Category: Vegan Soap Making

Vegan Soap Making Notes

Preparing Herbs for Making Soap

You’ll want to pick your herbs (or gather them from nature) when they are at their peak. Mid-morning is best after the sun has dried the dew off the flowers and leaves, but before the sun dries out the natural oils of the plant. You can dry your herbs naturally in the sun, or in an oven or dehydrator. However it’s done, you’ll want to make sure they are thoroughly dry with no dampness left. Herbs that are not completely dry could produce mold in your soap or the lye may rot them. Either way, it’s undesirable.

When your herbs are dry, store them in a sealed container like a canning jar. This will keep them handy, you can see what’s inside, and they will stay dry. You can leave them as a whole leaf or flower or you can use a coffee/spice grinder to powder them.

Herbs for Homemade Soap

Lavender
Its light clean scent is well known and often provides a sense of comfort. It is antibacterial and can help to heal wounds. Lavender is also well known for its relaxing properties and uses as a natural sleep aid. Use it whole in the soap for a gentle exfoliating property or powdered for even gentler action.

Chamomile

Chamomile is soft and fragrant. It’s a gentle healing herb and is very soothing. It can also help to remove bacteria on the skin, although not as well as lavender.

Calendula

Often called pot marigold, calendula is not in the marigold family, but is in the aster family. Calendula is very healing and can help to remove redness from the skin. Many herbs turn dark after a few weeks in soap, but calendula will hold its color very well for a long time.

Lemon Balm

When it’s dried, lemon balm loses some of its lemony scents, but it still works very well in soap. Lemon balm is thought to be antiviral and can help to kill germs when you wash with it. It provides a dark green color and a bit rougher exfoliation than lavender or chamomile, while not abrading the skin.

Marshmallow Root

One of the most soothing herbs is marshmallow root. When powdered and used in making soap, the soap becomes soothing and softens the skin very well.

Comfrey

Comfrey root, dried and ground into a powder, is added to soap to help heal the skin. It is very effective for acne and poison ivy rash, while not being too harsh. It will not dry the skin out but will help to heal the skin. You can also use the leaf, although the root has a more healing ability.

Plantain

One of my favorite herbs is plantain. Not the banana relative, but the herb (or more often weed) found in your yard. It is thought to be very healing, even more so than aloe vera. It is demulcent like marshmallow root, but also has a nice green color that doesn’t fade quickly in soaps.

Mint

Almost all of the mints are antibacterial, making them a great choice for soap making. There are several different types of mint, some having more of the characteristic minty smell than others. Theres pineapple mint, spearmint, and grapefruit mint. It smells just like the peel of the grapefruit and lends a nice quality to soap.

Rosemary

Perhaps one of the most useful herbs in soap making is rosemary. It is antibacterial, anti-fungal and antiviral. It is also full of antioxidants. Rosemary Oil Extract, or ROE, is sold as a preservative for soap, herbal and other cooking needs.

Soap Bases

Aloe: Aloe Vera Soap Base contains real aloe vera, which is thought to benefit the skin! It has a clear, light green color.

Coconut Milk: Coconut milk is thought to be high in antioxidants as well as triglycerides, making it an excellent natural moisturizer for the skin. It helps boost lather and cleaning while eliminating harsh detergents.

HempThis base contains hemp oil, which is considered to be high in phospholipids, antioxidants, and omega 3’s.

Honey: This base is thought to be very high in natural antioxidants and anti-microbial benefits. We often hear that skin glows after using products made with a honey base.

OatmealOatmeal soap base is thought to moisturize the skin and relieve itching.

Olive Oil

Shea ButterThis base contains real shea, which is thought to protect skin from the weather!

Oils

Hemp Seed Oil:
Hemp seed oil is a deep, green color with a light, nutty smell. No, it doesn’t smell like marijuana, nor does it have any of the effects that marijuana has, but it does indeed come from the seed of the cannabis plant. It’s really lovely in lotions and creams and great in soap too. It gives a light, creamy/silky lather. Because of its fatty acid makeup, it has a very short shelf life…less than six months…so it should be refrigerated or even kept in the freezer. Treating it with rosemary oleoresin extract is a good idea to help keep it from oxidizing. It can be used as a luxury healing/moisturizing oil in soap up to 10%-15%.

Palm Oil:
Palm oil, along with olive and coconut, is one of the top oils used by soap makers today. Because of the qualities, it gives soap, it is often called “veggie tallow” in that it gives many of the same qualities that beef tallow does – a hard bar with a rich creamy lather. Alone, it’s pretty unremarkable, but combined with other oils like olive, coconut, and castor, it makes great, hard, long-lasting soap. There are some serious concerns about palm oil farming in Malaysia – and the impact it is having on both the land and the people. We know several soap makers who have eliminated palm oil from their recipes because of this.

Castor Oil:
Castor oil is a thick, clear oil that helps increase the lather in soap – a rich, creamy lather. It’s also a humectant (attracts moisture to your skin) oil. Just a little will do…5% – 8% in your recipe will work wonders. Shampoo bars often use 10%-15%…but more than that and you get a soft bar of soap. Castor oil has a fatty acid makeup that’s completely unique—which makes what it contributes to your soap (the rich, creamy lather) unique.
Castor oil will speed up the rate at which your soap will get to trace – so we usually leave it out of recipes that require complex swirls or designs.
Jojoba Oil:
Jojoba is actually a liquid wax that is very similar to sebum in its chemical composition. It contributes a nice stable lather, has remarkable absorption and moisturizing qualities and unlike some of the other luxury moisturizing oils, has a very long shelf life – 1-2 years! Use it at 5-10% maximum. Or just save it for “leave-on” applications like balms, massage bars, bath bombs, and lotions. It can make the soap batch trace more quickly, so it’s not a good oil to add if you’re going to do complex coloring or swirls, or are working with a temperamental fragrance or essential oil.

Apricot Oil:
Apricot kernel oil is a light oil that is similar to almond oil in its fatty acid makeup. It absorbs nicely into the skin and is a good luxury conditioning oil in soap – at about 5% – 10%. It’s good in soap, massage and bath oils, massage bars and bath bombs.

Coconut Oil:
Coconut oil is one of the primary oils soapmakers use in their soap. Susan Miller Cavitch, in her book The Soapmaker’s Companion, calls it “a gift.” Most of the coconut oil sold and used has a melting point of 76°, but there is a hydrogenated type that melts at 92°. Either version works the same to give tremendous, bubbly lather to your soap. It also makes for a very hard, white bar of soap. The collective opinion is that using more than 30% coconut oil in your recipe will be drying to the skin. Yes, the super-cleansing nature of coconut oil can strip oils from your skin, but we have often used it at 30%-40% with great results, especially with a slightly higher (6-8%) superfat. Or, you can make 100% coconut oil soap with a 20% superfat. It’s an amazing bar of soap.

Almond Oil:
A lovely moisturizing oil that is very light and absorbs well. In soap, it produces a low, stable lather, but we wouldn’t use it more than about 5% – 10% in soap – as it’s not a very hard oil in soap. It’s really nice in lotions, massage bars, bath bombs, bath oils, and especially in salt and sugar scrubs.

kukui nut oil:
A rich, liquid nut oil that’s native to Hawaii, kukui nut oil contributes to a nice, creamy stable lather in the soap, and is nicely moisturizing. Like the other luxury liquid oils, we recommend using it at 5-10% of your recipe for a richer, creamier soap. In lotions, creams, massage bars, and balms, it absorbs quickly, conditions skin nicely, and is reputed to help ease acne, eczema, and psoriasis.

Avocado Oil:
Avocado oil is a heavy, green, rich, moisturizing oil that has a high percentage of unsaponifiables (the portions of the oil that don’t react with the lye to form soap,) so it’s a good oil to superfat with. It’s often used in soap recipes for people with sensitive skin. On the skin, it first feels a little heavy…but after a moment, it absorbs nicely. It’s high in vitamins A, D & E, which is good for your skin and gives it a longer shelf life. You can use it in your recipes from 5% – 30%. It’s a bit too thick, in my opinion, for massage oils…but it’s wonderful in massage bars.

Neem Oil:
Neem oil is extracted from the bark of the neem tree. It is growing in popularity as a soap making oil due to its antiseptic, anti-fungal and insect repellent qualities. We know of one soap maker who uses neem oil at about 25% of the recipe and sends it to soldiers in the middle east to repel sand flies. It evidently works very well. It’s also great, all by itself (as both an oil and in a soap recipe) for treating skin conditions like athlete’s foot. The scent of neem is very strong…a sort of green, earthy, nutty smell…and takes some getting used to. But it doesn’t come through too strongly in the soap and blends well with other earthy scents. 

Babassu oil:
Babassu oil comes from the kernels of the babassu palm, or Grade A oil (generally the best grade for soap), comes from the second pressing and is lightly refined/filtered. 100% olive oil makes the famous “Castille soap” and “Marseille soap” must contain at least 72% olive oil. Olive oil is generally the #1 oil in most soap makers’ recipes – and for good reason. Olive oil soaps are very moisturizing, make hard, white bars of soap (though high % olive oil soaps take a longer time to cure) and are exceptionally mild. But the lather from Castille soap is low and a bit slimy. Most soap makers combine olive oil with other oils 

Safflower Oil:
Its fairly short shelf life and fairly unremarkable fatty acid makeup have made safflower oil pretty neglected in soap making recipes. If you have it on hand, you can certainly use it in your recipes like you would soybean, canola or sunflower – at 5-15% or so. In soap, it is mild and moisturizing. 

Palm oil, along with olive and coconut, is one of the top oils used by soap makers today. Because of the qualities, it gives soap, it is often called “veggie tallow” in that it gives many of the same qualities that beef tallow does – a hard bar with a rich creamy lather. Alone, it’s pretty unremarkable, but combined with other oils like olive, coconut, and castor, it makes great, hard, long-lasting soap. There are some serious concerns about palm oil farming in Malaysia – and the impact it is having on both the land and the people. We know several soap makers who have eliminated palm oil from their recipes because of this.

Pumpkin seed oil is a rich and vitamin-filled oil with abundant antioxidant properties. It contains Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, as well as vitamins A, C, E, and Zinc. Its fatty acid balance is most similar to soybean and sunflower oil and will contribute about the same qualities to soap that they do in terms of hardness, lather, and conditioning. Most soap makers we know save the super-premium nourishing oils like pumpkin seed for special skin care products and focus on the more basic oils for soap making. That said, in terms of pure marketing appeal, it’s a wonderful luxury oil to add (a bit) to a batch of pumpkin soap.

Shea oil, or liquid shea, is fractionated shea butter, one of the most popular luxury oils used in soap making recipes. This variation of shea butter is liquid at room temperature and wonderful for adding to melt and pour soap, massage bars, or to creams and lotions. We’ve also used it in bath bombs. It’s very moisturizing in the tub but may be a bit too oily for some folks. But the fact that its liquid doesn’t give any benefits in soap. So if you’re going to use shea butter in soap, go ahead and use the actual shea butter instead of liquid shea oil.

Exfoliates

Colloidal Oatmeal
Colloidal oatmeal is one of the most gentle exfoliants. It can be used in face masks, soap, and more. We added it to the Oatmeal Bath Bombs and Gentle Oatmeal Baby Soap because of its silky texture and soothing properties.

Bamboo Powder
This natural powder comes from bamboo stems. It starts as a thick liquid, then crystallizes at room temperature. Add it to handmade soap and cosmetics for gentle exfoliation. You’ll love the way it feels in the Black, White, and Gold All Over Soap.

Pumice Powder
Pumice powder is a fantastic gentle exfoliant created from milled volcanic glass. Its fine texture works well in the Pumice and Poppy Seed Melt and Pour Bars.

Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda)
Baking soda is an amazing multi-purpose product. It’s used in bath bombs, bath salts, and natural cleaning products. It’s great for scrubs as well – try it in the Sea Clay Dry Salt Scrub, Walnut Facial Scrub, or Cranberry Seed Foot Scrub.

Walnut Shells
Along with exfoliation, walnut shells add a natural brown color to handmade soap and cosmetics. We used them for the crust in the Pumpkin Pie Cold Process Soap and the dirt in the Carrot Cold Process Soap.

Salts and Sugar
There are a variety of salts and sugars that can be used for scrubs, bath bombs, and more. Depending on the size, they can offer gentle or more powerful exfoliation. Salt can also be used in cold process soap – it creates really creamy lather. Learn how to use it in the Lavender and Rose Pink Salt Barstutorial.

Jojoba Beads
This biodegradable exfoliant is made from jojoba oil. The beads come in various sizes and colors, so there’s an option for every recipe. Try them in the Rainbow Jojoba Bead Sugar Scrub or the Cleansing Charcoal Facial Scrub.

Shredded Loofah
This exfoliant comes from whole loofah sponges. They’re ground to a fine texture, making it easy to disperse throughout soap or scrubs. Try it in the Lard and Loofah Cold Process Soap or the Gardener Melt and Pour Soap.

Icelandic Black Sand
This product comes from a volcanic beach on the South Coast of Iceland. It has mild exfoliation and a beautiful natural color, as seen in the Coastal Rain Cold Process Soap