Updated: Mar 21, 2021
The people who come to my stand at craft fairs and look at the soaps are always full of questions about how they are made and what they are made from. Obviously, these past months craft fairs have been very few and far between, and I miss all the chat from people who care and want to know more about what they put in and use on their bodies. Some are well informed, and others are just curious, but all of them ask great questions and know that our choices as consumers impact on the environment and our own health and wellbeing. I started making soap as a hobby, but kept doing it because it gave me a little more control over my environmental footprint and health, and then I turned it into a business because I saw that other people wanted to do the same.
Last week I started to answer the question ‘So what are these soaps made from?’ and today I’ll tell you a little bit more.
In our house, we use coconut oil for a lot of things. It’s great to cook with, especially curries; its soothing on the skin, and it’s good for getting tugs out of wee people’s hair. It also makes wonderful soap.
Coconut oil is made from dried coconut meat, or copra, and is solid at room temperature but melts at body temperature. As I said last week, soaps are usually made with a combination of oils and butters that each bring a particular characteristic to the final bar. Olive oil is rich and moisturising but can make a soap that is soft and doesn’t lather well. Coconut oil, on the other hand, produces soap that is hard, cleansing and has a fluffy lather with big bubbles. It is because coconut oil gives soap such a lovely lather that Susan Miller Cavitch calls it “a gift (that) has change soap making more dramatically than any other vegetable oil.”
Said to be rich in Vitamin E, coconut oil adds greatly to the moisturising effect of all bath and beauty products, including scrubs; lip balms and body butters, but used in high quantities in soap making it is too cleansing and can dry the skin out.
Together, olive oil and coconut oil make a fabulous soap, but I also incorporate a luxury butter that adds to the moisturising and nourishing properties of the final bars. This is shea butter, which is made from the fruit pits of the African shea tree. It has been used for centuries in Africa to promote skin healing and to prevent sun damage. It is said to contain high levels of Vitamins A and E and to have antibacterial properties. Although it can be argued that shea butter doesn’t contribute anything except skin-loving properties to soap recipes, this is what makes it special and what makes the soap special.
Sometimes change has to start with yourself, and even small changes have big consequences. Start reading labels, start checking ingredients, start asking questions. People love talking about themselves and their craft, I know I do! And the beauty of buying from a small business is that they are all run by people like me: people who are happy to answer questions and have a passion for what they do because they started by doing it for themselves.
Go on – change the world one bar of soap at a time.