One Year Update

Now that it’s been nearly a year since I decided to “scale back,” it seemed like a good time to check in with any remaining readers to let you know that I’m very happy with my decision to suspend selling my soaps. As much as I enjoy making soap, I didn’t enjoy catering to the market or the demands of wholesale. In fact, selling my soaps wholesale is what soured me on the business end of making soap.

I am not ruling out reopening my Etsy store at some point, but for right now, expect that this blog will be updated purely as a hobbyist’s enterprise, and as such, updates may be somewhat infrequent. If you want to make sure you don’t miss one, you can subscribe to the site (see the sidebar on the right).

I’ve also changed the look around here, and I hope you like it. Thanks for continuing to follow me on my journey as a soapmaker.

Scaling Back

I started making handmade soap about four years ago because I fell in love with the handmade soap I used to buy at the farmer’s market in my old home in Georgia. I don’t know if I thought handmade soap didn’t exist in Massachusetts or what, but I decided I wanted to learn how to make it myself because I was moving and wouldn’t be able to buy it from the farmer’s market anymore. I did a lot of research before I moved, but I didn’t make my first batch until after I moved to Massachusetts. It didn’t take long before it was one of my favorite things to do. I loved to experiment. I loved to create. I loved the end product. My skin is in excellent shape, and I attribute it entirely to the fact that I am exclusively using the soap and lotion I make myself. In fact, if I travel and forget to pack my own soap or perhaps think it’s a hassle and wind up using the hotel soap, my skin hates it.

I haven’t made a lot of soap this summer. My son actually asked me about it about a month ago. I have no intentions of stopping entirely, but it is true I’m scaling back. I am finding I want to make time to do other things, too. Spend time with my husband and children. Read. Travel. Write. I firmly believe, and have said often when people ask me how I do so much, that we make time to do the things that are important to us.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t find the business end of making soap a bit frustrating. I haven’t been successful at markets, and that has been disheartening. I can’t get into our local farmer’s market. I find keeping up with more than a few wholesale accounts exhausting, so I have elected not to pick up any more wholesale accounts. When I lost a wholesale account earlier this year for reasons that were not explained (and I didn’t pursue), I was secretly relieved because I could spend more time making the soap I want to make. That is what I love about making soap in the first place. Making what I want. But what I want to make is not always what people want to buy, and that has been a frustrating thing to experience. I want to show off a new technique or try a new recipe. But people want to buy their favorites.

If making soap was just a business to me, my path forward would be clear. I should make what sells and not worry about what I want, or perhaps indulge in making what I want for special occasions, such as gifts. But it’s not just a business to me, and frankly, it’s never been a very successful business. And I don’t really need the income. I have a full time job.

So, I am going to be scaling back. I actually already have, though I didn’t know it. I thought about it a lot over the summer, and what I will do is make soap when the mood strikes, and I will sell it in my Etsy store when I have enough, but I’m not going to be keeping the  the store stocked, and what you will see there will be soaps I wanted to make. I am hoping people will understand that part of the reason I’m doing this is so I don’t actually feel the need to stop making soap because I don’t enjoy it anymore. I want to get back some of the passion I felt for making soap when it was a hobby, so I am returning it to more of a hobby. I have seen some good friends bow out entirely—either they have stopped making soap or they haven’t blogged about it a long time or both. I don’t want that to happen to me. I do consider making soap an art as well as a craft, and I want to make the kind of art that inspires me and makes me want to keep making art.

The Personal Care Products Safety Act and New England Handmade Artisan Soaps

Lavender & CedarIf you’ve been following some of the news surrounding the Personal Care Products Safety Act of 2015, a bill introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), you may have read some alarming and even irresponsible reporting that led you to believe that the U. S. Government is about to shut down all handmade soapers for good.

This simply isn’t the case, and you have no cause to be worried about New England Handmade Artisan Soaps or most of your other favorite handmade soapers. In fact, this bill is not likely to impact my business in its current form.

Kenna of Modern Soapmaking has done a tremendous job breaking down the bill and explaining the parts that are of most concern to soapmakers. Her work is so thorough that I will not reproduce it here, but I do feel compelled to address the most common concerns I have seen raised in articles about the bill.

  1. Congress is cracking down on homemade soap. No, Congress is not targeting handmade soap. This bill is an amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Safety Act designed to “ensure the safety of cosmetics.” Handmade cosmetics are not being targeted any more than any other company that manufactures cosmetics is being targeted. The argument is that smaller businesses cannot afford the fees associated with registering products, but businesses that make less than $100,000 per year are exempt entirely from the requirement, businesses that make between $100,00 and $500,000 a year are exempt from the fee, and businesses that make between $500,000 and $2,500,000 would pay not more than $250 annually. Fees are graduated from there. I believe that very few homemade soapers would be impacted by this bill at all, and those soapmakers that are impacted are not going to be driven out of business by the regulations.
  2. This bill will make it impossible for small soap companies to remain in business. Actually, this bill just requires that soaping businesses earning more than $100,000 per year register and provide lists of the ingredients they use as well as report known adverse events. Labeling requirements will be stricter, but I personally think they should be. Right now, I am not required to label the ingredients in my soap at all as long as I make no cosmetic claims about it. I think that’s wrong. People buy handmade soap precisely because they want to know what’s in their soap. I should add that my friends in Europe who make soap currently DO have to comply with the same types of regulations that this bill would introduce, and as far as I know, it has not adversely affected their businesses. Celine Blacow of is one example of a personal friend. I am sure there are many others.
  3. Handmade soaps are all natural and much safer than commercial soaps, so this bill makes no sense. The government should worry about commercial soapmakers. Even if the bill were only directed at handmade soapers, which isn’t the case, and even though handmade soaps are perhaps more natural and safer than commercial soaps, it is really commercial soapmakers that this bill will affect the most because it is commercial soapmakers who are more likely to use the specific ingredients that Senators Feinstein and Miller suggested be reviewed for safety in the act’s first year: diazolidinyl urea, lead acetate, methylene glycol, propyl paraben, and quaternium-15.¹

My advice to anyone who is worried is first of all, read the bill. Second, follow its progress in Congress. Supposedly, May 10 was supposed to be the day we learned whether or not the bill had made it out of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, but I can’t tell that the committee has acted on this bill. If it passes the committee’s hearing, it will be voted upon by the Senate, then the House, and then signed into law by the President before it becomes law, so it has some distance to go. You can sign up to receive alerts on the bill on like I did. Finally, you can write to your Senators and Representatives and let them know you want to make sure that whatever version of the bill passes through their hands includes provisions that will not make the law too onerous for small businesses to comply with.

Most of all, it is important to educate yourself about the bill’s details before worrying that it is the end of the handcrafted soap industry. I am quite concerned about the amount of misinformation being distributed mainly because it is scaring my customers and my soapmaking friends.

Diazolidinyl urea, propyl paraben, and quaternium-15 are preservative agents (quaternium-15 is also a surfactant). Lead acetate and methylene glycol are used in hair products (dyes and straighteners). Asking for a review does not mean these ingredients are not safe.

Holiday Soaps Lineup

Candy Cane

Believe it or not, the holidays are right around the corner. Here is a list of the seasonal soaps you can expect to see in the store in time for holiday shopping:

  • Hard Apple Cider, made with Angry Orchard® hard apple cider and scented with a delicious apple cider fragrance.
  • Mayflower Happy Hour, made with Mayflower Pale Ale and scented with a spicy amber ale fragrance.
  • Christmas Cookies, made with a ginger cookie fragrance and cute gingerbread men.
  • Hot Chocolate, made with a gorgeous hot chocolate fragrance and little soap marshmallows.
  • Candy Cane, made with a delicious candy cane fragrance blend including peppermint essential oil in a candy cane red-and-white stripe.
  • Winter Sleigh Ride, made with a fragrance blend of oranges, apple, peppermint, and cloves and a pretty swirl of Christmas red, green, and white.
  • Winter Wonderland, made with a fresh water/snow fragrance and a gorgeous swirl of blues.
  • Cranberry and Blood Orange, made with a blend of cranberry and orange fragrances and a swirl of red, orange, and creamy white with dried oranges embedded in the tops.
  • Candy Apple, made with a holiday candy apple fragrance and a swirl of red and white.
  • White Tea & Ginger, a spicy hint of ginger in a refreshing yogurt-based soap.

In addition to these seasonal soaps, you can expect to see year-round favorites such as Oatmeal, Milk, & Honey; Coffee & Cream; Guinness Beer; Lavender Dream; Lemongrass Sage; Provence; Sweet Honeybee; Baby Soap; and a new hit, De-Stress Stress Relief that was debuted last weekend at the stART on the Street festival here in Worcester—and is already sold out!

Which one are you most looking forward to?

Christmas Soaps

Last Christmas was my first experience selling handcrafted items. I learned that quite a few people really do go out of their way to support artisans. There is something special about receiving something handmade as a gift.

This year, I attempted to prepare for the season a little better. I learned some lessons. First, all of my holiday-themed soaps sold out. The two quickest sellers were Cranberry Blood Orange and Candy Cane.

Cranberry Blood Orange
Cranberry Blood Orange
Candy Cane
Candy Cane

I made a note to make more batches of each next year. One thing people who don’t make soap have a hard time understanding is that cold process soap must cure for at least four weeks, which means soapmakers need to figure out what is likely to sell at least a month in advance of the major selling period. For Christmas, that means soapmakers really need to have soaps ready by mid-November in order to capitalize on early shoppers. My biggest sales day was Small Business Saturday, which happened right after Thanksgiving and Black Friday, but I continued to sell right up until a few days ago.

The big question is, how many batches of each would sell? It’s hard to determine what will sell in early to mid-October when the soaps must be made. It’s a risk to make too much because there is a chance I might have leftover Christmas products. However, if I make too little, I might miss out on sales opportunities. It’s a tough call.

Some other lessons I learned are that I move more soaps more quickly offline through purchases made by family, friends, and craft fairs. I haven’t been able to do many craft fairs yet, but I am definitely interested in participating in more. I would be remiss if I did not mention I’ll be selling my soap at the Alchemy Fair in Holyoke, MA, on April 26 and 27, 2014. I’m very much looking forward to that fair.

Speaking of craft fairs, another thing I learned from selling at craft fairs this season is that my Lavender Dream and Lemongrass Sage soaps sell much more quickly offline when people have a chance to smell them.

Lavender Dream
Lavender Dream

Lavender Dream is a newer soap. I used to combine the lavender essential oil with a spearmint fragrance, but I found the spearmint didn’t come through with the lavender (it was fine on its own, but the lavender overpowered it). I renamed it, and folks who love lavender adored it. I also toned down one of the purple shades a bit.

Lemongrass Sage is one of my oldest recipes and has been a favorite among family and friends.

Lemongrass Sage
Lemongrass Sage

It smells very bright and clean, and for a citrus scent, lemongrass really sticks well. I’m not sure why these soaps do not sell as well on Etsy as they do in person. I have some theories, but as the first thing most people do when they’re buying soap at a craft fair is sniff it, I think the scent has a great deal to do with it. On Etsy, buyers might rely more on the look of the soap, though I’m not certain that’s the case.

Another soap that sold really well at craft fairs was White Tea & Ginger.

White Tea & Ginger
White Tea & Ginger

It has a very nice spicy scent. One of my friends thinks that perhaps the plainer look of the soap might be a reason it does not sell as well on Etsy as it does in person. I like the look of it and don’t really want to change it, but it may be that I will make it only in advance of craft fairs rather than keep it on Etsy.

One soap sold very slowly, and I was disappointed because I knew it was a lovely soap.

Anise & Peppermint
Anise & Peppermint

If you are not familiar with anise essential oil, it smells like licorice. I realize licorice is a candy people either love or hate, but even though I’m not a fan of the taste, I love the smell. Of course, I associate it with my grandmother, who loves licorice candy (she received a bar of this soap for Christmas). I thought the black and white was striking and pretty, but I have learned that buyers do not necessarily associate black with soap, or at least the sellers I have encountered do not. My soaps with a large amount of black colorant do not seem to do as well as others. I am not sure why because I think it’s striking and different. I really think this soap turned out well, and I loved it, but it sold very slowly for Christmas.

I also made a soap I called Winter Wonderland.

Winter Wonderland
Winter Wonderland

I used the scent in this soap in a previous soap, and I couldn’t sell it! I have to believe it sold well in this soap for two reasons: 1) the look of this soap was more appealing than the look of the other soap in which I used the same fragrance, and 2) it was the holidays, so soap naturally sold more quickly. I love the scent. It’s a gorgeous watery/ozone type scent that is perfect to evoke snow. I think if people could have smelled my other soap, it would have sold better. Smell seems to make such a huge difference.

One lesson I am going to take away is to pull back on what I sell on Etsy. I am charged fees for each listing, and while it’s not a huge amount, it’s too much to post soaps that just don’t sell. I will be more judicious about new offerings in the future. It is my hope that I can start doing more craft fairs or farmer’s markets as I would hate to cut back on making soap. I love it, and I’m addicted now!

I wish everyone happy holidays. I hope you find a little bar of handmade goodness in your stocking!

Natural and Rustic Soaps

I absolutely adore the artistry in soaps. Talented soapmakers can do some really incredible things with color, swirls, and embeds that just blow me away. But my first love is natural-looking and rustic homemade soap. It was through a natural soapmaker that I was first introduced to handmade soap. This soapmaker was at my local farmer’s market every week, and I was entranced by some of her soaps. I never bought it (my daughter did once), but her Sunrise soap with an orange slice tucked in the top and litsea cubeba and blood orange essential oils captivated me. I started using her Dead Sea mud bar on my face, and I noticed how much better it was for my skin.

I stocked up on these soaps as I prepared to move to Massachusetts because I knew I most likely wouldn’t be ordering them online, and I was determined to see if I could figure out how to make soaps myself. The first soaps I made on my own were natural-looking soaps. When I first started, I had every intention of making 100% natural soaps, but I quickly realized that there was nothing wrong with soap colorants and fragrance oils, and in fact, fragrance oils have undergone testing to ensure that they are skin-safe while essential oils are not as regulated. Using these materials in my handmade soaps did not hurt their quality. They were still handmade, which is better than any commercial soap.

I haven’t made any natural-looking soap in a while, however, with the exception of my Lavender Oatmeal soap.

Lavender OatmealThis soap is absolutely DIVINE, and I really wish it got a little more love. I adore it. It has a thick, luscious lather and it smells amazing—it’s scented with lavender essential oil and oatmeal, milk, and honey fragrance. It is made with aloe vera juice and finely ground oatmeal to make it extra good for your skin. I have given most of the first batch I made away. My children’s teachers will receive the last of it in a bath basket I’m putting together for end-of-year gifts. One of the nice things about being a soapmaker is that I always have the very excellent gift of handmade soap at the ready for any occasion.

Another natural soap that has been a big hit with friends and family and a few customers is my Oatmeal, Milk, and Honey.

Oatmeal, Milk, and HoneyIt’s a very pretty soap, and the Oatmeal, Milk, and Honey fragrance oil is yummy. I make this in an unscented variety, too, and it also smells pretty good. I actually like the smell of goat milk. Is that weird? Honey smells awesome in soap.

I recently received a package of soaps from fellow soapmakers participating in a swap. They made some lovely, natural-looking and, in some cases, rustic soaps.

Soap SwapsSeriously, how delicious does this cinnamon oatmeal soap look?   Cinnamon Oatmeal

And I absolutely love the label on this one.

2013-06-16 17.51.53

Seriously, how cute is that? Southern Romance, and the couple sitting on the hood of a Chevy pickup complete with cowboy boots together with the rustic font? Awesome! Might be the cutest packaging I’ve ever seen.

But look at what you see when you pull off the cigar band.

2013-06-16 17.52.34

Don’t you love it? It’s beautiful! Look at the oats on the top and even the drag marks make it seem somehow more wholesome and natural than it would if they had been planed away.

And check out this Cocoa Coffee soap.

2013-06-16 17.53.01

It smells awesome and feels so smooth.

I think this last one even has dandelion flowers in it. It’s so pretty.2013-06-16 17.53.28

Opening this box made me want to ditch the colors and fancy swirls and make a natural soap again. I made a new batch of the Lavender Oatmeal, but I wanted to make something new, too.

Then I happened upon Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve’s website through some circuitous route through the web, and I was inspired by the simple beauty of their soaps. There truly is nothing like a natural-looking bar of soap.

I had been wanting to make an almond soap for a while, but thinking about ways I could make it more natural prompted me to try making my own almond milk. I tried a recipe found at Frugally Sustainable via Pinterest:

  1. Soak 1 cup of almonds overnight (she recommends 48 hours, but 24 was fine for me).
  2. Peel off the skins. She didn’t say to do this, but I did.
  3. Put four cups of distilled water in a blender along with the peeled almonds.
  4. Blend until smooth. It took me a minute.
  5. Strain milk from ground almonds with cheesecloth. I had to use a tea strainer because I don’t have cheesecloth. I am definitely getting one because a tea strainer was slow going.

The milk might taste better if you used three cups of water instead of four. It tasted fine—sort of like milk with no milk fat flavor, if that makes sense.

Before I drank any of it, however, I measured out the amount I’d need for my soap recipe and froze it overnight.

The next day, I used it instead of water in my lye.

Almond Milk and LyeThis is what it looked like once the lye was fully incorporated. It stayed a pretty, creamy white and the temperature never rose above 77°F.  Isn’t it pretty?

I decided to add some honey to the soap, even though I knew that the fragrance oil I planned to use had vanillin in it and the soap was likely to discolor. Honey can also discolor.

AdditivesThe honey is dissolved in a little bit of the almond milk. I decided to use a tablespoon of the ground almonds in the soap itself.

To keep the soap a little bit lighter, I did add titanium dioxide, but I’m not sure how much that will really prevent the vanilla from discoloring the soap.

OilsHere is the oil mixture with some kaolin clay and titanium dioxide. The recipe I used included sweet almond oil, coconut oil, olive oil, palm oil, shea butter, and castor oil.

I should have taken more pictures of the soap in process, but I didn’t. Here is how it looked when I unmolded it the next day. Don’t you love the cute honeycomb look? I love to do honeycombs on my honey soaps.

Soap in the MoldYou can’t really tell because of the honeycomb top, but this soap turned out rock hard and really creamy in appearance. I am not sure if that’s the almond milk or the large amount of sweet almond oil. I have never used almond milk before, and my recipes generally have around 10% almond oil at most, but this recipe has 25% sweet almond oil.

Here are the cut bars.

Sweet Almond and Honey SoapI do not know how much they might darken as they cure, as the vendor from which I purchased the fragrance oil warned that this fragrance does cause discoloration. The titanium dioxide will counter it some, but if they stay this color or perhaps darken a little more, I’ll be satisfied. But then again, this is supposed to look natural, so if it darkens a lot, I’ll just roll with it. It smells absolutely incredible. Even the sweet honey scent comes through. If you are an almond fan, you are going to want to this soap.

Ingredients: homemade almond milk, sweet almond oil, coconut oil, olive oil, sustainable palm oil, sodium hydroxide, shea butter, fragrance, castor oil, finely ground almonds, kaolin clay, titanium dioxide, honey.

Midsummer Night’s Dream Soap

After I made my Seaside soap, I immediately thought about making a soap mimicking the night sky. I made this soap in the same way as the Seaside soap’s ocean layer.


Midsummer Night’s Dream’s title was inspired by William Shakespeare’s play of the same name; it is one of my favorite plays. I love teaching it.

The soap is made with cocoa and shea butters and olive, coconut, sustainable palm, sweet almond, and castor oils and a kiss of kaolin clay and real silk. The fragrance has top notes of mandarin balm, tangelo, and eucalyptus; middle notes of jungle moss, patchouli leaf, and sandal tree; and bottom notes of redwood forest, amber glow, and musk. It should be available April 16.

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?