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Why is Handmade Soap Soooo Good??


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I've been making and using CP and HP soaps for a couple of months now, and I've noticed a couple of things. I used to get dry and itchy skin ALL the time, and using lotion didn't help as much as it used to when I was in my 20s. I was just itchy all the time.

Also, my heels would crack a lot, too, and if I didn't keep on top of it with regular pedicures and heavy creams (which I rarely did anyway), my feet would look a mess!

Fast forward to today, my skin never itches anymore even though I still am lazy and maybe put lotion on once a week if that. Also, my heels aren't cracked anymore -- and I haven't had a pedicure in months! This one was the big shocker for me.

It's gotta be my soaps, right?!? So it got me thinking... what makes handmade soaps so good for the skin? I know, no detergents or synthetic ingredients. But, isn't the ph of handmade soap higher than store-bought stuff (I think I read that somewhere)? What makes it soooo good for you???

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a big part of it, imo, is the naturally occouring glycerin and the fact that our soaps contain no detergents. Most of us do use fragrance oils so saying "no artificial ingredients" or "no synthetic fragrances" wouldnt be fair... but the lye (which doesnt remain in the finished product...) and the fragrances are the only non-natural ingredients in our soaps.

Compare that with a bar of irish spring.. where they have to add back in glycerin... and WHY does it have polyethelene in it?! Pentasodium Pentetate... added in to stabilize the soap (prevents oxidation...), Tetradibutyl Pentaerithrityl Hydroxyhydrocinnamate... an antioxidant....

I mean it just boggles the mind to read the ingredients. Some of it makes sense. Tallow, Coconut Oil, Palm oil... thats their base. Most likely comes to the factory in the form of soap flakes or soap noodles. Then they add water and salt.... glycerin, frargance, aloe juice, and whatever else, mill it altogether and press it into the bars we know. In the end you get something that resembles soap, but also contains ingredients to keep it stable because its been overprocessed beyond what it originally was.. a plain old bar of soap. At one point in the process, at least.

Irish Spring label, btw:

Soap (Sodium Tallowate, Sodium Cocoate, Sodium Palm Kernelate), Water, Hydrogenated Tallow Acid (Skin Conditioner), Coconut Acid, Glycerin (Skin Conditioner), Fragrance (Parfum), Sodium Chloride, Titanium Dioxide, Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis) Leaf Extract, Polyethylene, Pentasodium Pentetate, Tetradibutyl Pentaerithrityl Hydroxyhydrocinnamate, FD&C Blue 1, Chromium Oxide Greens

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Luminous, I don't mean to pick on you in particular because I'm sure a lot of people would echo your sentiments, but gratuitous industry-bashing and crafter back-patting is just a peeve of mine. In any area of crafting, it's generally a minority of people who make the best stuff. Some handcrafted soap is great, but some of it is not as good as its makers assess it to be. Handcrafted soap can leave an odd skin feel and it's not so rare for it to be drying. Plus a good proportion of it doesn't last very long in ordinary use. Handcrafted soap is a mixed bag and some commercial soaps are perfectly respectable products.

I mean it just boggles the mind to read the ingredients.

There's still a lot we can learn about soap. Why disrespect industry professionals who know more than we do? I find reading the Irish Spring ingredients interesting and educational.

I would say this is a real bar of soap, not just a semblance of one. It primarily contains the same ingredients that a handcrafted soap would contain, but probably better-balanced than a lot of recipes people make. I also see that Irish Spring contains free fatty acids from tallow and coconut oil instead of a "superfat" of residual oil. That would make the soap less alkaline without using detergents and would make it less stinging to the eyes than handcrafted soap. I think that's pretty interesting, and it's something that HP soapers could even possibly try. All in all, what I see is an exceptionally sophisticated formulation compared to what most handcrafters make.

but the lye and the fragrances are the only non-natural ingredients in our soaps.

Not everyone uses natural colorants (in fact, a lot of crafters use the same colorants that are in Irish Spring) and some soapers use stabilizers. B&B crafters in particular use preservatives and antioxidants. People who have a preference for natural ingredients are welcome to avoid them, but these things are used to increase, not decrease, product quality.

Even though I make an exceptionally stable soap, I have used BHT and EDTA as stabilizers. I am thinking of eliminating them for the simple reason that people are prejudiced. However, at a combined 0.01% of oil weight (even less in the finished product), these ingredients certainly don't affect the user or alter the performance of the soap in any way. I'm sure the same is true of Irish Spring.

Soapers and candlemakers can be funny about saying that the only non-natural ingredient they use is fragrance. It's like saying you only keep one pet, and it's a giraffe. I can't even tell you what chemicals are in my fragrances or research them, even though they're at hundreds of times the concentration of any stabilizer. Someone just told me they were OK to use.

Edited by topofmurrayhill
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I don’t think "it boggles the mind" is disrespectful, at all. Its a simple fact that most everyone I talk to who isn’t a soap maker finds the ingredient lists on any cosmetic with proper FDIC labeling confusing, or, "mind boggling". My husband could maybe pick out one or two things on a lotion label and tell you what they are. The only reason I know what anything on that label is, is because I am a soap maker... and sometimes an overly curious one. I don’t even think an average soap maker would know what some of those things are... and many of us would argue they don’t need to be there. Its obviously a never ending debate with people on both sides. a tiresome debate at that.

Your average consumer isn’t going to know what polyethylene is or why its there (and I still cant figure why its in this bar of soap? as a thickener, or emulsifier? surfacent? I just don’t see what purpose it serves if its a good, balanced bar of soap, why does this synthetic ingredient need to be there?) Maybe I'm too old school.

Of course there are fantastic commerical soaps.. my best friend has psoriasis, my fragranced soaps wont work for her. She can ONLY use my un-fragranced soaps, and my castile. Aside from that she uses Dove and shes quite happy with it. Personally, dove gives me the itches. What works for one wont work for another. PanOxyl bar I use every single day on my face. Every day. Ive tested recipes over and over to replicate what it does, but I cant. Cetaphil liquid soap is another fantastic commerical soap.

I suppose when I speak of handmade soaps, I'm speaking of my own.. and after making soap for over 20 years, I know what’s in my soap and what it does for my skin. Of course we cant speak for all handmade soap makers (and I'm not trying to)... after all there are youtube videos on "how to make handmade soap" that advocate using crisco and nothing else. Thats soap alright.. surely not good soap.. but its soap.

So maybe I should specify that when I said "our" soaps... i meant.. my soaps. I only bring the fragrance into it because I get irritated when I see people call soaps "all natural" or "organic" when they have fragrance in them. And the whole "organic oil" thing gets me into a whole other subject of how it doesn’t MATTER that they were at one point organic oils once they are made into soap.... but I digress, I entirely agree with you, we don’t and cant know what’s in our fragrance oils, aside from what MSDS tells us (not much.)

I've got the flu so you guys have got to forgive me if ive made some major typos, im on a nyquil kick.. i hope something I said makes sense

Edited by LuminousBoutique
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Yes you're making sense despite the Nyquil. I would just say that questions or confusion about that ingredient list don't necessarily deserve the negative implication you cast. It's not worlds apart from my own ingredients or some other handcrafted soaps.

Using hot process, I think I might be able to duplicate the fatty acid trick and make something equivalent, minus the polyethylene (some synthetic wax as a thickener would be my guess about that one). One thing that CP never allows you to do is acidify the soap.

Pardon my typo: I meant to say 0.1% of BHT and EDTA.

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I don't know much about making soap, or what makes a good soap, other than reading here, playing on SoapCalc, and trying some recipes. I know I have A LOT to learn. I have just found that my soaps seems to be treating my skin better, and I really don't understand why.

I've been looking at a lot of commercial ingredients and have been surprised to see they actually do contain some real soap (sodium tallowate, sodium cocoate, etc). I've also noticed my soaps burn the heck out of my eyes, unlike commercial soaps -- so, if my soaps are harder on my eyes, why are they nicer to my skin?

I want to understand not only if handmade soaps can be better than commercial but why. I would like to explain to my friends and family -- not just say "well, it's natural" or "there are no detergents." As both Top and Luminous have said, commercial products can be excellent and handmade products are not all natural!

Regardless, I am having a lot of fun making soap, and part of why I'm having fun is because there is so much to learn.

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I understand Top's point but am not in total agreement. Yes, you should understand the technical nature of your product (why it works) but most often innovation is by mistake or accident. Testing, hands on learning, education and experience are all necessary components in the process of hand crafting. We do not possess the unlimited funding to hire a team of scientists with labs but we can read good technical books that help us understand the nature of our product and not merely the asthetics. Not one formula will insure that all who use the product will receive the same results and claims should be carefully made as to that effect. I totally understand your fascination with hand crafted soap. I stopped using commercial soaps long ago and wouldn't dream of returning to the harsh, over processed, mostly artificial substances that are passed off as good for your skin.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I dont know anything about soap making. I had always used Imperial Leather soap and had no problems with it. One day I bought some goats milk and lemon myrtle soap from a farmers market and loved it. Ive been using it for about 2 years now. Recently, I had run out of it and had to use a 'regular' soap. The 'chemical?' smell, almost made me sick while I was using it. I never noticed that smell in all the years I had used that soap. I guess I was just conditioned to the smell. That was a real eye opener. Also, the skin on my face felt 'tight' after using it which is something I never get with the Goats milk/lemon myrtle soap.

Thats just two reasons why I love my 'natural' soap!:yay:

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