Many months ago, I fell a little bit in love with handmade soap. My friend Amber of Pine Creek Apothecary makes the most gorgeous cold process soaps (among many other wonderful things!), many of them from natural, foraged, or grown-by-her ingredients. Every time she has soap available, I load up!
Before using Amber's soaps, I really hadn't had much experience with handmade soap products, but now that I can tell the difference I don't think I'll go back to using (only) commercial soap. Handmade soap lasts longer, smells better, and dries out my skin WAY less! Not to mention it can include amazing exfoliating elements, which I'm always looking for.
When I found out that a local organic living store, The Good Planet Company, offers cold process soapmaking classes, I was VERY excited! Thanks to a lovely Christmas gift from my mom (thanks mom!), I got to check out the class this week. EXCITEMENT! (Aside: Good Planet has tons of other lovely things; I've bought baby gifts there, and have been reeeeeally wanting to try out some of their reusable lunch products, like mini bento boxes and great water bottles like Swell!)
I want to tell you ALL about this class - maybe there's a similar one near you! When I arrived, everything was organized and set out for us in tidy little stations.
Our supplies included bowls and ramekins, measuring spoons and cups, a thermometer, a whisk, a spatula, safety gloves and goggles, an apron, pre-measured oils and butters, distilled water, a digital scale, and a stick blender. Everything felt super organized! There was lots of excited chatter as participants waited for things to get rolling. (The class size is super small - no more than eight people!)
To begin, Soapmaster (his actual title!) Ian told us about why people often don't try soapmaking, what the soaping process involves chemically, and pointed out that there are a lot of products out there being sold that look like soap but aren't - instead, they have descriptions like "moisturizing beauty bar." (NOT SOAP!)
Hearing more about how safe and easy the soapmaking process would be made me even more pumped than I was when I got there (which was pretty pumped... I was already clapping my hands a little bit like an excited kid :) ). Next, we got to carefully choose ways to customize our soaps! Because the actual soap mixing process happens very quickly, we needed to choose additives first.
To start, scents! Good Planet stocks a variety of essential oils, and even though I had thought going in that I might choose a citrus-rosemary combo (rosemary is my FAVOURITE herb), or even something in the fruit + cardamom family (inspired a little bit by an apple, beet, orange and cardamom pie I made recently! It was amazing, by the way), I ended up going for a "Christmas Spice" essential oil blend which smells a lot like cloves. YUM!
Next, we chose between adding a small amount of Shea or Cocoa butter to the pre-measured fats (coconut oil, vegetable shortening, olive oil, and castor oil). I went with the cocoa butter, which smelled AMAZING. We also had the option of selecting an exfoliating element - of course I was into that! I went with poppy seeds, although the alternatives (cranberry seeds and ground walnut shells) also looked cool.
One more customizable element - COLOUR! In this class, we had the chance to choose two different colours (as well as pigmented clays, which could add smoothness as well). When making our final soap mix, we'd be swirling the colours together. There were sooo many pretty choices!
I wanted a fairly subtle colour combination; no shade on those high contrast soaps, but part of what I love about handmade soaps is their natural look. Maybe because of that, I was extra interested in using spices as dyes! I chose paprika and another additive called annatto, which is used to colour TONS of food products, including Cheetos!!
READY TO SOAP! Things went very quickly after that - Ian explained the steps we would follow, and then we all created our soaps at the same time: adding lye to water (both carefully measured), heating up and melting our fats, checking the temperatures carefully, and then combining the mixtures with our handy stick blenders. Next, incorporating each of the additives, and then swirling our two soap colours together in our cardboard moulds! I was way too involved to take in-process photos, but I can show you the aftermath...
Here's how my soap looked RIGHT after I poured it:
(A bit gross and mucus-ey, right? STILL SO COOL) And the next day:
I was excited to see that the subtle contrast I was hoping for showed up!! The more orangey parts were coloured with annato, and the pinkier parts with paprika. Our instructions were to keep the soap in a warm place for 24 hours, then cut it up and let it dry or cure for three to four weeks before using it. Curing the soap lets more of the water evaporate, which will mean a harder and longer lasting soap! I am soooo excited about how my soaps turned out.
I can ENTHUSIASTICALLY recommend the Good Planet company's soapmaking classes (which you can sign up for online!) I had a fantastic time, and I'm so pleased with the soap - and knowledge! - that I took away. I would looove to make more soap, and I'm already dreaming of different scent and additive combinations... I could add local sea salt! I could integrate tea brewed from my favourite local tea company! I could get a hold of beautiful local produce and mix it in as well! AAAH! Endless possibilities :) Hurray for soap!