Handcrafted soap buying guide

handmade soap

If you’ve ever tried handmade soap as opposed to branded store-bought soap, you know how luxurious it is to lather up, inhale its aroma, and smooth it over your skin. Soaps without chemicals rely on pure ingredients, such as oils, fats, and/or butters. Today, handmade soaps can include any number of wonderful oils, like coconut, almond, or olive, and Shea butter. Consequently, because the ingredients remain in their purest form, you and your skin gain all the advantages of intact vitamins, minerals, and emollients. 

On the contrary, when you choose store-bought soaps, because they are not restricted by FDA requirements for ingredients, such as “fragrance,” you may be exposing yourself to cancer causing chemicals. For example, “sea breeze-” or “fresh linen-” scented soaps may do nothing more than give you irritated, good smelling skin. 

Where to buy

  • Online–easy and convenient, shopping online for handcrafted soaps enables you to support small businesses. In addition, you should have no trouble finding affordable, high-quality soaps.
  • Local shops–these are great places to find handcrafted soaps, and they offer plenty of varieties. You may be overwhelmed by the selection!
  • Farmers markets–in this venue you can meet the soap maker and ask questions about the ingredients they include and the ingredients’ specific benefits. As you get to know the vendors better, you may be able to order custom soaps.

What to look for at the soap makers

• Ask about the ingredients — skilled soap makers can tell you which ingredients they used to create the soap and the benefits of each ingredient. 
• Ask about the process — ask the soap maker about his or her process, and if they can’t answer, go elsewhere. 
• Do the Touch Test — soap that is fully cured should resist being dented if you press it. Soap with too much oil and/or butter will dissolve too quickly. That’s not what you want. 
• Assess texture — too much lye in the soap yields a crumbly texture. As you might imagine, it will dry out your skin and disintegrate quickly. 
• Look for orange spots — excess oils in the soap will produce orange spots. Too much oil will yield a soap that goes rancid, stinks up the house, and will have to be thrown out. 
• Legible, all-inclusive labels — sellers that promote their soap as more than a cleanser are legally required to list all the ingredients on the label. 
• Certified soap makers — soap makers can become certified through the National Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild. If you wish to purchase soap from a seller who takes the time and invests the resources to gain the education, and recertifies every year, visit the Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild website. 

What about glycerin?

Glycerin is a skin softener that attracts water from the air. Imagine that! Because of glycerin’s ability to attract moisture, companies like to include it in soaps, lotions, and creams. Glycerin comprises animal fats and vegetable oils, which are all natural. Win-win! 

However, instead of keeping the glycerin in store-bought soaps, those companies remove it and add chemicals to their lotions and creams. The reason is hardly altruistic—rather, it’s to increase their profits. By removing the glycerin, store-bought soap strips moisture from the skin and makes it vulnerable to cracking and flaking. So then you need to buy their lotion and creams! 

What about making soap?

Making your own soap has become a viable trend. If you plan to make your own soap, please note: it is no easy hobby. Soap makers spend a lot of time and energy on their craft, including keeping up on the latest innovations, continuing to gain hands-on experience, and always working to improve the product. Soap making is similar to cooking or caring for a child—it takes TLC and patience. Hands-on practice is the best way to perfect your process. 

Soap is derived from mixing a base with a collection of fatty acids. One of the benefits of becoming a skilled soap maker means you can experiment and modify your recipes without using chemicals. For example, adding tallow or olive oil will produce a harder bar of soap. Adding honey to your soap will yield a thicker lather. And while you may find these characteristics in store-bought soap, more often than not, they come from added chemicals not pure ingredients. No one needs more chemicals! 

Although making soap is not rocket science, it is a science and relies on mixing the proper type and amount of ingredients. Just as you would follow a recipe to make a cake, you will follow a recipe to make soap. Through practice, you will get better at following and adjusting recipes. Soap making is labor-intensive, and it’s less than lucrative. Making soap is one of those crafts in which you want to be passionate. That might help motivate you to learn all you can about the process. 

As an added bonus: you can use glycerin, which maintains its integrity during the soap making process. Therefore, when you make soap, you can blend the fats/oils and lye, and the glycerin settles in between the soap molecules. Too much glycerin makes mushy soap that dissolves rapidly, and too little glycerin makes a harsh soap that dries the skin. Best of luck! 

What about Artisanal soap?

For people with winter eczema, or itchy, dry skin, you can relieve your symptoms and achieve additional benefits from what’s known as Artisanal soap. Just as the name suggests, these soap makers are “artists,” and take soap making to the next level. They create customized soaps, use organic ingredients, and create works of art. These are what some call premium soaps, and they include luscious aromas and ingredients that create a bathing experience.

What are essential oils?

You probably know the benefits of essential oils. Lavender oil, for example, is known for its relaxation properties, and citrus oil can boost your energy and serve as an antimicrobial. So, including these oils in your handcrafted soaps are great! When you wash your face in the morning, for example, try a handmade soap with lemongrass oil to give you a quick pick me up. 

Handmade soaps often include essential oils, such as lavender, rosewater, or chamomile, to create their scents as opposed to the chemical fragrances used in store-bought soaps. When you use soaps scented with essential oils, you avoid harmful chemicals and gain benefits from essential oils. You will be amazed by the aromas. When in doubt, leave the chemicals out! 

A few last words

Obviously, buying handcrafted soap is easier than making soap. However, if you have a passion for soap making, go for it! If not, take advantage of online sites or your local shops. Lather up!

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