Susan Spencer & Jeanne Rose
Go into any bath and body store
and you are sure to find soaps in
a huge variety of scents, fragrances, colors, types, sizes,
shapes and price ranges. How
are these soaps different from the nationally advertised brand name
soaps? How are they
different from each other? What
really makes a soap a "good" soap?
The first thing most people do when seeking the perfect
lathery bar is to hold it to their nose and breathe deep.
Apparently, the most important thing to most people is fragrance.
But there is more to soap than just scent.
The base is an important aspect of any soap that consumers
know little about.
First a little background: As
you may know, very few companies make their own soap.
In fact, virtually all famous brand name soaps, hotel soaps,
teddy bear soaps, fruit soaps, glycerin soaps, aromatherapy soaps,
etc. on the market are made by just five
independent soap makers who "private-label" for
hundreds of different companies.
So if you want to find out everything there is to know about
"Made in America" soap, there are only a few key people to
talk to. Of those five
independent American soap makers, only three actually make their own
soap base which means that many soaps, despite all their apparent
differences in color, fragrance and packaging, share exactly the
In the "natural" products industry, more and more
individuals are making their own soaps and soap base.
Spirits Herb Shop
makes soap for thousands in her soap kitchen (with a little help
from five other family soap makers who also work out of their
the process of making a soap base by mixing fat with an alkali.
In the old days soap makers used the ashes of plants like the
Soapwort and Barilla for their alkali.
But ever since Nicolas Leblanc figured out how to synthesize
the active ingredient, sodium hydroxide (a.k.a. lye), in the late
18th c. France, that's what everyone's been using.
When it comes to which fat or oil to use, however, there are
still lots of options: saturated, unsaturated, poly, mono, animal,
Most soaps are made from a tallow base (that's right, animal
fat…whence comes the expression soap rendering).
It doesn't matter how many flowers are on the package, or
even how transparent the bar is, unless it specifically says
"vegetable base" it's probably tallow.
People have been using tallow for soap ever since Phoenicians
boiled goat fat with wood ashes about 2500 years ago. The first
solid soap bar was made in the Middle East around the 8th century.
Today, tallow still makes a great base for soap and is cheap.
We have a preference, aesthetic and otherwise, for soaps with
a vegetable-base. Baudelaire
prefers a blend of 80% palm oil and 20% coconut oil, but other soap
makers use combinations that contain olive oil and /or other
vegetable oils. The base
for true Castile soaps, for example, is primarily olive oil made in the
Castile region of Spain. Be
cautious, some soap makers label their soaps as Castile though they
are not actually a TRUE Castile soap from the Castile region nor are
they an olive-oil based soap.
Here's a little-known fact: you don't have to add glycerin to
make a glycerin soap base. You
have to leave it in! When
fat is mixed with lye, this chemical reaction creates about 93% soap
and 7% glycerin. Usually
all but about 1/2% of that glycerin is removed.
In a glycerin soap, it's left in, and occasionally more is
added generally from tallow soap makers to bring the level up to
After saponification, some soap makers add an additional oil
or fat (often lanolin) to the soap base.
This creates what is called a superfatted
Once the saponification process is complete, most soap base
is dried into a powder; or, occasionally, a flaky substance. The
powder or flakes lie around in big bags, waiting to be mixed with
some fragrance, color, preservatives, anti-oxidants, secret
ingredients, or whatever the soap maker will be adding to create the
final product. The
ingredients get macerated, squeezed, rolled, chopped, milled and,
finally squished (a.k.a. extruded) into the long tube of soap! A
soap's longevity depends not only on the base, but also on how it's
milled and dried. It is then sliced, molded and wrapped to produce
the final bar of soap.
The only difference between some "natural" soaps
and soaps you buy at the supermarket are packaging and a vegetable
base. Many contain
synthetic fragrance oils, artificial coloring and preservatives.
Many call themselves "Aromatherapy" simply because
they contain fragrance. A
true aromatherapy soap is one that has therapeutic value, meaning it
is of a vegetable base, contains no artificial coloring and the
fragrance and therapy comes from pure, therapeutic quality essential
oils from plants which have not been standardized.
Of course, only some of this information is on the label, and
if you call many soap companies, they will not know if they are
using pure essential oils, if the oils have been standardized, or
even if the oils come from plants.
We recently contacted a soap company which advertised
"ALL NATURAL, NOTHING ARTIFICIAL" on its product
information and label. They
claimed to be using pure, high-quality essential oils.
Yet when they told us they were paying approximately $12-20
for a Kilo of what was sold to them as Lavender oil, it was clear
that they were mistaken. No
one is knowingly selling 100% therapeutic quality Lavender (Lavandula
angustifolia) oil for $12-20 a Kilo.
Lavender - terpene free, a good Lavender essential oil for
soap costs $125 a Kilo. Lavender 40-42 which is a standardized
semi-synthetic oil is about $45 a Kilo.
angustifolia is $200 a Kilo and up.
Spirits soaps mix
the vegetable oils and lye at perfectly controlled temperatures,
then add pure essential oil, 8 ounces to every 32-35 pounds of soap
base. The soap is then
poured, aged and cut. There
are no preservatives or synthetic fragrance added.
The result is the only pure, natural and therapeutic
soap in the natural foods market.
Due to the high essential oil content per bar of soap, every
wash gives you approximately 1 drop of pure essential oil in a way
that is therapeutic to the skin.
For a genuine aromatherapy treatment for acne, irritations or
skin that is too dry or oily, this lathering is followed by an
aromatherapy lotion or bath oil containing the appropriate essential
Soap for teenage skin; green and blue soap with Douglas Fir and
Rosemary Verbenone to stimulate and wake you in the morning;
marbleized soap with Vanilla/Patchouli scent for a relaxing romantic
interlude and JEANNE ROSE SEAWEED SCRUB with oats and seaweed for
*This article is adapted in part from Baudelaire
February 1991 newsletter.
more information send a postcard to Jeanne Rose Aromatherapy, 219
Carl St., San Francisco, CA 94117 for a product list.
All rights reserved 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006. No part of this article may
be used without prior permission from Jeanne Rose.
© Authors Copyright Jeanne Rose,