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Making Your Own Bath and Body Soap: Getting Started
To this day, the scent of rose brings back memories of the translucent pink sheets of soap paper I peeled from a match-sized booklet. I savored each one, rationing them out so they would last for the eternity of an elementary school year. That soap was an introduction to the beauty of things easily overlooked: what is common and utilitarian does not have to look dull and uninteresting. Some of the most attractive things around us can be precisely those things that we see every day. For example: soap.
Making bath and body soap is a creative activity that can turn the most mundane kitchen or bathroom experience into a pleasant and happy one: washing with a translucent angelfish, scrubbing clean in the tub with an oatmeal and lavender soap bar, or slowly uncovering a rubber duck from within a soap square.
There is also another benefit: making your own melt-and-pour soap is a terrific way to know that your soap is as safe for your body as it can be. Some individuals are highly sensitive to the chemical additives found in many bath and body soaps and soap fragrances. In addition, such additives can be harmful and are not necessary for good quality soap. You might look out for lathering ingredients with the word lauryl or laureth in them, since they contain 1,4-dioxane, which can be carcinogenic. Making your own bath and body soap is a way to keep such irritants away from your body and ensure that every ingredient in your soap is safer.
Melt-and-pour bath and body soaps take only a short time to make. In fact, the simplest type of bar can be made in about twenty minutes. The ingredients are readily available over the internet and in some retail craft stores. Since the health benefits of making your own soap come largely from your control over what it contains, you should choose a brand of soap base that discloses its ingredients.
Ingredients and Proportions
- Melt-and-pour glycerin soap base
- Scent (optional)
- Other optional additives
- Measuring Spoon
- Double Boiler
Melt-and-pour glycerin soap base-opaque or transparent-is sold by the pound. It comes in bricks that can be easily sliced with a knife into smaller pieces. One pound of glycerin will make about ten large bars of soap.
Colorant and scent are both optional with melt-and-pour soap. The glycerin soap base is the main ingredient and can stand on its own as a gentle cleanser. If you are particularly sensitive, you might want to avoid using any extra additives, scents in particular.
The final strength of a scent can be difficult to gauge, depending on when during the process it is added and how much is used. Some scents are naturally stronger than others, so if you do choose to use a fragrance, begin with about ¼ teaspoon per pound of glycerin to be safe. You can always add more if you need to. Fragrances can include perfumes, lotions, herbs or teas, or essential oils. Essential oils differ from fragrance oils; essential oils are derived entirely from plants, and fragrance oils are made in a lab. However, reactions to scents are always individual; just because a scent is from a plant does not mean that it's less irritating. Some plant essences are considered to be irritants of the same strength as formaldehyde!
Cosmetic grade scents are another option. They have been approved by the FDA, who takes into account many types of allergic reactions. They can be bought through many soap suppliers, but remember that even cosmetic grade scents can cause reactions in highly sensitive people.
Scents can also work as colorants. Vanilla scents, for example, will often turn the glycerin to a brown shade over the course of a few weeks.
Finally, remember that each scent burns off at a different temperature, depending on the alcohol content and other variables. For this reason, cooling the soap before adding fragrance will help to retain the fragrance you add.
The list of optional soap additives is nearly endless: vitamin oils, dried lavender, shea butter, and cosmetic glitter, to name a few. How much to add depends on what you're adding. Too much oil will cause the soap to lather poorly, for example, and too much dried lavender will make the soap too thick. To avoid consistency problems, you should begin with sparing amounts, adding between 1/4 tablespoon to 2 tablespoons of any oil per pound, and up to about one cup of lavender or other dry ingredient per pound of soap base. The best way to gauge additives is to experiment a little, or read instructions and guidelines from your soap supplier.
Soap molds come in hundreds of varieties. In addition to molds designed specifically for soap making, cookie cutters, gelatin molds, ice cube trays, and other flexible plastic containers will work.
Tip: Keep some extra molds around to pour surplus colored soap into. This way unused soap can be either re-melted or used to embed in other bars of soap.
The advantage of using a double boiler is that the pan is heated by steam, which is a less intense source of heat than a direct flame or burner coil. This means there is less chance that the contents of the pan will come to a boil or scald. Heating glycerin to boiling may cause it to cloud, so it's best to watch the pot carefully. Having more than one double boiler while making soap is very helpful since it allows you to work with more than one color at a given time. It is possible to create a makeshift double boiler by placing a large metal bowl over a saucepan.