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What is handmade soap and can you make it?

Soap making has been a passion of mine for at least 5 years now. I started out just simply wanting to make products that I like, using the ingredients that I wanted & always knowing what was present in my products. Today, after a lot of trials and errors, and sometimes complete disasters I wanted to start off my blog by giving you guys a few basics on soaps. I know there is a lot of information out there on soaps, and if you are a soap making enthusiast or just a curious George, I do hope to cover as many points here as possible. As much as I have learned at least.

First, just a little bit about me. I am Mumbai raised, of Goan & Andhra decent & currently Bangalore (Bengaluru) based. I have a full time job here in Bangalore (which was the reason I shifted here) and also make soaps and skin care products as a passion. I am married and live with my husband, mother-in-law, my brother and last but most definitely not the least 3 completely psycho and absolutely loveable dogs. So as you can imagine we are quite a house full. Thankfully Bangalore has an abundance of villas and large houses (much much bigger than anything you would imagine in Mumbai, and affordable without having to sell your kidney to get by) we live happily and comfortably. My workshop is a small additional study we have at our place and thats where all my creations happen. Right now I am working on a Christmas Collection of handmade soaps which you can check out on my page. All my products have unique formulas and designs and I try my best to keep them as original as possible. Of course sites like Pinterest and other soap makers inspire me on a daily basis. And even though we are a small community of creators, I hope to inspire more of you to join in.

Now onward to Soap Making

Breaking the myths

For most people soap making is a mystery, and we cannot imagine that something as seemingly complex as this can ever be created at home. I am here to tell you, its crazy freakishly easy. Yes you do need the right ingredients & the right equipment and I will share those details with you later in my blog. If I can make soap, so can you!

NOTE: All soap makers have a different experience and a slightly different result. This is based on your recipe along with the ingredients you use. Different suppliers means slightly different oils, and also the weather where you live matters, making your batch unique to you. I do not claim to know everything there is on soap making. But I have a few basics down.

Myth 1: Soap making is dangerous / complicated

Making soap is a science. That much is true. You will need Lye (Sodium Hydroxide [NaOH] for hard bars of soap & Potassium Hydroxide [KOH] for liquid soaps like face washes and shampoos). They come in either flake or pellet forms. Each is mixed in with a percentage of water to form a lye solution. Lye is blended in with various oils like coconut, olive oil, castor oil or palm oil to form soap. This process is call saponification.

SAFETY FIRST: Lye is caustic. It will burn your skin. So to be safe, always ensure you wear the following:

1. Gloves - I have found that surgical gloves are the best. They are easily available and don't restrict your hand movements like other thicker gloves. Never use cloth based gloves.

2. Goggles: Yes you will look like a bit of scientist, but it's always better to be safe than sorry. Since both NaOH & KOH have fine particles they do tend to fly up when pouring. So keep your eyes safe.

3. Long sleeves: Cover up as much as possible. Lye once mixed with oils forms a batter that can easily be poured into moulds and crafted into a design of your choice. This also means that it can spill or splatter easily. So be safe.

4. Mask: I prefer wearing a face mask that covers my nose and mouth. Especially while measuring NaOH/KOH, since as I mentioned earlier, it does tend to fly around a bit.

5. KEEP CHILDREN AND PETS AWAY. If you've read what I have written above, you will understand the need for this.

6. Work in a well ventilated & clean space. When mixed with water NaOH/KOH will dissolve and let out some fumes + will heat up. So avoid confined spaces as much as possible.

7. Always use a steel / glass container to make your lye solution. Since it is corrosive I recommend not using plastic or aluminium containers.

Ok. Now that we are all safe, lets get started with soap making.

Each oil when mixed with a lye solution produces a different kind of soap with different consistencies. Let me take you through a few examples.

1. Coconut oil: I have only used cold processed virgin coconut oil or regular coconut cooking oil in my soap creations, never parachute oil. Coconut oil creates a very hard bar of soap with lots of bubbles. These soaps also tend to be very drying. So I personally do not recommend 100% coconut oil soaps.

2. Olive Oil: or Extra Virgin Olive Oil: This will create a super soft bar of soap with little or no bubbles. They are usually extremely nourishing and great for babies and new borns, but will melt very quickly when they come in contact with water.

3. Castor Oil: This will make a soft sticky bar of soap. Again not great for everyday.

4. Canola Oil: Similar to Olive oil and can be used as a substitute, this oil again makes a super soft bar.

5. Palm Oil: Will make a hard bar of soap. Again, similar to coconut oil, this will be a creamy bar but with bubbles.

The best results are when these oils are blended in together at specific percentages to form a balanced bar of soap.

Myth 2: Homemade soaps are harsh on the skin. Commercial soaps contain artificial hardening agents, detergents and artificial lathering agents added in, the naturally produced glycerine that occurs during the soap making process is usually extracted and sold separately. Glycerin is a natural humectant that is found in handmade soap it attracts moisture from the air and keeps skin hydrated. Commercial soaps usually leave your skin feeling dry and itchy because of these factors.

On the other hand, handmade soaps are made from skin loving oils like coconut oil, olive oil and you can even add natural butters like cocoa butter or shea butter to it for added benefits. Handmade soaps retain all the natural nourishing properties of the oils and butters that will leave your skin feeling refreshed and nourished. My husband for example has extremely sensitive dry skin and like most men he hates using any creams or moisturisers. It took him a while to get used to my soaps since he too was used to the excessive lather created by commercial soaps. Now, he absolutely enjoys the soaps I make especially my coffee scrub soap which has a large percentage of organic cocoa butter in it.

Myth 3: Handmade soaps don't clean as well as commercial soaps

We in India believe that if there isn't any lather it means that your soap isn't cleaning. While commercial soaps have plenty of lather (as mentioned above) you will notice a difference in handmade soaps, they don't lather as much but clean just as well without drying out your skin. The same goes for body washes. Commercial body washes again contain detergents like sulphate, artificial lathering agents & quite a few things I myself don't understand as yet. Handmade / homemade body washes and face washes contain tons of glycerine and the natural nourishing properties of the oils used to create it are retained. They are safe for you and they are safe for your kids.

This wonderful Christmas special soap is a coloured with micas and chocolate clay. It has the added benefit of my personal favourite butter organic cocoa butter.

Myth 4: Are handmade soaps chemical free? The truth? No they are not chemical free. NaOH/KOH are chemicals. Every oil you add has a specific natural chemical balance and the combination of lye with oils that causes saponification is a chemical process. Hence a science. But again, they are natural chemicals. The lye in the soap evaporates within a day or two of you creating a soap. But handmade soaps need to air out for an additional 4 to 6 weeks to ensure that the water content in them evaporates and you get a harder longer lasting bar of soap. It is always recommended that when using you keep your soap dry as often as possible because since these do not contain any artificial hardening agents, they will melt a bit faster than commercial soaps. To ensure you always have the right measurements I recommend using a lye calculator, I have found the Brambleberry / SoapQueen lye calculator is the simplest and easiest site to calculate your measurements on. She also has some amazing recipes there too. There are plenty of other websites to help you with this calculation, but this one has been the best for me so far.

Myth 5: Are melt and pour soaps just as good as handmade soaps. Yes. But you need to ensure you are buying it from a good supplier. Melt and pour soaps skip the entire process of lye and take you right into the fun part. I personally don't make too may melt and pour soaps, but I do like to use them as little additions to my own creations. You can add fragrances of your choice, colours and pigments and have tons of fun with them. They are also great projects to pick up with your kids.

Making soap has been so much fun over the past few years. I love adding in micas, pigments & even natural ingredients that make them look so pretty but also retain the nourishing properties of the soap. Who says bath time has to be boring. Stay tuned. I will be posting a few recipes soon. If you are interested in soap making classes, do write to me directly on fnh.skincare@gmail.com

©2018 BY Fresh and Handcrafted by Rebecca Nelson