A good bar of soap does far more than just clean your skin.
It’s also a therapeutic tool that can help you feel more pampered and relaxed, so it is worth taking time to choose the right one.
There is also a huge community of soap makers who cultivate their own bars of soap from scratch, with essential oils providing the finishing touch with an array of wonderful, natural scents.
To explain a little more we take a closer look at the craft and how to customer your soaps.
Why make your own personalised soap?
There is no shortage of soap options at your local supermarket, with most people content to use popular commercial brands to clean their skin.
However, the chemicals and synthetics used during the manufacturing process do not always work well with particular skin types, especially those that are sensitive to certain ingredients. Most commercial soaps contain petrochemicals, phthalates, parabens, phosphorus and triclosan, which can irritate and dry the skin.
Making a custom soap can be much kinder to your skin, helping to naturally hydrate and moisturise so it soothes rather than dries. And for the environmentally conscious, customised soap usually doesn’t contain animal fats, milk or honey products, making them vegan-friendly.
Why use essential oils to make customised soap?
Essential oils are the perfect fit for custom soap recipes for a number of reasons, including:
- Natural scent
Essential oils often have a unique fragrance that smells great once used on the skin. And because they are plant-based it means they are vegan-friendly, with some oils even created from organically grown flowers and herbs.
- Therapeutic properties
The main reason people use essential oils is for the therapeutic properties they possess, which can do wonders for the mind and body. Many contain antioxidants, essential vitamins and nourishing properties, which can be very beneficial for your skin.
- Softer ingredients
If you have sensitive skin or are concerned about using products that contain too many harsh chemicals, making your own personalised soap is a great solution.
Can I use fragrance oils instead?
If you're looking for a very particular or unique scent for your soaps, fragrance oils can be a good alternative. They are also sometimes easier to use as they are specifically designed for these types of scent projects.
They do not, however, contain the same natural benefits that essential oils do, so it's important to do your research before picking the right scent for you and your personal sensitivities.
How to make customised soap
This is a light insight into the chemistry and safety precautions behind soap making. If you're very new to creating your own soaps, or want a more distinct recipe, you can check out our beginner's guide to making soap using essential oils.
The custom soap making process begins with a chemical process called saponification, which bonds together oil and lye (sodium hydroxide).
Whatever type of base oil you are using to make the soap, once it has been bonded the oil becomes something new – for example, coconut oil becomes Sodium cocoate and olive oil Sodium olivate and so on.
The amount of lye (KOH or NaOH) you need will depend on the oil type and you will also need to use a super fat. As a result, some of the oil in your recipe will not go through the saponification process as it will be used to add conditioning properties to the soap.
Recipes must be carefully followed to ensure it has the right chemical balance, otherwise the batch could fail or even create soap that is harsh on the skin. It is also important to note that you should always wear rubber gloves and goggles when mixing lye as it is a highly corrosive substance.
When the cold pressing method is being used to make soap, the chosen essential oil is usually the last thing added to the recipe.
One the lye has been added and the mixing has started, and the soap has emulsified or thickened to a light to medium trace, this is the best time to add the essential oil as the scent is more likely to be retained.
The other custom soap making method is called melt and pour, which does not involve the use of caustic chemicals (such as lye). However, heat is involved in the process so close care still must be taken.
Melt and pour involves taking pre-made soap that has already been through the saponification process and melting it down, before adding your own scent and colourants. This is then added to a mould where it is left to set and harden.
How do you blend essential oils for customised soap?
When it comes to blending essential oils for your own soap, there is no single formula that can be applied. Every blend needs to be calculated on its own merits and in the early stages it can be a case of trial and error to find the right balance.
Therefore, it is important to consult a safety data sheet for every ingredient you use, so you know how much can be used safely. For example, if you are using lye you will need to take extra precautions and ensure you rinse any affected area with water if you spill it onto your skin.
In terms of oils you can use to help making the process more efficient, castor oil is a very popular choice often included in the cold press method. Thanks to its thick and sticky texture it is ideal for soaps as it acts like a humectant on the skin, similar to glycerine.
Even a small amount of castor oil can help to create a stable, fluffy lather and can also be used to make your own bubble bath. Caster oil is great for the skin too, helping to moisturise and repair skin dryness and infections.
Essential oils like lavender and geranium are also good choices for scents if you're wanting something gentle but generally well loved - especially if this is your first time experimenting with blending oils together. Alternatively, you can check out pre-made essential oil blends that are expertly crafted to provide a particular experience.
You can also refer to our essential oils blending guide for more information on how to blend by scent, by note, or by function.
Getting the best from essential oil notes
Essential oils are categorised into 3 ‘note’ categories: top, middle and base, with some crossing over into separate categories.
Top notes are the lighter fragrances and usually the first ones you smell in a blend. Citrus scents are a popular choice for customised soap recipes and their light and fresh scent is a good example of a top note. This type of scent will also generally disappear quickly.
If you want a heavier fragrance, middle notes offer a good balance and tend to be spicy, woody or occasionally citrusy. Some examples of middle notes include lavender, rosemary and lemongrass, with this type of scent usually lingering longer than a top note.
Base notes are heavier and are usually spicy or earthy, with some floral options like ylang ylang also falling into this category. A base note will last the longest and when mixed with a light note can create a nice balance for a personalised soap.
As you can see, the world of soap making is complex and there is a lot of research that needs to be carried out before you jump in.
Take your time finding the right recipes and always look for safety data sheets so you can get the chemical balances right. And once you’re ready to go, it probably won’t be long until you’ve mastered the art of customised soap making and you start to see the benefits for your skin.