The Morning Routine

My days are seeing something new and wonderful – warmer temperatures, longer days, and free time to get outside.  With these delightful improvements over snow, ice, and below-freezing wind chills, I’m taking every advantage of them that I can.  I’ve gotten outside and walked.  Then, the other day, something new and cool happened.

I was walking and feeling a little winded.  That didn’t make sense, since I’d already done cardio two other times earlier in the week.  When my fitness app gave me my 1-mile progress report, I discovered why I’d felt winded – I was averaging 3.8 miles per hour!  Talk about some hustle, and that’s a pretty significant improvement over last year at this time!  Then something totally new happened.  I was into my second lap, and my stride shortened and my steps quickened, and next thing I know, I’m jogging and loving it!  Except for up and down the football pitch with kids, I haven’t jogged since high school.

With all this time outside and the dry winter air, my skin needs a little extra TLC.  After I exercise, I shower with a luscious beer- or milk-based soap.  Currently, I’m

Outer Banks Soap
Outer Banks Beer Soap. Ideal for men, but perfect for both men and women.

using a bar of a vintage beer soap from my old brand, but if I were to use any soap I have on hand, this time of year just screams for Lavender & Goat Milk.

Goat's Milk and Lavender soap
Goat’s Milk & Lavender Lotion – all natural with oodles of skin lovin’ stuff!

Goat’s milk has awesome skin-loving vitamins with antioxidant properties, and the lavender simply soothes the soul.  This soap leaves my skin soft, supple, and moisturized – perfect for everyday skin comfort.

Truth:  Right now, I’m wearing pants all day every day, which means I really don’t care how my legs look.  When I do care, like when someone may actually see them, I follow my shower with a light application of Orange Blossom & Amber Body Creme.  Not only does it smell heavenly, but the blend of coconut cream and avocado oil slays the alligators my legs can become on the driest of days.

body creme picture
Orange Blossom & Amber Coconut & Avocado Body Creme

Body Creme or not, I finish my body care routine with a light application of Tahiti Kiss Face Creme.  This is my most popular product ever, and for good reason.  This whisper-light face creme soaks into skin, bathing it instantly in rich

Tahiti Kiss face creme
Tahiti Kiss, a luxuriously extraordinary face crème, will treat your skin to a taste of the South Pacific

moisture that doesn’t leave skin greasy.  Plus, its light floral scent lingers gently all day without clashing with your favorite body scents.  One customer said that it makes her skin look bronze (there’s no coloring added).  Another commented about how it makes her skin glow.  This creme is fabulous for either day or night!

Once I’ve exercised, washed, and moisturized, I’m ready to tackle anything the day can throw at me!  Taking just that little bit of time to pamper my skin feels luxurious and indulgent, which is a great way to kick off the day!

I hope you’ll join us tomorrow, Tuesday, 23 January, as I go live talking about these awesome products and sharing some new discoveries I’ve made in pursuing the healthy coastal lifestyle.  You can join us at noon eastern in the Coastal Carolina Soap Co. Facebook group.


What Do You Say to Body Creme?

If you are in my branded Facebook group, then you likely saw the live video I posted last week about these amazing little samples with the incredible fragrance.  First, a little backstory…  (aka, How in the world did I get to these?)

Lotion samples
Orange Blossom + Amber lotion samples

Ages ago when I was making smaller amounts of lip balms (not many hundreds a year), I ordered my tubes from Rustic Escentuals/Aroma Haven, a supplier out of South Carolina.  Their prices were fair, service was great, but the UPS shipping was brutal!  Let’s face it:  Lip balm tubes and caps are not terribly bulky or heavy to ship.  At around this same time, I discovered a then-Kentucky-based company that offered the same product for a comparable price, but which had a priority mail shipping option, which cut my shipping in half or more per order.  I abandoned AHRE for that particular product.

The second company moved operations from Kentucky to Colorado, and the shipping went up accordingly.  (Hey, I get it.  It happens.)  Over the past couple of months, I have gone back to buying smaller quantities of tubes at a time from AHRE.  The per-item price is a titch cheaper (we’re talking a fraction of a penny here), the shipping still makes my gut clench, but the basic, cheap-o Fedex home delivery is here the next day if I place my order before lunchtime.  This amounts of overnight delivery without paying a premium for it!

I placed my first order in a long time with AHRE and was delighted to have the opportunity to get a free fragrance sample.  I LOVE sniffies, and when I get enough of them, I throw down a batch of one-hit wonders.  Being on the seemingly endless search for a good Orange Blossom fragrance, I happily clicked the button to add a free sample of Orange Blossom & Amber fragrance oil to my cart.  Imagine my surprise and delight when my package arrived the next day (overnight shipping – woohoo!) and I discovered a one-ounce bottle of fragrance!  With a happy mix of excitement (Hope it smells awesome!) and trepidation (What if it smelled awful?), I opened the bottle and took that first sniff.  It smelled amazing!  It’s got the orange blossom scent I was expecting with bottom notes of warm, musky amber.

The question came, What to do with these 28ish grams of awesomeness?  I had a small amount of coconut avocado lotion base in my shop fridge, so I warmed it a little bit, added the fragrance, and poured it into bottles.  The largest bottle made it into my backpack.  The rest of the lotion went into the adorable little white bottles you see up there ^^^ to be shared with you, my customers.

This, of course, led to another question…  I used to offer a line of luxurious body cremes, and with winter’s dry air coming, is this something you’d like to see again?  This would be a limited time offer of a very exclusive variety of scents, and I’d use the to-die-for coconut avocado lotion as the base.

In the meantime, I have three samples of this Orange Blossom & Amber creme available, and the next three customers who order will receive one so you can see what has me so excited.

Again, would you like to see a limited engagement of body cremes for the winter?  And what fragrances would have you turning cartwheels?

Don’t Fear the Parabens!

I was cruising along, doing that daily life thing, and I saw yet another label on yet another cosmetic product boasting “Paraben Free.”  It wasn’t an empty or deceiving claim:  The product’s manufacturer used a preservative system that doesn’t contain parabens.

I see this same fear of parabens pop up in “crunchy living” Facebook groups and the occasional post, and I know where it originated.  A 2004 study in Great Britain found parabens in breast tumors.  The Environmental Working Group (EWG) grabbed the study and ran with it, using their agenda to push the federal government to ban parabens as dangerous, cancer-causing ingredients.  The study was flawed, though.  The group left out a very valuable component of solid scientific research:  The control group.  The British scientists failed to test healthy breast tissue to determine the amount of parabens present in non-cancerous tissue.

In the thirteen years since that study came out, other scientists have conducted other studies, including those the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) employs.*  The findings have been revealing.  Parabens occur naturally in plants and in humans.  In fact, a normal, healthy woman’s body can naturally have 10,000 times the amount of parabens as are found in a paraben-preserved product.

Let’s look at another factor here.  Parabens are naturally occurring.  They show up in the body and in plants.  (Japanese honeysuckle is sometimes used as a natural preservative in products, such as shampoo.)  This is not something I’m going to freak out about.  Why?  I’m not putting it in my body.  As I’ve said before, the skin is marvelous at keeping things out of the body; that’s one of its primary functions.  The primary way that manufactured parabens could be hazardous is if we drank large quantities of them.  Ew!  How disgusting would that be?!

Water and salt
This image shows 20 ounces of water in the jar and 5 grams of salt in the bowl. The 5 grams represents how much preservative goes into 20 ounces (approx. 560 grams) of lotion. That fills 5 4-ounce tottles.

When you’re trying to determine if something is worth panicking about, consider the source.  I personally like the broad-spectrum protection that paraben-based preservatives give my products.  There are, however, some non-paraben preservatives that are very close to equally as good that I’ve been using lately.  I’ll tell you, “Hey, don’t worry about parabens,” and it’s not because I have some vested interest in the companies that manufacture these preservative systems or the labs that conduct the tests.  I’ve done the research that not many people have any interest in doing and am simply passing those findings on to you, because my informing customers allows you to make informed buying decisions.

At the same time, I could say, “Go ahead and avoid parabens.”  Again, this isn’t because I have an agenda or a vested interest in the organizations or companies that support a ban on parabens.  Interestingly enough, the companies that manufacture the paraben-based preservative systems also manufacture the paraben-free preservatives.  If paraben use makes you feel uncomfortable for whatever reason, that’s fine, and it’s OK to use products that don’t contain parabens.  If, on the other hand, you don’t care as long as nasty stuff isn’t growing in your body products and makeup, that’s fine, too.  Regardless of how I feel about an ingredient or a product, I respect people’s right to use it or avoid it as they choose.

For more information about why it’s important to preserve cosmetics, check out this article I wrote a few years ago.



*Caveat:  I’m not saying that the FDA is some infallible government agency that never messes up and never has an agenda impact it.  However, in this case, I can’t see any agenda that would influence their research findings, as chemical manufacturers tend to make a variety of preservative systems.

I’ll Take My Chemicals On, Thank You Very Much

This picture shows the list of active ingredients for one of my sunscreens of choice – a generic brand of SPF30 Sport, proven by years of use not to sting my eyes when I sweat or play in the water.  (Not pictured is my favorite and considerably more expensive Hawaiian Tropic SPF30 Sport, purchased and used because I LOVE the scent, and because I’m delighted that Hawaiian Tropic has finally made a sunscreen with an SPF higher than 8.)

Sunscreen ingredients
The active ingredients in one of my sunscreens of choice

Why am I sharing this?  Because I want to show you that chemicals are not our enemies and that going “all natural” when drugs do a better job is not the smartest choice long-run.

Chemicals are all around us:  Air, water, food, soap – things we put on and in our bodies – are all chemicals.  Try living a life free of chemicals and see how long that lasts.  Short answer:  Three minutes.  That’s how long we can go without air before we die.  Chemicals are in drugs that we may use on a daily or occasional basis – multi-vitamins, blood pressure meds, and ibuprofen are all safe chemicals that help our bodies.  Although it doesn’t seem like it, sunscreen, too, is classified as a drug, because it changes the makeup of our skin to prevent the damage caused by UV rays.

I’ve heard the concerns.  “The chemicals will get into our skin and poison us.”  “These chemicals aren’t safe.”  “Those chemicals killed laboratory rats.”  Let’s look at each one of those.

  1.  “The chemicals will get into our skin and poison us.”  Our skin is an incredible organ!  It releases toxins through sweat, it protects our muscles and internal organs, and it helps insulate our bodies.  As it protects, it forms a pretty impenetrable barrier against harmful – or not-so-harmful – things that want to get into our bodies.  We come into contact with millions of bacteria a day that never get inside us, because they die on the skin.  We take showers or go swimming, and as small as a water molecule is, we don’t bloat up with all this water getting inside of us, because the skin prevents it from happening.  If our skin can keep something as small as a water molecule out, how in the world could a larger, more complicated nanoparticle of a chemical get past the skin barrier?  It can’t, plain and simple.  So, since these chemicals cannot get into our bodies through our skin, then they can’t poison us.  In fact, the only way these would be harmful is if we were to drink gallons of sunscreen.  Ew.  Just… ew.

So you decide to avoid these chemicals and either take your chances with homemade, untested sunscreen or go without altogether – because you want to avoid chemicals.  Or worse, you’re applying these products to your children, leaving them no choice in how their skin is protected.  It’s ten or twenty or thirty years down the road, and you or they have skin cancer, a particularly nasty melanoma that has also started affecting your internal organs.  You have a decent chance of survival – with chemotherapy.  So now your oncologist is going to inject a stew of chemicals into your body to counteract the consequences of not applying chemicals topically when you were younger.  That’s a pretty sucky trade-off, especially since applying sunscreen generally doesn’t make you exhausted, sick, or bald.

2.  “These chemicals aren’t safe.”  Properly prepared sunscreens are tested rigorously by the FDA, tests which are incredibly expensive to have conducted.  I’m not so naïve that I believe the FDA never approves anything which is unsafe, but in the matter of sunscreens, I have yet to see any evidence, anecdotal or empirical, of harm coming to people who use sunscreens responsibly (e.g., not drinking it) or regularly.  Bottom line, using sunscreen with all its “chemicals” is far safer than not using it or using untested sunscreen.

3.  “Those chemicals killed laboratory rats.”  Do you remember saccharine?  It was the artificial sweetener of the 70s and 80s.  And on each pink packet, there was the warning, “This product has been known to cause cancer in laboratory animals.”  Great scare tactic!  When people started digging deeper into this, they discovered that the labs were basically overdosing rats on the stuff, injecting them with far greater amounts than even the most ardent Tab drinker was likely to consume.  (As an aside, I found it interesting that, when I was pregnant in the early 2000s, saccharine was the only artificial sweetener universally considered “safe” for fetuses.)  The individual chemicals in sunscreens are tested similarly, though finished sunscreen is tested only on voluntary human subjects.

So, if commercially manufactured, FDA tested sunscreens are generally recognized as safe, why do makers willingly put people at risk by marketing handcrafted, all natural sunscreens?  They’re banking on fear and ignorance.  I’ve seen makers do this, though the ones I know personally aren’t doing it out of malice.  They’re just passionate about their products and their all-natural niche, and they want to offer an alternative to their customers.  Unfortunately, this is a terribly dangerous practice that is spreading, despite the FDA firing off warning after warning to small, independent manufacturers for selling untested drugs and making drug claims.

If you haven’t seen it, yet, I posted a link to a video this morning to my page that examines the dangers of handmade sunscreen pretty thoroughly.  It’s several minutes long and easy to understand, even if, like me, Biochemistry isn’t your second language.

Given a choice, do you prefer having your drugs on your body, or in your body?


Six Tips for Showing Some Skin Love

Summer is rapidly approaching, and with warmer temperatures, we’re showing more skin.  Our skin is our largest organ, and like our other organs, it, too, has its care needs so that it can do its job.  I’ve come up with five not-terribly-original ways to care for your skin.

(1) Sweat it out.  When we sweat, our pores open up, allowing the sweat to flow out, taking with it dirt, oil, and other blemish-causing culprits.  Sweat also removes toxins from the body, making it an incredible, completely natural detox method.

English: Drops of sweat
English: Drops of sweat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(2) Water in, water out.  No news here – we’re approximately 70% water.  In order for sweat (and urine, for that matter) to do its best job removing toxins and impurities from our bodies, it has to have something to work with.  Drinking plenty of water (half your body weight in ounces is recommended, but at least shoot for 6-8 cups) each day gives your body what it needs to function, as well as providing the conduit for sweat to work.  Being well hydrated is like moisturizing your skin from the inside.

(3) Kiss the caffeine good-bye.  Do you live your life a cup of coffee or a can of soda at a time, just to get through your day?  While moderate amounts of caffeine can’t hurt – some studies suggest they’re quite beneficial – there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.  Caffeine acts as a diuretic, and while your body might be eliminating water, if your entire drink consumption is primarily caffeinated drinks, there isn’t a grand amount of water going back in.  As a result, you’ll end up terribly dehydrated.  This results in dry skin that lacks elasticity.

(4) Bid those smokes a farewell while you’re at it.  It is often easy to determine the smokers in the crowd before you even smell them.  They have fine lines around their mouths and they look older than their years.  That cigarette smoke is chemical-laced dry heat in the face constantly.

(5) Slather on the sunscreen.  Oft-repeated, seldom followed, and I’m admitting now that I’m not the best about this, though I am getting better.  There is no undoing the damage from sun over-exposure or smoking without lots of medical intervention – maybe.  I always wear sunscreen at the beach with frequent reapplication, and I am doing better about remembering to put it on on soccer days.  I still, however, don’t put it on every time I go out, nor do I wear it when I’m taking walks or rides (usually later in the day when the UV index is low).

(6) Use soap and moisturizer.  Soap keeps the skin clean (obviously).  When we wash with soap, the soap bonds with the dirt and germs on our skin; then, when we rinse, all of it washes down the drain.  Our skin’s acid mantle restores itself in 2-3 hours, bringing balance back to its pH.  By washing, we get rid of germs that could enter even the most microscopic of cuts.  When we follow with moisturizer, we keep the skin soft and supple, which makes it heal faster and more easily.  I discovered when I was in graduate school that small sores such as paper cuts took much longer to heal during the dry winter months than they did in the moister summer months.  Applying lotion to my hands sped up the healing time.

I talked about this this morning in my branded Facebook group.  Are you a member?  We’d love to have you join us!  Just click that link (“branded Facebook group”) and submit your request to join.  And in the meantime, get some water into you and sweat some water out.  Your skin will thank you for it!

Garden Fresh for Spring

I love spring bulbs.  Daffodils and hyacinths are my favorites.  Planting bulbs in October’s chill is hopeful.  We’re anticipating seeing those bright blooms after six months of cool (or cold), dark days.  And the smell!  Oh my goodness, there’s nothing like the subtle sunny smell of a bright yellow daffodil or the sweet aroma of a pastel rainbow of hyacinths.  When I was a child, we had daffodils lining our driveway and hidden among the natural areas in the yard; I still smile thinking of those yellow spots amongst the greens and browns.

Several years ago when we lived in our townhouse, we planted some bulbs.  There were so many!  We’d gotten a little bit crazy, and in the back in front of the raised bed were crocuses and tulips, and in pots, one on either side of the sidewalk leading to the front door, were hyacinths.  I was thrilled the first time I saw the first bud peeking up between the green leaves – thrilled, that is, until the snow buried the young blooms.  Obviously, they didn’t do well that year, and, frankly, I was a little disappointed when my mystery bulbs of promised “assorted colors” turned out just to be pink and lavender.  Don’t get me wrong; they were pretty before they got the deep freeze, and they did smell nice, but I’d hoped for more variety.

Then came the next spring.  I did not realize that these bulbs I’d planted so lovingly a year-and-a-half before were technically tubers and had multiplied.  Greatly.  And the colors I’d longed for had arrived.  Now, in addition to the pink and lavender, I had rich purple, white, dark pink, and yellow blooms, and each time I passed them, their sweet aroma with that hint of spice greeted me.  I was in love!

My bulbs didn’t survive the move and resettlement.  Trying to finish settling into a new home with a new baby and new routines just didn’t leave much energy for dealing with bulbs.  Other plants grace the yard, different blooms and colors, but I still look forward to the autumn when I can see the freshly mounded dirt under which my bulbs are buried and the excitement of the little green shoots giving way to riotous blooms of color come spring.

To sort of tide me over until that day comes, I found a lovely hyacinth fragrance that perfectly reminds me of those glorious flowers.  Some floral scents just don’t translate well into their fragrance oil counterparts, but this one is simply lovely.  Yearning for a bit of springtime?  Grab a bar of this gorgeous hyacinth soap to experience spring in your shower (especially for you folks that are having a white Easter).  If you like spring flowers, you’ll love this soap!

hyacinth soap
Lovely, true-to-scent hyacinth soap

My Lemony Love

It started with an angel.  Long story short…  Boy meets girl.  Girl needs angel for her Christmas tree.  Boy suggests this shop at the beach (not knowing that Girl LOVES this shop).  They go to the shop, buy an angel, start a flotilla tradition.  At one point, Girl sees people watching the flotilla from large balconies of an inn while sipping wine or hot chocolate – and not grappling for space on the boardwalk.  Girl thinks, That sure would be nice.  Over time, that becomes a reality, a part of the tradition.

That inn – an interesting hybrid between a bed & breakfast and a hotel – offers lovely, well-appointed rooms, great views, convenient location, and quite nice toiletries, one of which is lemon verbena soap.  We’re talking real soap like what we make, not mass-produced syndet bars that leave the skin dry and itchy.  One sniff, and I was hooked.  The scent was lightly sweet and sharply lemony at the same time with beautiful green notes and just a tinge herbaceous.

It took me forever to find a similar lemon verbena scent.  I found what was marketed as a lemon verbena essential oil, which was pretty nice, only to find out later it was a blend of synthetic and natural ingredients.  L’Occitane‘s Lemon Verbena is fabulous, but too strongly lemon for what I was seeking.  Imagine how excited I was when I found both a duplication of L’Occitane’s Lemon Verbena and another lemon verbena fragrance at one of my suppliers’ online stores!  The L’Occitane is still too lemony, and the other fragrance is a bit too floral.  But when I put them together in just a certain way…  Whoa!!!  It’s perfect!  Lemony, green, floral, herbaceous.

Lemon Verbena Soap - Sunshine in the Shower!
Lemon Verbena Soap – Sunshine in the Shower!

I found my lemony love in this Lemon Verbena soap.  it’s like sunshine in the shower, perfect for cold days, grey days…  Shoot!  It’s perfect for any day that you need your eyes opened.  Yes, I’ll admit, I did have to steal a bar for my shower, but there are still several bars of this dream soap left for you to fall in love with.


My First Cold Process!



I thought that I would change up my blog. I was thinking of one of my friends at the time I was writing this and decided that I would act as if I was talking to her and came up with questions she might ask. Hope this answers some of your questions!

Friend: What does the soap look like?

Me: The soap is pink with a fun amount of sparkles and a mango sorbet fragrance. With it being my first soap I would add a hint of blue to the pink color in the future. Mom says that I should start with one color, but I added sparkles to get close to the desired effect.

Friend: What good qualities does your soap have that will make people want it?

Me: It will be a small bar which will be easy for kids (and adults) to hold. Its fun fragrance will (ahem, should) make kids look forward to showering without bubblegum (take it from a young spurt, bubblegum can smell icky or get tiring). The soap has sparkles which gleam in the light some. It is very moisturizing, lather is a definite, and it is hard. I was rinsing off my cutting board after cutting it and I had a great lather. I love the soap (I kept a bar for myself).

Friend: If you were to sell it, what would you call it?

Me: Pink Paradise* or Pink Paradise Falls**. I’m leaning towards PPF, though if I do PP then I can do a series with Blue Paradise, Green, Orange, Purple, etc. I think that I’ll make another PP next year for sale, then every other month another color. I will be doing another soap (for sale) this year with the same recipe, and it will be Christmas-y. That will be sold online and at the Triangle area EPA show in November. I also do a show here called the Pender County Spring Fest.

Friend: How did you think the soap would turn out compared to how it turned out?

Me: I thought it would turn out sharper, more vivid, pinker. The top looks pretty and if the whole soap were that color, then the soap would look beautiful. The top is a powdery pink that, in my opinion, looks like pixie dust. The bottom is a sort of magenta, but not that dark, mixed with sparkles that add a welcoming touch. I really thought that the sparkles would come out more, that it would be darker or lighter.

Friend: What were some of your feelings as you made this soap?

Me, mixing up the lye.
Me, mixing up the lye.

Me: I was feeling exhilarated, happy, worried, slightly panicked, joyful, and free. I can make whatever I want (within reason) on any soap, swirl, etc. I was also very happy that Mom said I could. Truth be told, I don’t like Melt & Pour as much. They take up time freezing them and you have to monitor it.  You can make a CP and leave it alone.

Me stirring the lye mixture into the warm oils. Making magic happen!
Me stirring the lye mixture into the warm oils. Making magic happen!

Friend: Give us some brief how-to’s.

Me: First, gather your supplies. Since I’m doing small batches then everything can be done in a 4 Cup measuring cup. Bigger batches are done in buckets.

4 cup measuring cup (4 cupper)                                         Small container (yogurt container sort)

Spatula                                                                                    Wooden spoon

Big container (such as the containers you get when you order a quart of Chinese soup)

Oils, Lye, etc.

Stick blender

Goggles, Gloves, etc.

Soap rag (old baby diapers, washcloths)

Not all of your oils are going to be liquid. Put on your goggles, gloves, etc. and get the smaller container. Measure out your lye. In the big container, measure out your water (or ice). With the wooden spoon stir lye and water together but be sure to hold your breath; otherwise the fumes can hurt your throat. Once dissolved, set aside. You can take the protective gear off. Now measure out your solid oils. Mine were coconut, palm, and cocoa butter. Melt them in the microwave until liquid. Now you add your liquid oils. Mine were olive and avocado. Mix all your oils together and set them aside. Take another small container and scoop some of the oil mixture into it. Add your color to it and stir until smooth. Set your color aside. Measure out your fragrance and set aside.

Put your protective gear back on. Dump lye mixture into the oils. Take the stick blender and bring the mixture to a trace. It will be mixed together but thick. If you’re making tomato soup and it’s just out of the can, that’s about how thick it should be. Add the fragrance. Now you have one of two options. The soap will be a creamy white. You can add the color mixture now and stir the fragrance and color in, OR, you can stir in fragrance then add color. If you do option #2 then you have the option of not stirring the color in all the way and getting a swirl. Either way, when you get done, put it in a silicone mould, scrape it out (this is where the spatula comes in), and cover it with a box lined with cling wrap. Insulate your soap by covering it with towels and let rest for at least 24 hours before unmoulding. Take the soap rag and wipe your equipment before rinsing under warm water. “Make” it in a soap program and it should tell you how many days it has to cure (you can use it after it cures, usually about a month).

My first CP soap freshly poured
My first CP soap freshly poured



When’s a Chemical not a Chemical?

Chemicals surround us.  They’re in the food we eat, the drinks we drink, and the air we breathe.  Our entire bodies are nothing but chemical processes.

A couple of weeks ago, the girls and I were in a shop where there was a sign that read, “SoapsChemical free!”  Mary, my older daughter, quipped, “So they left out the lye?”  I returned, “And the water, the oils, and the fragrance.”  While the “chemical free” sign may entice unwary consumers, it really felt like the creator of the sign is , at best, ignorant of what, exactly, soapmaking is, and at worst, willfully practicing deceptive business practices (given that artificially scented soaps are labeled “all natural” and have “essential oil” on the label, I lean towards the latter).

Unit cell, spacefill model of sodium hydroxide
Unit cell, spacefill model of sodium hydroxide (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Soapmaking is chemistry.  The very idea of this amuses me greatly, given how hard I struggled in high school and college chemistry.  Sodium hydroxide (lye) mixes with water (usually), and that mixture, in turn, is added to oils in liquid form; they are then emulsified together, either by stirring or blending, before having additives added to the raw soap and being poured into a mould.  The magic happens here as the mixture creates heat internally which causes the whole thing to gel.  This is a super-cool exothermic reaction wherein the beautifully swirled and designed raw soap changes color, smells funky, and looks like really runny, chunky petroleum jelly.  It looks like the soap is a ruined mess at this point, but as the hours pass, the soap cools down, revealing the amazing colors and patterns once more.  That process is called saponification.  Actually, the gel phase is the heart of saponification, a chemical reaction that starts where the lye mixture meets the oils and ends formally at the end of the curing time.  While gel phase only lasts 12-36 hours, saponification can last weeks.

Chemicals coming together to create a chemical reaction and cause a chemical change.  Sodium hydroxide is a chemical – NaOH.  So is water – H2O.  And oils are as well – the formula for olive oil is C52H96O6.  You can separate sodium hydroxide from water, allowing water to evaporate and lye crystals to form (9th grade science fair project).  However, once that lye mixture combines with the oils, there’s no going back.  The change is permanent and irrevocable.  This is the hallmark of chemical change – a chemical reaction produces a change that cannot be reversed.  Ahhh chemistry.

Well, you may argue, the creator of the “chemical free” sign means no harmful chemicals.  What makes a chemical harmful?  How natural it is?  Cyanide is a naturally occurring chemical element, but I think we can agree it’s very harmful.  Sodium hydroxide is a chemical that can be produced from natural processes (pouring water through ashes), and it doesn’t take much – relatively speaking – to dissolve a 300-pound body.  Yet, it sometimes appears in cosmetics and pickles.  Dihydrogen monoxide!  There’s a “safe” chemical.  In fact, I add it to every soap, lotion, and cream that I make.  Yet, more people die of exposure to DHMO each year than from exposure to all other chemicals combined!  Obviously, what makes a chemical “safe” or not is how it’s used and how much is used.  A little NaOH or a little salt isn’t harmful, but an abundance of either can cause sickness, death, or complete disintegration.

Bottom line, there is no “chemical-free” soap, because all components of soap are chemicals, and the resulting product is soap and glycerin.  Artisan made soaps are proof that there is better living through chemicals.