Who makes the soap?
I do! I make everything in small batches in my kitchen 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. The most common ones I use are olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, rice bran oil and castor oil. I also use shea butter and cocoa butter. I use essential oils and fragrance oils to scent the soap and cosmetic mica as well as natural colorants to color it. My most common oils/ butters for lotion are apricot kernel cocoa butter and mango butter. Lip balm ingredients include beeswax, apricot kernel oil, avocado oil, cocoa butter, shea butter, jojoba oil and coconut oil.
Yes, I use lye too. 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 derived from 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. More on the glycerin later.
Lye is a 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 place 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 left—it’s been transformed into 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.
Do you use any premade bases or products?
For the most part, no. I make nearly everything 100% from scratch. The only exception is a glycerin soap base (also called melt and pour) which I use for the lego-type soap. Sticking with my baking analogy, it’s a bit like making a cake from scratch vs. cake decorating. Neither are “better” than the other per se, they’re just different.
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 make 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 soap you get at a store is not a true “soap”; it is a chemical detergent. Sure some are gentler than others (like Dove) but a handmade soap is superior. Remember the soap making reaction? Oils (acid) + lye (base) = soap + glycerin. The glycerin softens your skin and draws in moisture. Commercial soap making companies extract that glycerin and sell it as a by-product. So most commercial soaps either don’t have the glycerin or they add some of it back in later, which is a bit silly, don’t you think?
Also, handcrafted soap uses higher quality materials. Most soaps are made with a blend of oils. Each one of those oils has its own unique qualities 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 quantity 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. When you’re done using it, make sure it is 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 Gray, Oatmeal Goat's Milk, Zanzibar Spice or Amber Vanilla. 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! I do use organic cocoa butter, some organic shea butter (I'm switching over to that) and am always looking for organic ingredients. And everything is handcrafted and locally made.
What about allergens?
Many of my soaps contain shea butter, which can cause an allergic reaction in people with tree nut allergies. While I do have some soap without shea butter, there are nuts in my house so if you have a severe allergy it’s probably better to be safe than sorry.
Do you use palm oil?
I try not to. Palm oil is a common (and really great) soap making oil, however, there’s a lot of concern about palm oil plantations in Indonesia destroying the habitat of orangutans. People are trying to resolve the issue and some companies are independently certified as sustainable. However, because of the difficulty enforcing sustainability, I decided 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. Some other ingredients can be derived from palm oil and I do use those in limited quantities. These include stearic acid (used in lotion and shaving soap) and cetyl alcohol (lotion). There is also palm oil in the glycerin soap base used for the Lego soaps.
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 loaded 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 most 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, blackjack, springtime, lavender, patchouli citrus or good ole unscented.