Only the very best ingredients
All of my soap bars begin with vegetable oils good enough to eat! The quality of the soap originates from the integrity of the basic ingredients. I use only food-grade oils that nourish and pamper your skin, and going organic as much as possible - whenever available or financially reasonable. My special blend of oils creates the perfect bar of soap — moisturizing, nourishing for all skin types, extremely long lasting, and luxuriously rich lathering. Kind of like the perfect storm.
All Soapworks Studio soaps start with the base oils of olive, coconut, palm, and shea butter. The soaps are created using the "cold process" method, which means they are made from scratch in the time-honored method that has been passed down for generations. The basic recipe is "super-fatted" meaning that there is an additional portion of emollient oils which are not saponified in the soapmaking process and remain in the bar for their superior moisturizing properties. This creates a gentle soap for all skin types and conditions, and produces a rich creamy lather, all while lasting twice as long as most commercial bar soaps.
During the soapmaking process, sodium hydroxide, also called lye, is added to the fats. This is called "saponification." Relax - the soap is made with lye, but doesn't contain lye - big difference. This is the active ingredient that magically transforms the fats into a completely new substance (the lovely bar of soap) and no lye remains once the cooking is complete. There is no possible way to make soap without lye and there is no soap bar on the planet that hasn't been saponified in this way. Totally not scary.
Glycerin, a terrific skin softener and emollient, is present in every bar. It occurs naturally as a by-product during the soapmaking process, giving my bars that gorgeous glossy look and soft feel. Glycerin is a humectant, meaning that it draws water from the air. Commercial soap manufacturers remove this glycerin for more profitable uses in cosmetics and lotions. Some of the fancier soap manufacturers add some glycerin back to their soaps in order to claim it as an ingredient. Don’t be fooled by soaps claiming to be all glycerin - read their ingredients. They usually have a long list of chemicals like alcohol, wetting agents, preservatives and fragrances.
Just a side note - “melt and pour” soaps are not made from scratch but with a pre-made base that contains extra amounts of glycerin in order to make them soft enough to melt and cut into cute shapes. These soaps dissolve very quickly in the shower, becoming more mushy in the soap dish too. Many cottage soap businesses in the market today are using only these pre-made soap bases to "craft" their soaps instead of making them by hand from the raw ingredients themselves. Don't be afraid to ask, because the quality of the soap is completely different.
All Vegetable Oils
Soapworks Studio soaps contain only food-grade vegetable oils and plant materials, always and forever. Most commercial soaps are made from melted down (rendered) animal fats. Because it's cheap and left over scrap from the meat industry (ugh). Look at the labels (even Dove) for "sodium tallowate", which is tallow or animal fat. I've even been told scary stories of commercial soap manufacturers (like the one who makes most of those cute little hotel soaps) utilizing leftover cooking oils (bacon fat! french fry grease!) to make their products. That just doesn't seem clean to me.
Olive oil has been used for centuries as the finest vegetable oil for soapmaking. It is one of the few oils that is closest to human's own skin lipids, which allows it to absorb nicely, without clogging pores or feeling heavy and greasy, plus is naturally hypo-allergenic. As a moisturizer, olive oil acts by attracting natural moisture from the air and holding it close to your skin. The oil also forms a breathable barrier that helps your body retain its own moisture, yet it doesn't prevent your skin from performing its own naturally healthy functions.
A tropical odorless oil obtained from dried coconut meat, it is ideal for skin care because coconut oil acts in two ways: it protects against damaging free radical formation and also promotes healing. It penetrates the deeper layers of the skin and strengthens underlying tissues. Everywhere you look, there is more research and scientific information about the myriad benefits of coconut for health and beauty too. Superior moisturizing, antioxidant properties, reduction of redness and inflammation, as well as ultraviolet protection from the sun are just some of its skin benefits. However, it's single greatest asset in soaps, is its creation of a truly creamy lather. Any soap without this oil just isn't quite as rich or luxurious. My coconut oil is 100% organic, grown and processed.
Palm oil is produced from the red seed pods of the palm tree. The vast majority of palm oil comes from Indonesia, primarily vast plantations of palm trees in Malaysia. There is currently a lot of controversy surrounding the slash and burn techniques used to harvest the palms, which are causing environmental damage to the local wildlife (orangutans and others) as well as local and larger global ecosystems. If you'd like to know more about the entire issue, check out my recent blog post about it.
The trio of olive, coconut and palm oils work together so perfectly in combination that it is almost impossible to replicate the end result with any variety of other vegetable oils. Palm oil, while the smallest component, provides a harder, longer lasting bar that lathers superbly in both hard and soft water. I've recently switched to sustainably grown palm oil, certified and sanctioned by the RSPO (Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil).
Lots of people ask me this, so I'll start with the pronunciation first. I've Googled all over the place to make sure I've got it right, and here's the deal: it's like po-tay-to, po-tah-to. Most everyone here in the US (and the Brits) call it "shay" butter. That's how we know what we're talking about. But apparently the correct pronunciation (in Africa, where it's from) is "shee'-ah". So you can say it either way, no judging.
Shea butter is extracted from the fruit kernels of the Shea-Karite nut tree which only grows in the tropics of Africa. It is an awesome moisturizer for skin and has incredible healing properties too. The benefits of shea butter has been known and used for literally centuries - for moisturizing skin and hair, protection from the sun, as a balm for minor burns, muscle aches, beauty treatments, treating skin conditions and more.
Shea Butter nourishes the skin with three major Vitamins -- A, E and F. Vitamin A is important for healing a number of skin conditions, including blemishes, wrinkles, eczema, dermatitis, skin allergies, insect bites, sunburn and more. The moisturizing properties are the same as our skin's sebaceous glands, so it absorbs quickly and penetrates deeply, healing wounds and skin injuries quickly too. Even if I use it straight up, it's non-greasy, absorbs immediately and feels super soft. Magic.
Vitamin E is helpful in anti-aging and as an anti-free radical agent by increasing micro-circulation, preventing premature wrinkles and facial lines as well as damage to sun exposure. Vitamin F acts as a skin protector and rejuvenator. It soothes rough, dry or chapped skin and helps soften dry or damaged hair.
Shea Butter is high in unsaponifiables, typically 7-12%, which is twice as high as other similar vegetable oils, making it extremely effective in soap and cream formulations. It easily penetrates the skin allowing the skin to breathe without clogging pores. Shea butter has a high level of cinnamic acid, a natural sun screen, so it provides some degree of protection from the sun (but don't give up your SPF). What more could you ask? Shea butter is a "super food" - for all skin types and conditions.
In my soap bars, and the Shea Butter Balm too, I use Nilotica Shea Butter, which is a premium Fair Trade oil produced from the fruit of the Vitellaria Nilotica sub species of the Karite tree, which grows across Northern Uganda. Lighter in texture with a very mild nutty aroma and a tan color, Nilotica Shea is one of the finest shea butters period. Softer and creamier than the West African stuff (which is usually bleached and chemically refined), this is buttery smooth and oh so creamy.
The nuts are sourced from organically grown trees and harvested by a 1600 member women's cooperative in Uganda who are paid fair trade prices 25-50% above the rates women earn in the local markets. Who doesn't love that? Plus the shea butter nuts are cold-pressed, filtered and packaged without any chemicals. None.
Bottom line: I will always choose "real" over "perfect." But if I can ratchet it up like a million notches with organically produced, chemically-free processed, Fair Trade, harvested by a highly paid Ugandan women's cooperative - BOOM! I've hit the jackpot. And you have too. Because a little piece of this is in every bar of my soap. Are you feeling the love?
Textures, additions and natural colorants
Soapworks Studio soaps contain only natural textures or scrubby bits, and coloring agents. Organic herbs, spice powders, grains, mineral clays and sea vegetables make lovely colors - even pumpkin flakes and tomato powder. To add a bit of texture, I add oatmeal, natural seeds, or grains. Fresh goat milk, raw honey or other natural ingredients are sometimes used for their nourishing, healing, soothing or therapeutic skin care qualities. No fillers preservatives, germacides, or fixatives are ever used. No bad stuff. Just good stuff.
All-natural essential oils are obtained from plants and carry the scent and beneficial properties of that particular plant. They create wonderful fragrances and infuse the soaps with healthy or therapeutic herbal benefits too. Soapworks Studio uses primarily natural essential oils for fragrance - look for the "100% natural product" tag.
I also use some synthetic fragrance oils in a few of my bars. These are cosmetic-grade oils, meaning they are specifically tested for use in all skin care applications. Whenever possible, I make sure they are phalate-free too. I test them scrupulously, and choose only the highest quality suppliers and scents. Using fragrance oils opens up a whole new world of scent, beyond the limited list of plant-based essential oils, and life is so much more fun with more options.
Soapworks Studio soaps and bath products are cruelty-free. No animal testing of any kind ever. (Well, I did put the healing salve on my cat when she had a boo-boo and it worked out great.) I test my soaps only on myself, my family, and eager friends too.