Review: Pure Soapmaking by Anne-Marie Faiola

Anne-Marie Faiola is one of my favorite soapmakers, and I just loved her book Soap Crafting. I think Anne-Marie does a great job creating easy recipes and experiments that beginners can try and also inventing advanced recipes and techniques for more experienced soapmakers.

In her latest book, Pure Soapmaking: How to Create Nourishing, Natural Skin Care Soaps, Anne-Marie shares her techniques for natural (or nearly natural) soaps using essential oils and natural pigments.

Once again, Anne-Marie’s book is not only chock full of recipes but also great advice and excellent photography. Anne-Marie describes how to make herbal infusions and what hues you can expect from a long list of natural colorants (including pictures). Also included is helpful information about essential oils and using liquids besides water. In all, it has a great deal to offer both beginners and experts alike. Kudos to Anne-Marie also for explaining the clean-up process, which many books leave out. I also like that Anne-Marie describes how to create a soap tent for insulating soap so it goes through gel phase. I myself save soft drink fridge pack boxes, which are just the right size for sliding a soap mold into, and then I cover the boxes with a towel.

I do have a question for Anne-Marie, and as she sometimes reads and comments on this blog, I’m hoping she will chime in. She mentions on p. 39 that “‘light’ olive oil… doesn’t often work in soap at all.” I was curious about this comment because I usually purchase what might be called pure olive oil rather than extra virgin or virgin, and it is golden yellow in color. Is that not the same thing as light olive oil? If so, I use it in every batch of soap I make, and it works great. If it’s different, I’m curious as to what, exactly, light olive oil is.

I was drawn to Anne-Marie’s Gardener Scrub Soap made with coffee grounds, which appears on pp. 122-125. I played a bit with recipe and omitted the canola oil and used a recipe with olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, avocado butter, and castor oil. I increased the amount of coconut oil to add more cleansing properties to my soap as well. Please note: if you tweak soap recipes from a book or website, always remember to run your new recipe through a lye calculator. I didn’t have any basil essential oil, so I made a blend of rosemary, lemongrass, and peppermint essential oils. I also didn’t have some of the colorants Anne-Marie used and substituted instead puréed carrots, yellow Brazilian clay, and chromium oxide. I had been dying to try out the multi-pour tool I recently purchased, and the Gardener’s Scrub Soap was perfect for the experiment. Anne-Marie suggests using sodium lactate to harden soaps made in silicone molds, so I took that advice as well.

Gardener's Scrub Soap
Gardener’s Scrub Soap

For the curious, the soap with the carrots is the lighter yellow while the soap with the yellow Brazilian clay is the more orange shade. There is no colorant in the soap with coffee grounds, and the green portion is colored with chromium oxide, so all of the colorants are natural or “nature identical.” I did gel this soap to make the colors pop, and I had to place it on a heating pad to force gel. Often, simply covering it is enough. It also had a fair amount of ash on the tops because 1) I don’t have any isopropyl rubbing alcohol right now, and spraying the tops reduces ash, and 2) I have found that soaps made with essential oils are more prone to ash anyway. I steamed it right off, though, as you can see.

One of the reasons I started making soap in the first place was that I was drawn to natural soap sold at the farmer’s market I visited on the weekends when I lived in Georgia. My first soaps were all natural soaps made with no fragrance or with essential oils. As I began to experiment, I enjoyed using synthetic fragrances and colorants as well, but I find I am often drawn back to natural soaps again. Customers seem to be drawn to them as well. I enjoyed experimenting with one of the recipes in the book, and I was pleased with how the soaps turned out.

Caveat: the term “natural” is not regulated by the FDA, and Anne-Marie’s book does have some recipes that include items such as chromium oxide, which are “[t]echnically manmade” but which “have the same chemical composition as mined ones” and are therefore considered “natural” or “nature identical” (46-47). Depending on your point of view, these pigments might not be natural enough.

I would recommend this book to soapmakers at all levels of experience and particularly to those looking for inventive ways to make more natural soaps. I’m excited to try some of the other ideas in Anne-Marie’s book.

Soap Crafting, Anne-Marie Faiola: Review

Soap Crafting, Anne-Marie FaiolaThe soap making world has rightly been abuzz about the publication of Soap Crafting: Step-by-Step Techniques for Making 31 Unique Cold-Process Soaps, by Anne-Marie Faiola, the Soap Queen herself.

This book is great for anyone at any level from beginner to expert. The book starts with a basic tutorial and essential equipment inventory as well as a good basic recipe. I wish I had had this book when I started making soap because I like Anne-Marie’s basic recipe much better than the one I tried. Anne-Marie’s book is one of the few I’ve seen that actually mentions the formula for calculating the amount of oils to use in your recipe for the size of your mold (see page 110). Why most books omit this important information, I’m not sure, but it would have been really helpful to me as a beginner. I also like Anne-Marie’s creative suggestions for molds, which is yet another feature I would have liked in a beginner’s book. In addition to a basic recipe and advice on equipment and safety, Anne-Marie offers a good introduction to the different types of soap making oils, types of colorants and how to choose them, and using essential oils and fragrance oils. All of this is advice I have found sorely lacking in most soap making books.

Following the introduction to learning to make soap, Anne-Marie shares 31 recipes, each designed so that the reader can try new techniques, include using colors and different types of swirls, using various types of molds, and using foods other additives. It is easily the most comprehensive soap making book in terms of addressing beginners and advanced users because it includes both a basics section and more advanced tutorials (including some techniques I hadn’t tried or hadn’t heard of). The recipes all have great step-by-step instructions.

I just tried the squirty swirl Anne-Marie describes on pp. 216-221. I think next time I might let the soap get a little thicker beforehand. It is a really cool look. The soap is still too soft to cut, but here it is right after I put it into the mold:

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I like the “Jackson Pollack” look when you get to the end of the bottle. Next time I might leave the glitter off, too.

Here’s the soap unmolded.

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I used anise essential oil and peppermint essential oil to scent it, and I used activated charcoal to make the black soap. Mine will probably turn out to be more of a true swirl than Anne-Marie’s soap in the book because I think mine was at a thinner trace.

In addition to the great instructions and recipes, the book is filled with gorgeous full-color photographs, and the book itself is available in two formats: e-book and spiral-bound. The spiral binding allows the book to lay flat when open, just like a cookbook. It’s interesting to me how few other soap making books are designed in this way, which would make them much easier to use as you’re whipping up a batch of soap.

Anne-Marie’s book is easily one of the best soap making books I’ve read. Highly recommended for soap makers, no matter whether you’re just starting or you’ve been making (and even selling) for years. Love the book, Anne-Marie!

Update: Here is a pic of the cut bars. Love the way they turned out, even if my soap was too fluid, and it was more of a true swirl than the book depicted.

Anise & Peppermint