More Pure Soapmaking

I truly have been enjoying inspiration from Anne-Marie Faiola’s Pure Soapmaking: How to Create Nourishing, Natural Skin Care Soaps, which I reviewed recently on this blog.

I have also enjoyed watching other soapmakers experiment with Anne-Marie’s ideas and recipes from the book. I spent a few minutes today watching soapers try Anne-Marie’s recipe for an Aloe Vera Hanger Swirl soap as shown on pp. 177-181 in the book. I admit to being drawn to that soap as well.

First up, I watched the wonderful Holly of Missouri River Soap try out the recipe with her own tweaks—she uses different oils— and a slightly different technique.


Next, I watched the incomparable Zahida Map of Handmade in Florida give the recipe her own flair.

Both of these women are talented soapmakers whom I admire a great deal. Watching these videos made me anxious to give this soap a go.

Like Holly, I used my own soap recipe. Holly is absolutely right in that as you become a more experienced soapmaker, you come to formulate your own recipe that you like. You know how it will behave under normal conditions, and you know how it will feel to use, what the lather will be like, and what its various properties will be. I experimented quite a lot with a variety of recipes, but I have gradually settled on one recipe that is my mainstay for almost all of my soaps now.

I used the same colors as Anne-Marie in her book: chromium oxide, hydrated chromium green oxide, and titanium dioxide. I didn’t have any aloe vera leaf or gel or any cedarwood essential oil. Anne-Marie (and Holly and Zahida) used the lavender and cedarwood essential oil combination, which I’m sure smells divine. In fact, I’m kind of wondering if it smells like Bramble Berry’s Lavender & Cedar fragrance oil. I bought some Green Irish Tweed fragrance by BeScented from a friend recently, and I had been wanting to try it. This technique of Anne-Marie’s looked like a good opportunity.

Aside from using my own oil recipe, changing up the fragrance, and deleting the aloe vera leaf/gel, I basically followed Anne-Marie’s advice, with the exception of not spooning the soap into the mold. Like Holly, I opted to pour at thinner trace so that I could get more swirls. I used aloe vera liquid at perhaps just a bit more than the amount Anne-Marie did.

Emerald IsleI divided the soap, but not into precise thirds. I have a 3.5-4-pound mold, and I poured about 1.5 cups of soap into two measuring cups for each of the greens and colored the rest of the soap white. I find that I like the way my soaps look better if they have more white rather than equal numbers of each color. The Green Irish Tweed fragrance doesn’t accelerate, and even though it looks a like it’s a bit dark in the bottle, it doesn’t seem to discolor.

I poured a layer of white soap and then swirled in each of the greens, very similar to the way Holly did in her video. I repeated until most of the soap was gone. I kept some to do a swirly top. I used my new hanger swirl tool (man, did that make this easier!) to add the hanger swirl.

Based on suggestions from Twitter and Instagram friends of New England Handmade Artisan Soaps, I’ve decided to call this soap Emerald Isle. Isn’t it beautiful? And it smells absolutely divine. I haven’t ever smelled Green Irish Tweed by Creed, but it reminds me a bit of Irish Spring. I am definitely sending some along to my daughter, who loves fresh unisex scents like this one.

Emerald IsleI’m really happy with how it turned out. I am using a new brand of titanium dioxide, and I noticed some fine dots near the tops of the bars. I’m not sure if it’s something like glycerine rivers. You can probably see the dots in the image above. It’s funny, but I might have been really disappointed about those white dots in the past, but over time I have come to accept that sometimes titanium dioxide does funny things, and you just have to roll with it. I’m not sure why the titanium dioxide would only be temperamental at the top of the soaps because my experience with glycerine rivers is that they are usually threaded throughout the soap and are less prominent, if anything, at the tops. In any case, the greens really popped after gelling.

Recently, I also tried Anne-Marie’s recipe for Oatmeal Soap for Babies on pp. 78-81. I used her exact recipe, though sized for six bars in my round silicone mold. I also opted to swirl with purple Brazilian clay, so I didn’t add bentonite clay to the whole batch—just the uncolored half. I added lavender essential oil to the soap. Aside from these adjustments, my soap was made with the same recipe as Anne-Marie’s.

I should mention that I don’t really make a clay slurry, either with oils or water, when I use clays in my soap. I just add the clay right to my oils before I add the lye water. I have never had any issues with clay when I have added it in this way, but I have had issues when I have added clay as a slurry. Go figure.

Babies could likely still use this soap, even with the lavender essential oil added, but I plan to suggest it for people with sensitive skin who want to use a gentle, natural soap.

Lavender ChamomileYou can see the specks of oatmeal in the soap. The purple Brazilian clay really is a muted lavender shade that is perfect for this soap. I found this cute video of Katie from Royalty Soaps making this soap exactly as described in the book:

I have to recommend Anne-Marie’s book again. I think beginners will find a great deal of information in it, and so will advanced soapers.

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.

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.

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?

Hello Soap!

I made my first ever batch of soap last weekend, and it didn’t turn out very pretty.

It was a recipe from Elizabeth Letcavage and Patsy Buck’s Basic Soap Making, which is a book I highly recommend for beginning soap-makers. This soap is a basic four-oil recipe—olive, canola, coconut, and safflower.

The trouble I had was that my mold was bigger (3 pounds) than the recipe called for, and being inexperienced, I wasn’t sure how much to change the recipe so that the soap would fill the mold. I also wasn’t sure whether to expect the soap to expand. As a result, the bars are nice and thick, but they’re sort of squat.

Still, for my first ever batch, I have to say I’m pleased. The soap has been curing for a week, and it will be ready to use in about three more weeks.

The recipe I used isn’t mine to share, but it’s the Basic Four Oil Soap Recipe from Basic Soap Making, with the addition of (not enough) lavender essential oil and sweet orange essential oil. I’ve since discovered I really need to add more essential oil than I initially thought.

Still, it was a great learning experience, and I’ll be interested to see what the soap is like to use.