Hello everyone! A here!
I made a little post about how formulating recipes can be a right pain. But then I decided that I could share how I formulate soap recipes with you all! Welcome to the first post in my first series detailing my method to formulating soap recipes. This particular post will detail how I think new soaps and the research I do about my ideas!
The initial idea comes out the woodwork. Suddenly, I think to myself: I can use this like this. Then my mind runs wild. I think about additives first. I like to use wholesome and natural additives in soap–meaning, if you can eat it or make herbal supplements from it, I’ll probably try to soap it.
I choose additives based on my experience with them. For example, I love using avocado and coconut milk as a hair mask. I’m likely to stick them in a shampoo bar.
If I wanted a soap to feel astringent and cooling, I’d look at witch hazel, cucumber, peppermint, essential oils, etc. After I narrow down my choices and which media to use it (tea, puree, infusion), I make a web. Usually I have several ideas for multiple soaps, so the webs end up looking something like this:
This is actually the third web of the same basic ideas. Sometimes I find that my strawberry-raspberry-blueberry-kale-avocado-cucumber soap is actually three soaps. Maybe four, because I can’t do blueberries justice with other acidic berries all together. I name my soaps after the additive or idea that inspired me.
I get inspired by the colors and categories of foods too. I’m likely to pair kale and avocado because they’re both green; same for pairing strawberry and raspberry. Things like that get me going.
So I’ve decided on the additives I’d like to use for my soap. I start to think about how the additives will affect my bar. Here’s a little web of things I consider before I start researching.
Hardness: How does the additive effect my bar’s hardness? Will I be able to cut it easily? What about longevity?
Look: How will it cause my soap to look? Does it fit my aesthetic? Do I like it?
Lather: How will the additive effect lather? Will it increase or decrease bubbles? Does the lather change over time? Is the change bad or good?
Fat/Water Content: Will the fat content of my additive cause my bar to be soft? Will the lye be able to convert the fat into soap? Will the water content cause my soap to trace slowly? Will it make curing time last longer?
Sugar?: Does it contain sugar? Will the sugar cause my soap to gel? Will the heat of the gelling process make unmolding easier or harder?
Cutting: How easily will I be able to cut a loaf containing this additive? Should I change my usage rate to make sure I can achieve smooth cuts?
After I’ve gotten some type of idea of my concerns, I consult with Google. For example, if I was unsure how to use eggs in my soap, I’d google “cold process egg yolk soap”. Easy. Usually, someone somewhere has shared their experience with almost any additive my little brain could imagine.
I have the most trouble with additives that already contain fats.
OIL COMBINATIONS + RECIPES
Now I’ve decided on a lot of new soaps. I group them based on their imagined purpose. For example, if I dreamed up some type of rose-hibiscus tea bar with some type of clay, I’d more than likely want that to be a facial bar for older skin due to the amount of vitamin C rose and hibiscus contain. And if it’s a facial soap for older skin, it could be a body soap for younger or sensitive skin. I’d want a low lather bar that isn’t very stripping. I go back to my little web and categorize the bars into little groups based on the purpose and feel of the additives.
Instead of ending up with a whole bunch of individual recipes, I end up with 4 base oil recipes with several variations. I have to choose the oils based on many things–how they behave in trace, shelf life, how they affect soap texture and appearance, how they affect soap hardness, (and most importantly) how they feel on the skin. Are they slimy? Hard? What about fatty acid profiles? How does saponification change oil characteristics?
I consult with Google again.
I initially looked at Miss Amanda Gail’s of Lovin Soap soapmaking oil chart. It’s a great chart for soapers of all experiences, giving each oil a brief synopsis on what it contributes to soap and if it is a “soft” or “hard” oil, which relates to soap hardness. It even gives usage rates for each oil. BUT don’t be fooled. Look at the last column to the right. It lists ways to “break the usage rules”. In that way, it lets the reader know that recommended usage rates are simply recommended–not at all fixed. You’ll even find that usage rates vary between resources. Why do they vary? I’d guess personal soaping experience. For example:
Lovin Soap’s oil chart recommends using 25-50% palm oil.
Soap Queen’s oil chart only recommends only a maximum of 30% of any given recipe to be palm oil. Her PDF chart is another great oil chart. It’s “Attributes” section is very brief, but the chart does list the SAP value for one gram of oil AND the shelf life. A link to it is at the bottom of Miss Anne-Marie Faiola of Soap Queen’s article on common soapmaking oils, along with in-depth descriptions of each oil on her chart.
Speaking of Miss Anne-Marie Faiola, check out her post on formulating cold process recipes. It has some basic recipes for all types of soapers–the beginners, the animal cruelty aware, vegan and vegetarians, intricate swirlers, and the “I-want-a-starting-point-for-my-formulating”. She also lays out some foundation with tips oil substitutions, which I highly appreciate and recommend you give it a look. But then, she asks readers to share THEIR tried and true recipes! And that’s where things get real interesting. I surfed through comments that made my mind spin, since each soapmaker had a different and unique experience to offer. The marvelous thing is that these people felt comfortable with everyone else, enough to share trusted recipes online.
Let’s talk ratios and percents. I love them, and I’m guessing Miss Kenna of Modern Soapmaking appreciates the simplicity of them as well. She made a post that gives a novel break down of the method to a great soap recipe. It’s so thorough any soaper could do it. Since she’s defined all of her terms before giving you her “secret formula” (Spongebob allusions, anyone?), it is easy to understand. And check out those comments, too.
She even has an article and a pict-icle on Flickr detailing how simple and common additives (natural and man-made) affect lather. You’ll want to read both, since the article includes the control soap recipe. You want to read the article for bubble action AND how each additive affects soap color. Don’t forget to notice which additives constitute a color change. You won’t get your full time’s worth if you don’t. You might even want to make a chart to keep track while you peruse. You could even do some independent research to figure out the cause of the discoloration and if its preventable or reversible–I’ll tell you now: almost all of it is, and not just by preventing gel phase.
The thing about research: it is what you make of it. You have Google, libraries for free web access, and the general internet. You can, if you’re willing, do as much research as possible prior to applying it practically. This is a colossal advantage, especially if you are like me who’d like to conserve as much of her supply as possible and has more time than money. Others would argue that research is different than practical application, and I agree, but I still think that as much research as possible is good, too.
So I’ve got some idea of what types of oils I should be using and how they’ll contribute to my finished bar. Now I’m thinking about recipes. In the spirit of traditional painting, I give myself a limited palette used for creating all of my recipes–5 oils instead of 3 primary hues. It’s part of my developing brand. Then I start getting webs that look like this:
This is an old chart that I made with my initial ideas in mind. I made little webs for each oil recipe, detailing each with oils I thought would work best for my purpose. You can see that I named each recipe based on what purpose I wanted it to have.
*ASIDE 2: I find myself making a whole bunch of scrubby soaps. So I made a recipe where my main concern was having a bar that was extremely hard, released plentiful lather quickly, and had a long shower longevity, due to how I feel scrubby soaps should be used for maximum scrubbitude.
Say I’ve got an idea for a simple and versatile recipe. I’m thinking palm, olive, and coconut oil with a 1:2:2 ratio. Cool. But what about superfats, water discounts, optimal trace, curing time, and all that?
A soap recipe is more than JUST the oils!
Stay tuned for the second post in this series! Look out for a title with “Formulating 102”!
Well, what about you? How do you figure soap recipes? How do you organize ideas? What are some of your favorite resources for thought provoking soap-related material? Do you all like shrewd, critical posts about formulating soap from me? Will you share it with everyone in a comment?