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Latest Articles - Luxury

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Handmade Soap

Wednesday, 02 June 2010

handmade soapAside from being natural and good for your skin, handmade soaps also make perfect gifts for holidays and special occasions. Unlike the regular bath soaps which are manufactured by companies using who knows what ingredients, handmade soaps are better and safer because at least you know the ingredients that you used since you are the one who made it. You also have a free rein on how much fragrant to add.

Today, soap is rarely viewed as a basic hygiene product to clean oneself with in the shower, but rather as a bathroom accessory. It's no longer a boring white bar that plagued our childhood - it's nice to smell and touch, smooth or coarse, transparent or matte, with consistent texture or intricate patterns. In a word, it's a handmade soap.

The earliest recorded evidence of the production of soap-like materials dates back to around 2800 BC in Ancient Babylon. A formula for soap consisting of water, alkali and cassia oil was written on a Babylonian clay tablet. The Ebers papyrus indicates that ancient Egyptians bathed regularly and combined animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts to create a soap-like substance.

Soap is derived from either vegetable or animal fats. Soap can also be made of vegetable oils, such as palm oil, and the product is typically softer. If soap is made from pure olive oil it may be called Castile soap or Marseille soap. Castile is also sometimes applied to soaps with a mix of oils, but a high percentage of olive oil.

An array of saponifiable oils and fats are used in the process such as olive, coconut, palm, cocoa butter, hemp oil and shea butter to provide different qualities. For example, olive oil provides mildness in soap; coconut oil provides lots of lather; while coconut and palm oils provide hardness. Sometimes castor oil can also be used as an ebullient. Most common, though, is a combination of coconut, palm, and olive oils.

The most popular soapmaking process today is the cold process method, where fats such as olive oil react with lye, while some soapers use the historical hot process. In both cold-process and hot-process soapmaking, heat may be required for saponification.

Cold-process soapmaking takes place at a sufficient temperature to ensure the liquefication of the fat being used. The fat may be kept warm after mixing to ensure that the soap is completely saponified.

Unlike cold-processed soap, hot-processed soap can be used right away because lye and fat saponify more quickly at the higher temperatures used in hot-process soapmaking.

Hot-process soapmaking was used when the purity of lye was unreliable, and this process can use natural lye solutions, such as potash. The main benefit of hot processing is that the exact concentration of the lye solution does not need to be known to perform the process with adequate success.

Cold-process soapmaking requires exact measurements of lye and fat amounts and computing their ratio, using saponification charts to ensure that the finished product is mild and skin-friendly. A cold-process soapmaker first looks up the saponification value of the fats being used on a saponification chart, which is then used to calculate the appropriate amount of lye. Excess unreacted lye in the soap will result in a very high pH and can burn or irritate skin. Not enough lye - and the soap is greasy. Most soap makers formulate their recipes with a 4-10% discount of lye so that all of the lye is reacted and that excess fat is left for skin conditioning benefits.

The lye is dissolved in water. Then oils are heated, or melted if they are solid at room temperature. Once both substances have cooled to approximately 100-110°F (37-43°C), and are no more than 10°F (~5.5°C) apart, they may be combined. This lye-fat mixture is stirred until trace (modern-day amateur soapmakers often use a stick blender to speed this process). There are varying levels of trace. Depending on how additives will affect trace, they may be added at light trace, medium trace or heavy trace. After much stirring, the mixture turns to the consistency of a thin pudding.

Essential oils, fragrance oils, botanicals, herbs, oatmeal or other additives are added at light trace, just as the mixture starts to thicken. The batch is then poured into molds, kept warm with towels, or blankets, and left to continue saponification for 18 to 48 hours. Milk soaps are the exception. They do not require insulation. Insulation may cause the milk to burn. During this time, it is normal for the soap to go through a gel phase where the opaque soap will turn somewhat transparent for several hours, before once again turning opaque. The soap will continue to give off heat for many hours after trace.

After the insulation period the soap is firm enough to be removed from the mold and cut into bars. At this time, it is safe to use the soap since saponification is complete. However, cold-process soaps are typically cured and hardened on a drying rack for 2-6 weeks (depending on initial water content) before use. If using caustic soda it is recommended that the soap is left to cure for at least four weeks.

Handmade soap differs from industrial soap in that, usually, an excess of fat is sometimes used to consume the alkali (superfatting), and in that the glycerin is not removed, leaving a naturally moisturising soap and not pure detergent. Superfatted soap, soap which contains excess fat, is more skin-friendly than industrial soap, though if too much fat is added, it can leave users with a greasy feel to their skin. Often, emollients such as jojoba oil or shea butter are added at trace (the point at which the saponification process is sufficiently advanced that the soap has begun to thicken), after most of the oils have saponified, so that they remain unreacted in the finished soap.

When buying a handmade soap, make sure that you do not have allergy to its ingredients because a number of fragrants, even if they are natural, may be bad for your health. If you don't have this problem, you can buy a handmade soap for you and for your friends. Handmade soap is a great present for a woman who can appreciate its flagrance and original shape and texture.

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