Monday, 23 March 2015

So You Wanna Make Soap...

I try to not do ranty types of posts very often but lately due to YouTube and Pinterest, everyone is suddenly an expert on everything and it’s time to chime in. While this is about soapmaking – it is probably something that is relevant in many other businesses too.

I have been making soap and such products for 20 years this Spring and selling them for 19. Two decades of experience & knowledge and I will never claim to be an expert. I hope I never do because to me, learning is one of the best parts of life.

I am about to impart some things I’ve learned for the rookies. This may come across as one of the bitchiest posts I’ve done. That is not the intent at all. The intent is to inform. 

Soapmaking may not be rocket science, but it sure as hell is Chemistry and if you don’t pay attention or have the proper knowledge then you can hurt yourself or even worse someone else. 

First off, Glycerin soap is a misnomer – ALL soap that is made from scratch contains glycerin. It is naturally produced from the chemical reactions when the oils and butters are undergoing saponification (turning into soap). Unfortunately most of the time people call Melt & Pour soap “Glycerin” soap. While it does contain glycerin, melt & pour soap does also contain other chemicals. Melt & Pour is exactly what the name suggests. You melt it, add some scent and colour then pour it into molds. I’ve worked with Melt & Pour (M&P) and it can make some gorgeous soaps, however it is not natural. While there are some great bases out there, depending on where one buys the M&P base it can be downright terrible for skin.

Cold Process soap is made from butters and oils when they are combined with sodium hydroxide (Lye) and no, you cannot make soap from scratch without it. Just like making a muffin when you combine your ingredients like milk, eggs and flour they become the muffin and are no longer the single ingredients. Soap is the same. It goes into the mold as mixed oils/butters/lye and comes out 24 hours later as soap having undergone saponification.

An experienced soapmaker can formulate their recipes to utilize the ingredients carefully selected for their various properties that they add to the chemistry of their bars. They are the architect creating the hardness, the lather, the everything, that makes each bar fantastic.

The ingredients Wylde Rose uses in our products are 100% vegan and high quality. The 20+ years of experience comes into play with the quality here. I’ve “done my time” shopping from various suppliers and know who is good and what products are good. One supplier may have a fantastic cocoa butter but their shea butter isn’t so great so I get that from another supplier.  That information can only come from experience - and the 20 binders of notes I have - one binder for every year. Plus other binders of information such as recipes, ideas, cost calculations etc.

I participate in a lot of soap swaps as I love trying other soaps. You can have 20 bars made from different people with different recipes and have 20 very different products. Some fantastic, some meh, and some that are just kind of scary. Jumping into the “tub” to make a quick buck versus being truly passionate about products, ingredients and processes shows in the final product.

With the advent of YouTube and Pinterest, there are recipes everywhere on the internet. Does that mean they are all awesome? NO! Come on now – admit it – you have tried something from Pinterest and it was an epic fail. I will not speak of the chocolate avocado brownies I attempted once. Ok – I will speak of it but only once – they were horrible, just terrible. I followed the recipe and it was a flop. Can you imagine if I were a baker I who just started selling their products without testing them? You wouldn’t want that if it were food so why would you do that with skin care or body care products?

There are so many things to consider when making soap and other products for sale. A standard recommendation amongst most “seasoned” soapmakers is that people should be making them for a year or so BEFORE selling them for a few other reasons.

Many people savour pieces of handmade soap and use it very slowly. Sometimes it sits in linen closets or lingerie drawers.

Do you know what your products are like a year down the road?

Do you know what the shelf life of your ingredients and what will the shelf life of the final product be?
From experience, some of those soaps I have received in soap swaps have gone rancid. Eww. If you are selling soap from your first few batches how on earth do you know how your product is going to be in 6 months? New soapers use recipes they find online – but they have no way of knowing what that recipe isn’t lye-heavy or what it will be like after 3 months or 6 months without testing it and recording it for months and years. And as scary as that is I’d be more scared of a bar from a new soaper who has formulated their own recipe and not seen what it was like after 3 months or 6 months….

Do you know how that product will smell after 6 months?
Many essential oils and some fragrance oils morph as time goes on. They all age differently. For example – an essential oil may smell one way in the bottle, another in raw soap, another in freshly cut, another in freshly cured and ANOTHER 6 months down the road. FIVE different ways from ONE essential oil. Again, How do you know how they are going to be 6 months down the road if you haven’t been making them that long?
What smelt fantastic when it was made may be a bit of a little stinker now...
Do you have business insurance?
Does your house insurance policy (renters or owners) cover soapmaking? Even as a hobby it could make your insurance policy null and void. Best to check with your broker or insurance company.

Health Canada
Are you compliant? Have you registered? Have they approved what you plan to sell? Is your labeling compliant? Did you use INCI Nomenclature?

Some folks reading this may remember when I switched my main recipe and dropped palm oil from my products due to ethical concerns I had, that I spent a year… a full year testing new potential recipes. 20+ recipes later I narrowed the field and then had over 100 test volunteers trying the new recipes. Overall it was a 16 month process. I respected my customers to make the best bar possible for them. Quality can’t be rushed.

Are you a medical doctor? I’m not. Then you aren’t allowed to make claims about your products. Health Canada has very specific wordings that can and can’t be used.

Claims about essential oils and healing in soap… Did you know that very few essential oils have actual healing benefits after undergoing the temperatures that soapmaking reaches. Some do, most don’t. Making claims about the essential oils doing this and that from soap is kind of like selling snake oil. Also claims that are worded incorrectly could be turning your product into a drug and thus it must be registered with another government agency.

*This is not to comment on proper aromatherapy practices under a certified aromatherapist with the correct usages of essential oils – I am a believer in essential oils used under proper conditions 100%. The above comment is only referring to essential oils in the final product of soap. Healing oils can certainly be used in salves, butters and lotions. However making claims of the oils in the products is getting into tricky territory and I hope you’ve read up on it.

That all said everyone does start somewhere. Just learn to perfect your medium/craft/product first.

I was a newbie once too. I was given much of this advice by one of my mentors. I’m glad I paid attention and cared enough to take the time to learn about what I was doing for myself, my family, friends and customers. Learning isn’t something that comes from reading one or five books, or watching couple of videos. A lot of it comes from experience.  Experience also means not spewing information that you don't know about. It's OK to be new but don't be cocky. I’ve seen a lot of soap businesses come and go. Usually the ones who come in fires a'blazin burn out fast.

My biggest issue with it is the bad PR that soapmaking gets from the fly-by-nighters. If you are serious about it then take it seriously. Soapers who do not pay attention or care to learn about the craft properly are a reflection on all soapers. Who would want to be judged by another’s businesses untested products?

Again with my soap swapping experiences, over the years I have probably used more than 200 bars from other soapers. I have used bars that I fell in love with, I have used bars that are nice, good bars and there were some bars that I couldn’t continue to use.  All soaps are definitely not created equal. I’ve spent years honing my craft and finding my niche in the market.

If you are thinking soapmaking is a get rich quick kind of thing – you are mistaken. Soapmakers are now like jewelery makers and photographers and I have had many conversations with folks in both industries – and I love them dearly. I understand their pain as now it seems everybody and their sister are either soapers, jewelers or photographers.  Oversaturation makes it worse for all. Did you know that on this day of posting this blog, on Etsy, soap has over 5200 listings for soap in Canada.  I pulled up a page and of the first page of 48 listings there were about 40 different companies – that’s just the first page.

You have a long learning curve ahead of you and it’s only the beginning. You need to learn and create your own recipes. You have to test those recipes. And for goodness sake be original. Don’t copy upon someone’s dreams and creativity.