Thursday, January 29, 2015

Animal Products in Soap: Fair Game, or Super Lame?

Let me get this out of the way.  I'm not vegan.  Or vegetarian.  In fact, I'm gnawing on a turkey leg while I type this.  Okay, I'm not, but you get the idea.  While I immensely enjoy eating meat (to a fault), the vast majority of my soaps are vegan or vegetarian. I make the distinction clearly in my online product descriptions and in the ingredient listing on the labels.  In fact, the only animal products that I use in soap making are honey, and occasionally, beeswax or milk.  I felt like I needed to examine the duality of not being opposed to (responsible) animal products, but having an aversion to using them in my soaps.

Some soap makers swear by animal fats like lard, beef tallow, and even bacon grease in their soap. The times that I've experimented with animal fats in my soap, they make an excellent bar of soap!  I get a nice hard, white bar that doesn't smell greasy or funky when cured.  Still, I find that customers seem a little bit put off by the idea of animal fats in soap.  Could it be because of the connotation that the "experts" have espoused over the years that eating animal fats is bad for us?

There's a huge segment of the population that is very concerned with animal cruelty, and rightly so. However, as another blogger pointed out, animals generally are killed for meat, not for their fat.  By that estimation, using animal fat for soap seems to reduce the waste produced by the meat industry, not perpetuate it.  Even plant-based sources of fats aren't off the hook in terms of animal cruelty controversy. Palm oil is a hotly debated ingredient in the soap making world, as its cultivation is credited with destroying rainforest land and orangutan habitats.  (For the record, I only purchase palm oil from suppliers who are participants in the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an organization aimed at promoting environmentally sustainable palm oil production.)

Although almost all of my soaps are vegan, I can't say that I really have a moral concern with animal products in soap (so long as they're procured responsibly).  I do however, find that I enjoy working with plant-based oils more, and that my customers seem to prefer them.  What are your thoughts on animal products in soap?  Are you just looking for the best bar of soap possible, regardless of ingredients? Do animal fats in soap go against your values, or just gross you out?  Does it matter one way or the other?  Please comment below!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pics From the Drying Rack, Part 1

I've made a ton of soap in the past couple of weeks, and have tried a few new techniques and tools. It's always fun to learn new things!  Here are just a few of the soaps from my drying rack.

Cappuccino Soap

Bliss Soap.  It's a very subtle scent, made to look like a blue sky with light clouds.  

Beer Soap, made with Rogue Dead Guy Ale.

Apple Rose Soap, meant to look like rose buds in a garden.

Oatmeal Honey Soap, a tried and true favorite.  I made this one with handmade almond milk.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Why Use Handmade Soap?

I have a fear, which inevitably, is going to come to fruition.  One day I'm going to be selling my handmade soaps at a craft fair or farmer's market, and someone is going to ask me what's so great about handmade soap that they should pay $6.00 a bar for it, rather than just picking up a bar of Ivory at the drug store for $1.49.  I know the question is coming, and my fear is that I'm going to talk the poor person's ear off with more information than they asked for!

To be a responsible business owner and salesperson, I can't tell them that my own skin now requires a fraction of the lotion that it once did, or that my handmade soaps helped my son's itchiness from eczema improve, or that a family's member's acne improved (even though it's all true!).  I'm not selling snake oil here, and I certainly don't want to impart the idea that handmade soap is going to cure every person's every dermis-related ill.  

Personal anecdotes aside, there are many, many compelling reasons that paying that $6.00 per bar for lovingly made, natural, handmade soap is worth it!  Below is an excerpt from an article that eBay user bubearjrs wrote (which they have graciously allowed me to reiterate here in my own blog) outlining some of those reasons.  Make sure to check out their eBay store!

Why use natural handmade soap?

The benefits of using handmade soap are many: simpler ingredients, fewer chemicals, natural vegetable oils instead of animal fats. All these things are important to many people today. The reasons to use a more natural, handmade product are not always obvious, however. Read on to learn more.

We live in a day and age where the technological advances are many. Cell phones, microwave breakfast, instant potatoes, digital TV, radios the size of a credit card.... Many of these advances are there to make our lives easier. However, when it comes to skin care and the ingredients you put on your skin, technology is probably not what you had in mind!

Why is Handmade Natural Soap so special?

Natural soaps are made in a time-honored fashion. It involves a very simple chemical reaction between oils (or fats) and lye (sodium hydroxide for bars). All soap is made with lye, but there is no lye in the finished product. The chemical reaction converts the lye/fat mixture to glycerin. The glycerin is a natural by-product and, as such, the relationship between the soap molecule and the glycerin means you have a cleanser with abundant, luxurious lather that cleans like nothing else. As a bonus, it does not strip your skin of its natural, protective oils. 

Commercially made soap usually contains detergents, fillers, chemicals, petroleum, high animal fat content (read: sodium tallowate) and irritants like SLS or SLES (sulfates). Commercially made soap tends to be less eco-friendly as well. While commercially manufactured soap usually costs less, the impact on your skin and the environment is shocking.

Natural handmade soaps are made with natural oils, have a high glycerin content, are better for the environment with no detergents, phosphates or sulfates, and are never tested on animals.

Why is Glycerin Important? 

Glycerin is a humectant. It attracts moisture and gives it back to your skin. In natural and handmade soap making processes, one molecule of glycerin is created for every three molecules of soap. Commercial soap makers often remove the glycerin from their soap and then sell it to the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. With natural soaps, however, all of the naturally occurring glycerin remains intact along with all its skin-nourishing benefits. 

When and how did soap-making begin?

Until about a century ago, all soap was made from animal fats, and much of it was made at home. Families would save the lard from butchering animals to make soap. Lye was made from the ashes from the fireplace or pit. However, in 1916, the first synthetic soap (detergent) was made. This occurred because of a shortage of animal fats, or tallow, during World War I. From that point on, synthetic soaps became popular with women eager to free themselves from yet another exhausting household chore.

Today, however, we not only understand the process of natural soap making better, there are a wide variety of natural oils and ingredients available. Making handmade natural soap has never been easier, and you don't have to use animal fats to do it. This is great news for vegetarians, vegans and those just wanting a more natural alternative to the "detergent" we us on our hair, our skin and in the sink!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Apple Rose Soap Using 'In the Pot' & 'Drop Swirl' Techniques

I just made a big batch of Apple Rose soap using a fun technique that gave some great results. Not only does the soap smell incredible (I used a 50/50 combination of Gingham Apple and Rose Garden fragrance oils from WSP), but the finished bars turned out looking even better than I had hoped.

Apple Rose soap in the mold, topped with a swirly design.
For this soap, I wanted subtle colors and a soft swirl that would complement the feminine scent and evoke the impression of fresh roses and greenery.  After blending my lye water, fats, and fragrance into a very thin trace I divided the soap into two containers (roughly 50/50, but one ended up a little larger than the other).  With each of the two containers, I parsed out approximately 1/3 into smaller containers.  Now I had four containers; two larger ones, and two smaller ones.

For colors, I used rose kaolin clay and titanium dioxide for one of the smaller containers, and a green oxide mixed with titanium dioxide for the other small container.  As you can see, it resulted in a light pink and a minty green.  With both of my colors mixed in the small containers, I proceeded to do an in the pot swirl into each of my larger containers (one green, one pink).  If you're not familiar with how an "in the pot" swirl goes, Bramble Berry's Soap Queen does a nice tutorial here.  It's pretty basic, but results in some lovely soap designs.

Now with my two large containers swirled in the pot, I poured my green combination into the mold. I then drop swirled my pink mixture into the mold.  (Here's a drop swirl tutorial if you're unfamiliar with the technique.)  Lastly, I swirled the top a little bit with my chop stick and put the mold to bed.

I cut the loaf today, and was so pleased with the results!  I think after some curing, the finished product will look even better.

Apple Rose soap, reminiscent of a rose bud.

This bar of Apple Rose soap looks like the silhouette of a tree against a sunset to me.
Yay for trying new things!  Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Year, New Packaging

Happy New Year!  2014 saw the beginning of my business, Emily's Handmade Soaps, and I'm looking forward to exciting developments in 2015.  So far this year I've been working on finding more retail venues for wholesaling my soaps, new packaging, and of course, making soap.  With my kids out of school for two weeks over the holidays, I feel like I really got behind with soap production!  It's a good thing that Santa brought me a giant new wooden mold and custom cutter so that I can streamline my processes a bit.  Any soap makers out there looking for an amazing, custom made soap cutter should look no further than Bud Haffner.  His work is the definition of craftsmanship and quality!

With my gorgeous new mold came a little bit of a problem. It makes soap that is slightly more square than rectangular.  It makes for a very cool design element, but I found that my soap would no longer fit into the kraft boxes that I had been using!  Dilemmas, dilemmas.

My old packaging.  These little boxes were so handy!
In the spirit of the New Year (and with some helpful packaging suggestions from friends), I decided out with the old, in with the new!  While I loved the little kraft boxes because of their ease of use and recyclable-ness (recyclability? I think I just made up a new word), I ultimately decided to shift to a more elegant look with the organza bags.  They're not recyclable, but they are incredibly reusable for so many things (and they smell absolutely enchanting after storing soap in them)!

In the process, I redesigned my tags and logo, too!  I hope that this new design will make the packaging process a little bit less cumbersome.  I love making soap, and weirdly, I love the business end of things, too (yes, even tax filing, ESPECIALLY tax filing!).  My least favorite part of my business is the graphic design element.  I think I've spent more than a few hours monkeying around with fonts, labels, graphics, and pictures over the past few months.  Not my strong suit!  My hope is that this new design is simple and elegant enough to be a keeper.

So, although it's not real bubbly, here's a picture of my new Pink Champagne soap as a big Cheers! to 2015.

Pink Champagne soap.  Cheers to 2015!