Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Handmade soap – a natural choice

Handmade soap – a natural choice
By OMC author
Contributing author Lori Stryker, B.Sc., B.H.Ec., B.Ed.

History of Soap Making

What can beat the fresh feeling of clean skin? Not much. So it’s no wonder that using soap and the process of soap making has existed for hundreds of years. The process used to make soap in the past is not too different from the natural method of soap making today. It uses a few simple ingredients and easy steps to produce soap that removes dirt, bacteria, grit, and grime from the skin with the help of water.

Natural soap making process

Natural ingredients used in soap are all around us. Vegetable butters or oils, lye, natural colouring, and natural fragrances are often within our reach to produce soap that is safe, pure and gentle enough for daily use1. For many people that make natural soaps, inspiration from the world around them – the scent of a favourite flower, the colour of the sea -almost anything spark the creation of a soap that is unique and pure.

Making soap with traditional methods such as the cold-process method follows this formula:

  1. Vegetable oils such as olive, almond or other oils high in fatty acids are blended together.
  2. At 80-100 degrees celsius, an alkali such as potassium hydroxide (for soft soap) or sodium hydroxide (for hard soap) is added. This process is termed saponification.

    Please note that the alkali are not found in the final bar of soap! They are catalysts only, which means they speed up the reaction, but are not present in the final products of the reaction.
  3. Glycerol and crude soap are produced. The glycerol is used for other purposes, and the soap is left to harden in a mold.

Historically, alkali used to make soap were obtained from burning vegetation or wood. In modern times, alkali are obtained from relatively clean processes such as electrolysis, where naturally occurring salts such as NaCl (table salt) or KCl are mixed with water. These salts used as the derivatives for the resulting alkali NaOH or KOH.

Soap made from this process is very gentle and often causes little or no irritation to the skin due to its pure ingredients. Synthetic soaps contain harsh dyes, synthetic fragrances, and other ingredients that can dry the skin leading to damaging effects to the largest organ of the body – the skin. Dry, cracked skin may allow bacteria to enter causing infection and disease. So it only makes sense that healthy skin means a healthy body.

Methods of handmade, natural soap making

Non-industrial methods for making soap range from simple to somewhat more difficult – depending on the method is used and the ingredients required.

The four methods available are:

  • recycling – reusing ends of soap by grinding them and remix them together
  • melt and pour – less technical than the hot and cold processes, this method requires buying pre-made blocks of soap to which you add other ingredients (e.g. flowers, natural fragrances, natural colourings)
  • cold process – from beginning to end, you are in control of the end product with this process. Although it requires some close attention because you’re working with lye, the soap produced can be very mild and gentle on the skin.
  • hot process – this process is much like the cold process except that the mixture is heated. 2

Pitfalls of commercially produced soap

Although many of us use it all the time in the shower or while bathing, commercially produced soap is very different from naturally made soap. The ingredients used in commercially produced soap are often quite different as well.

When a manufacturer produces a large number of bars of soap, batch production is the process used. Detergents, synthetic fragrances, synthetic dyes and other chemicals produce the bars of soap from these large scale processes. Such ingredients may irritate the skin or cause allergic reactions. Washing skin with these types of soaps may steal natural oils from the surface of the skin causing damage to sensitive skin. This in turn may lead to chaffing, flaking, and scaling. They may also contribute to contact dermatitis or other allergic-type reactions.

Benefits of natural soap

The Organic Makeup Company is one such company that is leading the way in producing high-quality, organically manufactured soap! As a consumer, you have the ability to decrease the number of preservatives and chemical additives your skin comes into contact with and therefore, that may enter your body. To avoid using synthetically manufactured soap look for products containing natural ingredients derived from nature. Other ingredients that may provide gentle cleansing power in natural soaps include aloe and other plant extracts, vegetable butters, oatmeal, and herbs. The absence of synthetic dyes, synthetic fragrances and detergents make natural soaps a fantastic choice for people with sensitive skin and those with other conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and excessive dryness.3


  1., accessed October 16, 2005.
  2., accessed Oct. 16, 2005.
  3., accessed Oct. 20, 2005.