Consumer Tips: Selecting Handmade Soap
Consumer tips and suggestions for selecting handmade soaps. What to look for and what to avoid to get the most out of your purchase.
Cold processed and other handmade soaps are more popular today than ever before. No longer found just in specialty bath and body boutiques, these handcrafted soaps are available by mail order, via the world wide web and in some of the discount department store chains.
Handmade soap formulations will vary depending on the soap maker and their individual preferences. With this in mind, here are few of the things we like to see on the ingredients list when choosing a handmade soap:
Look for a soap made from a blend of vegetable oils such as olive, coconut, palm, palm kernel, peanut, soybean or sunflower. These are just a few of the more popular oils used in soap making today.
Olive oil is one of our favorite oils. We feel this oil contributes more to the quality of handmade soap than any other oil used. Olive oil has a very unique quality that it does not interfere with your skin's normal functions and has wonderful moisturizing properties.
The Romans would cleanse their skin by rubbing with olive oil followed by scraping with a scythe shaped instrument called a strigil to remove dirt and grime when bathing.
Look for a lower percentage of coconut oil, as some of our clients with sensitive skin have mentioned that they find pure coconut soaps that are not superfatted will leave their skin feeling dry.
Palm oil or palm kernel oil lends excellent characteristics to handmade soap such as hardness and lather.
Soybean oil is popular, readily available and usually the primary oil used in vegetable shortening. Soaps made from vegetable shortening are much more common today than in the past. Vegetable shortening based soaps may be a little softer than soaps made from other oils.
We prefer soaps made without tallow or animal fats. Tallow can cause your pores to clog as it tends to remain on the surface of your skin in such a way as to almost create a barrier. Tallow is found in commercially produced soaps and is generally listed in its saponified state as sodium tallowate.
Our preference is that no animal products are used, and this includes bees wax, lanolin, tallow, lard, milk and honey. There are many premium handmade soaps available without these ingredients.
Essential oils top the list for scenting soaps. These oils are steam distilled from a botanical base, such as the flowers or leaves of the plant. Citrus essential oils are cold pressed or expeller pressed to extract the oils from the peel of the fruit. Aside from adding bouquet or fragrance, there's an aromatherapy benefit as well.
There are a number of skin safe fragrance oils that are used for those scents that are too costly as an essential oil. Some of these fragrances include Jasmine, Rose and Sandalwood. If you have any type of skin sensitivity or allergies, it may be best to avoid soaps made with fragrance oils. Choose a fragrance based on your own personal preference and you're sure to be delighted.
For those with very sensitive skin or allergies, a number of soap makers offer unscented products made with the same quality ingredients as their fragranced line. It may be possible to special order a small quantity of unscented soap made with a variety of herbs or botanical ingredients.
Skin conditions such as eczema are known to improve when discontinuing the use of commercial soap products which are basically detergents that strip the skin of natural oils. Handmade soaps gently cleanse without irritating, and the naturally occurring glycerine helps to moisturize your skin.
Added emollients such as Shea Butter, Cocoa Butter, Aloe Vera and Vitamin E are always a plus. Skin moisturizing oils such as Macadamia Nut, Kukui Nut and Sweet Almond are becoming more common in soap making. Soap with added oils that remain unsaponified are commonly referred to as superfatted.
Organic herbs and spices are used to lend color and texture to the soap. Some of the very popular exfoliating ingredients are oatmeal, corn meal, cinnamon and ground almond. Lavender, calendula, rose petals and rosemary are a few of the botanical ingredients that can be found in handmade soap.
We like to avoid transparent glycerine soaps. The process to create this soap base involves the use of alcohol, sugar and heat. Many times these soaps contain artificial colorants, dyes, alcohol and synthetic fragrances. If you have sensitive skin, these hand crafted soaps can be just as drying or irritating as commercially produced soap.
When selecting a cold processed handmade soap for yourself or your family, make sure that the bar is firm to the touch, and not too soft as to leave an indentation when squeezing gently. Keep in mind that handmade soaps can be softer than the commercially manufactured soaps which are milled and extruded.
Avoid a bar of soap with what is referred to as "DOS" or dreaded orange spots. The appearance of dark orange circular spots is an indication that the excess oils use to superfat the soap may be turning rancid. These spots are not harmful in any way and there is no reason to discard a bar of soap should this occur after your purchase. Simply use a small knife and remove the affected area.
After using your handmade soap, place the bar on your shower caddy, a soap saver or a soap dish to allow the excess water to run off and let the soap dry. Cold processed soaps are not milled and will become soft and mushy if left in standing water. Should this happen, reshape the soap into a ball or cake and allow to dry. The extra water that was absorbed will evaporate and the soap will become firm again.
We hope you find these consumer tips helpful when choosing a cold processed handmade soap.