Who makes the soap?

I do! I make everything in small batches in my workshop in Decatur, GA. I’ve been making soap since 2000. It was just a hobby until 2012, although people had encouraged me to sell it for years. Finally, my husband pointed out that since we had more soap than we or our family could ever use in our lifetime, I needed to sell it!

What are your products made from?

I use plant-based oils and butters to make my soap and lotion. The most common oils I use are olive, coconut, rice bran, apricot kernel, and castor oil. I also use shea, cocoa, and mango butter. I use essential oils and fragrance oils to scent the soap and cosmetic mica as well as natural colorants to color it. Lip balm ingredients include beeswax, apricot kernel oil, cocoa butter, shea butter, coconut oil, and argan oil.

My soap contains a variety of additives as well, but don't let the word "additive" worry you. The additives in my soap include sodium lactate, kaolin clay, and colloidal oatmeal. Here's why I've chosen to include them. Sodium lactate is a kind of salt. It has two key properties that bath and body makers like; it is moisturizing when used in small amounts and it helps to make a harder bar of soap. Since my products do not contain animal fats or palm oil which contribute to a hard bar of soap (see more on that below), this is pretty important. Kaolin clay is a natural mineral which helps to draw out impurities in the skin and also help the product's scent to last longer. Colloidal oatmeal is known for its soothing abilities and I include it to help create a very gentle bar of soap.

Yes, I also use lye. More on that below.

I heard you have to use lye to make soap?!! Isn’t that dangerous?

It is chemically impossible to make soap without lye (sodium hydroxide). Soap is the result of a specific chemical reaction between sodium hydroxide (a base) and fats/oils (an acid). When ingredients are combined in the proper amounts, the end result is soap + glycerin. There isn't any lye left after the saponification reaction as it has been transformed into soap. More on the glycerin below.

Lye is a caustic chemical that can be dangerous to use if you are not careful. But you can use it safely if you follow certain precautions such as wearing goggles and gloves, making sure you are in a well-ventilated area away from distractions and measuring very carefully. It’s applied chemistry and it is awesome!

But I’ve seen soap labels that don’t say lye!

That’s possible, but it's a bit deceptive. In cases where a soap label doesn’t say lye or sodium hydroxide, it will often say something like, “saponified oils of…” That’s what people put when they don’t want to say lye. Technically, it’s true but it really isn’t correct labeling. Other soaps might say something like, “sodium tallowate” or “sodium cocoate”. That’s just fancy speak for soap made from tallow and soap made from coconut oil.

I use the analogy of baking when talking about soap. If you are making a cake you have to use baking soda or powder. You can’t make one without it. But in the end, there isn’t any baking soda or powder left—it’s been transformed into a cake.

Is your soap vegetarian?

Yes. Most are vegan as well. The only animal products I use are beeswax and goat’s milk (in two soaps—Oatmeal Goat’s Milk and Not So Plain Jane).

Animal products such as tallow or lard do make a great soap, but I’ve found that most of my customers prefer vegetarian.

Why is handmade soap better than Dove or something else I can get at Walmart?

Soap from Walmart may be cheaper but it’s not better. The ingredients, time, research and skill necessary to formulate and create a good (and beautiful!) bar of soap cost money. The price I charge for my soap reflects these costs but I believe it is a fair price. Most of the soap sold at large retail stores is not a true “soap”; it is a chemical detergent. Yes, some detergents are gentler than others (like Dove) but they're still a detergent.

Remember the soap making reaction? Oils (acid) + lye (base) = soap + glycerin. The glycerin softens your skin and draws in moisture. Commercial soap making companies frequently extract that glycerin and sell it as a by-product. So most commercial products either don’t have the glycerin or they add some of it back later, which is a bit silly, don’t you think?

I use food grade olive oil and organic unrefined shea butter in my soap. You won't find that in Dove or other commercial brands. I also don't use cheap oils or fats such as palm, tallow or lard. My soaps are made with a blend of oils and each one has its own unique properties in soap. For example, coconut oil cleans really well. Olive oil is very gentle; shea butter is moisturizing, etc. The soap maker will develop a recipe that chooses certain oils in the right proportion to formulate a soap that has the exact qualities they want.

How can I make my soap last longer?

Keep it dry! Use a soap dish! The glycerin in handmade soap attracts water so it is easier for your soap to dissolve. Don't let it sit in a puddle of water. When you’re finished using it, make sure it is placed on a well-drained soap dish.

I have sensitive skin. What should I use?

All my soap is very gentle and designed to be good for your body or face. However, I do have one bar that has no fragrance, if you worry about that. I don’t make any medical claims about any of my products. If you are concerned that a soap might be irritating, you could try it on your hands first before using it on your face or body.

I don’t like strong smelling soap.

There’s always Not So Plain Jane, which is unscented. If you want something with a subtle scent try Earl GrayOatmeal Goat's Milk, or Zanzibar Spice. These are more lightly scented soaps.

Is your soap organic?

Not entirely—many soap making oils are difficult or cost-prohibitive to get organically. When economically feasible, I will gladly use them! Currently, I use organic cocoa butter and organic shea butter. And, of course, everything is handcrafted and made in small batches. 

What about allergens?

My products contain shea butter, which can cause an allergic reaction in people with tree nut allergies. If you have a severe allergy, it’s probably better to be safe than sorry. 

Do you use palm oil?

No. While palm oil is a common, affordable and very useful soap making oil, it comes with an unexpected cost. Palm oil plantations are responsible for a huge amount of rainforest destruction in Indonesia and Malaysia. The majority of these plantations sit atop land which previously was rainforest with a soil composed of dense carbon-rich peat. As the forest is cut, the peat below dries out and becomes extremely flammable which facilitates preparing the land for farming. Peat bogs can burn underground for weeks and even months resulting in very poor air quality and smoke that can travel for hundreds of miles. The burning also releases massive amounts of carbon, twice that of a traditional forest. The practice has had dire consequences for native animal habitats (particularly the endangered orangutan) in addition to contributing to global warming. Organizations are trying to resolve the issue and some companies are becoming independently certified as sustainable. However, because of the difficulty in enforcing sustainability, I chose to reformulate my bar soap recipes without it. 

But, for the record, the vast majority of palm oil is used by the food industry, not soap making. To learn more about the palm oil industry, please visit here, here, here and here.

Is it “all natural”?

Oooh, a loaded question!!! There’s no accepted definition of “all natural”. Unless you’re making your lye from wood ash (something I would not recommend because it’s highly imprecise) you have to use a chemical. There’s just no way around that. But my soap IS made with fresh, high-quality ingredients and I try to minimize any unnecessary ingredients, shortcuts, etc. My soap is also made in small batches (20 pounds or less) by a real person, not a machine.

What about phthalates?

Another tricky question! Phthalates are chemical compounds found in some fragrance oils. Some folks worry that they could be harmful, but there isn’t strong evidence supporting that theory. Still, nearly all of the fragrances I use are phthalate free. After researching them (and also parabens) in-depth I, personally, feel they are safe. However, if this is something important to a customer, I will steer them to my soaps which have only essential oils, such as Rosemary Mint, Springtime, Lavender, or Not So Plain Jane (unscented)