Monday, May 27, 2013

Everything I Learned about Beauty I Learned From Soap

Reading my blog, you'd think I'm all about the soap since every single post has been dedicated to it. Yes, my primary focus is the soap, but there are so many things to do with all the lovely oils that make up these delicious recipes. Who knew that different oils would have such vastly different qualities!

I started down the natural beauty product road after a particularly nasty bout of dandruff and headlice courtesy of some younger relatives my daughter had a sleepover with. Me and Liv share a bathroom and often brushes, so there you have it. I was horrified, of course, and couldn't stop itching so I vowed to battle the wee-beasties as soon as possible. I have long thick curly clean red hair. Lice love me. I use very few chemicals in my household, so I wasn't too happy about having to do the RID treatment, but I needed them out. And the dandruff? What was with that? I"ve washed my hair daily since I was 12 due to excessive oiliness and at the age of 47, it  hadn't slowed down. My hair was oily and my skin even worse. My pores were large and clogged despite Retin-A and dermatologist recommended cleansers. There had to be a better way.

Shortly after this horrific incident, I went to a fall festival and bought some beeswax based all organic beauty products...a soap, a lip balm, and a lotion bar. This sparked my daydream of learning the soap making art my grandmother was so proud of. While I was learning my craft, I bought several handcrafted soaps from local masters, like Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve, including a shampoo bar I was intrigued with.

I read up on the virtues of shampoo bars, but quickly learned that there was much pain to reap until the pleasure of silky locks was realized. Apparently, modern shampoos contain numerous nasties like sodium laurel sulfates that strip our scalps and provoke them to produce more grease to reach equilibrium and so on and so on the cycle rinses and repeats--grease, wash, grease, down the drain and dried out hair! Well, this no-poo thing was very difficult. I was warned about the weird feeling your hair might have initially and no was weird. The only way I can describe it was my hair was clean and soft but still greasy looking, especially the under layers. The Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve lady said a rinse of diluted vinegar could help and it did, but my hair still felt weird. Several people said you need to try different shampoo bar formulations until you find the right one. I did and the weirdness persisted. I decided to compromise with  a sulfate-free shampoo, like Aubry Organics; all their shampoos did really well with my hair. I continued on with the diluted cider rinse, despite my daughter's distress that the bathroom smelled like a giant garden salad. After a few weeks of using the organic shampoo and cider rinse, no more dandruff and my hair was so soft and shiny!  I finally won over the girl by adding in a drop of two of lavender or cypress to the vinegar. If this stuff could win over a 14 year old, it must be good.

Here's a few other awesome beauty products I discovered as a result of being a soap maker. One of the first beauty blogs I ever read was Crunchy Betty. She's a huge advocate of the oil cleansing method. While I don't use oils to cleanse, I do use her oil advise for moisturizing, which goes against the grain of all advise brainwashed into me since puberty, that I should avoid all oils like the plague. Well, I was intrigued with the concept that modern skin oiliness is often an over-reactive compensatory mechanism to harsh soaps and detergent laden cleansers. Crunchy Betty has oily skin, so I tried her recommended blend of johoba with a small amount of tamanu oil. Tamanu is an oil recommended for acne and treating acne scarring. It's very dark brownish green and smells to me like
butter pecan icecream. For a one ounce blend I'll use .75 ounce johoba and .25 ounce Tamanu, fortified with essential oils known to be good to my mature, but oily, acne prone skin. My favorite essential blend is 20 drop per ounce blend of  carrot seed, lavender, frankincense, patchouli, and vetiver. Love it.

 And guess what? Since I've been using this oil as my moisturizer and cleansing grains or homemade soap for my cleanser, two major things have happened: my skin is much less oily and my pores are not visible from 3 feet. They aren't even visible at 6 inches! This is crazy stuff. I've been under dermatological care for 30 years and I never achieved this? My skin was so oily, I started to develop clusters of flat-like warts on my forehead which my laser pushing doctor said were massive oil glands, like oil glands on steroids, that could only be removed with laser. Well, screw that expensive stuff. I've tweaked my oil formula.; now, I use meadowfoam oil in place of the jojoba, which is similar in nature, but much more effective on my skin and much less expensive. Johoba oil is harvested from berries plucked off five year old bushes driving up the cost for those bushes to mature. Meadowfoam is harvested from a much more sustainable prolific northwestern U.S. apine flower.

I made a blend for my 76 year old mother plagued for years with pasoriasis. My mother has given me persmission to publish her robust testimonial that this stuff is amazing. Her skin looks an easy ten years younger with the crusty patches clearing up. She struts around the house feeling her soft smooth skins and giggling. It's so cute. I recently sent mom a large replacement bottle, 2 ounces, and dared suggest she share with my brother, her son, genetically cursed with similar skin, and she said, "Oh, he doesn't need that stuff!" So, I sent my suffering brother his own bottle. He reports good results so far.

What I want to say is not...hey, this stuff will cure's just that all that other commercial crap will do so much harm. Stop the harm and good things happen. You may disagree, and that's ok...I'm hooked!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Unadorned Chamomile


The long Memorial Day weekend started with a huge disappointment. On the heels of a 3-4 day summer- like warm stretch, a cold front came through and cooled off the weather into the 50's. Although cloudy and blustery, there was no rain when we could certainly use it. The hubby took me out for Indian food and then we stopped by my friend Melissa's place to support her while she goes through too many changes. On the way home, I gave no thought to the weather since weather reports called for frost warnings on Saturday night and not Friday.

In the morning, my husband told me that the late news indicated the whole area could go through a freeze warning, so sweet thing, at 11:30 pm, slogged out in his slippers and covered the warm crops with sheets. Alarmed, I whipped off the sheets and stood speechless while I contemplated limp blackened leaves drooping off stalks.  These were the plants I started indoors under lights, babied and fussed over for 6 weeks and now this. The sheets didn't was just too cold getting well below freezing on Memorial Day weekend. In 17 years of gardening, this has never happened, but gardeners soldier on.

To add insult to injury, I found out my electronic scale was weighing me 12 pounds under what I actually am. Now, that sucks, so here I sit hungry, cold, and miserable with nothing but soap to placate.


I infused my olive oil with dried chamomile from the herb border using the double boiler method. I slowly warmed it up going no higher than 120 degrees until I could smell the chamomile, then, removed it from the heat, cooled it off, then heated it back up to the same point. While the herbs were still warm, I poured it through several layers of cheese cloth squeezing out the sunny goodness. I used a very light olive oil to start but the final infusion was golden greenish. I made a tiny batch of salve which I LOVE.

I was grossly undecided on what to do with this batch. The recipe was easy--mostly infused olive oil, coconut, palm kernel flakes, mango butter, castor, and avocado oil. I wasn't  sure exactly what color this would produce, but I was guessing a very pale yellow.
 I researched hundred of pictures of chamomile handmade soap, and frankly, some of it was darned ugly. I've done a tea soap before and I know they turn dark, so I decided to not augment with chamomile tea and no way was I going to waste chamomile essential oil in cold-process soap. Actually, I don't own any chamomile essential oil since it's so pricey. The infusion was pretty strong smelling, but I didn't know if it would withstand the rigors of the cold process. I added no other scent per hubby's request, along with his request for no swirls, glitter, mica, or fancy tops. It's so hard to refrain, but after my carrot batch, I'm appreciating monochromatic simplicity.

It took forever to trace due to the high olive oil; the final traced soap looked like pale yellow banana pudding. It also took forever to gel in my warm oven using the CPOP method. I was hoping I could still smell the chamomile in the final sliced soap and I could! Yeah! I had to add just a wee-bit of adornment--a simple stamp dipped in a trace of bronze. He shouldn't flip about that....

If anybody reads this, I apologize for the boring and minimal picture content. I have no idea how those super soaper blog people can soap and take pictures of every step! For now, my blog helps me assimilate knowledge I gain with each new batch, but bout this? I can finally hold my stick blender with just one hand! Whoo-hoo!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Impromptu Spoon Swirl Masterpiece


This soap was impulsive and unplanned...the hubby was playing a gig  and I was reading on the couch when I decided to surf a little soap porn in private. I ended up on watching the Soap 101 Lady make soap. I love listening to her no-nonsense raspy voice and watching her capable rubber gloved hands texture a mean soap top. I watched her tutorial on Spoon Swirl Technique which I can't believe I've never stumbled upon. I had to do it. I'm getting pretty good at setting up my stuff. Still, sometimes it takes me an hour and a half to get ready for soap showtime and it was already 10 pm.

I chose my daughter's favorite color combination--aqua blue, black, and white and whipped up a new recipe on Soap Calc incorporating some new palm kernel flakes ordered from Wholesale Supplies Plus. I mixed to a medium thick trace, scented with a lemongrass essential blend following Ms. Soap 101 exact directions, then swirled  3 times down one side of the soap, 3 times down the other, and 2 times down the center. Awesome. My lovely daughter, enticed by her favorite colors and a new technique, ambled out of her purple teenage cave to help. We embellished with a little aqua mica mixed in oil and glazed on top. Here's how it turned out. The recipe consisted of olive oil, coconut oil, palm kernel flakes, mango butter, and sweet almond oil.. We love this soap. Unlike the last batch, this one matches the one in my head!

 My next soap is going to be a chamomile infused soap. I haven't decided what combination to use. I haven't been able to justify the cost of German chamomile essential oil, but it's a cinch to grow, so here it is...daily picked and tossed on a screen to dry and waiting for a good olive oil soak.  This is the annual German chamomile that I started from seed late last summer. It remains a low mound till spring then over a few days grows near 2 and half feet tall and starts making flowers. I pick them daily, once the morning dew dries off around 10 am, then pop their lovely little heads into my hand along with a cursory check for wee-beasties, and then onto the drying screen. The ferny stems are too fragile to bundle and hang upside down and aren't where the essential goodness is anyway. I was a little confused whether I should dry them in a hot dry place with direct sunlight (my sun room) or in a cool dark place. I checked with the ultimate authority, Mountain Rose Herbs, and they suggest a cool dry place out of direct sunlight which could fade and affect flavor. We'll see how they look this weekend. I've really enjoyed having these back in my herb border. I grew them many years ago, but never did anything with them...just plucked them and stuck them up my nose mostly. Nice they will finally serve a more noble purpose in my soap.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Reverse Watermelon?


Here we have it again...yet another soap that was so far off what I envisioned, it's not even funny. Even though I'm not laughing, it's still beautiful. My husband said it looked like a reverse watermelon, and since I"m going for a light summer theme, reverse watermelon it is! When I look at it, I think..mild breezes on the Gulf at sunset, but that's not what I had in mind at all. The bottom layer was supposed to be a smooth pallid aqua blue with dark blue confetti specks, then a straight black mica line, over that, another pallid smooth aqua layer to be intersected by a pink and white in the pot swirl. My mica line looked like black foam on choppy seas.  What was I thinking? I used sunflower in my recipe to give me more time to play. Sure enough I had time to play..more than I needed, as I  had a heck of a time topping the mica layer because it was still fluid. So, I hemmed and hawed, daintily poured my soap over a spatula to not break the mica line, and wouldn't you know it, by the time I added in the pink in white in the pot swirl, it was thick as thieves. Sheesh! Why didn't I try the IPS with the bottom layer? Stupid. This soap making business will drive me to the brink of insanity. When will I know what I'm doing? Two years? Given all that goes into making a soap just like the one I have in my head, I figure I'll stick with small two pound batches and use more Crisco.

Still, I love this soap. It's very girly unlike my last several batches. It smells like a cottage garden in June--lavender, palmarosa, geranium, marjoram, and a touch of litsea.


There was dirt today, as well. My cool crops are up and growing: lettuce, beets, carrots, brussel sprouts, kale and broccoli. My son loves to dig up the garden and hoe into manageable delicious worm riddled chunks. He's such a good boy. His sister is more helpful around harvest excellent bean picker if you need one, but not too interested in early garden prep.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Landscape Soap

I've been thinking about my landscape soap for a long time, then suddenly on Friday night around 9:00 pm, I was compelled to bring the image to life--a beachscape--more exactly, the coast of the Florida Panhandle, one of my most favorite places, the Redneck Riveria--St. George Island. Us weary northern folk have hailed there numerous times for respite and family connection. Somehow, my entire family of origin, except for myself, abandoned middle child,  has ended up in Northern Florida, and while I remain the lone middle child abandoned in northern climes, I don't mind at all frequent visits to the coast. My soap is a tribute to these beloved visits.

There are so many things that can go wrong with a landscape soap, so I'm very proud how my first landscape design turned out. Upside down, I made the sky first, using a pointillism technique with light and dark aqua mica and natural soap mix, followed by a cobalt blue ocean. I embedded carrot soap balls at various cut points in the log, as my sun, then finished with light and dark bronze mica dunes. I used my three pound max wooden loaf mold, usually used for two pound batches.
I thought it might be better to use the full 3 pounds to get the whole landscape. Actually, two would have been sufficient, as these turned out to be wide and ginormous bars. I decided to cut a few slices into smaller hand bars. Since I use mainly essential oils to scent, I wasn't sure what to use, but settled on a nice citrus blend using tangerine, patchouli, petiitgrain, and litsea.

This was a stressful soap. With so many colors and the various layers needing to be at a certain consistency, I was a mess. My daughter, normally a good assistant, wasn't in the mood at 9:30 on a Friday evening for a stressful batch of soap. I totally forgot to do the mica line between sky and ocean layers. I have no idea how soapers are able to videotape their soap travails; it's all I can do to make the soap and not wreck the kitchen too much. Maybe, in time, I'll get it together enough. God, I love soap. I wish I could take a bath all day long,

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Sunny Soap Balls

I want to do an elemental swirl design for the summer line. It's all in my head, but may take a few weeks to transpire. Most of my family of origin--my mother, father, sister, brother, nieces  and nephews have settled in Northern Florida. Years ago, when I was in sixth grade, we lived there for a stint, and now all these  years later, they have returned--except for me--lone redheaded daughter dumped in Akron, Ohio, which I love, and can't imagine leaving. I plan to bring a box of soap for the family when I visit in June. We rented a beach house on St. George Island, so I thought an elemental soap design depicting a Northern Florida beach dune landscape would be apropos.

It's all in my head, but first I needed to make some orange soap balls, my miniature suns for my design. I made a half pound mini batch of plain inexpensive soap recipe, colored with paprika and boiled water, strained and added to my soap after trace. I thought I did this before, with success, but apparently not--it was horrible. I mixed it up, poured into a 9 cavity silicone mold and popped in the oven like I've done several batches. At 20 minutes in a warm 170 degree oven, I took a peak at an oily mess. Hmm. It was the water. Why did I mix the paprika in water and not just in the soap itself or oil? Totally stupid. Good thing it was just a half pound batch cause it was destined to the trash. My soap balls would wait another day. When I told her about the mishap, she said, "Gosh, Mom, don't use paprika--it leaves little specks!" Anticipating specks, I took the wherewithal to strain my paprika though cheesecloth, but the greater evil was the water.

Then I had it! I'll make a carrot soap, slice off a bit when it's still soft, make soap balls and the rest will  be good ole carrot face soap.
Of all the soaps I've created, my carrot creations are the best for my skin. The last carrot soap I made was a carrot cream soap. The design, a two color-mantra swirl, was an indistinct disappointment, but the soap itself, a favorite.

I used a very basic recipe--coconut oil, Crisco, olive oil and rice bran--and used pureed all organic carrot baby food as a portion of my water for the two pound recipe. It's very hard for me to make a bald plain soap, but I felt better going forward with a bronze mica swirl. For the scent, I used an essential oil blend of tangerine, patchouli, carrot seed, and ginger. I whipped it up to a medium trace, poured and donned with a subtle bronze mica design.