Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Abducted Sense: How Science Has Hijacked Our Olfactory Glands

My adult son recently brought a friend over, and as soon as I opened the door, my son says, “See, I told you my mom’s house always smells good!” to which the friend responded with a deep breath and a nod – a compliment from someone with a sensitive nose that says the only smells he likes are food. Between the soaps I have curing and the oils I'm blending and the candles I have burning – it should smell good, if not a bit overwhelming to a scent-a-phobe.

I admit it. I love Yankee Candle. I know, I know…they do not use soy wax, nor do they use essential oils for their fragrances - even their “aromatherapy” line is synthetic, I’m sure. My favorites are always discontinued, sometimes to be reincarnated with a new name. Lakeside Birch smells nothing like lakesides or Birch trees, but it does smell fresh and clean with a hint of an imagined autumn breeze (and it has been discontinued!). And with a coupon, I can stock up on enough wax tarts to get me through the season with a delicious smelling home for the regular price of one of their large jars.

Marketing: 1 – Me: 0.

Walk through any mall in the world and your sense of smell will be accosted with an overload of synthetic, and sometimes headache-inducing fragrances. From department store perfumes and potions promising endless nights of reckless abandon and romance, to teen-inspired body sprays (or Migraine Magic, as I like to call them) that lead you to believe they will improve your swag, to my beloved Yankee Candle that makes you aspire to clean your house top to bottom and make it smell like a Parisian spa – they all have one thing in common: synthetic, lab-created scents.  So how did we get so far away from the scents that Mother Nature herself provides us?

Let’s start with a few facts:

The aroma of true Sandalwood has caused entire forests to be cleared, and actual acts of violence against humans and depletion of habitats for animals, in the pursuit of fat wallets.

Animal derived scents, like civet musk and ambergris, drove trappers to endanger certain species for monetary gain, inciting activists groups to push for regulation and banning of certain animal derived fragrance components.

It takes tons of roses to produce one pound of Rose Absolute, making it a very expensive oil to produce, which is reflected in the cost to the buyer.

Lavender from this province in France smells better than the Lavender from that field in Spain.

Crops fail due to weather conditions. A drought or flooding may make an essential oil crop yield less than satisfactory in quality and quantity.

Demand for scents not easily captured naturally, like the smell of fresh bakes cookies.

All these reasons have opened up a market for producers to create scents that mimic some natural aromas, and for their marketing teams to trick us into believing that “this” is what “insert aroma herereally smells like. We are so over saturated with synthetics scents, that most people cannot recognize the true fragrance essence when naturally derived. The desire for a fragrant world has pushed for labs to create for us an endless selection of scents and aromas that nature can’t keep up with. We want them strong, and we want them convenient, and we want them cheap.

Aromatherapy, the practice of using the natural oils extracted from botanical matter, known as essential oils, to enhance psychological and physical well-being, operates on the idea that aroma chemicals travel pathways through the olfactory glands, responsible for your sense of smell, to certain receptors in your brain to alter mood (like calming or stimulating effects) or physiological functions (like pain relief or wound healing). It is believed that your sense of smell is deeply connected to emotion and memory, so it’s no surprise that we humans seek out that which smells pleasant to us and are repelled by that which does not smell pleasant. Where would we be if we didn’t recognize the smell of rotting food, or the smell of smoke when something is burning? Or better yet, where would mankind be without the instinctual attraction produced by pheromones – those primal scent chemicals that attract us to one another? It’s no wonder that scent plays such a big role in our world.
There is a huge marketing blitz with the buzzwords “natural” and “organic” these days. However, the scents alluded to in these products under this marketing are so far removed from their origins that now, when the “real deal” is experienced, people say “Well that doesn’t smell like Lavender. Bath & Body Works lotion smells like the real thing!” … I try to remain calm in these circumstances. It’s tough.

Think about the last time you smelled an actual peppermint leaf, straight from the plant. Green, herbal, perhaps a bit earthy, and yes, minty – but did it smell like a York Peppermint Patty? Probably not. Real Madagascar Vanilla does not have a plastic-ish base note (dollar store vanilla candle, anyone?). True Lavender does not smell like baby powder or fabric softener. Ever carved a pumpkin and realized they don’t actually smell like the Autumn Pumpkin body lotion that every store carries from September through December? And that bottle of celebrity-inspired perfume, if handblended with real Rose Damask Absolute and Oud Wood, would not cost $65 for 3.3 fl oz.

So let’s start with the differences between an essential oil and a synthetic fragrance oil.

An ESSENTIAL OIL (or Absolute) is the aromatic essences extracted from a plant – flower, leaf, bark, root, seed, or resin – by steam distillation, cold pressing or expression, or by solvent. Each essential oil is made up of many chemical components. The season collected, region grown, and species of the same plant can produce varying strengths and qualities of scent. Some common essential oils are Peppermint, Lavender, Patchouli, Sweet Orange, Tea Tree, Clove, Anise, Spearmint, Lemon, Lime, and Eucalyptus. Expensive essential oils, like Rose, Sandalwood, Jasmine, and Vanilla are usually reserved for perfumery and therapeutic aromatherapy, and sometimes to be more cost effective, are heavily diluted with a carrier oil like Jojoba or Coconut Oil.
An ounce of Rose Absolute costs approximately $100, while Sandalwood essential oil costs about $200 an ounce. (

A synthetic FRAGRANCE OIL is a proprietary blend of aromatic chemicals produced systematically in a lab and usually in large production for consistency. Some fragrance oils have essential oil components, or the aroma chemicals found in plants, such as linalool and eugenol. Most fragrance oils also contain a dilutent, or carrier, such as dipropylene glycol or other oil or alcohol bases. In recent years, the use of phthalates, esters of phthalic acid used to make plastic more flexible and to “dissolve raw fragrance materials” has been frowned upon in the fragrance oil industry, but some are still in use (and have been approved by the FDA) as the controversy over whether they are a health concern or not wages on. Some common scents that are always fragrance oils are Blueberry, Cherry, Strawberry, Peach, Pear, Coconut, Pumpkin Pie, the “ocean” scents, “baked food” scents, and most all berry scents are fragrance oils.
An ounce of Rose Fragrance Oil costs about $2.20, and an ounce of Sandalwood Fragrance Oil cost about the same. ( A huge difference from their essential oil counterparts!

So which is better - essential oils or fragrance oils? Safer? Less likely to cause allergies?

The answer, dear readers, is not an easy one, nor is it a black and white issue. It is an issue that comes into much debate in the handmade soap and cosmetic industry, along with the ever-growing debate over the term “natural”. The FDA does not have a regulated definition of the word “natural” (so anyone can use it without regard), but as this is my personal blog, I will share my opinions on the matter.

In order to use the term “natural”, I believe that the product in question should be made of materials found in or derived from nature with the least amount of processing possible: plants, minerals, trees – or of the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. If we get carried away, that could mean just about everything at some point. That’s a pretty broad standard, but can be broken down further. I will use essential oils in my explanation, since this blog post pertains to our sense of smell.

Are essential oils found in nature? Yes, plants and botanicals contain natural aromatic chemicals. We must extract them by various means (as mentioned above), however, they are not altered by these processes, with the exception of solvents that may possibly remain in some essential oils if not processed correctly.

My reasoning behind using essential oils exclusively to scent my products and deeming them natural is based on that information. As long as I am purchasing my essential oils from a reputable distributor (which, of course, I always do) that can prove the purity of their oils by quantifiable testing, like Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectroscopy, then I know I am using an unadulterated substance.
For an easy to understand explanation of these testing methods, check this out:

Essential Oils, as mentioned before, naturally contain a multitude of chemical components. Some of these chemicals produce scent alone, others are similar to natural bug repellant for the plant, and still others are extracted for their medicinal properties, like being an anti-inflammatory or antifungal. Aromatherapy utilizes essential oils for all of their beneficial properties, and understands that some oils, due to their chemical makeup, can be harmful, like dermal irritants. Some view them like an over-the-counter medication, and should be used with caution just as if you were using Ibuprofen. The use of essential oils requires education and research – they are not “just perfume”. Let me point out as I have before, that just because a substance is “natural” (using my definition) does not always equate it with “safe”, or make it safer than its synthetically produced alternative. This is where research and education come into play, and should be the catalyst for your decision on whether to use essential oils or fragrance oils. If nothing else, it gives you the chance to have an informed opinion, which personally, carries a lot of weight with me.
For more information on Essential Oils and their safety, I suggest reading material by Robert Tisserand, Kurt Schnaubelt, Julia Lawless, and Valerie Ann Worwood. Websites like be very useful, too.

Now I’ll share the reason I choose not to use synthetic fragrance oils.
The fragrance industry is rife with secrecy, and the term “proprietary formula” is thrown about like tumbleweeds in a tornado. “Proprietary” means that the company does not have to disclose their “secret ingredients”. I don’t like secrets. You don’t need to tell me the exact ratios of your 138-ingredient blend. I don’t need to know your suppliers, nor do I expect companies, big or small, to share information that has taken years of education and research to acquire. But most doctors will tell you that fragrance is one of the main culprits of allergies to products that come in contact with your skin, like soaps, lotions, and perfumes. 

So here’s some ‘food for thought”… How do you feel about food companies labeling their packages like this:
Ingredients - Some grains, a meat product, and a proprietary formula of spices and preservatives.
Huh? What if you’re allergic to gluten? What if your religion admonishes eating pork? What if you have a severe reaction to garlic? Wouldn’t you want to know what was in that package before you ate it? People are in an uproar when they hear that a fast food company is using subpar non-food ingredients to bulk up their meats, but when it comes to products that come in contact with their skin, will spritz perfume on  like it’s holy water without questioning what’s in it.

I’m not here trying to tell you that your skin will melt off if you use a product with fragrance oil. As a matter of fact, some people believe that fragrance oils are actually safer than essential oils, due to the fact that they are lab created for consistency and are tested for skin safety. It’s a matter of educated opinion. However, in my opinion, it’s hard to have an “educated opinion” when you aren’t given all the information – like “proprietary formula” information. What are they using to dilute the fragrance chemicals in? How are those fragrance chemicals created? Which chemicals are derived from plant essences and which are purely synthetic? And if they’re synthetic, how are they created? And if you’re looking for a “natural” product (by my definition), how can it be labeled “natural” if a synthetic fragrance oil was used to scent it?

The FDA only requires that I list ingredients on my soap IF I want to make claims such as “moisturizing” or “exfoliating”. Otherwise, if it’s simply soap (comprised of fatty acids and an alkali) that’s intended to just clean your skin, I only have to label it with the word “soap”, the manufacturing address, and it’s net weight - I don’t have to tell you what’s in it. BUT WHY WOULDN’T I? Maybe I’m not business saavy, or I’m missing something here, but…I want you to know what I use. I want you to be able to look at my ingredients list, if you so choose, to avoid any allergens or other ingredients you are trying to avoid for whatever reason you want to avoid them. I’m only required to list “fragrance” if my soap will be considered cosmetic (moisturizing, beautifying, deodorizing). I’m not required to tell you with what I fragranced it with. BUT WHY WOULDN’T I? For “proprietary” reasons? Even though I list every essential oil I use to make a particular scent blend, an expert perfumer would still have to try and figure out the ratio of each oil to mimic my blend…and even then, different essential oil manufacturers will have different qualities of oils from various distillations, which would still result in a blend that wasn’t exactly the same as mine. I’m not concerned with “copycats”. I’m concerned that when you purchase my product, you do so with all the information you need to feel good about your purchase.

With a scented product, our nose is going to have the biggest say in what we buy, with price being second for most folks. So have your olfactory glands been hijacked? It comes down to this: does your nose appreciate the synthetic aroma of Lavender created in a lab to smell exactly the same every time? Or does your nose prefer the eccentricities of Lavender essential oils, which can vary slightly or widely, but give you that connection to the field in which it was harvested?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Accolades & Alchemy & Ashes

I'm clicking my proverbial heels (or "flip-flops", as it were) over the wonderous news that filled my inbox this morning. The awesome folks over at THE CUNNING WOMEN OF ETSY chose my Etsy shop as the SHOP OF THE DAY!
They chose DARK ALCHEMY as a product of the day, as well as the HANDCROCHETED SOAP SAVER DRAWSTRING POUCHES that my extremely talented (and incredibly detail-oriented!) mother-in-law, Eileen Kircher, creates for me.

But wait...there's more! The wicked awesome Magaly Guerrero, dark fiction author extraordinaire, over at Pagan Culture Blogspot wrote this scent-illating review of the soaps I sent her.

 She was kind enough to ask  me to participate in her Blogiversary giveaway, titled "Witches In Fiction 2013...To the Bone!", last month, where one lucky winner received a GASPAR'S GHOST SEA SALT & BEER BAR (my all-time best seller, by the way). That lovely winner ordered more soap this morning, which was celebrated with heel-click number 3! I love repeat business!

And so I humbly offer you this crooked curtsy accompanied by a kiss blown with a handful of soap bubbles, and shall have the squires decree that today, my friends, is a good day.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hey, remember me? I'm baaaccckkk! SINGLE OIL SOAP RESULTS - PHASE 2

Man, time flies...
Has it really been 8 weeks since my Single Oil Soap Experiment Results - Phase 1 post? How did that happen?
Anyhoo...there have been a few dramatic results, and more than a few expected results. It will be interesting to see if that tide changes over the coming months...but for now, here are the results you've been waiting for!

Total DOS (Dreaded Orange Spots - the Soapmakers term for "Eww"). Rancidity City. Discolored.
Both soap samples from Group A (dry cure location) and Group B (damp cure location) are darker colored with definite DOS and smell really rank. An interesting find was that Grapeseed lost the least amount of weight during this 8 week period at only 8% (Grapeseed and I must have the same metabolism). Could the lack of weight loss, assuming that weight loss is excess water, contribute to DOS? Definitely something to ponder.

The BIGGEST LOSER IS: CASTOR at 20% of total weight loss, with OLIVE as the runner-up at 19%
(This calculation took into consideration the 2 grams removed from each soap for pH testing to be more accurate)


Not a big surprise here, eh? Even at 5% superfatting, I didn't feel that my skin was tight or dry after rinsing even though my hands are dry by nature, but I do have a water softener so that may make a difference.

AVOCADO, CORN, and CANOLA all had a nice foamy lather with small dense bubbles.


TALLOW and LARD both had scant lather and little bubbles, and while my hands felt soft after rinsing, TALLOW left a bit of a greasy feel, and LARD was a little waxy.

RICE BRAN and OLIVE had next to no lather, no bubbles, and were more like lotion when wet. RICE BRAN was my favorite of the two as it left my skin soft and smooth afterwards, whereas OLIVE left my skin soft but a bit tight.

Strangely enough (in my opinion) PALM oil had a pretty decent lather and my hands felt soft after rinsing. In PHASE 1, I noted that it left a waxy feeling, and I did not experience that in PHASE 2.

SUNFLOWER & PEANUT both had decent lather, though SUNFLOWER made a quite soft bar and the sample from Group A (dry) did have 2 spots of DOS. And in another strange turn of events, the SUNFLOWER sample in Group B (damp) did NOT have any DOS. The SUNFLOWER sample is set next to the GRAPESEED sample, so we can either infer that DOS does indeed spread to soaps near or in contact with an "infected" soap...or that this is an anomaly of sorts. Time will tell!

SAFFLOWER, SOYBEAN, and CASTOR all had a tacky or gummy lather and feel.
SAFFLOWER had little to no bubbles and a very tacky lather that left a drag on my skin after rinsing. SOYBEAN was more gummy with very little lather but left my hands soft after rinsing. CASTOR was tacky and hard to rinse, but my hands were very soft and smooth after rinsing. CASTOR and its reputation of adding lather has me stumped. Perhaps it contributes to lather when added to other fatty acids, because it doesn't seem to have much lather or bubbles on it's own. However, I will attest to it's moisturizing capabilities.


Poor, poor GRAPESEED...rancid, slimy, and actually had an average lather, but it was hard to rinse. I personally never use GRAPESEED in my soap formulas, and now I'm glad I don't. I would be interested to hear from soapers that do use it and their personal results with it on a long term basis.

The only soaps with an obvious odor were LARD and PEANUT, though they only had very slight odor. LARD definitely lost most of the odor it had after unmolding. PEANUT had also lost most of its original odor and only had the faint scent of peanut oil.

I'm impressed with Avocado's lather and the way my skin felt afterwards. I've shied away a bit from using AVOCADO oil in my soap formulas because it can be a bit expensive, and its chemical composition can lead one to believe it may have a short life-span, so to speak. I will definitely be keeping my eye on this one! I recently ordered 7 lbs of Avocado oil from SOAPER'S CHOICE and will definitely use it in my next soaping marathon. I've used it in serums and lip balms before, but I'm excited to try it in cold process!

I will post again with pH results, though they may not be quite as accurate because I am only using pH testing papers and not some awesome electronic pH meter.

So did you learn anything new today? Any results that surprise you, disappoint you, or otherwise intrigue you?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Single Oil Soap Experiment: Phase One

Dearest Blog Followers,
Remember a few posts back, when I mentioned I was "up to something" again? (
Well, I have accomplished that particular something, and am now ready to share those results with you! I will call these results "Phase One" because this will be an ongoing experiment to test the properties and qualities of the 15 soapmaking oils used in this experiment.

Let me catch you up on what I've done here:
I've taken 15 common soapmaking oils and created soap with 170 grams of each oil and a 41% Lye concentration -
1. Tallow
2. Rice Bran
3. Olive
4. Lard
5. Safflower
6. Soybean
7. Avocado
8. Palm
9. Corn
10. Sunflower
11. Grapeseed
12. Canola
13. Coconut
14. Peanut
15. Castor


After unmolding, I cut each bar in half (by hand, so they're not exact, but that is an insignificant detail as each were weighed separately) and labeled them with an assigned number, for blind study purposes, and an "A" or "B". Soaps labeled "A" will be cured in a dry bedroom closet. Soaps labeled "B" will be stored in a bathroom cabinet. Hopefully, by curing in separate areas we will be able to determine if curing conditions contribute to rancidity and longevity of soap.

Once each soap was unmolded, cut, and each part weighed (in grams), I washed my hands with part "B" soaps and pH tested part "A" soaps. After letting the part "B" soaps dry completely, they were boxed together in a cardboard box with the lid open and set inside a lower bathroom cabinet. Part "A" soaps were boxed together in the same kind of box with the lid shut, and set on the top shelf of a bedroom closet.

Before going into detail on the individual oils, let me share a few of the "constants" in this experiment:

1. The lye solutions were made using distilled water. A lye discount/superfat of 5% was used.
2. The ambient temperature in my kitchen during this experiment ranged form 73 degrees to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. Each soap was made with 170 grams of oil.
4. To bring the soaps to trace, I handmixed with a wooden chopstick for 1 minute, used a stick blender until a light trace was achieved, then handmixed with a wooden chopstick to ensure that trace was reached and that no separation was occuring.
5. All soaps were covered with a layer of plastic film, then covered with 2 towels, and insulated for 15 hours. Gel phase was not obvious. Insulation was removed after 15 hours and most soaps were unmolded at the 24 hour mark. Others were left to harden up enough to safely remove without much damage.

1. To test for pH, I used 60 grams of distilled water and 2 grams of grated soap
2. I used paper pH test strips rated to test 0 - 14 (garden soil testing quality)

3. For lather testing,  I wet the bar under my kitchen faucet for 5 seconds, rolled the bars between my hands for 10 seconds, and then took a picture of the results. I dried my hands thoroughly between tests to try to keep to more consistent results.My tap water is softened through a reverse osmosis Kinetico system, so hard water results may vary.
And yes, I absolutely did zap test each soap for tongue neutrality. And I still have a tongue! That works!

And now...for the moment we've all been waiting for...

I've tried to add bits of info about each oil along with my results...please forgive me for being unable to research all the oils equally...I do have a business and a family to attend to, and I found myself getting carried away with the research for this undertaking as it was. I would prefer to be distracted by anything soapy as opposed to laundry. And cooking. And dishes. And mopping. And laundry. And dishes. And get the point.

1. TALLOW is the rendered fat derived from cow, sheep, or deer. It is one of the oldest triglycerides used to make soap, due to it’s wide availability and that it can be rendered at home. It has a long shelf life and does not require refrigeration, however oxidation will occur if not sealed in an airtight container. It is a high source of Vitamin D.

Chemical Composition:
Palmitic: 26%
Stearic: 14%
Myristic: 3%
Oleic: 47%
Palmitoleic: 3%
Linoleic: 3%
Linolenic: 1%

SOAPCALC assigns these numbers to Saponified Tallow (Sodium Tallowate):
SAP Value: 0.143
Hardness: 58
Cleansing: 8
Conditioning: 40
Bubbly Lather: 8
Creamy Lather: 50
Iodine: 45
INS: 147

Palmitic: 28%
Stearic: 22%
Myristic: 6%
Oleic: 36%
Linoleic: 3%
Linolenic: 1%

WHAT DO THOSE NUMBERS EQUATE TO IN SOAP?: Tallow produces a hard white bar with a rich and stable creamy lather. It is considered mildly cleansing, moisturizing and conditioning.  When saponified, it produces a high percentage of Oleic acid, the main component of Olive Oil and in human sebum. Saponified Tallow is also composed of a high Palmitic and Stearic acid content. It’s used in many shaving soap formulas.

NONSOAPY FACTS: Its use is mostly limited to soap and animal feed, but it’s also a staple in Native American cooking, especially in Pemmican. It was often used for candle making before a larger variety of waxes became more widely available. Deer tallow is used as the base ingredient in medicinal salves made in Germany used by athletes to prevent blisters. It has been used as a lubricant in industrial applications and weaponry, as flux in soldering, and as the main ingredient of many leather conditioners. It currently has found a use as biodegradable motor oil. 

MY RESULTS: Tallow has a strong odor before being soaped, but only a faint odor after. It was able to be unmolded and was tongue neutral in 24 hours. It traced in 1 minute 30 seconds with the oil temperature being 90* and the lye temperature being 100*. It produced a very hard, white bar that crumbled with the use of a stamp, and so I decided to nix the stamp and carve the letters/numbers into the soaps with a clay tool. The lather left a lot to be desired - very few small bubbles that left my hands feeling dry. It tested with the highest pH of 12.

2. RICE BRAN  is the oil extracted from the germ and inner husk of rice. It is similar in composition to peanut oil, with a high smoke point. It is used in many Asian countries for culinary purposes. A wax is made from the oil and is used as a substitute for carnauba wax in cosmetics and other applications. It contains the highest amount of the antioxidant γ-oryzanol, which has been the topic of some medical research regarding menopause and cholesterol.

Chemical Composition:
Palmitic: 22%
Stearic: 3%
Myristic:1 %
Oleic: 43%
Linoleic: 26%

SOAPCALC assigns these numbers to Saponified Rice Bran Oil:
SAP Value: 0.128
Hardness: 26
Cleansing: 1
Conditioning: 69
Bubbly Lather: 1
Creamy Lather: 25
Iodine: 110
INS: 70

WHAT DO THOSE NUMBERS EQUATE TO IN SOAP?:  Rice Bran will produce a semi-hard mild soap that is very conditioning with a creamy lather.

MY RESULTS: Rice Bran oil was soaped at 75* and the lye at 115*. It took 2 minutes to trace, and a total of 39 hours to be unmolded and tongue neutral. It is a darker off white, close to yellow color.  It produced more of a lotion-like lather with no bubbles, was hard to rinse off, though my hands felt smooth and soft afterwards. It pH tested at 10

3. OLIVE OIL is derived from the fruit of the Olea Europaea tree by pressing the entire Olive by mechanical or chemical means. The fruit is pressed into a paste, and then the oil is extracted by either pressure or centrifuge. Virgin Grade means only pressing was used to extract the oil (no chemicals). Refined Grade means that a chemical, such as charcoal, was used to neutralize acid content (and strong flavor). Pomace Grade means the solid substance left over from pressing that still contains some oil is blended with Virgin grade. Pure Olive Oil labeling indicates a blend of Refined and Virgin grades. Refined Olive Oil and Pomace Olive Oil are the most common used for soapmaking, however any grade Olive Oil can be used. If stored properly, it has a shelf life of about one year.

Chemical Composition:
Palmitic: 11%
Stearic: 4%
Myristic: 3%
Oleic: 72%
Linoleic: 10%
Linolenic: 1%

SOAPCALC assigns these numbers to Saponified Olive Oil (Sodium Olivate):
SAP Value: 0.135
Hardness: 17
Cleansing: 0
Conditioning: 82
Bubbly Lather: 0
Creamy Lather: 17
Iodine: 85
INS: 105

WHAT DO THOSE NUMBERS EQUATE TO IN SOAP?: Olive Oil produces a semi-soft bar prior to cure. However, after a cure of 6 months to one year, Olive Oil  (Castille) soaps are very hard. Depending on the type of Olive Oil used, color of the soap will range from barely off white to green. It is considered to be the mildest of soaping oils, and is considered to be helpful in skin cell regeneration as well as having superior ability to penetrate into the skin.

NONSOAPY FACTS: Olive Oil has a wide range of uses besides its obvious culinary use, and is highly unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. It is used in medicine and has many benefits for gastrointestinal disorders. Scientific research is testing to see what effects it has on cancer because it has been found to reduce oxidative damage to DNA and RNA. Olive Oil contains natural phenols, which have antioxidant properties, and is a source of at least 30 phenolic compounds. It is used in religious consecrations, as a lamp oil, a lubricant, and in replacement of machining oil.

MY RESULTS: Contrary to anecdotal evidence, Olive Oil traced quicker than expected at 3 minutes 30 seconds when soaped at 75* for the oil and 110* for the lye. It produced a nice hard, barely off white, tongue neutral bar in 24 hours. Lather wa very minimal, with tiny bubbles and was hard to rinse off, though my skin felt soft and supple afterwards. It pH tested at 9.


4. LARD is the rendered fat from pigs. It is also one of the oldest triglycerides used to make soap, due to its wide availability and that it can be rendered at home. It has a long shelf life and does not require refrigeration, however oxidation will occur if not sealed in an airtight container. “Leaf Lard” is the highest quality Lard, coming from the fat around the kidneys and loin of the pig.

Chemical Composition:
Palmitic: 26%
Stearic: 14%
Myristic: 2%
Oleic: 44%
Linoleic: 10%
Linolenic: 0%

SOAPCALC assigns these numbers to Saponified Lard (Sodium Lardate):
SAP Value: 0.141
Hardness: 42
Cleansing: 1
Conditioning: 52
Bubbly Lather: 1
Creamy Lather: 41
Iodine: 57
INS: 139

Palmitic: 28%
Stearic: 13%
Myristic: 1%
Oleic: 46%
Linoleic: 6%

WHAT DO THOSE NUMBERS EQUATE TO IN SOAP?:  Lard adds conditioning properties and a creamy lather. It is considered a “hard oil” and will produce a semi-hard bar of soap with mild cleansing ability.

NONSOAPY FACTS:  Lard is mainly used for culinary purposes, but can be used to produce biofuel, and is used as cutting fluid in machining. It is prized for its use in piecrusts, biscuits, and other baking.

MY RESULTS: Lard had the stongest aroma before being soaped, and after.After a week, that scent has dissipated, but is still faintly there. The oil was soaped at 120* with the lye at 125*. It took 4 minutes to reach trace. It was unmolded and tongue neutral in 24 hours. The lather was a bit greasy and resulted in lots of tiny bubbles. It pH tested at 11. It is just barely off white with a creamy appearance.

5. SAFFLOWER is a thistle-like plant. The oil is extracted from the seeds. It is one of the oldest crops known to man and has been used as a red and yellow dye for centuries. The flowers are sometimes used as a substitute for Saffron. A high-oleic version is available, which tends to have a longer shelf life. The one soaped for this experiment was the cheaper and more common high-linoleic version.

Chemical Composition:
Palmitic: 2%
Oleic: 15%
Linoleic: 75%

SOAPCALC assigns these numbers to Saponified Safflower Oil:
SAP Value: 0.137
Hardness: 7
Cleansing: 0
Conditioning: 90
Bubbly Lather: 0
Creamy Lather: 7
Iodine: 145
INS: 47

WHAT DO THOSE NUMBERS EQUATE TO IN SOAP?:  Safflower Oil will render a soft conditioning soap.

MY RESULTS:  Safflower was soaped at 75* and the lye at 110* and took 4 minutes and 30 seconds to trace. It began separating in the mold, but I was able to hand stir it back to emulsion...which tells me it could have used longer than 4.5 minutes of stirring to reach a true solid trace. It was tongue neutral and unmolded in 24 hours, producing a surprisingly hard close to white bar. It's lather was very slimy and hard to rinse off, and had lots of tiny bubbles, It pH tested at 11.

 6. SOYBEAN is extracted from the seed of the Glycine Max plant. It has a myriad of uses, but mostly for culinary purposes. Soybean oil is a drying oil, which means that it will slowly harden upon exposure to air, forming a flexible, transparent, and waterproof solid. It is used to make ink and paints.

Chemical Composition:
Palmitic: 11%
Stearic: 5%
Oleic: 24%
Linoleic: 50%
Linolenic: 8%

SOAPCALC assigns these numbers to Saponified Soybean Oil:
SAP Value: 0.136
Hardness: 16
Cleansing: 0
Conditioning: 82
Bubbly Lather: 0
Creamy Lather: 16
Iodine: 131
INS: 61

MY RESULTS:  Soybean oil was soaped at 75* with the lye at 110*. It traced in 2 minutes, though separated in the mold. I was able to bring it back to emulsion by hand stirring in the mold. It took a full 5 days to unmold and test tongue neutral.The bar is off white in color and just hard enough to not leave dents in when pressed with a finger. It produced tons of lather and left my skin soft. It pH tested at 9.

7. AVOCADO is derived from the fruit of the Persea Gratissima tree. It is high in Vitamin A, E and D, as well as chlorophyll. It is similar to Olive Oil in chemical composition and uses. Virgin Avocado Oil is very green, as opposed to Refined Avocado Oil, which is more of a pale yellow color. If stored properly, it has a shelf life of about one year.

Chemical Composition:
Palmitic: 20%
Stearic: 2%
Oleic: 58%
Linoleic: 12%

SOAPCALC assigns these numbers to Saponified Avocado Oil:
SAP Value: 0.133
Hardness: 22
Cleansing: 0
Conditioning: 70
Bubbly Lather: 0
Creamy Lather: 22
Iodine: 86
INS: 99

WHAT DO THOSE NUMBERS EQUATE TO IN SOAP?:  Avocado Oil adds conditioning properties and a creamy lather to your soap. It will produce a soft soap with mild cleansing properties.

NONSOAPY FACTS:  Avocado Oil is mainly used for culinary and cosmetic uses. It has moisturizing and regenerative properties. It is also used as a lubricant.

MY RESULTS: Avocado oil was soaped at 75* with lye at 100*. It reached trace in 2 minutes, though it separated in the mold and was able to be stirred back to emulsion by hand. It was unmolded and tongue neutral in 24 hours.It is a slightly off white bar with dense foam like lather - a little hard to remove, but left my skin feeling very smooth, soft, and supple.

8. PALM is derived from the pulp from the fruit of the Elaeis Guineensis tree. It has a high Beta-Carotene content, lending to its natural reddish color. It is commonly referred to as “Vegetable Tallow”. Refined, bleached, and deodorized Palm Oil (RBD) is used more often in soap, as it renders a whiter bar with no detectable odor. Approximately 3% of the world’s Palm Oil use is in the soapmaking and cosmetic industry, though it’s use may be on the decline due to environmental issues ( Palm Oil is the base ingredient in Sunlight and Palmolive dish soaps. It is very heat stable with a long shelf life, as it is slow to oxidize.

Chemical Composition:
Palmitic: 44%
Stearic: 5%
Myristic: 1%
Oleic: 39%
Linoleic: 10%

SOAPCALC assigns these numbers to Saponified Palm Oil (Sodium Palmate):
SAP Value: 0.142
Hardness: 50
Cleansing: 1
Conditioning: 49
Bubbly Lather: 1
Creamy Lather: 49
Iodine: 53
INS: 145

WHAT DO THOSE NUMBERS EQUATE TO IN SOAP?:  Palm Oil produces a very hard white bar of soap that is mildly cleansing and very conditioning with a creamy lather.

NONSOAPY FACTS:  Palm oil is a staple cooking oil in Africa, South Asia, and Brazil. It is also used in many processed foods due to its lower cost and shelf-life stability. It was used with Naphtha to create Napalm, used during World War II as an incendiary device. It is used to create biodiesel fuel.

MY RESULTS: Palm oil was soaped at 100* with the lye at 120*, and traced in 2 minutes. It was unmolded and tongue neutral in 24 hours. It produced a very hard white bar. The lather was nonexistent and left a waxy feeling on my skin after rinsing. It had a very slight odor. It pH tested at 9.

9. CORN OIL is extracted from the germ of the Maize plant. It is expeller pressed and then solvent extracted with Hexane or Isohexane. It is then treated with an alkali and then processed through steam distillation for refinement (refined, bleached, deodorized). In a bushel of corn, there is 1.55 pounds of oil (2.8% by weight).

Chemical Composition:
Palmitic: 12%
Stearic: 2%
Oleic: 32%
Linoleic: 51%
Linolenic: 1%

SOAPCALC assigns these numbers to Saponified Corn Oil:
SAP Value: 0.137
Hardness: 14
Cleansing: 0
Conditioning: 84
Bubbly Lather: 0
Creamy Lather: 14
Iodine: 117
INS: 69

WHAT DO THOSE NUMBERS EQUATE TO IN SOAP?:  Corn oil produces a soft soap with conditioning properties and a stable lather.
NONSOAPY FACTS:  Besides its culinary uses, Corn Oil is used for biodiesel, animal feed, salve, paint, rustproofing for metal surfaces, inks, textiles, nitroglycerin, medicines, and insecticides.

MY RESULTS: Corn Oil was soaped at 75* with the lye at 110*, and reached trace in 2 minutes. It took 5 days to be able to unmold it without much damage and test tongue neutral. It produced a off white, close to yellow bar with a strong odor of (guess what!) Corn, with tons of bubbles, It was hard to rinse off and left a greasy felling on my skin. It pH tested at 9. 

10. SUNFLOWER is compressed from the seeds of the Helianthus annuus flower. It is used as an emollient in cosmetics and for culinary purposes. It can be mixed with diesel as a alternative fuel method. There is a high-oleic version available with a purported longer shelf life. I soaped the cheaper and more common version that is higher in linoleic acid.

Chemical Composition:
Palmitic: 7%
Stearic: 4%
Myristic: 1%
Oleic: 16%
Linoleic: 70%
Linolenic: 1%

SOAPCALC assigns these numbers to Saponified Sunflower Oil:
SAP Value: 0.135
Hardness: 11
Cleansing: 0
Conditioning: 87
Bubbly Lather: 0
Creamy Lather: 11
Iodine: 133
INS: 63

WHAT DO THOSE NUMBERS EQUATE TO IN SOAP?: Sunflower soap produces a very soft, mild, conditioning soap.

MY RESULTS: Sunflower Oil was soaped at 75* with the lye at 110*. It took 4 minutes to reach trace. It took 5 full days to be able to unmold, and it was still the consistency of cream cheese or play doh. It produced a slightly translucent off white bar. The lather was more lotion-like. It was very slimy and a bit hard to rinse. It pH tested at 9.

11. GRAPESEED oil is pressed from the seed of grapes (obviously?) and is a by-product of wine making. It is used for cooking, cosmetics, and is sprayed on raisins to help them retain their flavor.


Chemical Composition:
Palmitic: 8%
 Stearic: 4%
Oleic: 20%
Linoleic: 68%

SOAPCALC assigns these numbers to Saponified Grapeseed Oil:
SAP Value: 0.133
Hardness: 12
Cleansing: 0
Conditioning: 88
Bubbly Lather: 0
Creamy Lather: 12
Iodine: 121
INS: 66

WHAT DO THOSE NUMBERS EQUATE TO IN SOAP?:  Unsaponified Grapeseed Oil is mildly astringent and used as a moisturizer for oily skin. In soap, it produces a soft bar with mild cleansing and very conditioning properties and a slightly creamy lather.

MY RESULTS: Ugh. Grapeseed Oil gave me such trouble. It took 3 minutes and 30 seconds to trace...and then separated in the mold, but was recovered with hand stirring. It was soaped at 75* with the lye at 105*. It took the longest to remove from the mold. I removed it after 5 full days, but it is the consistency of a glue stick. It could still be squished into a ball, if I so desired. I do not. It has a pale green color to it and a strong odor, almost like an oil that is going rancid, The lather was barely lotion like with no bubbles whatsoever. My hands felt tight after washing. It pH tested at 10.

12. CANOLA is also known as Rapeseed and is derived from the seed of the Brassica napus L. plant. It has the lowest saturated fat of any oil. The name was coined from “CANadian Oil – Low Acid” to avoid a connection to the word “rape” in “Rapeseed”. It is made by slightly heating the seeds and then crushing them. It is then refined using Hexane and then the crude oil is refined using water precipitation and organic acid, "bleaching" with clay, and deodorizing using steam distillation. It’s shelf life, once opened, is 4 – 6 months.

Chemical Composition:
Palmitic: 4%
Stearic: 2 %
Oleic: 61%
Linoleic: 21%
Linolenic: 9%

SOAPCALC assigns these numbers to Saponified Canola Oil:
SAP Value: 0.133
Hardness: 6
Cleansing: 0
Conditioning: 91
Bubbly Lather: 0
Creamy Lather: 6
Iodine: 110
INS: 56

WHAT DO THOSE NUMBERS EQUATE TO IN SOAP?: Canola oil renders a very soft soap that is conditioning with a creamy lather. It can be substituted as a small portion of your soft oil formulation.

NONSOAPY FACTS: It is mostly used for culinary use and biodiesel production., but has also found uses in candle making, lipstick, and newspaper inks. It was used as lamp fuel for centuries, and as a metal cleaner and lubricant during World War II. The rapeseed blossom is a major source of nectar for bees. The leftover meal from the seeds after the oil has been extracted is used as cattle feed.

MY RESULTS: Canola was sopaed at 75* with the lye at 100* and traced in 2 minutes. It did start to separate in the mold and was recovered with hand stirring. It was tongue neutral and unmolded in 24 hours. It produced a hard off white bar with lots of thin, dissipating bubbles. It was a bit hard to rinse off and had a strong odor. It pH tested at 10. 

 13. COCONUT oil is derived from the meat or kernel of the Cocos Nucifera fruit, either through a dry process where the kernel is dried over a flame (copra) then pressed with solvents (such as Hexane) and then refined, or through a wet process where raw coconut meat is boiled in water, and then put through a centrifuge or other mechanism to extract the oil. Refined, bleached, and deodorized Coconut Oil (RBD) is made from the copra (coconut kernel) and is used mainly is cooking, commercial food processing, and for cosmetic, industrial, and pharmaceutical purposes. It is the surfactant from which cocamidopropyl betaine, cocamide MEA and cocamide DEA are derived. Virgin Coconut Oil is manually pressed from either the raw meat or the milk is put through a mechanism to separate the fat from the liquid. It takes around 1000 mature Coconuts to produce 70 liters of Coconut Oil. It is very heat stable with a long shelf life, as it is slow to oxidize.

Chemical Composition:
Palmitic: 9%
Stearic: 3%
Myristic: 19%
Oleic: 8%
Linoleic: 2%
Lauric: 48%

SOAPCALC assigns these numbers to Saponified Coconut Oil (Sodium Cocoate):
SAP Value: 0.183
Hardness: 79
Cleansing: 67
Conditioning: 10
Bubbly Lather: 67
Creamy Lather: 12
Iodine: 10
INS: 268

WHAT DO THOSE NUMBERS EQUATE TO IN SOAP?:  Coconut Oil makes a very hard white bar with high cleansing properties and lots of bubbly lather. Most soapers recommend using it at 30% or less of your formula to avoid the drying property of a highly cleansing soap, though it can certainly be used at a higher rate with a higher superfat to accommodate for the dryness. Coconut Oil soaps will lather in any water condition, including hard water and salt water.

NONSOAPY FACTS:  Coconut Oil has many uses throughout the world. It is a staple cooking oil in many countries. It can be used as a skin and hair moisturizer, as an alternative fuel source and component of biodiesel fuel, engine lubricant, and as an herbicide. The Lauric acid can be removed and used for industrial and medical purposes. Fractionated Coconut Oil (Capric/Caprylic Triglyceride) is the medium chain fatty acids of Coconut Oil and is used in cosmetics, medical applications, and as a carrier oil for fragrance.

MY RESULTS: Coconut Oil was soaped at 75* with the lye at 110* and took 3 minutes to trace. It produced an incredibly hard white bar of soap with tons of bubbles, thick lather, and was easy to rinse off, though it left my skin feeling tight. It pH tested at 9.

14. PEANUT oil is derived from grinding peanuts to extract the oil. It is best known for its culinary use. It is also a source of biodiesel fuel.

Chemical Composition:
Palmitic: 8%
Stearic: 3%
Oleic: 58%
Linoleic: 26%

SOAPCALC assigns these numbers to Saponified Peanut Oil:
SAP Value: 0.137
Hardness: 11
Cleansing: 0
Conditioning: 82
Bubbly Lather: 0
Creamy Lather: 11
Iodine: 92
INS: 99

WHAT DO THOSE NUMBERS EQUATE TO IN SOAP?: Peanut Oil will produce a soft bar with a stable lather and conditioning properties.

MY RESULTS: Peanut oil was soaped at 75* with the lye at 110* and took 3 minutes to trace. It has a very strong scent similar to Sesame oil. It produced a super hard bar of off white soap. The lather was foam like and easy to rinse off, though my skin felt very tight afterwards. It pH tested at 10.

15. CASTOR oil is derived from the seed of the Ricinus communis plant. Besides soap, it's uses include lubricants, plastics, laxatives, cosmetics, brake fluid, paint, dyes, coating, inks, etc. The castor seed contains the toxic protein known as ricin, which is denatured and made inactive by heat during the oil extraction process.

Chemical Composition:
Oleic: 4%
Linoleic: 4%
Ricinoleic: 90%

SOAPCALC assigns these numbers to Saponified Castor Oil (Sodium Castorate):
SAP Value: 0.128
Hardness: 0
Cleansing: 0
Conditioning: 98
Bubbly Lather: 90
Creamy Lather: 90
Iodine: 86
INS: 95

WHAT DO THOSE NUMBERS EQUATE TO IN SOAP?: Castor Oil alone would make a very soft, sticky bar. It is used mainly for its incredible bubble making quality and as a very conditioning component. It is usually used between 5-10% in soap, but as high as 20% in a shampoo bar.
MY RESULTS: Castor oil was soaped at75* with the lye at 110*. It was the fastest to trace at 1 minute 10 seconds! It produced a super hard, slightly off white bar. The soap was very tacky after getting wet, similar to a glue stick, with thin tiny bubbles. It was a bit hard to rinse off, but left my hands feeling smooth and soft. It pH tested the lowest at 8.

So to summarize:
The hardest bars were: TALLOW, COCONUT, PALM, PEANUT, and CASTOR
The highest pH was: TALLOW
The lowest pH was: CASTOR
The quickest trace was: CASTOR (then TALLOW)
The slowest trace was:  GRAPESEED (then SAFFLOWER)
Whitest bar: TALLOW
Most yellow/off white bar: RICE BRAN
Soap that felt the most drying: PEANUT (then GRAPESEED, COCONUT)
Soap that felt the most "moisturizing":  AVOCADO (then RICE BRAN, OLIVE, SOYBEAN)
Strongest Odor: LARD (then CANOLA, GRAPESEED, CORN)
Oils that began to separate in the mold: SAFFLOWER, SOYBEAN, AVOCADO, GRAPESEED, and CANOLA

So did you learn anything new from this experiment? 
 In PHASE TWO, I will recheck pH, weight, and lather. I will also note any changes in the soaps physical appearance or odor that may lead to rancidity. I will also include blind study results. Anything else you would like to see?

Oooh, this is so exciting!