Consumers around the world are becoming increasingly aware of the side-effects that regular soaps containing antibacterial additives are having on the environment and our well-being. As a result, more people are turning to natural soaps, free from additives and preservatives along with being safe for use on sensitive or young skin. Often these soaps include therapeutic herbs and essential oils.
What is soap?
Of course, we all know that soap is designed for cleaning the body, but what is it made from? All soap consists of fats or oils from plants or animals that are combined with a reagent which is typically an alkali. Hard soaps normally include sodium hydroxide with potassium hydroxide used for soft soaps. Both these reagents are harsh on the skin, especially if the user has sensitive or young skin. They are however essential to making the fats into soap.
Basic Ingredients of Soap
The basic ingredients of all hard soap are water, fat or oil and sodium hydroxide (lye). It is the lye which is the harsh ingredient and must be used accurately to ensure that no uncombined lye remains in the finished soap. Reputable soap-makers use a lye-calculator to determine how much is required. Soap can be made using either a hot or a cold process. The cold process generally gives a smoother and better-blended soap. Soap-makers choose essential oils and fragrances to give their soap it’s unique character.
Which Oils and Fats Should be Used?
The oils that are used in soap-making fit into one of four categories and changing the mixture will significantly alter the soap. The groups are:
- Those for cleansing
- Those for moisturising
- Those for lathering
- Those for hardening
Essential oils are chosen for their therapeutic benefits or their fragrance. Usually, two or more oils are used. Essential oils from medicinal herbs are used sparingly with only around 3% included in the soap recipe.