Saturday, 2 November 2013

Winter Hand Cream

Canadian winters can be hard on skin, even in rainy Vancouver. For me, colder weather means painful, itchy and cracked skin on my knuckles. Using my own soap has helped decrease the frequency and severity of this affliction, but I still tend to suffer from it when the temperature drops to near freezing.

Because of this issue, I have made a lotion that I hope will help my skin this year when the frost arrives. I set out to create a thick, emollient lotion - really more of a body butter in texture - with lots of nice oils, butters and film formers. I also wanted to include ingredients that are specifically known to help dry, cracked skin.

The result is a lotion that is very thick, containing 25% oils and butters (including lanolin, which creates a protective barrier on the skin, sunflower and olive oils, and cocoa and shea butters). I also included hydrolized oat protein, panthenol, a humectant (sodium lactate) and 0.5% powdered wheatgrass extract, which contains a variety of vitamins, minerals and trace elements. This ingredient is purported to soothe, moisturize and revitalize the appearance of dry, cracked or raw skin. And for a relaxing touch, the lotion is lightly scented with lavender essential oil.

The lanolin and wheatgrass extract are new ingredients to me, so I made a very small test batch to see how the resulting lotion works. The small batch also seemed like a good idea as my understanding is that some powdered extracts can be hard to very preserve. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a lot of info on this particular extract, so I used the maximum amount of preservative and I was extra careful in sterilizing the utensils, and heating and holding the ingredients. Fingers crossed that this lotion stays preserved!

The texture of this lotion is like whipped icing and it feels wonderful on the skin. There is an ever so slight stickiness that I think is probably from the lanolin, but it doesn't bother me because I intend to use this lotion mostly at bedtime.

Here's to healthy, moisturized skin this winter :)

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Orange Spice

As the autumn weather begins to roll onto the West Coast, I've been looking forward to making and using a few seasonal soaps. Along with pumpkin pie scented soap, one of my favourites is orange spice. This soap is scented with essential oils, and I love how the warm, spicy undertones contrast with the note of bright citrus from the orange.

The essential oils in this soap include cinnamon leaf, orange 5 fold, and a touch each of anise seed, clove and nutmeg. I also steeped a vanilla pod in the warm oils; as expected, the scent doesn't really come through, but I love the speckled look of the vanilla beans throughout the soap.

I also used coconut water for the liquid portion, which I had never tried before, and included tussah silk in the lye water. I coloured the top portion of the soap with cinnamon powder, and left the bottom portion uncoloured. I had intended to do a nice fluid swirl, but the soap thickened incredibly quickly (I didn't even have a chance to use the stick blender), so I did a quick swirl with a spoon to incorporate the two colours together. The result isn't quite what I had in mind, but I like the simplicity of the design.

Happy seasonal soaping everyone!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Shampoo Bars & Back to Basics

I have a serious love affair with shampoo bars. However, not any old soap will do. I like to use lots of conditioning oils, tussah silk and a nice scent. Moreover, I omit coconut oil from my shampoo bars, as I find that my hair stays fresh and non-greasy for longer.

Recently, I set about to make a new batch of shampoo bars. Though I have always used essential oils in my shampoo bars, I decided to mix things up and try a new fragrance oil, called blackberry jam. I used this fragrance oil at 3% of the weight of the base oils as the supplier had advised that no more than 3.3% should be used in soap. The fragrance soaped beautifully and a few days later, I unmolded the soap. To my surprise, there were pockets of fragrance oil seeping out of the bars. I have no idea why this happened as the fragrance oil was fully emulsified into the soap batter (in fact, I added the fragrance oil to the base oils before the lye water and stick-blended to ensure that it was fully incorporated). 

I must admit that this occurrence has tempered my previous excitement about fragrance oils. I found this experience to be discouraging and frustrating, mostly because the reviews for this particular fragrance were good and my usage rate was below that advised by the supplier.  As a result, I have scaled back my plans to make a selection of Christmasy fragranced soaps this holiday season. For now at least, I intend to focus on soaps scented with essential oils, which I'm much more familiar with.

Since moving back to basics, I have made a few soaps that I'm quite happy with. First up is a batch called "Botanicals". It is scented with an equal blend of lavender and peppermint essential oils, and naturally coloured with swirls of kelp powder and calendula blossoms. It also contains a good helping of coconut milk. The overall effect is quite delicate and pretty, and I like it a lot. 

Next up is a soap made for my grandmother, who loves oatmeal soap. It contains lots of ground oats, and goat milk powder and honey as well. It is very lightly scented with cinnamon bark essential oil and benzoin resin for a sweet scent that is reminiscent of oatmeal cookies.

Finally, my favourite new soap is called "Detox". It is scented with lavender and citrus essential oils, and naturally coloured with activated charcoal, white kaolin clay and cranberry seeds.

And because I still needed shampoo bars, I made a new batch today that is scented with citrus and mint essential oils. I feel calmer already :)

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Mantra Swirl in a Slab Mold

One of my favourite things about making soap is trying new swirling techniques and designs. I enjoy the creative process and how lovely the finished product can look. An impressive swirl that I have read a lot about recently is the Mantra Swirl, which was part of Amy's recent Soap Challenge Club at Great Cakes Soapworks. I missed this challenge, but the results are so beautiful and inspiring.

Though this swirl is typically done in a log-style mold, I decided to try it in my slab mold to avoid "modifying" the swirl (where a hanger swirl is done first to create definition within the soap). I also thought that it would be quite the challenge because I planned on having 6 different lines of soap in the slab mold.

I scented this soap with cappuccino fragrance oil. It smells quite realistic out of the bottle, capturing the aromas of both roasted coffee and creamy milk. I kept the colour scheme to a simple brown and white, with a line of cappuccino mica dispersed in oil down the centre.

I prepared the oils and lye water the night before to help keep things cool. This gave me a lot of time to work with the soap, which I definitely needed. The cardboard dividers that I used weren't ideal as there was some leakage, but they mostly kept the soap separated.

Overall, I'm happy with the design, though I will do a thinner mica/oil line if attempt this design again. I'm less satisfied with the fragrance, as the sharp coffee scent has pretty much disappeared after 48 hours, leaving an undefined and unremarkable sweet sort of smell. After doing a bit more research on coffee fragrances, I understand that this is fairly normal. What a shame as I love coffee! But I bet that this fragrance would be lovely in a body butter with unrefined cocoa butter. 

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Pumpkin Pie in August

Because soap takes about 4-8 weeks to fully cure, I have to work ahead of the seasons in order to have seasonally-appropriate soaps ready on time. That leads me to my newest soap, Pumpkin Pie, that I've made with my husband in mind. He loves pumpkin pie so much that he requests it every year for his birthday in October instead of cake. So when I decided to start working with fragrance oils, I knew that I would have to try a pumpkin pie fragrance. And though I know that it will be comforting to use this soap in September and October when the days get cooler and rainier, it feels a little odd in the heat of summer to be working with a fragrance that contains top notes of clove, nutmeg, and ginger, middle notes of orange and lemon zest and a rich bottom of vanilla, butter, coumarin, pumpkin, and cinnamon.

Acrylic soap mold with a silicone base liner and dividers; Pumpkin Pie fragrance oil
For this soap, I used my new acrylic slab mold. I was planning on layering a small amount of white soap on top of orange soap with a sprinkling of cinnamon to make it look a bit like pumpkin pie with whipped cream, but my husband suggested going for a more deconstructed look. The design is a simple chopstick swirl of orange, brown and white soap batter. 
Messy lines of soap batter; the result of a simple chopstick swirl; the finished product ready to set
In my soaps, I usually include lots of conditioning oils, tussah silk and some sort of milk. I love the lather and silky feeling that this combination of ingredients produces. This soap contains a high proportion of olive, avocado and sunflower oils, a lesser amount of coconut and palm oils, and unrefined cocoa butter, along with the silk and buttermilk. The orange colour comes from olive oil infused with annatto seeds (and a touch of orange oxide, just in case), and the white and brown from titanium dioxide and cappuccino mica, respectively. 

Oils with a natural orange hue due to annatto seeds
Because I used buttermilk in the soap, I popped the mold into the fridge to set. I find that keeping milk soaps cool and (hopefully) preventing them from gelling creates a nicer looking soap in the end. After 24 hours, the soap was firm, so I put it in a 170F oven for 10 minutes as per the instructions that came with the mold; apparently this procedure helps to release the soap from the mold, and so far it has worked for me. Once cooled, I slid a butter knife under the silicone liner to release the first bar, after which the dividers were easily removed.

Lifting soap out of mold with a butter knife; dividers removed; excess soap trimmings
Because I like the soap to have a really crisp appearance, I trimmed tiny bits of excess soap from the bars, but this isn't strictly necessary. 

Finished soap ready to cure
I really love the resulting design, both back and front. The smell is also fantastic: lots of spices upfront, with a nice base of pumpkin, vanilla and butter that round out the scent and enforce the "pie" aspect of the fragrance. I have enough fragrance left to make another batch, and I likely will before autumn is over. 

Monday, 5 August 2013

New Beginnings

For the past year, I have used a couple of 2 lb wooden log molds that I purchased on Etsy. They have to be lined with parchment paper (which I hate), but are a really good size for small batches and have removable ends and slats for cutting 1 inch bars (which I love). These molds have served me well and have produced bars of which I'm really proud.

Triple Clay Rosemary & Orange Essential Oils
Citrus Essential Oils
Eucalyptus & Mint Essential Oils
However, I had been thinking a lot about upgrading to a new mold (slab mold? silicone liner? acrylic?). I hadn't decided exactly what kind of mold I wanted when I received a gorgeous 15 bar acrylic slab mold with dividers for my birthday from Soap Making Resource. It's relatively easy to use, clean up is a breeze, and no lining! But given that I have come from using log molds, it's a bit of an adjustment to use a slab mold. I really can't do the same swirling techniques anymore as the design shows from above, not from the side. The mold is also a lot larger than I'm used to (it holds up to 5 lbs). So for the next little while, there will be lots of experimentation as I figure out what I can and can't do with this beauty.

Another interesting development has been venturing into the world of fragrance oils. Up until recently, I have always used essential oils for my fragrance needs. There are a few reasons for this. First, I like the therapeutic value that essential oils bring; I find that there's nothing like a bar of real lavender soap in the shower. Second, I've been reluctant to use fragrance oils because I have had medical issues with "artificial" scents. Many perfumes, body sprays and lotions give me epic migraines and I have been hesitant to risk exposing myself to full-strength fragrance oils that might do the same thing or worse. Third, I didn't want my soaps to smell fake.

Despite all of this, I was feeling a little boxed in by my usual selection of essential oils, so I recently made a purchase of four different fragrance oils: mango madness, evergreen, cappuccino and pumpkin pie. And I have to say, I've been pleasantly surprised. They don't smell fake, I have not experienced any migraines so far, and the variety is astounding. I will still use essential oils for various bars (lavender mint is a favourite), but I'm excited to delve further into the fragrance world.

Evergreen and Mango Madness
Stay tuned!