Cleansing Skin with Herbal Soap

Nothing leaves your skin feeling quite as squeaky clean as soap and water washing. The light, frothy lather dissolves oils, dislodges dirt and loosens dead skin cells so the whole lot can be rinsed away.

So why has soap had such bad press? Concerns spring from soap's alkaline pH which can disturb the skin's acid mantle, leaving it sus­ceptible to moisture loss and easy prey to harmful bacteria. But soaps vary enormously. There's a vast difference between commercial soaps made from animal fats and perfumed with synthetic scents which may indeed dehydrate the skin, and those made from good-quality, nourishing vegetable oils like olive and avocado with the fresh scent of pure essential oils.

Soaps containing 70 per cent olive oil are so lubricating that they cleanse without drying the skin. Any disturbance in pH value is quickly cor­rected by spraying the skin with a mildly acidic toner (just add a few drops of lemon juice or cider vinegar to your floral water). Splashing the skin at least ten times with pure, preferably spring water removes soapy residues which may cause irritation. When taking a bath, spray your body all over with fresh water before patting dry with a towel.

If you don't like the feel of vegetable-oil soap, a clear glycerine-based variety may be a better option. Glycerine has humectant or water-attract­ing properties that keep the skin soft and moist.

Foaming gels and lotions can be made to match the skin's pH but some rely on strange-sounding chemicals to do so. Most skin washes contain varying amounts of an oil-dissolving ingredient called sodium lauryl sulphate which doubles as an industrial detergent. The best preparations are primarily a mix of herbal infusions, vegetable oils and plant extracts, with minimal amounts of this foaming agent.

Herbal Soaps

Making your own soap from scratch is tricky and time consuming. There are some wonderful pure soaps around that are hard to beat, but you might like to try grating down some pure, unscented vegetable soap and blending it with your own flower or herb infusion. To about 115g (4oz) soap gratings, add 1 cup of infusion and heat in a bowl over a saucepan of boiling water until it turns into a thick paste. At this stage you can add some honey for extra softness or oatmeal to make an exfoliating bar, and up to 8 drops of your favorite essential oil. If you are using a rose petal infusion, enhance the perfume with some rose otto. Spoon the mixture into a mould - seashells and star shapes are fun - and leave overnight to set. Turn out of the mould, wrap in greaseproof paper and store in the airing cupboard or another warm, dark place for a few days.

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