Journey into soap

My interest in soap started years ago when I wanted to be healthier and I started learning about the substances we put into our bodies. I started reading the small print of the labels in soaps, shampoos and conditioners. I should say I made an attempt at reading since first, you have to find it, then, battle with the small print to finally find the ingredients written in Latin. You need a chemistry degree to really understand what you are reading.

I read Bernadette Bohan’s “The Choice The programme”. She identifies sodium lauryl sulphate or sodium laureth sulphate as harsh chemicals responsible for the foam in shampoos. They are even present in babies and children shampoos.

Some of the symptoms are eye irritation, skin allergies, contact eczema and cataracts. “Sodium lauryl sulphate… is rapidly absorbed by the body… retained in the eyes, brain and liver and its effect on the liver and brain are cumulative.”

This contrast heavily with the images we are so accustomed to in the advertising of these products. They are always showing the model, whether it is an adult or child, surrounded by foam, happy, laughing, smiling.

Now picture this:

foam = chemical.

I started looking for more natural brands that would not contain these substances. It is certainly a lot of work in the beginning to read the labels of every product I wanted to purchase until I found the brands that didn’t have them. Ultimately, we are all responsible for what we put into our bodies.

Throughout the years I also learned that, at some point, shampoo producers decided to add this small text to the labels: lather twice and rinse. Apparently, this is just a ploy to increase sales. Previous to that, people were applying shampoo just once.

A few years ago, when I gave birth I was told by my doctor that soap just takes away all the oils of the skin. So after that advice, I didn’t wash the baby with soap even though I had bought a liquid soap with organic ingredients.

It sounds counterintuitive to cleanse yourself with just water, like you are not cleaning yourself well enough; we have grown so accustomed to the foam in soaps and shampoos.

With the demands breastfeeding placed in my body or maybe due to something else, the skin in my arms was visibly dry. So I started to shower with just water. My skin instantly improved.

Last year, after searching on the internet and finding the amusing term of “no poo”, I decided to give a try to let go of shampooing my hair. Some people use just water while others use a combination of bicarbonate soda diluted with water as the “shampoo” and apple cider vinegar with “the mother” diluted with water as the “conditioner”.

I was surprised how easy it was to comb my hair after using the vinegar, a striking difference compared to using the leave-in conditioner: I would still struggle to untangle the hair. My dry hair never got too greasy, like other people who report a period of grease until the hair regulates itself.

I stopped using this method since my scalp started to get really dry. I didn’t like the lack of definition in the curls.

Overall, I was impressed by the experience and I will try again in the future. During the two or three-month period I was doing this I went on a holiday. I found it was great not to worry about packing bottles and hand luggage liquid restrictions.

This past weekend, I attended a one day soap workshop. I have been wanting for a while to learn how to make soap using the cold process method but there were no courses available. Finally, the opportunity came up out of the blue.

One of the advantages of making something from scratch is that you know exactly what goes into the soap.

Another advantage is that packaging is not required, saving in containers and bottles that otherwise you would have used.

I also like the crafty feel that it gives you; it allows you to develop your creativity and appeals to your senses: smell, sight and touch.

You can create a soap tailored to the user’s specific needs, whether the skin is dry or normal or particularly delicate.

You can also customise the soap so that it can be used as shampoo or shaving bars.

You are also in control of the ingredients. I think when you create something it is imperative to develop an awareness of the ingredients you are using, where they come from and the impact of using that ingredient, whether it is on Nature and/or the working conditions of people. For example, palm oil is extensively used in the cosmetic industry. The production of palm oil is destroying the habitat of orangutans.

I find there is something empowering about making things with your hands, seeing the end product and the resulting feeling of pride: “I made it”.

You end up with a quality product. Apparently, commercial soaps have been stripped of most of the glycerin, all the goodness of the oils, in order to sell the glycerin separately.

We made two types of soap with the same base: one with orange essential oil and calendula flowers; the other with lavender oil and poppy seeds. Check out the feature photo.

The process of making soap surprised me. Great emphasis was placed on safety at all times. I didn’t think it was difficult but I found I had to be very aware and present in order to avoid any silly mistakes. It is, in that sense, a quite intensive process. It was all like being in a chemistry class. No distractions are allowed in this type of soap making.

The basic process is sodium hydroxide mixed with water turns into lye, and then you mix it with the oils and starts turning into soap. By the time you have the end product the sodium hydroxide is no longer present.

I don’t know if I will do it again any time soon. You really need to be relaxed and with a toddler at home is not really possible to do so plus the danger of storing volatile materials.

If you see artisan soaps at markets inquire about the ingredients used. I realise now that they are a superior product to more commercial soaps. When we buy from these artisans we are supporting local economies and that person’s craft and the knowledge of that craft, with the possibility of passing on that knowledge to future generations. I think this is a much better option than buying from a corporation.

I loved the feeling of coming home with a bunch of soap for the family. I think I would love to create my own soaps.

Now, I have to wait until they cure in about three weeks’ time, so at the moment, I’m just happy to go into the room and smell the heavenly scent.

In writing this article I found this website in which you get all the information about the impact of palm oil and what we all can do as consumers with actionable steps. Please check it out.

Be the change. Spread the word.

2 Comments

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    • amor on August 7, 2015 at 10:37 am

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