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Sometimes Things Don’t Work Out Like They Are Supposed To!

I tend to get very excited when a new soap variety starts brewing in my head.  And make no mistake…it definitely is a brew, a concoction if you will.  Sometimes it starts with the faintest whiff of a new scent: the aroma of a crushed herb I haven’t explored before, the pungent fragrance of fresh earth as I turn the garden beds, or the comforting smell of a branch burning in the fire.  Other times it’s a color.  Is there an herb, flower, leaf, or twig that will produce that color in my soap?  And will it hold up when exposed to the caustic effects of sodium hydroxide?  You would think after 20+ years of making soap there’s not much left to discover but there is always another variety waiting to come to fruition!! Sometimes things don’t work out like they are supposed to!

The Development Process

No matter how the process begins, there are a number of factors to consider before the ingredients ever hit the soap pot.  For instance, if the idea begins with the incorporation of a new herb I need to know how that herb will color the batch before making it.  If it adds color to the soap, do I want to use it in a swirl, to color the whole batch, or is best used in a layer?  Over the years I have developed a satisfactory method that helps me determine ahead of time how a new ingredient will color the finished soap.

Soapmaking
The Soap Pot

Likewise, there are questions to be answered before using a new essential oil.  Some essential oils add only their fragrance to the pot…spruce and rosemary come to mind.  Some on the other hand add their own color to the batch…dark patchouli for instance.  And yet others, quicken the trace which is really important to know before you make the batch especially if you’re planning a difficult swirl affect or a layered bar.  All of these aspects of soapmaking demand the proper amount of research so that you don’t spend a small fortune creating batches of soap that are unusable of otherwise unacceptable.  I know all of this, and yet sometimes in the excitement of bringing that vision to reality…

Sh!# Happens

Campfire

The “idea” began to ferment late last fall.  I had checked the weather (you do that a lot when you live in the mountains) and discovered that although it was 85 degrees that day, in 24 hours it would be 25.  As always, I was unprepared.  So I spent a couple of hours gathering dry kindling and preparing the wood burning stove.  The following evening as temperatures began to drop like a rock, I laced the fire, carefully placing each of the branches I had gathered the day before (it’s always fun to build that first fire, not so much in the middle of February when you’re OVER it).  Most of the branches were pieces of oak that had dropped during summer storms and were covered with their signature funky grey moss.  When I lit the fire and inhaled the aroma…I remembered.

 

I remembered the 2 oz bottle of Oakmoss Absolute that one of my best friends had sent me years before and was hiding in my essential oil pantry.  I ran to grab it, and yes the scent was identical.  Quietly it had sat there for years.  I refused to use it for two reasons.  One, it is one of the more expensive oils to use and two, my friend is no longer here and using it might mean letting go.  I put it back in its place of honor and forgot about it, or tried to forget about it.  The seed had been planted.

Oakmoss Absolute

Fast forward seven months, and suddenly I feel if I don’t make an Oakmoss soap with a smoky swirl I think I will die!  I knew exactly how it would look!  I would pour the white base into the mold, then pour a charcoal gray into the main and swirl it with a whisk pulling the color up from the bottom imitating the swirl of smoke.  This is going to be awesome!  I am the soap goddess!  Umm…maybe not!

Reality

My plan for the batch was to add Activated Charcoal powder to a couple of cups of soap from the main in order to create the smoky swirl I had in my head.  Oakmoss Absolute is very thick and very dark.  Indeed, it is so thick and viscous that it has to be warmed before it is pourable.  And it is so dark, it is almost black and yet it never occurred to me that it would add its own color to the batch!  No problem. Forget the charcoal powder.  I decide during the soapmaking process that I will add the complimentary essential oil to the main white part of the batch and use the Oakmoss in the 2 cups of saponified oils I will use for the smoky swirl.  It’s going to be fabulous.  I happily pour the white uncolored soap to the mold and then go to grab the oakmoss scented cup with its beautiful brown/black color to begin the swirl. 

Oakmoss Soap Block

It was supposed to pour out and hit the bottom of the mold so I could use my whisk to swirl it upward through the soap to mimic smoke.  But somebody didn’t do her research regarding Oakmoss Aboslute’s behavior in the soap pot.  It had reached a full trace in the few minutes it took me to pour the main.  That nice thin stream of color I was planning on swirling would now be more like plops in a desperate attempt to get it into the main before losing it entirely.  Being the consummate professional that I am, I pushed through and achieved a fabulous swirl…on the top of the soap! 

The Final Cut

When my son came into the soap studio a couple of days later while I was cutting the bars and said, “That looks like sh!#” and “Does it even smell right”, well I won’t go there.  Needless to say, I should have spent the time to think through the batch.  All is not lost.  The batch smells amazing even if the swirl is not what I wanted.  It just goes to show…there is always something more to learn…in life and in soapmaking.  Things don’t always work out the way they are supposed to but they always work out.  And we should always be thankful for gentle reminders from our friends! 

Oakmoss Soap
Oakmoss Soap
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Which Oils Are Best For My Skin–Part 2

In the first part of this post we discussed Olive oil and Jojoba–two oils with long shelf lives that can be used multiple ways with personal care benefits. In the second part of this post we will be talking about Coconut oil–yet another versatile oil–in the hope that you can decide which oil is best for your particular skin. We also include a recipe that you can use to create a simple salve that you can personalize with your own favorite ingredients.

Coconut Palm

Coconut Oil

For soapmakers, coconut oil is a treasure because it adds the much desired frothy lather to  soap that is difficult to achieve with other vegetable oils.  Coconut oil is derived from copra, or the dried coconut meat and soapmakers can choose from 76, 92, 101, or 110 degree oils each with its own corresponding melting point.  For instance, 76 degree coconut oil melts at 76 degrees etc. Every soapmaker has a preference depending upon their processing temperatures.  At the Kulturology Soap Company we use 76 degree coconut oil because we process at the lowest temperatures…generally 80 degrees.  However, for use as a moisturizer we prefer organic, undeodorized 76 degree coconut oil.  The smell is just devine!!  Keep in mind however, that coconut oil is not liquid until it reaches its melting point.

76 degree Coconut oil
76 degree Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has natural anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties and therefore is beneficial for acne sufferers.  It can be used as a hair masque, breath freshener, skin moisturizer, lip balm, massage oil, deep conditioning treatment for hair, cuticle conditioning, and as a natural salve.  Coconut oil truly is a versatile item to have in your natural skin care arsenal.  A word of caution however; too much coconut oil can have the opposite effect on skin and hair, causing it to dry out.

Coconut Palm
Coconut Palm

We have barely scratched the surface of available oils out there. Sunflower, safflower, sweet almond, grapeseed, and avocado oils come immediately to mind. However, olive oil, jojoba, and coconut are three oils that offer a stable shelf live and the greatest number of personal uses. Mountain Rose Herbs is a wonderful resource for a multitude of natural oils.   

Recipe

All of the oils discussed above can be used alone or combined with various butters and waxes to create your own salve.  Here is a simple recipe that you can customize based on personal preferences.

1 oz beeswax

2 oz vegetable butter of your choice (we love organic cocoa or shea butter)

2 oz vegetable oil of your choice (olive oil, jojoba, avocado, sunflower, endless possibilities)

The most difficult and messiest part of this recipe is melting the beeswax.  DO NOT USE YOUR FAVORITE POT FOR THIS!!  If you have never worked with beeswax, this will be a learning experience.  For small quantities you can use a small mason jar set in a small pot of water over low to medium heat.  Beeswax quickly solidifies when removed from heat and becomes almost impossible to remove from pots, clothes etc.  We use locally sourced beeswax in our Boo Boo Balm from a local beekeeper.

Boo Boo Balm
Boo Boo Balm

While melting the beeswax, measure out and heat together the oils and butters.  DO NOT GET DISTRACTED!!  Remember you are heating oil!!!  Once the beeswax and butters are melted it’s time to mix them together and pour into small pots or jars.  If you would like to add essential oils, add them after all the ingredients are combined and beginning to cool but before the mixture begins to set up.  The recipe will produce 5 ounces of salve…we like to use one ounce amber glass jars to protect salve from light. 

Whether you decide to venture into your own salve making or not we hope you find the information we have provided helpful.  And, that you are ready to build your own natural skin care pantry!!

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Which Oils Are Best For My Skin?

Part One

Many of us suffer from dry skin, especially during the winter months or when living in dry climates.  A multitude of natural oils are available that can be used alone or in your favorite skin care recipes, each with their own special qualities.  In this article we look at some of the most popular oils including olive, jojoba and coconut.

Olive Oil

Of all the oils we can use on our skin, olive oil is the most readily available and has a long history of external use.  Olive trees originated in Asia but are now widely cultivated in Mediterranean countries where they benefit from mild winters and long, dry summers. These trees grow to about 25 feet and their 4-5 inch oblong grayish green leaves remain on the tree year round.   Olive trees live an average of 500 years but many are estimated to be 1500 years old and some trees in Greece may be 3000 years old!  The best olives are grown on trees in the worst growing conditions as rich soils can expose the trees to various diseases.  Check out the Olive Oil Source for everything you ever wanted to know about growing olive trees.

Olive Trees in Pelion Greece
Olive Trees in Pelion, Greece

Grades of Olive Oil

Olive oil comes in many different grades—from the highest grade, Extra Virgin which is the first cold pressing of the olives to Pomace which is the final pressing and includes the olive pits.  While extra virgin olive oil is best for cooking, the lower grades are better for soapmaking due to the presence of tiny particles held in suspension that resist saponification.  We recommend the higher grade olive oils for use in body care recipes.

Olive Tree Bearing Fruit
Olive Tree Bearing Fruit

Body Care Uses of Olive Oil

When used directly on skin, olive oil attracts moisture from the air while also providing a breathable barrier that keeps moisture locked in without blocking pores.  Not only can olive oil be used on skin but many people benefit from a periodic hair masque by applying the oil to scalp and split ends at night and shampooing out the following day.  Olive oil can also be utilized to soften nail cuticles and has a long shelf life compared to some other oils. We prefer a high grade olive oil for solar infusing our herbal oils such as Plantain.

Jojoba Oil

Jojoba oil (pronounced ho-HO-ba) is extracted from the seed of the jojoba plant which is a small bush native to the Sonora Desert of Arizona, Northern Mexico, and desert areas of California.  The female plant produces seed which is pollinated by the male plant in spring and when grown from seed can take up to 3 years to produce. This “oil” is not actually oil but more like a liquid wax according to the Jojoba Company.  It is very similar to the oils produced by the human body and is readily absorbed by the skin.

Jojoba Bush
Jojoba Bush

Body Care Uses of Jojoba

Jojoba also has a very long shelf life and can be used to moderate oily skin due to its calming effect on overactive sebaceous glands.  This “oil” can also be used to treat acne because of its anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities.  It naturally contains vitamins A and E and can be used to sooth chapped lips, cracked heals and elbows, and rough cuticles according to Natural Living Ideas.  Finally, due to its stable shelf life, jojoba makes an excellent carrier oil for essential oil blending.  The best quality “oil” should be cold-pressed and retain its natural golden color.

Jojoba Nut
Jojoba Nut

In Part Two of this post we will discuss another versatile natural oil—Coconut Oil and offer a simple recipe to create your own skin salve.

*All photos are licensed under the terms of cc-by-2.0

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Why is Handmade Soap Better? Part 2

Many soapmakers today choose the cold process method and prefer vegetable oils to animal fats.  Both types of soap will clean equally well, however, the cold process method allows for the retention of glycerin within the formula.  Vegetable glycerin is a natural emollient that draws moisture and keeps your skin hydrated.  Also, many people have ethical reasons for choosing vegetable soapmaking oils.  And finally, cold processed soap reacts slower in the pot meaning the soapmaker can add additional ingredients and still have time to pour the batch with pretty swirls of color etc. Cold-processed soaps can take 4-6 weeks to cure properly while hot processed soaps are ready for use within a week.

Cold Processed Soap
Cold Processed Soap

Back to Webster’s

As we discussed in the first part of this post, handmade soap is pretty basic.  Here we want to take a deeper look at the soaps you buy at the local big box store and we will return to Webster’s entry for “soapless soap” in which we were directed to “see DETERGENT”…this is a clue.  Recall that handmade soap consists of some form of fat or oil, sodium hydroxide (lye), and water.  Let’s take a look at some of the ingredients in a common mass produced unscented soap recommended for sensitive skin.

Some Commercial Soap Ingredients

Several ingredients are no different than what you would find in handmade soaps such as sodium tallowate , sodium palimate, sodium cocoate, and sodium palm kernelate are all saponified oils listed in order; tallow (animal fat), palm, coconut, and palm kernel oil.  These are the ingredients that actually clean your skin. 

Other ingredients are not typically found in your favorite handcrafted soap. Tetrasodium EDTA and tetrasodium etidronate are both preservatives.  Remember these soaps are mass produced and shipped across the country or around the world where they will find their way to a store shelf where they may remain for extended periods of time. 

This is Weird!!

One ingredient is a bit confounding.  Maltol is a flavoring.  We will let you draw your own conclusions regarding that one!! And finally we come to sodium lauroyl isethionate; a synthetic detergent but we see no reason to include a detergent that can cause skin irritation in susceptible people especially since this particular formula includes at least four other cleansing agents.

This is not a comprehensive list of ingredients by any means.  Other ingredients include hardeners, whiteners, lubricants, thickeners, fragrances, and dyes any of which can cause various skin sensitivities.  It is important to consider what is in your soap and the multiple ways we are exposed to those ingredients throughout the day…dish detergents, laundry detergents, cleansers, lotions, creams and moisturizers. 

Other Benefits of Buying Handmade Soap

There are multiple benefits to purchasing handmade soaps beyond the benefits for your skin.  In a sense, it becomes a social statement.  Many soap companies are solely owned and managed by the soapmaker meaning you can speak directly with the person who made your soap.  It is not a corporate conglomerate but an artistic endeavor often started by moms who are concerned about the products she exposes her family to.  It is likely that you have multiple soapmakers in your community due to its popularity.  These small businesses not only provide an income for the soapmaker but small business owners tend to support other small business owners.  There is a multiplier effect that helps create vibrant communities.

Shop Small

Why Should I Choose Kulturology Soap?

Hopefully at this point you can see the benefits of choosing handmade soap over its mass produced cousin but why should you choose Kulturology soap?  The simple answer is we want you to have happy skin and everything we do is geared toward that purpose and just because a soap is handmade does not necessarily guarantee that is good for your skin. 

For instance, we would love to play with the vibrant colors that characterize many handmade products…the hot pinks, deep blues, brilliant aqua, and saturated forest greens  but we can’t do that without using dyes and we think your skin is already exposed to too many dyes as it is.  And as much fun as it would be to play with fragrances like watermelon, blackberry, cherry, etc we prefer to choose real essential oils for the benefits they provide both physically and mentally.  And we could probably save a lot of money if we would just use cheaper base oils instead of sticking with our signature 70% olive oil formula but then our soaps would lose their superior qualities…a long lasting gentle soap that keeps your skin moisturized. 

Charcoal and French Clay Soap
Charcoal and French Clay Soaps

Our profit margins are a lot smaller than many of our competitors but we are in business to provide an alternative to overly scented and overly dyed products.  It takes months, sometimes years to research and develop each of our soap varieties because our goal is a synthesis of ingredients all working together to produce a particular result for your skin.  It simply wouldn’t make sense to put drying ingredients such as lemon essential oil in a soap meant for those with dry skin!!

Soapmaking is part science, part craft, and part artistry and each soapmaker has their own way of expressing those qualities.  There is literally a soap made just for you out there.  We hope you choose handmade first and foremost, but we also hope you choose us for high quality soaps that your skin will love.

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Why Is Handmade Soap Better?

commercial soap

 I stood in the “soap” aisle of my local big box store the other day contemplating the array of mass produced “personal cleansing products”, picturing the massive factories where they are manufactured  and thinking, “How big is there mixing pot”?  A young mother was trying desperately to choose a product before her young child went into complete meltdown mode.  She frantically grabbed plastic bottles off the shelf and gave them a quick sniff as if the only quality that mattered was the fragrance of a product she will use on her skin every day.  Does she know what is in that stuff, I thought to myself?  In fact, most of us never ask ourselves that question until we begin to experience various skin issues. Let’s answer a few questions about “soap”.  What is it anyway?  What is the difference between handmade soap and other soaps? And finally, why should I choose Kulturology Soap Company products?   

What is Soap?

According to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, soap is “a cleansing agent, made usually by action of alkali on fat or fat acids (in the form of their glycerol esters), and consisting essentially of sodium and potassium salts of such acids”.  Not to be confused with the slang definition, “money used for bribery”.  If we continue down the list of entries in the 1961 edition of Webster’s, past “soapbark” and “soapberry” both of which are found in South America and contain natural saponins; past the entry for “soapbox” we come to “soapless soap” and are directed to “see DETERGENT”.  We will return to that in a moment.

handmade soap
Handmade soap

True soap is comprised of oil…vegetable or animal, water, and sodium hydroxide (lye).  Soap is created via two processes…hot process in which heat is introduced through an outside source (this is the traditional method) or cold process in which only the heat from the reaction of the lye water with the oils drives the saponification process. Traditionally, hot processed soapmakers used animal fats primarily due to its availability on a working farm.  Soapmakers would collect fat drippings from cooking and then render the fats (yet another risky process) into tallow ready for the soap pot.  Some soapmakers would add flowers and herbs but many bars were made simply for expediency.  These soaps would not only be used for bathing but also for laundry and cleaning.

A Note About “Lye”

Before you freak out and tell me that you don’t use any chemicals such as lye (sodium hydroxide) or that your soapmaker doesn’t use lye please read ahead.  Soap cannot be made without lye, period.  Sodium hydroxide is the strong alkali that unites the oil molecules and launches the saponification process…the magic simply won’t happen without it.  Keep in mind that the lye our grandmothers used to make their soap was produced by dripping water through wood ashes, preferably hickory ashes.  The soapmaker never really knew the strength of the lye so sometimes the soaps they produced were mushy and sometimes it would take your skin off along with the dirt!! Lye is very caustic and proper precautions and safety procedures must be followed carefully.  Thankfully soapmakers no longer have to produce their own lye but can purchase it in standardized form…we know its strength.  Properly crafted and cured soaps no longer contain lye. 

Lye making
Lye Making

Back to the Process

Many soapmakers today choose the cold process method and prefer vegetable oils to animal fats.  Both types of soap will clean equally well, however, the cold process method allows for the retention of glycerin within the formula.  Vegetable glycerin is a natural emollient that draws moisture and keeps your skin hydrated.  Also, many people have ethical reasons for choosing vegetable soapmaking oils.  And finally, cold processed soap reacts slower in the pot meaning the soapmaker can add additional ingredients and still have time to pour the batch with pretty swirls of color etc. Cold-processed soaps can take 4-6 weeks to cure properly while hot processed soaps are ready for use within a week.

In Part II we will take a look at commercial soap ingredients.

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7 Steps to Successful Farmer’s Market Sales–Part II

 

This is the second part in our series regarding farmers market sales.  We are now in our second year at the Gatlinburg Farmers Market and these tips have helped ensure our success.

 

6-4 Market

4. What’s Your Story

Again, handcrafted soap is a very competitive market. A simple Google search will produce 360,000 results in .51 seconds. People can buy their handcrafted soap anywhere but they come to their local market because they want to know where their product comes from–they want to know you!  There is one thing I have learned after 18 years in the handcrafted soap business.  If you are not completely passionate about your product and the process, you won’t last long.  That passion should shine through when you engage with your customers.  Let them know why you are doing this and how you got here.

5.  Only the Best

Outdoor events can be very hard on handcrafted soap.  You will have to deal with the blazing sun, high humidity, and downpours of rain—sometimes all in the same day.  How are you going to protect your product?  Remember people will be picking up your soap bars and good quality handcrafted soap full of naturally occurring glycerin will pull every drop of moisture out of the air better than any dehumidifier!!!  Potential customers may be turned off if your bars have become slimy.  How will you deal with this?   Have a plan in place—you don’t want to lose hundreds perhaps thousands of dollars in product your first day at the market!!

6. Share Stuff

Who doesn’t love a freebie?  Can you offer samples of your product?  Or maybe some simple handcrafted skin product recipes printed out on card stock to send home with your customers?  Check with your market manager—you might be able to sell the raw ingredients also.  Be prepared to answer questions.  Your potential customers will run the gamut from newbies to handcrafted soap products to seasoned veterans and their questions will too.  Some folks want to know the chemistry behind soapmaking and others just want to know if it smells good—be prepared!!

7.  Converse

Engage with your customers. Learn who they are and what they are looking for.  You are the difference between buying handcrafted soap online or in-person.  If your customers love engaging with you on a weekly basis they will follow you when the market season ends.  Have fun and  let them see how much you enjoy what you do!

 

My GFM booth

Happy Market Days!

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7 Steps to Successful Farmer’s Market Sales—Part I

Gigi setup

 

2015 was the first year the Kulturology Soap Company participated in the local farmer’s market as a vendor.  We began with the idea that it would be great exposure for our small business.  In reality, our presence at the Gatlinburg Farmers Market turned out to be one of our best sales venues.  Here are some of the things we learned for successful farmer’s market sales.

1. Be There

Every success story begins with the first step–showing up.  There is a lot of excitement at the beginning of market days.  People come from far and wide to see what the market will offer them.  If you are set up on a consistent basis with a quality product, your customers will look for you every week.  It is quite likely the customers you see at the first market of the season will be there at the end of the season.

3. Critique Your Display

Does your display invite customers to stop and look at your product?  Set up your booth in the weeks prior to opening day.  Try different colored table coverings to see which best emphasizes your product.  Are you incorporating height into your display?  Is it clean with no clutter?  Be sure table coverings reach to the ground so customers don’t see the boxes and bins underneath.  Keep water bottles, drink containers, and snacks out of sight.  Soap is a sensual experience. Customers want to pick it up, touch it and smell your product so be sure to get out from behind your display throughout the day to make sure it’s looking its best.

4.  Price it Right

Handcrafted soap is one of THE most competitive markets out there.  Take note of your competition and their pricing.  If you are priced higher be prepared to explain why.  Be sure your product is clearly labeled and priced consistently utilizing a theme that enhances your display.  Customers don’t want to guess at prices and many won’t ask!

 

See you next week for Part II in this two part series!