If you’re like some people (me!) you’ve shied away from using handcrafted bar soap because maybe you don’t trust it, or a doctor told you to use a certain manufactured bar. Seriously, for a couple of decades (or more) I used unscented Dove because I had extremely sensitive skin. Dove is not actually a soap, but is labeled a “beauty bar.” More on that later…
One Christmas, a co-worker gave me a bar of handcrafted soap for a gift. It was a little round bar that contained oats and peppermint essential oil. And my first thought was, “That’s nice, but I can’t use it because I have this crazy hypersensitive skin.” But I tried it anyway, knowing that I might wind up with itchy hives. I LOVED it, and NO hives! While peppermint wasn’t the scent I would have chosen for myself, it is really an eye-opener in the morning shower! And my husband loved it, too. He generally doesn’t care what soap is in the soap dish; he will use whatever is there. That day, he did remark on how much he loved the scent.
The only drawback to that lovely peppermint oatmeal soap is that it lasted only one week in the shower before it dissolved into nothing. I was so disappointed. I did tell my co-worker how much I loved the soap, and she found me another bar. Silly, how giddy I got about a bar of soap! But the second bar didn’t last any longer than the first one. And then I wondered if I could make it better. Hmmmmm…
So I tell my husband, “Hey, I think I want to learn to make soap.” He says, “That’s a great idea!” Well, I’m immediately suspicious, because he NEVER likes my ideas. He’s said on more than one occasion, “That’s an idea fraught with estrogen!” So, I had to wonder why he was so in love with the idea of me learning to make soap. His reply was, “In a grid-down situation, soap will be currency.” And there you have it. I got his blessing, because we may need to barter in a SHTF situation, and we have yet to grow anything edible at all, unless you count dandelions.
We made the first batch together, because back then I was terrified of working with lye (obviously, I’ve overcome that fear). That first batch was terribly ugly. We used a one-quart creamer carton for our mold. I wanted a citrus-scented soap, but didn’t know back then that citrus scent is difficult to fix in soap – not impossible, but not easy. So it wasn’t incredibly scent-filled, but it lathered and cleaned and lasted in the shower WAY LONGER than a week! Win!
Then I was hooked. I wanted to make more soap. I spent every bit of disposable income on supplies, and covered every horizontal surface with curing soap – did you know it takes 4-6 weeks to cure cold process bar soap? I had to start giving soap away, and some friends actually bought some.
The owner of the local hardware store knew I was buying lye (5 lbs at a time) to make soap, and said one day, “We need to put your soap in our store.” Wow! I was over the moon! Somebody liked me! Since those early days of soapmaking, I’ve learned so much and have refined my basic formula to one I really like and one on which I receive wonderful feedback. I do have a few other bars that are different, but I like to fill them all with skin-loving oils and butters.
It’s not that manufactured bars are bad, but many of them are not legally soap. The legal definition of soap is “the alkali salt of a fatty acid.” You mix fat with lye, you get soap. There’s a chemical reaction – saponification – that transforms that fat and lye into soap. And what handcrafted soapmakers do is we reduce the amount of lye needed to saponify the fat so that what remains is enough extra fat, whether oils or butters, to be friendly to your skin. Many people don’t realize is that a great deal of manufacturers remove the glycerin, a natural byproduct of the saponification process, and a wonderful skin softener, and they use it in other products like lotions, creams, or cosmetics. Handcrafted soap, on the other hand, includes the glycerin in the bar, leaving your skin moisturized and soft.
If you’ve never tried a bar of handcrafted soap before, I encourage you to give it a try and I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised!