My soaping adventure has taken me through a number of different experiments with soap, but till date one of my favourites is to make pure Coconut soap. In this post I will go through two different recipes of pure Coconut soap, using the same method (cold process), but creating soap bars for two different uses:
As a Face & Body bar
As Cleaning incl. dishes, clothes and around the house
I originally started making Coconut Soap because I was struggling to find a combination of oils in my soaps, that reached my four criteria:
They should be Indian sourced
They should be Organic
They shouldn’t be too expensive
They should make a hard, cleansing and moisturising bar of soap.
Three oils in particular are known to make very hard, balanced and moisturising soap bars – namely Olive oil, Palm oil and Coconut oil. Since Olive oil can’t be sourced from India, and Palm oil isn’t available from organic and sustainable sources, I was left to find other alternatives. Even though I found many different combinations, I couldn’t really get the soap bars as hard as I wanted them, without doubling the price of my materials. Then one day I came across a post on making pure Coconut soap bars, something I had never even thought about. Today I have probably made more pure Coconut soap, than of other recipes, and I’ve found a number of up benefits and a few downsides to it:
It makes a super hard bar of soap that doesn’t get soft after use
It has great thick creamy lather
It is super cleansing and moisturising (if superfatted properly)
Its versatile – can be used for hair, body and clothes
It has a beautiful white colour if no colour is added, and gets a very rustic look if it is added
Its naturally antibacterial and antimicrobial
Its relatively cost effective since Coconut oil is a medium priced oil (here in India)
It does have a very rustic look, and leaves a white coating on top of the soap that hides the colorant used – and is thereby not very suitable for making soaps with colours, patterns and swirls
It does disappear relatively fast, maybe because of its great lathering
All in all I think the upsides outweigh the downsides.
2 Coconut soaps – for hair, body and clothes
Because Coconut Soap is very cleansing, making a bar without superfatting it will make it very drying. Though by controlling the superfat % you can also modify it to serve the purpose you have in mind.
Superfat is the amount of oil left in the soap that isn’t saponified. It’s calculated in percentage, and will in most soaps vary from 5 to 7 percentage.
0% Superfat for a Cleaning Bar
Pure Coconut soap without any superfat makes the perfect clothes washing bar, because it is very cleansing. Make your soap like you normally would, with or without essential oils. You can cut them as bars to use for hand washing, or follow this Washing powder recipe for Machine wash:
What you need:
A bar of Coconut soap
1/2 Washing Soda
Essential oil of choice (apply by drops until it smells like you want it to
How to make it:
Shred the Coconut soap with a normal kitchen shredder
Mix the soap shreds with the Washing Soda
Drop your essential oils until it has the desired smell
Optional: mix with a few power turns in a mixer grinder.
For face and body you need some extra moisturising to make sure it doesn’t dry out the skin. Superfat by 20-30% and otherwise customise the soap according to your wishes. There’s is mostly not much difference between a face and a body bar, unless you’re trying to solve an issue you’re having on a specific part of your body – like acne, dryness etc. When superfatted this much it will take the soap a little longer to harden in the mould, but since Coconut already hardens pretty fast it won’t take very long (1 day max).
I hope this was useful. Do let me know if you give it a try, or have more know more ways of making or using Coconut soap.
Disclaimer: this post is inspired by one of Wellness mama (whom I’m a big fan of), also describing the dangers of antibacterial soaps. I have used the same studies as her but tried to see it from the perspective of India.
Dettol soap is probably the most popular hand washing soap here in India. At least you can’t go long without either hearing their commercials or coming across one of their soap. A Scandinavian colleague of mine always puts an additional piece of soap in the office bathroom, because she says she’s ‘not gonna use that toxic stuff’. She’s referring to the Dettol soap. I don’t use commercials soap by principle, because I don’t trust their transparency and sincerity, but after looking a little closer at Dettol, I couldn’t agree more with my colleague’s choice of words – toxic stuff. Let me walk you through it.
What’s inside a Dettol soap
To understand what’s so bad about Dettol soap, we need to understand what it contains. Later I will only focus on a few of the ingredients, but if you want to read more on the toxic ingredients found in many commercial soaps, you can start by reading Commercial vs. Handmade soaps. Let’s look at a typical Dettol soap:
Sodium Palmate – saponified palm oil. Like I’ve mentioned in my earlier post, commercially derived Palm oil is very damaging to the environment and destroys the habitats it’s harvested from. It’s used in soap because it’s cheap and makes a super hard and moisturizing bar.
Glycerin – what they sometimes refer to as added moisturizer. Note that Glycerin wouldn’t need to be added if it had been handmade soap because real soap contains glycerin naturally
Perfume – manufacturing a scent takes up to 3000 different chemical compounds. Most of these are made from synthetic compounds derived from Petroleum, whereof many are known toxins linked to a number of serious health issues and hormonal disruptions. Many of them are still untested for possible harm
Benzyl Salicylate – a chemical compound that helps scent last longer. Can cause irritation on the skin. Listed as an allergenic by European Cosmetic Directive
Butylphenyl methylpropinal – fragrance compound
Citronellol – a natural scent additive to add citrus or floral notes. Occurs naturally
Geraniol – fragrance compound, that also occurs naturally
Hexyl Cinnamal – fragrance compound
Coumarin – fragrance compound associated with allergy and contact dermatitis
Linalool – fragrance compound
Palm Acid – a byproduct of palm oil
Sodium Chloride – salt
Tetrasodium EDTA – is a preservative and a known carcinogen (agent known to cause cancer), and is also a penetration enhancer – which means it breaks down the skins natural barrier, making it easier for harmful chemicals to penetrate the tissue and even enter the blood
Ethidronic Acid – an inorganic acid used as a binding agent
Triclocarban – antibacterial agent
Titanium Dioxide – added for the white color
Sodium Carbonate – also known as ‘Washing soda’. Its similar to Baking soda in composition, but is caustic and used as a cleaning agent.
Sodium Sulfate – sodium salt often used in detergents
There’s a number of ingredients on this list that is of concern. I will focus on Triclocarban (in solid soap) or Triclosan (in liquid soap), which is supposed to be the antibacterial component in Dettol. Before we get deeper into that, it’s important to understand something much more basic – there is no proof available that Antibacterial soap is anyway is more effective than normal soap, or even natural handmade soap.
Antibacterial vs. Normal soap
The biggest selling point of Dettol soap is that it’s antibacterial – like it says, it kills 99.9 % of bacteria! We are made to believe that it’s superior to normal soap and will protect us better against disease and infections. Though this doesn’t seem to be the case. Last year the FDA (US Food and Drug Association) released its final ruling on the effectiveness and safety of Antibacterial soap:
Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water. In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term.
Data suggested that long-term exposure to certain active ingredients used in antibacterial products — for example, triclosan (liquid soaps) and triclocarban (bar soaps) — could pose health risks, such as bacterial resistance or hormonal effects.
This highlights two important points: 1) there’s no proof Antibacterial soap will protect you better than normal soap 2) even if it did, health concerns linked to ingredients such as Triclosan or Triclosaban might outweigh the benefits. If you want to read the final ruling of FDA, you can find it here. Though, this is not the only points to keep in mind. Let me explain.
There’s clean and there’s too clean
Bacteria might be associated by many as something bad, but we are becoming only more aware of how incredibly important bacteria is for us to stay healthy. Especially the gut bacteria play a crucial role in keeping the body’s systems in balance. In recent years studies have shown that people with less varied gut bacteria are much more prone to getting sick. We receive this bacteria through a number of ways throughout our lives. For bonus info, I can tell you that one of them is through birth, which ultimately means that children born by C-section often lack this gut bacteria diversity. Though, we also obtain these bacterias through our life, by the different exposures we come in contact with (food, environment etc.). Now, it’s important to understand that while it is the good bacteria that keep us healthy, being exposed to bad bacteria is essential for our body to build up our immune system. Essentially that’s what vaccines do – they expose us to a tiny amount of the disease, to make our own body produce antibodies to protect us against future exposure.
So what happens when we use antibacterial agents? Just like when we use antibiotics, strong antibacterial agents don’t distinguish between the good and bad bacteria. It simply wipes out all of it – good and bad. I absolutely agree that there can be situations where this is necessary (for example after visiting a hospital or other places where dangerous bacteria might occur or in the case of using antibiotics to fight dangerous disease), but if used on a daily basis we diminish the natural exposure we need to grow a strong immune response and bacterial diversity to stay healthy. This post, for example, shows some of the research done, linking the use of Antibacterial agents to immune-related sensitivities:
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University published a study in the 2012 Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology where they found that children with high levels of triclosan, a common component in everything from cleaning products and toothpaste to pizza cutters and countertops—anywhere “antibacterial” properties are marketed), were at significantly higher risk for developing seasonal allergies, food, drug, and insect allergies, hay fever, and other immune-related sensitivities.
Superbugs and drug resistance
Again it’s important to understand what happens inside our bodies. Most diseases occur when an imbalance in the body in combination with exposure to a virus or bacteria, makes a favorable environment for a bad bacteria or virus to go into Overgrowth. For example, a yeast infection that many women might have experienced happens when the balance of the natural bacteria is disturbed, causing overgrowth of yeast (which occurs naturally). This can happen when using harsh soap that removes all the bacterias, or overuse of Anti-biotics that essentially does the same. Now, this is important to understand, because by using antibacterial agents, we might be making a favorable environment for so-called “superbug” to develop, and in combination with the growing drug resistance (caused by overexposure to for example antibiotics), we are looking at nothing less than a health emergency. Recent news report on ABC new explains:
Indeed, recent research suggests these products may encourage the growth of “superbugs” resistant to antimicrobial agents, a problem when these bacteria run rampant, turning into a dangerous infection that cannot be treated with available medication.
Similar growth of drug-resistant strains has already occurred with antibiotics. The overuse and misuse of antibiotics has led to several drug-resistant microbes, such as streptococcus pneumonia and strains of E. coli.
Dr. Stuart Levy, president of the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics and a professor of molecular biology at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, believes antibacterial soaps are dangerous.
“Triclosan creates an environment where the resistant, mutated bacteria are more likely to survive,” says Levy, who published a study on the germicide two years ago in the journal Nature.
Charles Rock, a researcher at St. Jude Children’s Research Hosptial in Memphis, Tenn., also published work in Nature last month supporting the resistance theory.
“The use of triclosan in these products will lead to the emergence of resistance,” he predicts. “There is no strong rationale for [its] use.”
Increased risk of infection
Oh the irony, but some studies show that use of Triclosan causes a build-up of Staph aureus bacteria in nasal passages and other parts of the body, which leads to higher risk of infection. Read the full study here,
Triclosan, a chemical found in the majority of anti-bacterial hand and dish soaps, was picked up in the nasal passages of 41 percent of the adults sampled by researchers at the University of Michigan. Those with triclosan in their noses were more likely to also have colonies of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus (commonly referred to as “staph”).
Most importantly though, was that researchers found a potential link between the two: Triclosan appears to help the staph bacteria grab hold and bind to proteins in the nose.
“I think we have been seeing a lot of this over the past few years, that perhaps these antimicrobial soaps are doing more harm than good,” said Dr. Melissa Osborn, an infectious disease specialist with MetroHealth Medical Center. “We know that one of the reasons that staph aureus colonizes some people’s noses is that it adheres to some of the proteins in the nose. Triclosan actually promoted that adhesion.”
Having staph aureus in your nose — which is the case for about 30 percent of people — is not necessarily a problem in and of itself, but is a risk factor for getting other infections such as surgical site infections, boils, catheter site infections in people on dialysis and diabetic foot ulcers.
This is just a fraction of the research emerging on the dangers linked with the use of antibacterial soaps, gels, cleaning products etc. Studies also show that chemicals like Triclosan disrupts hormones as well as is of major environmental concern. So what should we go? For me it’s simple. Soap is not the issue – washing your hands with normal soap is proven to cut a number of a dangerous disease in half. Wash your hands and body in good old, natural soap. As for Hand sanitizers, where water is not available, there is a number of DIY natural versions out there. The other day I saw my colleague squeeze a lemon into his hand, which in fact is also antibacterial. I will be sure to follow this post up with one on how to make you’re very own, safe antibacterial hand sanitizer.
For most of my life I had a sore spot for beauty products. I knew nothing better than to go down to our local beauty shop, and use my pocket money on a new nail polish, face mask or shampoo. For the last three years, I haven’t bought a product that wasn’t handmade, by either myself or a company that I trust. The reason is simple: I know what commercial products contain, and most of it is highly toxic and harmful for both earth and everything living including humans. I would like to share with you what I have learned about the ‘soap’ that is sold commercially today, with the example of Dove, to illustrate just one example of this. Let’s get down to business.
Soap consist of liquid, fats and sodium hydroxide (lye), mixed together causing a process called saponification. If done in the right measurements there is only soap left once completely saponified.
Now this is an important point, because if you look at the back of most commercial soaps you will find about 35 additional ingredients – and at times sodium hydroxide won’t even be one of them. So if soap is liquid, oil and lye, then what are what are these bars if not soap? The answer is detergent and chemicals. If you pay attention to the names of such bars, it’s often not soap – but body bar, face bar, beauty bar or cream bar. The reasons for not selling natural soaps that I’ve been able to deduct are the following:
Natural soap can’t be mass produced – the process of natural and/or handmade soap is such that it can’t be easily mass produced. Detergent on the other hand can.
Detergents are cheaper – natural soap needs oil, and most oils don’t come cheap. This is also due to the fact that many cheap oils can’t be used in high quantities, because they will make a soft or sticky bar. Soya oil for example, that is a very cheap oil, can’t be made into a soap bar without adding other oils.
Detergent makes for a ‘better’ bar – when I say better, I mean that they hit some desired points that is not easy or cheap to replicate in natural soap. This is for example stable and abundant lather, eternal shelf-life, strong scent and uniform look.
Now some might think, what is the problem if the bar cleans my body? The problem is simple. Detergent bars work against the body, not with it. Our bodies are made to keep it’s natural balance, and can regulate a number of the disturbances brought on by exposures we come in contact with during the day (harsh weather, dust, pollution etc.). Though if exposed regularly to something as strong as detergent, that drains the natural moisture and nutrients from the skin, the body gets thrown off balance. This means that it can no longer regulate itself, and a number of problems will start to appear – such as oily skin, dry skin, pimples etc. Now it might sound strange that you can get oily skin from a very cleansing bar, but its true – if you continuously deplete the moisture from your skin, your body will respond by secreting more oil to try to get back in balance.
Glycerine is a natural bi-product of the soap making process. You might have heard the term ‘Glycerine soap’, which is somewhat misleading, because all soap contains glycerine. Glycerine is a natural moisturizer because it attracts moisture from the air to your skin, and is therefore a very valuable commodity. This means that its often removed from soap and added to other and more expensive products such as face and body creams. Without the glycerine, the soap bar will most likely dry out the skin, even though it might clean it. One thing I have noticed after using handmade soap, is that I don’t need to use moisturizer as much as I did before. Actually I only rarely use moisturizer on my body, and my skin only rarely feels dry, and that living in New Delhi – where I’m exposed to a lot of pollution every day.
Smells like chemicals
Dove has won a lot of market here in India, as well as world wide, and it’s likely that a lot of you reading this has a Dove bar in your bathroom. So I realize I might be stepping on some toes to make this popular bar the center of my point – since ‘information is power’, I’m gonna take my chances. When Dove advertises that ‘it doesn’t dry out the skin like ordinary soap’, it’s important to understand two things: 1. Ordinary soap doesn’t dry out the skin if it’s made naturally and with the right oils 2. Even if it a Dove bar doesn’t dry out the skin, it contains a number of questionable chemicals that you might want to be aware of. Lets look at the ingredients of the Dove White Beauty bar:
Stearic Acid – a hardening agent made from plant or animal fats
Sodium Tallowate Or Sodium Palmitate – this is actually quite misguiding since these are two different ingredients but are listed together. Sodium Tallowate is derived from Animal fats or Tallow. Now this might be important information to the many vegetarians in India, that wouldn’t want to use animal products. Sodium Palmitate on the other hand is Palm oil, which even though it is a wonderful oil, has a number of environmental concerns because it’s cultivation and harvesting ruins natural habitats causing major harm the nature and animals living there.
Lauric Acid – a lathering and hardening agent
Sodium Isethionate – also a detergent
Sodium Stearate – also a hardening agent
Cocamidopropyl Betaine – a synthetic agent added to increase lather, associated with irritation and allergic reactions such as eczema. According to some studies its often contaminated with nitrosamines, which is linked to cancer.
Sodium Cocoate Or Sodium Palm Kernelate – Saponified coconut oil and saponified palm kernel oil
Fragrance – again quite misleading, because manufacturing a scent actually takes up to 3000 different chemical compounds. Most of these are made from synthetic compounds derived from Petroleum, whereof many are known toxins linked to a number of serious health issues and disruptions. Many of them are still untested for possible harm.
Sodium Chloride – salt
Tetrasodium Edta- is a preservative and a known carcinogen (agent known to cause cancer), and is also a penetration enhancer – which means it breaks down the skins natural barrier, making it easier for harmful chemicals to penetrate the tissue and even enter the blood.
Tetrasodium Etidronate – added to prevent changes in colour, texture and fragrance
Titanium Dioxide (Ci 77891) – a whitening agent
Now, first of all, on their website it says each bar has 1/4 moisturizing cream, which is what makes it less drying than soap. I cannot figure out which of these should be the moisturizing cream. Second of all, there is not a lot of these ingredients that actually has any known positive effects on skin. Most are added to let the bar last longer, look uniform, have abundant later and maintain a strong smell. This is just one example – there are many more dangerous chemicals to add to the list if we start exploring commercial shampoos, creams, lip balms etc.
The Environment down the drain
When using soap, most of us don’t think about what happened before and what happens after we use a bar of soap. I am no exception. It has taken me years to start thinking along the lines I am about to write. For me it’s simple now, if something shouldn’t go on my body, then it shouldn’t go into nature. Many detergents and other chemicals are as toxic to the flora and fauna as it is to us, and after it runs down the drain it finds its way to the earth and water. Additionally, or maybe even more importantly, the chemicals used in many commercial bars are made from unsustainable practices that pollutes and depletes nature of its natural resources. With the enormous boom of consumerism of commercial items, the consequences are now becoming more and more serious. So what does one soap bar change? Nothing. But if one bar becomes to millions, I believe that it will make a difference.
All this is my personal opinions from my own experiences, observations and research. I am always looking to broaden my horizon and always acknowledge I can be wrong. For now though, this is what I think.
Believe it or not, but the word shampoo entered the English language from India during the colonial era. The word was derived from the Hindi word Chāmpo, taking its origin in the Sanskrit root Chapayati, meaning to press, knead or soothe. At this point in time, a mixture of herbs and their extracts had been used to clean the hair since the ancient times. Most commonly the mixtures included Reetha also known as Soapberries or Soapnuts, that naturally contains Saponins, which is a natural cleanser. It was often mixed with other herbs such Arappu, Shikakai and Amla (Indian Gooseberry). When the colonialist returned back to Europe they introduced this new habit of massaging hair treatment into the scalp and hair, which they called ‘shampoo’.
Today shampoo has come to refer to a completely different mix of ingredients, though with the same purpose – to clean and soften the hair. That being said, shampoos today will promise you much more than that – to stop hair fall, fight dandruff, give volume, straighten or curl and much more. I’ve used commercial shampoos for around 26 years of my life, and my own homemade for around 2 years. From pure experience I can say that 2 issues I had the first 26 years have completely stopped in the last 2.
1. I’ve stopped loosing my hair:
I have an abundance of hair, so hair fall was never a big worry for me. That being said I always had a lot of hair fall, and used to find my hair left behind everywhere i would go. Hair fall is a major worry of many women, and if you don’t have a lions mane like mine, it’s completely understandable. Since I’ve treated my hair naturally with different methods, I’ve stopped losing my hair, till the stage where I barely find a strand of hair on my hairbrush.
2. My hair has stopped tangling:
I used to hate brushing my hair, because it took forever and left me with a sore scalp. The only way to make it manageable was to use half a bottle of conditioner, and in student days, that was a luxury I didn’t always want to pay for. Today I can go for days without brushing it, and it will still only tangle minimally.
Now, that being said – there is a certain flow that some commercial shampoos can give your hair, that I haven’t experienced with my own homemade. I love the way my hair feels now, so I’m not bothered by it, but I’m always experimenting with new ways to keep my hair healthy, soft and shiny.
What is shampoo today
Everyone has once upon a time tried to crack the code of list of ingredients on the back on the shampoo bottle, and many probably failed. Most shampoos are mostly a combinations of detergents and chemicals, that not only strips your hair of it’s natural moisture, but also carries a number of serious health concerns. At the same time commercials tend to focus on the few naturals ingredients the shampoo actually does contains, so this is what I started to wonder some years back – why shouldn’t a shampoo consist mostly the stuff we find good enough to promote?
Getting into the list of health hazards of commercial shampoo is a post in itself, so instead I will give some options of washing your hair naturally, cheap and easy. I would like to note that there are options of Organic, natural shampoos on the market today. I choose to make it myself, because it’s cheaper and gives me greater control of what it contains.
3 ways to wash your hair naturally
It the last years, natural ways of cleaning the hair and body has won a lot of popularity world wide. Though here in India, like mentioned, these traditions goes back centuries. When I started out I had a lot of trial and error, and some of these methods have not worked for me, but that is not to say the wont work for you. Lets start with my own favorite.
Coconut shampoo bar
Coconut oil has a number of potent medicinal properties, as well as being a very strong cleanser. Because of it’s cleansing properties, it is commonly not used at higher rates of 25 % of the total oils in handmade soap. Though by simply superfatting the soap 10%, meaning leaving 10% of the coconut oil unsaponified, you will get a cleansing though moisturising shampoo bar. For dry hair you can superfat up to 12%. I usually add Lavender or Sweet Orange essential oil, but you can add any off your favourite essential oils. What I love about this shampoo is that it lathers just as much as normal shampoo, which most other methods doesn’t. Additionally It doesn’t take any preparation other than making it once, and can easily be used as a face and body bar as well. If you would like to try this out, but have never made soap before, start here: How to make natural soap.
Soapnuts – Reetha
Soapnuts, more commonly known as Reetha here in India, grows on the tree Sapindus. The word Sap meaning soap and Indus referring to India, perfectly summing up the essence of this tree. Because the soapnuts doesn’t taste good to insects, the tree has no need for fertilisers or pesticides, making it naturally organic. Soapnuts contain something called saponin, a natural cleanser, which is why it has been used for centuries to clean hair, skin, clothes and even homes. I’ve several times heard people here in India say – “ah, we used to wash our hair in that, in my native place when I was a child”, but I have only very few times actually seen people use it. I’ve not used it much to wash my own hair, but frequently use it to wash my clothes, but let me get back to that in another post. You can get soapnuts in it’s whole form, and as a powder. Though a word on buying powders – its not unknown that vendors mix fillers in powders, at least here in India. So buying the full nut makes it 100% sure its pure soapnut. To wash your hair with whole soapnuts, simply do the following:
Put 5-7 soapnuts in a cotton string bag or directly in 3 Cups of water
Boil over heat and let simmer for 20 min
Add 1 more cup of water and continue simmering for 10 min
Take off heat, and squeeze the bag until it suds
Rinse with water and continue squeezing
Keep the bottle in the fridge and massage into hair like you normally would when you want to wash your hair.
Would can also go for making powder of your soapnuts, and use as a paste instead, alone or mixed with some of the following.
Arappu, Shikakai and Amla
While you can wash your hair individually with Reetha, you can also add any of these three ingredients. Though this is not the only mixture you can try out.
Arappu is often used on its own to clean and soften hair. Made from the leaves of the Arappu tree, it’s a natural conditioner and leaves your hair incredibly soft. Simple make a paste of the green powder with water and massage into hair and scalp. Rinse like normal, and feel the soft result.
Shikakai or Acacia is a tree native to Asia, whereof the bark is used to make Shikakai powder. Shikakai literally meaning fruit for hair, like Reetha contains saponins making it a great cleanser. Shikakai is not often used on it’s own but in mixture with Arappu, Amla or Reetha so that it doesn’t dry out the hair.
Amla or Indian Gooseberry is the fruit of the Amla tree. It’s often eaten and drunk as a juice because of it’s great health benefits, and is equally healthy for your hair. Amla has strong antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, that strengthens your hair and scalp. It can be added to any of the three above, or on it’s own as a hair pack.
To sum up – use Arappu alone – Arappu with Shikakai – Shikakai with Amla – Amla with Arappu – Arappu with Reetha – Reetha with Shikakai – or just all of them in a mix. You can even add any of these to your coconut shampoo bar!
That was all for now. Feel free to comment, if you have your own favorite combination to add to the list.
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:
15% Butter – Mango Butter, Kokum butter
30% Filler oils – Sunflower, Safflower
5% Luxury oil – Sweet Almond oil, Avocado
25% Filler oils – Sunflower, Safflower, Sesame
5% Luxury oil
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).