrating. On the other hand, who is to say that my notion of what was popular was actually moving off their shelves? They may be discontinuing scents I like, but that others don’t seem to buy.

If you are trying to decide which scents to use, it is a good idea to do your own market research. Make products that appeal to you and watch to see how they move. Keep track of which scents are requested. My biggest mover is Lemongrass Sage. I was recently asked if I did a lavender scent, but at the time, I hadn’t used it. I now have two different lavender soaps—Provence and Lavender Spearmint. Take stock of those scents that people request, and watch what moves in bath and body stores like Bath and Body Works, Victoria’s Secret, and Lush, but ultimately, use your own common sense as a guide. I think a great deal of success in soapmaking depends on your own intuition about what kinds of oils to use, what kinds of fragrances, and what kinds of designs will work. I also think you tend to create more loyal customers than big bath and body stores, and they will seek out their favorite products over novelty.

I know of some soapmakers who eschew fragrances, but given the popularity of scent in soaps, I would recommend treading very carefully if you choose not to use a fragrance at all. The first thing people do when they see my soaps out on display is pick them up and smell them. I do the same thing when shopping for handmade soap. It definitely makes it tougher to move soap online—obviously customers can’t smell soaps in my Etsy store, but I think there are some smart techniques soapers can use to increase online sales. Celine Blacow’s videos seem to help her move products. I know watching a video about the making of the very soap I bought is a little bit exciting. As soon as I can make my work area presentable, it’s something I’d like to try. I just ordered some Lavender Song and Adam and Eve soap from Celine, and I can’t wait for it to arrive. I so enjoyed both of the “making of” videos, particularly Lavender Song, which I have watched several times now.

I also think that sometimes customers don’t know what they want until you make it. Steve Jobs famously said, “[F]or something this complicated, it’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” This is true of soap, too. Customers might not think about a certain fragrance as something they’d like, but if they smell it, they like it, or if your description on your online store or video is good enough, their interest is piqued to try it.

Ultimately, I think as a soapmaker, choosing a scent I like is part of the artistry, and though I pay close attention to what my customers like, I tend to make soaps that I know I will like. However, I highly recommend reading Beth Byrne’s article, and think about designing a product line with the most popular scents.