Before we can talk about the ingredients in our soaps, we need to understand what soap is. Remember chemistry? Ugh, you say? Trust me, if I could have learned chemistry by making soap, it would have been a fun class! Soap is a salt. When sodium hydroxide (lye) combines with fatty acids through a process called saponification, a salt (the soap) is produced along with glycerin and a small percentage of unsaponifiables.
Some of what we buy at the store and we think is soap is not really soap but rather detergent bars. They are not made of fatty acids and sodium hydroxide but with detergents. Next time, check the label. Only real soap can be labeled soap. Detergent bars will often be labeled beauty bars, moisturizing bars, facial bars or cleansing bars.
Glycerin is great stuff. It is a humectant, meaning it draws moisture to your skin, keeping your skin from drying out. Commercial soaps usually remove the glycerin because the glycerin can bring more money in other uses. With handmade soap, the glycerin is a by product and remains, increasing the moisturizing property of the soap. The oils that do not combine with the sodium hydroxide and turn into salt are called unsaponifiables and they also add a richness to the handmade soap. Just to be clear, soap is meant to clean. It is not a moisturizing lotion. But, the glycerin and remaining fatty acids will help reduce the drying effect often found in commercial soaps. So let's talk about some of the ingredients you will find in Artwork Soaps.
Sodium Hydroxide (Lye)
I only use food grade lye in the soaps I make. The lye in our soaps is the same lye that can be used to make pretzels! But one thing to remember, however, is that after saponification, no lye remains. All of the sodium hydroxide has been combined with the fatty acids and has produced the soap. Just to be sure, before we sell it, all of the soap is tested to make sure the ph is correct.
Oils and Butters
These are the fatty acids that are combined with the sodium hydroxide to make soap. There are many, many fatty acids. Coconut, olive, avocado, apricot kernel, sweet almond and babassu are just a few of the vegetable oils. Lard and tallow are two of the animal fatty acids. Some of the butters, (which are really just fatty acids that are solid at room temperature) are cocoa, mango, shea, and kokum. All of them bring various qualities to the soap depending on their fatty acid profiles. To give you an example, coconut oil has a large amount of lauric and myristic fatty acids which increase the amount of bubbles in the lather. Tallow adds to the hardness of soap, making it last longer. Castor oil adds to a more stable lather. At Artwork Soaps I've worked hard to combine these fatty acid profiles into a soap, that among other things, cleans without stripping the oil mantle from your skin, has a creamy lather, and provides a luxurious bathing experience.
Palm and Palm Kernel Oil
Some of my soaps use palm oil. Palm oil is wonderful for creating a hard, long lasting bar of soap. For people who are vegan, or anyone wanting an all vegetable oil based soap, palm oil is a good choice. Palm kernel oil is similar to coconut and produces large fluffy bubbles. Some people who are allergic to coconut oil prefer palm kernel oil. But the use of palm and palm kernel oil has often come under fire from environmentalists who are concerned that the effects of producing it will destroy the orangutan's natural habitat. That is why the palm oil and palm kernel oil I use comes from a Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) member.
At Artwork Soaps I use both natural and cosmetic grade synthetic colorants. Natural would be colorants such as tumeric, alkanet powder, and cocoa among others. Synthetic colorants are the micas, oxides and ultramarines. There is a great deal of confusion in the beauty industry concerning synthetic colorants. In short, while micas, oxides and ultramarines are naturally derived from the earth, the ones used in cosmetic makeup (even makeup labeled as natural mineral makeup) and in soap and other beauty products are all synthetically produced in a lab. And hurray for that! The oxides and ultramarines have been made in a lab since the 1970's to avoid harmful contaminants such as lead and arsenic and since the 1960's micas have been synthetically made because they are extremely expensive to mine and produce and are reserved for the electronics industry. Since soap is a wash on, wash off product, most people have no trouble with cosmetic grade colorant in soap.
I use both essential oil and fragrance oils, and often a blend of the two. Some of the fragrance oils are plant based (meaning derived from raw botanical sources) and others are synthetic. All synthetic fragrances are phthalate free.
Our soaps use a variety of liquids: water, goat's milk, buttermilk, whole milk, beer, and aloe vera juice among others. The water is distilled, eliminating any minerals and impurities found in tap water. Goat's milk and buttermilk, even whole cow's milk are wonderful for skin as the ph of milk soaps is very close to the natural ph of human skin. This results in a gentle product that is not harsh or irritating. Milk also contains lactic acid which in low concentrations is a gentle exfoliant. Beer and aloe vera juice contain natural sugars which contribute to bubbly lather.
There are so many additives that can be added to soap. Too many to describe right here. But two that I love to use are various type of clays--French Green, Kaolin, Bentonite and others. Clays are wonderful for adding a silk glide to soap. And speaking of silk, the tussah silk used in our soap is cruelty free, meaning no silkworms were harmed in the making of the silk we use!