May 8, 2013 by thesoapalchemist
Question: Why don’t you make those pretty glycerin soaps with embedded designs in them? I see them at gift shops, and they cut the bars right in front of you. It’s so fun!
Answer: The clear soap you see in gift shops is an entirely different kind of soap, with different qualities, intended for an entirely different customer.
My typical customer wants an all-natural bar of soap for everyday face and body use. They don’t want synthetic ingredients or artificial fragrances. They are usually purchasing the soap for themselves, although after trying it they might buy bars to give as gifts. My soap becomes their “everyday” soap. It ends up replacing the Dove or Dial they had been using before.
The clear soaps in gift shops are generally bought as gifts, decorations or novelties. People use them for quick hand washes but quickly notice the almost waxy residue that is left behind, as well as the difference in suds and lather. They typically use a different brand for general bathing. When I hear people say they “don’t like handmade soap,” the clear, decorative soaps are generally the type of soap they had tried and were unhappy with.
Clear soap is technically called “Melt and Pour Soap.” Some people call it “Glycerin Soap,” but ALL handmade soap (mine,too) contains glycerin. Melt and Pour is NOT made from scratch, but bought ready-made in a block. Crafters melt it in the microwave, add scent and/or color and pour it into a mold, sometimes creating elaborate embedded designs that are quite eye catching.
The ingredients vary tremendously, but since they are premade, the crafter doesn’t pick the ingredients. They do have some choice in the matter by selecting different brands, and some add extra oils like shea butter or avocado oil for a boost in moisturizing, but in general, the base arrives at their doorstep pre-made. Most Melt and Pour soap contains a mixture of naturally derived and synthetic detergents for cleansing, foaming agents for lathering, and additives that help the product to melt, moisturize or stay emulsified. Some also have preservatives. Since my customers are typically in search of “all natural,” anything synthetic or “chemical sounding” isn’t appealing. Here are a few ingredients that, if seen on an ingredient list (even though some are naturally derived) are an instant tip-off that the product was not made from scratch: Sodium Myristate, Sodium Stearate, Propylene Glycol, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Triethanolamine, Sodium Laureth Sulfate.
The bar soap I make is called “Cold Process.” Each batch is made from scratch with vegetable oils, lye and liquid (water, tea, beer, milk, etc). The base recipe is 100% natural, and the ingredients are recognizable, requiring no explanation of what “naturally derived” means, or which chemicals are “good” and which are “bad.” It’s nice to be able to keep it simple! The soap is poured into a mold. 24 hours later, it is firm enough to cut into bars. The older the bars get, the more difficult they become to cut with any sort of precision. For this reason, they wouldn’t do very well as a “cut when you buy” product. The hardness helps the bars last in the wet environment of your shower.
Because of the difference in ingredients, my Cold Process soap has an entirely different feel compared to Melt and Pour. Cold Process soap is moisturizing, slippery in the hand, and has fluffy, luxurious lather. It cleanses skin gently and rinses away completely, leaving skin soft and smooth. Even the “all natural” Melt and Pour base I recently tried out has a thinner lather and leaves behind a “squeaky,” waxy, “sticky” feel. It’s fine for a quick hand wash, but I would never use it as my everyday, showering soap. A final quality difference: because Melt and Pour is DESIGNED to melt, it doesn’t hold up to the rigors of a wet shower as well as fully cured, cold process soap does.
While I might introduce some decorative, all natural Melt and Pour soaps from time to time, especially for people who like “eye candy,” the majority of my business energy is devoted to creating soaps that people will use again and again and again. I want my Cold Process soap to become their new everyday bar, and not just a bar they buy to keep out because it’s pretty!
I’ve met other soapers who have told me, “I’m more interested in making good soap, than pretty soap.” And I’ve met soapers who have told me, “I love making pretty soap- my customers say they hate to use it and ruin it!” I think I’ve found the happy medium; soaps that are pretty enough to be eye catching, but good enough to use and want more of.