Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Testing S.O.A.P. Panel Mystery Scents!

Here it is - the big, big S.O.A.P. Panel fragrance oil testing and results post!

A couple of weeks ago, I shared my first impressions of the mystery scents out of the bottle. Now it's time for Phase 2 where I actually soap with the fragrance oils and see how they behave and how well the scent holds up.

I chose to test each fragrance in cold process soap and melt-and-pour soap.

I kinda geeked out and went all high school science project on this, so I hope you guys won't be too disappointed that I didn't do anything fancy. No swirls or artsy techniques. In fact, I didn't use any colorants at all. Just the soap and the fragrance oil. I decided to keep things simple and pure in order to eliminate as many extraneous variables as possible. (Told you I geeked out.)

I felt that it was also important to keep conditions as similar as possible throughout the process because of those extraneous variable thingies I just mentioned. I really wanted to isolate the effects of each fragrance oil, so I used the same recipe for all eight scents and soaped at approximately the same temperature for each batch. On Day 1, I soaped at a combined temp of 102 degrees F (the oils were 99 degrees and the lye 105); on Day 2, I soaped again at a combined temp of 102-103 degrees F (the oils were at 101 degrees, the lye at 105).

The weather even cooperated and was roughly the same both days. Temperature and humidity can sometimes play a role in soapmaking, and here in the south one day it can be freezing and the next day you're running your air conditioner. The indoor temp was about 71 degrees F both days. On Tuesday, it was cold and cloudy (36 degrees F with 96% humidity). On Friday, it was still cold (36 degrees F with 60% humidity) and we actually got snow flurries, you guys, which was a bit distracting because when it snows in Louisiana you are supposed to lose your mind and go outside to take pictures. I resisted the urge, though, because I had Very Important Work To Do. (We did get a wintry mix of snow and ice the following week, though, and I did run outside to take pictures then.)

Insulating the soap
For my recipe, I used Steve's "Easy Soap Recipe" from the Soap Making Resource. His five-pound recipe calls for:
26.5 ounces Olive Oil (50% of total oils)
16.5 ounces Coconut Oil (about 31% of total oils)
10 ounces Palm Oil (about 19% of total oils) 

I used full water, which is a lye concentration of about 27%, and a 7% superfat. This was actually the recipe that I used for my very first batch of cold process soap three years ago. Since then, I've used it as a base for many other recipes, tweaking it here and there to allow for a small amount of butter or castor oil. It has a nice slow trace and allows for plenty of time to work. And it makes a pretty great bar of soap!

Okay, so here's what I did: I split the testing up into two days. On Day 1 (which was February 4), I tested scents 1-4; on Day 2 (February 7), I tested scents 5-8. Both days, I made a five-pound batch of soap and poured four 16-oz. portions into plastic measuring cups. The remaining soap I reserved as my control batch so I could compare it to the scented soap and see how much discoloration occurred. I then added .70 ounces of fragrance oil to each measuring cup, using one 16-oz. portion of soap for each scent. (So, that works out to .70 ounces of fragrance oil per pound of soap.) After stirring the FO in really well, I poured the soap into a cavity of my four-loaf silicone mold from Nature's Garden. This mold is perfect for testing FOs - each cavity holds one pound of soap.

I did my best to insulate the soap. I set an inverted plastic shoe box on top of the mold and then covered it with towels.

Here's a video of the process I followed to do my testing:

After letting the soaps cure for about two weeks, I took photos of each cut soap side-by-side with the unscented control loaf. As you can see, some of the soaps did discolor from the fragrance oils. None of them went too dark, though.

The fragrances also held up well in the finished soap. Here are my findings, according to my testing procedures. Keep in mind that different soapers may have different results. Different conditions and methods can affect the final outcome. Temperature can play a role - soaping at higher temps can accelerate trace, while soaping cooler can slow it down. The soap recipe itself can be a factor, too. Some recipes trace faster than others.

Cold Process Results (Two Weeks Later)

Scent #1:
This one smelled like Balsam & Citrus to me with notes of fir and orange. It seems less sweet to me in the finished soap. It matures into a lovely, slightly masculine scent. It is still in my top three of favorites. This FO has a light orange tint and it behaved beautifully - it did not accelerate, rice, or seize. Discolored the soap to a medium yellow.

Scent #2:
Out of the bottle, this one smelled like watermelon and maybe a hint of apple. In the finished soap, the scent faded some and it smelled exclusively of watermelon to me. The fragrance didn't completely disappear, but it is very light and I wish that it had stuck a little stronger. The FO is clear and was well-behaved, though. No issues at all. Soap discolored slightly to a creamy off-white.

Scent #3:
Ahh, honeysuckle! This was my second-favorite scent. It stayed strong and true in the final soap, too. I was a little nervous about this one acting up since it is a floral, but it behaved gorgeously for me. No issues at all. The FO has a yellow tint and the soap discolored to a medium yellow.

Scent #4:
This scent made me think of a green apple Jolly Rancher. It smells like sour apple with perhaps a bit of pineapple or pear. It is a fruity candy-like scent out of the bottle, but it seemed less sweet and more subtle in the finished soap. To me, the sour apple scent came forward and the sugariness mellowed. This FO was well-behaved and gave me no problems. It has a yellow tint and it discolored the soap slightly to a creamy off-white.

Scent #5:
You may remember that I did not care for this scent at all out of the bottle. It is supposed to be some kind of garden scent, I believe. I could smell grassiness and fresh dirt - which I usually like - but I thought that this scent also had some musty, damp notes that weren't pleasant. And it also kinda smelled like canned corn to me. I will say that I like this scent a lot better in the finished soap. The mustiness has mellowed, allowing more of the earthiness to come through, although I still think it smells a bit like canned corn. The first few times I sniffed this scent, my reaction was a big Grumpy Cat "No." It may be slowly growing on me, but it is still my least favorite of the mystery scents. The good news is that it is very well-behaved and had a nice, slow trace. This FO is clear and there was no discoloration. I think this soap loaf may not have gelled because it had an ashy layer all around and crumbled a bit at the edges when I cut it.

Scent #6
Scent #6:
This scent initially made me think of Sweet Tarts out of the bottle, but as I kept sniffing it I thought I detected grapefruit and sugar. The soaping process seemed to change this scent a bit. After soaping it, I thought it smelled more like pomegranate with a hint of sweetness. I liked this FO out of the bottle, but I like it even better in the final soap. This fragrance is clear but discolored the soap to a medium yellow. I did experience a bit of acceleration with this FO, as you can see in the photo on the right. It wasn't anything unmanageable, but the soap did thicken to a pudding-like consistency. While this fragrance oil may not be the best choice for delicate swirls or intricate patterns, it would probably be great for layering. I'm wondering now if maybe there are floral notes in this one since it did accelerate some. But this is a really nice scent and it sticks well.

Scent #7:
This one smells like delicate baby roses. It is a good, subtle, true-to-scent rose and isn't powdery or perfume-y at all to me. The scent held up well in cold process soap, staying pretty true to the out-of-the-bottle smell. Again, I was a little worried about acceleration since florals are notorious for speeding up trace, but this FO didn't give me any problems at all. This FO is clear and discoloration was minimal. The finished soap ended up being a slightly off-white.

Scent #8:
This was my favorite scent out-of-the-bottle and it's still my favorite now that I've soaped it. It is a fresh, sporty masculine scent, like cologne or aftershave. It reminded me of something and I finally realized that it makes me think of the scent that wafts out of an Abercrombie & Fitch store. The scent stayed true and stuck well in the final soap. This FO has a slightly yellow tint and discolored the soap to a light beige, and it behaved well and didn't give me any problems.

* * * * *

After testing each FO in cold process soap, I had a little bit left over, enough to test each in two ounces of both clear and white melt-and-pour soap base. Most soapmakers use somewhere between .25 - .50 ounces of FO per pound of M&P base. I usually use about .35 ounces per pound of M&P, which works out to about 1/4 teaspoon for two ounces of soap.

Melt-and-pour soaps
For my M&P testing, I chopped up and melted down two ounces of clear melt-and-pour soap base in the microwave (which took only 30 seconds) and added the FO after it had cooled down to about 135 degrees F. Then I poured the soap into a silicone mold and allowed it to set up overnight. I did the same with the white melt-and-pour soap base, too.

Here's a tip: When melting your M&P base in the microwave, cover your container (I use Pyrex measuring cups) with plastic wrap to keep the moisture from evaporating.

I let the soap hang out for about a week and then took photos of each soap side-by-side with an unscented, uncolored control soap so I could see how the FO affected the final soap.

Because M&P soap doesn't go through the same saponification process as cold process soap - M&P soap is already saponified - the scent did not change much in the finished soap. With M&P, the out-of-the-bottle scent is pretty much WYSIWYG (what you smell is what you get).

But FOs can discolor M&P soap, so that's really what I'm testing for here.

Clear Melt-and-Pour Results (1 Week Later)
Scent #1:
This was the Balsam & Citrus-like scent. It discolored the clear melt-and-pour to a medium orange hue.

Scent #2:
The watermelon scent. The soap took on a slightly yellow tint.

Scent #3:
Honeysuckle. This one also discolored the soap slightly yellow.

Scent #4:
This one smelled like sour apple to me, almost like a green apple Jolly Rancher. No real discoloration, but it does seem that the base became a bit more cloudy and less transparent.

Scent #5:
The garden scent. No discoloration.

Scent #6:
This one smells to me like grapefruit and sugar out of the bottle, and more like sweet pomegranate in cold process soap. The FO gave the soap an orange tint.

Scent #7:
Baby roses. No discoloration.

Scent #8:
Masculine Abercrombie & Fitch-like cologne scent. This FO gave the soap a very slight yellowish tint.

White Melt-and-Pour Results (1 Week Later)
Scent #1:
Discolored to a light creamy orange.

Scent #2
Discolored to a light creamy yellow.

Scent #3:
Almost no noticeable discoloration. Took on a very slight yellow. 

Scent #4:
No discoloration.

Scent #5:
No discoloration.

Scent #6:
Almost no noticeable discoloration. Very slight yellowish tint.

Scent #7:
No discoloration.

Scent #8:
Slight discoloration to a light creamy orange/beige.

So, how would I rank the mystery scents? Here are my preferences, from most favorite to least favorite: Scent 8 (A&F cologne), Scent 3 (Honeysuckle), Scent 1 (Balsam & Citrus), Scent 6 (Sweet Pomegranate), Scent 7 (Delicate Baby Rose), Scent 4 (Sour Green Apple), Scent 2 (Watermelon), and Scent 5 (Garden).

* * * * *

Whew, so there you have it! This was a long post, so if you've made it this far, congratulations and thanks for hanging with me!

I want to say a big thank you to Bramble Berry for allowing me to be a participant on the Spring 2014 S.O.A.P. Panel! This was a fun experience and I enjoyed being a part of it. I hope that my nose got at least a few of the mystery scents right!

Which of the mystery scents do you think that you'd most like to see Bramble Berry add to their spring 2014 lineup?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

S.O.A.P. Panel Fragrances: First Impressions

Last week, my S.O.A.P. Panel fragrances arrived! Underneath the pretty tissue paper and official S.O.A.P. seal were eight one-ounce samples of mystery fragrance oils from Bramble Berry. My job is to test them in at least one bath and beauty product and offer my feedback on each scent. Seven other panelists will do the same and then Bramble Berry will decide, based on our feedback, which scents to offer in their 2014 spring lineup.

Each mystery scent bottle is labeled with a number, and there are no clues as to what the fragrance is supposed to be. This is so that the testers won't be biased and can give honest assessments. And also because it's fun.

Since this is the spring S.O.A.P. panel, the scents are mostly fruity, floral, or outdoorsy. The day I received the FOs, I did an initial sniff test and took some notes. A few days later, I returned to the scents and my notes and sniffed again, hoping to deepen my interpretation of each fragrance.

It can be tough to identify scents when you don't know what you are sniffing. It's kind of like trying to figure out who is doing a voice-over in a commercial. Maybe you think you've heard the voice before, or maybe you think you haven't. But then when someone says, "Hey, that sounds like so-and-so," you're like, "Oh, yeah, that's totally who that is!" Same with mystery scents. You may identify some notes or maybe think, "I've smelled this before, but I can't put my finger on it ..." If someone hands you something that is Brown Sugar and Fig-scented and says, "Here, smell this. It's Brown Sugar and Fig," you'll smell it and be all like, "Hey, this totally smells like brown sugar and figs!" But if someone hands you something that is Brown Sugar and Fig-scented and says, "Here, guess what this is," you might be all, "I have no idea, dude."

So, here are my first takes on the fragrances. And I did purposely avoid reading about the other panelists' impressions until I had organized my own thoughts so that I would not be influenced by their opinions of the scents.

The mystery S.O.A.P. fragrances

Okay, here we go:

Scent #1: This fragrance reminded me of something I had smelled before. I immediately detected citrus, but also something else. After much sniffing and pondering, I realized that the other note was fir-like and that the scent makes me think of a Balsam & Citrus FO that I bought from another supplier a couple of years ago. This scent makes it into my top three of favorites.

Scent #2: This one smells strongly of watermelon with maybe a hint of apple. Very yummy.

Scent #3: Strong floral scent. Again, I thought, "I've smelled this before." Sniff, sniff, sniiiiiiiiiff. Ah, it's honeysuckle! This fragrance is my second favorite of the bunch.

Scent #4: This one is very sweet and candy-like. To me, it smells like sour apple with a touch of pear or maybe pineapple. It reminds me of a green apple Jolly Rancher.

Scent #5: I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, you guys, but I didn't like this fragrance out of the bottle at all. It smells kinda grassy and green, which I usually like, and it also has earthy notes, which I also usually like. But the notes in this scent smell musty and damp, not like the lovely fresh-dirt earthiness of patchouli that I adore. And this may sound weird, but to me it also sorta smells a bit like canned corn. I think it is supposed to be some sort of garden scent. This is my least favorite fragrance. Maybe it will smell better after I've soaped it.

Scent #6: Initially this fragrance made me think of Sweet Tarts, but as I kept sniffing, the scent grew sharper and cleaner. Once again, I found myself thinking, "I've smelled this before, what is this?" And then it hit me - grapefruit! And something else - something sweet, like sugar.

Scent #7: Another floral scent. This one smells like delicate baby roses. It is a good, subtle, true rose scent. Not powdery or perfume-y at all.

Scent #8: This is my favorite fragrance. It is a fresh, clean masculine scent, like cologne or aftershave. Very sporty. I kept thinking that it smells like a men's cologne I've smelled before, but I couldn't remember which one. Then I realized that it reminds me of the scent that wafts out of Abercrombie & Fitch stores.

With the exception of Scent #5, I enjoyed all of the fragrances. Of course, these are out-of-the-bottle impressions. The scents might be somewhat different in the finished product. Sometimes scents can fade, especially in cold process soap. Or the scent may change a bit, with some notes becoming stronger or mellower in the final soap. It will be interesting to see how each scent holds up after it's been soaped.

I have already begun testing each fragrance in cold process soap, and I may also experiment with melt-and-pour soap, too. I am taking lots of notes, photos, and video. Later this month, I'll share the results of my testing!