When I first started making cold process soap I was determined to make soap from Indian sourced oils, but I very fast realised that this would pose some challenges. Soap resources online are majorly American/European based, where Olive oil is a stable in soap recipes. That Olive oil is so common has a lot of good reasons – since it makes a hard, moisturising bar and can be used in high amounts of the total amount of oils. Though, this did pose me with a challenge, but hey, challenge excepted.
But I was determined! So I started learning how to form my own recipes, and after a lot (A LOT) of trial and error I have found some general principals to use when making a recipe. Whether you use Olive oil or not, you should be able to use my experiences to shape your own recipe. I will focus on the base recipe, meaning the Carrier oils, and not the additional additives (essential oils etc.). If you’re new to Soap making start by reading How to make natural soap to understand the basic content and process of making soap.
Choosing the purpose
There is a few things to decide when you want to make your soap recipe. Some basic questions you should ask yourself is:
- What do you want to use the soap for? Hair and body bars are different in structure, but it’s also possible to make a ‘universal’ soap bar that can be used all over the body.
- What kind of properties do you want your soap to have? Soaps can be customized to treat a certain skin issue such as acne prone skin, dry skin or sensitive skin, but also just to your own personal preferences.
- For the ones that sell soap for business, I would add – What do you want to emphasize about your soap? – when buyers look for soaps they tend to focus on a specific ingredient or abilities of the soap, with a certain ‘flair’ to it. This can also be a certain oil and it’s abilities you want to emphasize. It takes some understanding of your audience, and this mostly comes with experiences. An option is to seek out soapers groups on Facebook or other forums, to ask more experienced soapers for their evaluation of the market etc.
After some thought on these questions, you’re ready to go on choosing the oils you want to include in the recipe. Now, this takes some basic understanding of carrier oils, their structure, and abilities and how they behave in soap. I’ve included some of the most common soaping oils to the list (that are found in India).
Choosing your oils
Each oil has its own structure, and with that comes a set of abilities in soap. Certain oils like coconut make a super hard soap bar, with a thick lather that is very cleansing while other oils add moisturizing properties but also makes the soap soft. To keep this as simple as possible, I will not go into the specifics of the oil structure but go through the properties different oils add and what percentage is recommended to use it at out of your total amount of oils.
Hardness and cleanse
Coconut oil – use up 50% of oils: a stable in most soap recipes because of it’s incredible cleansing properties, as well as contributing to the hardness and lather of the soap. It’s possible to use coconut in higher percentages if the soap is superfatted accordingly. My rule of thumb is – used at 30%/superfat 7%, used at 50%/superfat 10-15% and used at 100%/superfat 20-30%. If you want to read more on making pure coconut soap read 2 coconut soaps – for face, body and clothes. Additional to hardness, cleanse and thick lather coconut soap is known to add antibacterial and antimicrobial properties to the soap.
Butters – use between 10-30% of oils: butters are mostly a luxury to add in higher quantities in soap because it’s on the pricy side. I use Kokum butter and Mango butter on a regular basis, but there is a long list of butter available today. Besides great moisturizing and healing properties, butters add to the hardness of the soap and give a creamy lather. One thing I’ve noticed is that by adding 15% of butters with 30% of coconut, I can un-mold much faster, and get a hard bar of soap. Because I tend to avoid Olive oil and Palm oil, which both contribute to the hardness of the soap, this has been one of my go-to methods to make my bars harder. Different butter has different recommended amounts – Mango Butter/up to 30%, Kokum Butter/up to 10% and Cocoa butter/up to 15%.
Other hard oils I choose not to use: Olive oil (up to 100%), Palm oil (up to 40%), Shea Butter (up to 25%)
Castor oil – use between 5-10%: castor is in a league for itself when it comes to adding moisturizing abilities to soap. It can’t be used in too high amounts because it will make the soap soft and sticky. Though in the right amount, it’s also a stable oil in all my recipes.
Cheap oils (filler oils)
Sunflower – use up to 15%: sunflower is relatively cheap oil, but also a very moisturizing oil. Prices of oils are mostly set according to the cost of extraction, not how healthy or good it is. Reasons for not using too much Sunflower is that it will take away from the hardness of the soap, but in combo with hard oils, it works great.
Safflower- used up to 20%: similarly to Sunflower, this oils is relatively cheap, and can, therefore, be used as a ‘filler’ oil to bring down the cost of the soap. This oil is also very conditioning.
Sesame – used up to 10%: I use this oil in almost every recipe since it a cheap and moisturizing oil.
Other Filler oils I choose not to use: Canola (up to 40%), Soya bean oil (up to 15%)
Neem – used at 10%: now it might just be me because I’ve heard of soapers that use it at higher quantities. What I’ve experienced is that it can cause the soap batch to expel oil when used in higher quantities. Also, it makes the soap trace very fast so be aware when using it. You barely need a stick blender. On the other hand, it is a strong medicinal oil, that can help treat and heal acne, eczema and other skin conditions. It also adds a yellow color to the soap. Now, the oil has a very strong smell, but my experience is that the smell goes out of the soap after curing a few days. I’ve used it as a colorant together with coconut oil soaps, to give a beautiful yellow color.
Sweet Almond – used up to 20%: a very light oil, that contributes rich lather. Because it is a humectant (it attracts moisture), it adds moisture to your soap. It also helps soothe dry and troubled skin such as rashes and eczema. It is on the more expensive side, so I tend to use it at around 5-10%.
Avocado – used up to 20%: a very nutritious oil, with great regenerative and moisturizing properties. It also helps treat dry and irritated skin, but because of it’s the price I also use it in amounts between 5-10%.
Rule of thumb
Now, you can find endless info on the recommended usage of other oils, as well as their properties. What is important to understand is that any soap recipe needs to be balanced, between some basic properties most would find essential – hardness, lather, moisture, cleanse and price. I use some basic formula’s to ensure this, for body bars. For shampoo bars, I exclusively make pure coconut soap bars, so this is for body bars only. Rule of thumb: 40-50% hard oils or butter, 30% filler oils, 10% Castor & 10-20% Luxury, Healing, Other oils. Here are two examples:
- 30% Coconut
- 15% Butter – Mango Butter, Kokum butter
- 30% Filler oils – Sunflower, Safflower
- 10% Sesame
- 10% Castor
- 5% Luxury oil – Sweet Almond oil, Avocado
- Superfat: 5%
- 50% Coconut
- 25% Filler oils – Sunflower, Safflower, Sesame
- 10% Castor
- 10% Neem
- 5% Luxury oil
- Superfat: 10%
This was all I had for now. I really hoped it gave you enough to start making your own recipes. It gives a lot of freedom and Creativity to the soap making process. Let me know if there are some Indian oils I’ve missed (preferably available organic – Soya bean for examples is available in India, but not organically grown).