Saturday, January 21, 2012

Castile Soap

A couple of weeks ago, I made a Castile soap.

So, what the heck is Castile soap?

Traditionally, the oil used to make Castile soap consists entirely of olive oil. Oftentimes, soaps are made with a blend of oils. I tend to use a high percentage of olive oil in my soaps, but I also typically use coconut oil, palm oil, avocado oil, and/or shea butter in every batch, too.

My Castile soap
Castile soap in its purest form is simply olive oil, sodium hydroxide (lye), and water. That's it. No other oils, no fragrance, no colorants. This simple formulation creates a creamy, white bar with many reported benefits - it is gentle on the skin, naturally moisturizes, and supposedly helps combat acne, dry skin, eczema, and psoriasis.

So where did this "Queen of Soaps" come from? Castile soap enjoys a long, rich history. It was first made sometime around the 13th century in Castilla, a medieval kingdom in modern-day Spain named after the large number of castles in the region. Most soaps at the time were made with animal lard or tallow, but because Castilla had such a vast abundance of olive groves, they used olive oil instead. This luxurious soap quickly became a favorite among royalty and the wealthy in Europe. In fact, Louis XIV of France was so enamored of Castile soap that he demanded in 1688 that all Marseille soapmakers exclusively use olive oil in their soaps.

I've never used pure Castile soap before, and my interest was piqued after reading some discussions about it on a couple of soapmaking forums I belong to. I decided to take a stab at making my own. I did veer a bit from tradition, though - I am a total fragrance junkie and I just couldn't stand to leave it unscented. I kept things natural by using lavender and tea tree essential oils to lightly scent the soap. Honestly, I don't like tea tree on its own (I think it kinda smells like motor oil) but it is wonderful when used sparingly with other essential oils. Lavender and tea tree is one of my new favorites.

Sadly, this soap is nowhere near ready to use, so I must exercise patience. I normally let my soaps cure for about six weeks before I use them. (During the curing time, the water in the soap evaporates, creating a harder, longer-lasting bar. The soap also becomes milder as it cures.) Castile soap can be used after 4-6 weeks, but it benefits greatly from a much longer cure time. Ideally, Castile soap should be cured for at least four months, and it is even better after a year.

It seems like people either love Castile soap or hate it. I've heard some folks say that they don't care for it because it can feel slimy. I am told not to expect a fluffy, bubbly lather - Castile's bubbles are small, creamy, and slippery. Other folks love this about Castile, praising how it leaves their skin feeling soft and nourished. I hear more positives than negatives about Castile, so I have high hopes and I am excited to try it. I guess I'll just have to wait a few months to see if this soap lives up to my expectations!

Until next time ...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Greetings and Salutations!

Hello, everyone, and welcome to my new blog! Thanks for stopping by and hanging out.

Not-so-brief introduction: My name is Jenny and I have been a soap enthusiast for about three years now. I started making melt-and-pour soaps in January 2009 after a friend of mine reminded me of a bar of glycerin soap he had bought me for Christmas years earlier. We got to talking about it, and he told me that it was possible to make soap like that at home. I was intrigued and went to the bookstore a few days later to see what they had on the topic. I was lucky enough to find Marie Browning's "300 Handcrafted Soaps: Great Melt and Pour Projects" on the shelf. The book was so inspiring and the soaps so beautiful that I was immediately hooked.

Once I started soaping, I was quickly addicted. Anyone who loves to make soap knows what I mean. I read every book, website, and blog about melt-and-pour soaping that I could find, and watched every online video that was out there. I would see an interesting color pattern and wonder if I could make a soap that looked like it. Everything began to look like a potential mold - most people see silicone baking pans as something to, you know, bake with, but I saw them as soaping molds. I'd sniff candles at the mall until I felt self-conscious, making mental notes about what scents I liked so I could find a similar soap fragrance. I even began dreaming about soap.

Here are a few of my melt-and-pour soaps ...
Later that year, I started selling my melt-and-pour soaps at craft shows and online. I met lots of wonderful friends through the process and  learned tons. After about 18 months, though, I found that running a business was sucking a lot of the joy out of soapmaking. Even the smallest business requires a huge amount of maintenance - Excel spreadsheets, Schedule C forms, sales and use tax returns, permits and paperwork, revenue and expenses, inventory, marketing, etc., etc., etc. ... All of that along with a deficit (I was spending about twice what I was earning) and a potential geographical move factored into my decision to close up shop in January 2011. But I learned so much from the experience and wouldn't trade it for the world.

At about the time I closed shop, I was officially bitten by the cold-process-soaping bug. I had read about cold process soapmaking during my melt-and-pour days, and wanted to try it but was afraid of the lye monster. But since I was no longer selling my soaps and running a business, I suddenly had more time to create and explore. So I decided to dedicate myself to learning the cold process method and to take the plunge and try it already. On a day in early 2011, I stood in my kitchen wearing my makeshift hazmat suit (goggles, plastic gloves, apron, long sleeves, long pants, closed-toed shoes) and warily eyed my container of sodium hydroxide (lye). I was pleasantly surprised that the house didn't explode when I added the lye to my distilled water. I added my lye solution to my melted oils, stick blended it to trace and then poured it into my mold. Afterward, as I was giving myself and the kitchen the Silkwood scrub down, I thought, "That was what I was so afraid of?" Don't get me wrong ... lye demands respect and you must be careful with it, but it's nothing to fear.

Twenty-four hours later, I'll be darned if I didn't have a block of soap in my mold. With my confidence buoyed, I began plotting the next batch. And then the next batch. And then the next ...

... And a few of my cold-process soaps.
I thought about starting this blog many times in the past few months. After closing my business, I took some time to just reboot and find my passion again. And I soon started thinking about sharing my experiences via a blog. But time has a funny way of inserting its own plans. Last summer, we got word we were moving from Florida to Louisiana and gearing up for that was a bit of a whirlwind. By the time we got settled into our new home, the holidays were approaching. And now that the holidays are over and we are on firmer ground, I can finally get around to starting this silly blog.

I hope this will be a fun way to connect with other soap enthusiasts like myself and to share knowledge and stories with each other. Thanks so much for reading!