Lately, I have grown more aware of what goes into my makeup and skincare products. I try to select cosmetics that are free of synthetic chemicals and preservatives. I’ve even switched from using face wash to a bar of handmade soap to wash my face. I asked my friend Rebecca Bullard, founder and soap maker of Oceanside Naturals, to share more about the soap making process and the benefits of using bar of handmade soaps.
How did you get into soap making?
I was wandering around a craft store, browsing aisle by aisle. (Seriously I could live in there!) I happened upon a soap making kit with everything necessary to make a few bars of soap. I really enjoyed making it and continued to dabble with this process called melt and pour and then spent more time researching and learning about soap. I joined several soapmaking groups on Facebook, which opened a whole new world and community to explore.
I couldn’t learn enough! I began sourcing my soap base from the best manufacturer and realized my hobby was getting pricey and there were many factors that I couldn’t control and experiment with unless I moved to a cold process. I was nervous to try a new process because accurate measures are vital with the cold process. But, after my first few batches of cold process, I was hooked.
What does the soapmaking process look like? How long does it take to create a bar of Oceanside Naturals?
There is a lot of planning and prepping before starting. First I craft a formulation, run it through a lye calculator and lay out all ingredients, tools, safety equipment and turn on some good tunes. Once I get started on my batch, I can’t walk away, so I try to have everything I could possibly need laid out first.
Depending on method, some of these steps may be done in a different order. First and most important, have personal protective equipment (PPE). For me this means closed toe shoes, long pants, apron, long rubber gloves and a full face shield.
Next I prepare the lye (sodium hydroxide) solution. I weigh out the water first, tare the scale and sprinkle lye carefully into the water. This will begin a chemical reaction and will heat up rapidly. I have my oils, butters, fats (common oils/fats I use are coconut oil, olive oil, lard, cocoa butter, castor bean oil) measured out in another bowl or bucket.
Then I carefully pour the lye solution into the oils and mix gently until all solids are melted. I use an immersion blender to emulsify the batter. At this time additional ingredients like herbs, clays and essential oils are added.
The batter is then poured into a mold and left sit for a few days. Saponification is the name for the chemical reaction that takes place when the sodium hydroxide and oils are combined and become soap. The soap is removed from the mold, cut into bars and left to cure for 6 weeks. The long cure time allows water to evaporate out and become harder. Over time the soap becomes more mild too.
I would say every batch of soap has about 2+ hours of hands-on time (making, cutting and labeling) and 6 weeks cure time. Plus even more time if you count researching, formulating, prepping, clean up, photographing, listing on the website, packing and shipping! It’s a long process, a labor of love, and it’s all done by my hands.
Why use natural soap over a face wash?
Why have two products when you can have just one? Handmade soaps (especially fragrance free) should be very mild. Many soap makers also formulate bars specifically for the face with added goodies like activated charcoal, clays, pine tar or neem oil.
How do you select the best bar for your skin type?
Honestly, almost any handmade soap is going to be substantially better for your skin than harsh or overly drying commercial soaps and body washes. Handmade soaps typically have naturally occurring glycerin in addition to additional oils to prevent soap from being too drying. The best bet is to ask the soap maker for their recommendations, just keep in mind they legally cannot make any medicinal claims (per FDA).
What ingredients should we look out for when purchasing soap?
This depends on your values. If you’re vegan, you would choose a soap made without lard, tallow, or honey. If you’re an earth-lover, avoid palm oil due to sustainability and deforestation issues. If you have sensitive skin, avoid fragrance and store-bought soap.
Independent of any special conditions, I would always look to avoid soap containing detergents such as sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate (SLS/SLES), heavily fragranced soap, triclosan, diethanolamine (DEA), parabens or any unnecessary preservatives (hard bar soap needs no preservatives).
What’s your favorite soap?
I really like sea salt soap bars which are made with saltwater (distilled water + sea salts), also known as “soleseife” or brine soap. They are made with a very high percentage of coconut oil and create a very bubbly lather. The saltwater creates an almost velvety smooth bar. This is the first type of cold process soap I ever made. I also love any of my soaps with a lavender/lemon essential oil combination, my favorite aroma combo.
Rebecca, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and passion for soap making! I’m surprised to learn just how much goes into making soap. Is there anything that surprised you?