What to Look for in a Handmade Soap
Why Is Handmade Soap Better Than Commercial Soap?
Did you know that in the process of making most commercially sold soaps, the glycerine, which is the main moisturizing ingredient, is removed? Did you know that many have alcohol or other caustic ingredients? Or that the color additives can be damaging to the skin?
About three years ago, I was browsing on eBay and came across some handmade soaps. I am very sensitive to smell, so I appreciate a fragrant soap, and this soap maker was describing how nice her natural soaps smelled. I decided to order. Since then, I have never used commercial soap again!
Yes, handmade soaps will cost you more than the store-bought stuff. But, to me, it is well worth the extra money to have a product that is all natural, eco-friendly, good for my skin, and full of rich lather and intoxicating fragrance, especially a product that I use every day!
This article will break down what to look for when you're thinking of purchasing some homemade soaps, how they're made, and what the best ingredients are.
How Is Soap Made?
There are various processes by which soap can be made at home. Having experimented with several soap makers, I can proclaim with some authority that the cold process method yields the highest quality soap.
The cold process involves the careful blending of natural oils such as olive oil, cocoa butter or emu oil, sodium hydroxide as the emulsifier, and a natural liquid, which could be goat's milk, herbal teas, distilled water, or aloe. It is acceptable to buy from a soap maker who uses minimal amounts of preservatives in their soaps. These prevent your natural soap from mold and bacterial growth, and they are still far lower in preservative concentration than you will find in commercially made soaps.
What Are the Best Ingredients?
- Olive oil is a wonderful base for handmade soap. It is gentle and moisturizing to the skin and creates a smooth and silky texture. In fact, olive oil actually absorbs moisture from the air around it, adding additional healing power to its benefits. In addition, it is a well-known antioxidant agent. When you look for handmade soaps to buy, I would recommend trying those with an olive oil base.
- Shea butter is another oil that is wonderfully moisturizing. This buttery substance comes from the seeds of the Africa Shea Tree. It is rich and creamy and has anti-aging properties such as promoting skin cell regeneration and increasing capillary circulation to the skin, which brings nutritious blood to the skin's surface to nourish and heal. It is also rich in vitamins A and E.
- Cocoa butter is another recommended ingredient when you are shopping for handmade soaps. This substance is a very good moisturizer and serves as a barrier to hold moisture under the skin's surface, promoting soft, smooth skin.
- Jojoba oil, tea tree oil, hemp oil, and avocado oil are some other great oils to look for. All of them have benefits for healthier skin and are excellent moisturizers.
- Coconut, palm kernel oil, and castor oil are also often added to create lather and are much better for your skin than the detergents used in store-bought soaps!
- Emu oil is another ingredient I would recommend if you can find a soap maker who uses it. The emu is raised in Australia as a food source. Its oil has been used by the aboriginal people for centuries for its healing properties. In soap, it adds a noticeable richness to the lather, and leaves your skin extra soft and pliable.
My Favorite Handmade Soap
For the liquid base, goat's milk is an excellent alternative to distilled water in the soap making process. Goat milk is high in fat, and its pH level is close to that of human skin, so it isn't harsh like commercial soaps can be. It is also loaded with proteins, enzymes, and vitamin A. Its creamy smooth texture creates a pleasant richness to the handmade soap.
Goat milk soap is my handmade soap of choice because of the rich, milky foam it makes.
Handmade Soaps Are Environmentally Friendly
Handmade, natural soaps are also more eco-friendly than many commercially produced soaps. Their ingredients are all easily bio-degradable and harmless to the water supply.
Additionally, the overuse of antibacterial agents in commercial soaps is known to be contributing to the development of "super-bugs," or bacteria that have adapted to the anti-bacterial soaps and are therefore more virulent and dangerous. There is no need to use an anti-bacterial soap (unless you're a health care provider) to clean your hands and body. A nice rich lather and thorough rinsing will leave your skin plenty clean for normal, everyday purposes
Fragrance and Color
A good soap maker will use essential oils for fragrance, much preferable to the cheap, alcohol-based perfumes used in commercially prepared soaps. Oil-based fragrances are also acceptable, and natural ingredients such as rose petals or herbs can add a natural scent to your soap. In addition, ingredients such as poppy seed, oatmeal, or other grains or plant materials can be added as an exfoliating agent.
Since artificial coloring is not used in natural handmade soaps, your soap may not be the color you would expect it to be. Don't let this put you off! All you need do is hold it up to your nose and sniff, and you'll be convinced of its quality. Some soap makers do use vegetable-based colorants, and this is fine.
Purchasing Your Handcrafted Soap
I would recommend trying a few different soap makers who use the ingredients listed above and the cold process method. When you get your soap, you should be enjoying a rich, sudsy lather that infuses your whole bathroom with its fragrance as you shower, and leaves your skin soft, smooth, gently scented, and free of residue or soap film. My personal favorites are goat's milk or olive oil-based lemon and lavender scented soaps!
Look up the Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild.
The best place to start when looking for handmade soap makers is the Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild. Here you can search by U.S. state as well as Canada and worldwide for soap makers, most of whom have websites listed. These are all soap makers who sell their products online and will mail your selections to you. You might also find local soap makers who may participate in craft shows or farmers markets nearby.
Start out with small samples until you find what you like.
As soaps are fairly heavy items, you may want to try some smaller, sample-sized bars first. Many soap makers offer a selection of discarded pieces of soap from the ends of the soap cakes, which are cut off in the process of shaping the bars. This way, you can sample several varieties, without having to make a major investment in shipping costs in order to try the soap maker's product.
Check out your favorite soap maker's other products.
If you find you like the soap that you order, check your supplier's website for additional products. Many handmade soap makers branch out and create wonderful shower gel, shampoos, body balm, or lip moisturizers. Chances are if they make a quality soap, you'll enjoy their other natural products. And don't forget to shop for men's products as well. There are fabulous scents geared toward men, and you just may convert him to loving homemade soaps!
When you find what you like, consider buying in bulk.
Once you find a soap maker who you like, it is worth it to purchase as many bars at one time as possible to save on the shipping costs. I still think that handmade soaps are worth the extra expense, since I have noticed that these bars are denser than regular soaps and last much longer. Because of this, the expense per bar is not as much as it may seem at first.
So, go ahead! Explore the list of soap makers, look for quality ingredients, and try some luxurious handmade soaps! You deserve it!
Have You or Do You Use Handmade Soaps?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Katharine L Sparrow