What is natural soap made of?
Posted on 30th April 2020 at 21:00
What is natural soap made of?
In this article we will cover a few topics on what natural soap is made of which include:
Our definition of natural soap is one made of oils, fats and butters that have been mixed with lye.
A completely natural soap should also be coloured naturally as well, to adhere to the definition of a natural soap.
Soap is made through the process of saponification. This is where lye (a mix of either Sodium Hydroxide or Potassium Hydroxide and water) is mixed with oils, fats and butters to turn the oils into salts. It is a chemical reaction where the triglycerides of the fats and oils react with the lye.
This reaction is an exothermic one, which means that it produces heat. The amount of heat used to produce the soap will determine whether it is hot or cold process soap.
Cold process soap is made by as the name suggests keeping the soap cooler. Usually the temperature of cold process soap will be around 120 degrees fahrenheit. Still quite hot, but cooler than the hot process.
Cold process soap is easier to pour as it is generally still very liquid when the mixing of the soap has finished. It also yeilds a bar that looks fresh and clean cut and generally more aesthetically pleasing.
Hot process soap like the name suggests is made at a higher temperature, which for most soap makers will be around 150 degrees fahrenheit or hotter. Extremely hot and you would know about it if you got any spilt on you.
Hot process soap is less easy on the eye as it is harder to pour into a mould. Let's just say if you like the rustic look then you will like hot process soap better than the clean cut of a cold process soap. Hot process takes only 1-3 weeks to cure as most of the water has already left it in the process, where as cold process will take from 4-6 weeks to cure.
Once the saponification has happened and the raw soap has been poured into the mould, it will take around 24-48 hours for the process to be complete. The soap will then have to cure for a set amount of time which will depend on which process was used but can range anywhere from 1 week to 5 years.
What properties does natural soap have?
A good natural soap will be made of a variety of ingredients. This is because different oils fats and butters will have different properties that they will bring to a soap. The properties we look for in soap making are:
Hardness - how hard a bar will be. For instance if you were to make a bar out of pure cocoa butter (a very hard butter) then your soap would be extremely hard, unlike if you were to make a soap out of pure sunflower oil which would then give you a very soft bar.
The only exception to the rule is castille soap which traditionally is made out of purely olive oil. This soap is named after the region in Spain where it originates. Once this soap is made it is extremely soft, which is why traditional castile soap is cured for a long time; approximately 5 years.
During the curing process the soap loses moisture content and gradually gets harder. This is unusual as most cold process soaps will take around 4-6 weeks to cure and hot process around 1-3 weeks.
Hardness is important in a bar because it determines how long a bar will last. Harder bars will last for a long time, whilst softer bars will not last as long. It’s important to get a balance and a good level of hardness in a soap bar, but this is not the only quality we need.
Some of the oils, fats and butters you can use to make a harder soap are animal fats such as lard and tallow. Other vegan options you can use to make your soap hard include cocoa butter, shea butter, coconut oil and palm oil.
We would never use palm oil at Seatree Cosmetics due to the disastrous impact it has on the environment, you can find out more about palm oil here.
Cleansing - this is the cleaning properties of the soap. This is important as it is the soap’s main job. Some of the oils, fats and butters used have cleansing properties.
These cleansing properties leave the skin clean and unlike soaps that contain sodium lauryl sulphate or derivatives of it. These soaps, shower gels and hand washes will clean your skin as they are a chemical surfactant, but they will also rinse away the natural grease your skin produces.
This natural grease is what plugs the gaps between the skin cells, and stops moisture loss from the skin. When you use these chemical based soaps the surfactant will dry your skin, causing damage and exacerbating dry skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. They can also cause your skin to over react and produce large amounts of natural grease which clog skin cells and can lead to acne.
Cleansers in soap include coconut oil and palm oil among others. These oils should be used in soap sparingly, as soaps with a large proportion of these oils will cause the skin to dry out. These oils should always be below 40% of total oils used in soap. When these oils are used in high amounts like a lot of the soaps you can buy at the supermarket, they can leave your skin feeling dry and rubbery.
A lot of soaps you can buy on the high street are made using majority palm oil or palm kernel oil which are cleansers and will explain why you are left feeling dry and rubbery after washing.
One additional drawback of palm oil in soap is it produces a very small amount of glycerin during the soap making process. Glycerin is a humectant which means it draws moisture to your skin, this is hugely important in natural soap as the glycerin will leave your skin feeling moisturised and soft after washing.
When you use super cleansing soaps with palm oil in or sodium lauryl sulphate then your skin will feel dry and lose moisture fast. The benefit of using our natural soap with a blend of natural ingredients is we have formulated a bar of soap which will clean you but also leave your skin feeling soft and moisturised.
Conditioning - this is an important quality in soap as it conditions and moisturises your skin soft. Conditioning means the soaps emollient content. An emollient is something that helps the skin retain moisture. They also sooth the skin and keep it moisturised and soft.
Conditioners include: olive oil, apricot kernel oil and hempseed oil. Two of those ingredients are included in our soap as they have amazing skin benefits. They leave your skin conditioned and soft. I like to think of the conditions in soap, as similar to a conditioner for hair. After you have used your shampoo, your hair may feel slightly dry, when you use conditioner it softens the hair and makes it feel silky.
This is the same in soap. The coconut oil in our soap will clean your skin, and then the olive oil and hempseed oil will then condition your skin leaving it feeling soft and moisturised.
As well as the conditioning properties of our soap, we also like to keep all of our glycerin in our soap. A lot of the soap sold on the high street or out of the supermarket are made by large brands.
These large brands take the glycerin out of their soap. This is a relatively simple process of separating the soap through the use of salt water and boiling off the salt water to leave the glycerin.
Natural soap properties continued
Creamy - this is another quality in soap we love. When your soap produces a rich creamy lather, it feels nice on the skin.
Creaminess and bubbles are a compromise you need to make when formulating your soap recipe. When you have a soap which produces a lot of large bubbles then it will not feel creamy, where as when you have a very creamy soap you will have very small bubbles.
Creaminess is important in soap as it feels luxurious, which is what you want when you are using a luxury natural soap. Creaminess has no real benefits to the skin, it’s more of a benefit to the experience of using the soap.
If you enjoy a luxury soap, especially if it contains natural essential oils and smells amazing, then you will benefit from the soap by feeling, relaxed, de-stressed and treated to a luxury experience. This is why we hold creaminess in such high regard, even though it has very small benefits to the skin.
Bubbles - again one of the properties of soap which may not provide an actual benefit to your skin, but adds to the psychological benefit of using a soap. Oils that produce a lot of bubbles are popular to use in natural soap. In particular coconut oil and castor oil can produce larger bubbles when used in soap.
Bubbles have no real benefit in soap, large or small the soap will be good for your skin if it is a good blend of oils. But lets not underestimate the benefit of bubbles in soap, the psychological effect of bubbles is so important in soap that larger companies have ensured their soap, hand wash and shower gel produce them regardless of hard or soft water.
One of the main reasons larger companies use sodium lauryl sulphate and derivatives of this chemical is that it is a foaming agent.
People generally associate bubbles with cleanliness. But this is not always true. Soap will still work even if it has no bubbles because soap loosens dirt from the skin and allows it to be washed away.
In our soap, we use coconut oil to produce bubbles. This natural cleanser also has the properties in soap that allows it to produce large stable bubbles adding to a creamy lather and increasing the satisfaction in using our products.
How is natural soap fragranced?
Well something that we feel quite strongly about is how a soap is scented.
Soap can be made naturally and then scented with something in the industry we call fragrance oil. This fragrance oil is synthetic, which means it is made artificially. In brutally blunt terms, it’s made with chemicals. There may be a natural element to it, but it will have chemicals and additives to it to enhance the smell.
This is because during the soap making process the actual process can dilute the smell and make it weaker. This is why companies use fragrance oils as they are usually chemically enhanced to smell stronger, especially through the saponification process.
When you use natural essential oils they tend to lose their smell in the process unless you use large amounts. In the EU and United Kingdom the maximum amount of fragrance you can use is 3% of total mixture.
This is another reason why companies use fragrance oils, as they are stronger and you will only use a small amount for a similar result. Again this shows you profit margins are more important to large companies than your skin.
Fragrance oils are protected under EU law. The manufacturers do not have to disclose the ingredients included in the fragrance. This is for fear their competition will copy their recipe. Whilst this may be the case, I think the consumer would like to know what exactly they have been putting on their skin.
Fragrances or perfumes are made by combining a number of ingredients, of which the raw materials can be in many forms such as liquid, solid, crystalline etc. To combine these ingredients they use phthalates, which is a type of solvent to dissolve these ingredients all into liquid form.
Phthalates have been linked to a multitude of diseases and disorders including asthma, ADHD, obesity and even breast cancer.
Having used fragrance oils at the start of our soap making journey and accidentally spilling some on our scales, I initially though, no problem I’ll just wipe it up. After wiping, spraying with antibacterial spray, white spirit and iron wool wouldn’t remove it, we made the conscious decision to only use natural essential oils in our soaps. Something that cannot be removed by such a serious amount of cleaning chemicals and effort surely can’t be good for skin.
I can confirm essential oils are much easier to clean up if spilled as they are completely natural. Essential oils come directly from the fruit or plant and are produced by either squeezing them out of the organic material or distilling them.
Plus they also have some amazing natural benefits which we have listed on all of our product pages.
How to colour natural soap
Finally the last element to make a soap 100% natural is the colouring. A lot of the very brightly coloured soaps you can see on the market today do not achieve that naturally. Most of bright colours come from micas.
These are dyes mined from the ground and then put through a chemical process. Most of the white soap you can see on the market is dyed with a product called titanium dioxide.
Titanium dioxide has been studied and used on animals of which we do not approve. But from the study of two years the rats subjected to daily exposure reported a higher than average appearance of respiratory disease including pneumonia and lung tumours.
At Seatree Cosmetics we prefer to use natural colourants. Firstly because we know them to be safe and secondly because we are committed to using only 100% natural ingredients.
There are two ways to naturally colour a soap.
The first way is to put the powder directly into the soap when mixing. This results in a slightly deeper colour, but can also lead to grainy bits in the soap if not mixed well or the powder is too coarse.
The second way is the one we do here; we add the powder to one of our soap making oils, which is light in colour, and leave it to steep for a month with regular shaking to make sure the colour transfers from the powder to the oil. We find this practice is the best because it gives you pretty much the same colour without any of the grainy bits.
So to answer the original question in a short and sweet summary, natural soap is made from natural oils mixed with lye, fragranced with essential oils and coloured using only natural ingredients such as turmeric, spinach and alkanet root.
To find out more about our 100% natural colouring read our blog post on it here.
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I hope you have enjoyed this article, and we have plenty more on our blog if you want to read more about why natural soap is so great.
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