Here’s a brief rundown of the chemistry
that makes soap:
Many people are curious and often ask, "How
do you make soap"? The answer is simple. Combining oils, alkali and water
allows them to chemically react, producing soap and
glycerin. At Vermont Soap Organics, we put the
glycerin back in the mixture, thereby amplifying the
moisturizing effects of our product.
How do you turn soap into a
Back in the good old days, soap
smiths ran rainwater through
hardwood ashes (in
Africa and the south Pacific, they used plantain
ashes and coconut husk; here in New England, people
made due with maple and oak). This resulted in
a potassium hydroxide solution. Bar soaps are
fashioned out of sodium hydroxide, which is the
result of running electricity through salt water.
Today, soap smiths still use processes very much
like those used many years ago.
How does lather work?
Soap is an interesting material.
The oily side of it repels water and the alkali side
is attracted to it. When you put soap into water,
these Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde properties cause
soap to lather.
What’s the deal with glycerin?
Surprisingly, glycerin is actually
more beneficial than soap itself, and without it,
soap dries your skin. When
you combine glycerin with the right amount of oil
and water in a soap mixture, it’s like having a
hand lotion that soothes in your bar of soap
that cleans. Despite these wonderful
effects, the makers of milled soaps still add salt
to their recipes, removing glycerin from their
product. In many cases, the excess glycerin is
then used as an agent in the production of cosmetics
and food, or it is injected into cigarette paper
because it makes for even burning.
Tell me a bit more about
these clear glycerin bars.
If you boil soap in alcohol and sugars, or if you
induce high and pressure, it becomes transparent.
This makes for higher glycerin levels and lower pH,
but it also means that a bar will often contain
skin-drying agents (such as artificial
colors, fragrances, and alcohol) and that
the bar will dissolve more easily.
Even alleged “vegetable glycerin bars” consist of
propylene glycol (antifreeze) and
triethanolalamine (TEA)—far from the “natural” label
they so boldly claim.
I’ve heard the phrase
“French milled.” What exactly does it mean?
After stainless steel was first discovered, a common
use involved running a soap base between two steel
soap smiths began running hot and cold water through
the same rollers, French milled soap was created.
These high-caliber soaps, although they are
not milder than handmade soaps, are
still mild indeed, and the French milled
bars last longer.
So where do Vermont
Organic Soaps fit into all this?
really is nothing better than a handmade,
"poured" soap. We mix our soap in
small quantities and then pour it into wooden
moulds; when we take it out, we have an opaque,
high-caliber bath and body bar. The benefits
of our traditional process are
manifold. First, our bars keep for nearly
twice as long as most of the mass-produced soaps.
Vermont Organic soaps are also
mild enough for even the most sensitive,
easily irritated skin. Those who
suffer from eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis,
or who are receiving chemotherapy treatment, often
find great relief by switching to
This is the conundrum: if
alkali and oil do not successfully amalgamate, the
soap is then full of alkali salts (sodium hydroxide
and oxygen), which, as we've explained, have a high
pH that contributes to skin dryness.
Commercial soaps are often riddled with these salts,
despite the fact that approximately 25% of the
population is sensitive to them.
So the Vermont soap smiths set out
to devise a soap that is devoid of alkali
salts—no easy task, indeed.
Translucent glycerin soap bars do have low alkali
salt levels, but they have short shelf lives, and
their alcohol content can irritate sensitive skin.
After extensive research,
Vermont Organic Soaps identified 8 soap
properties that can induce dry skin:
- Free Alkalai
- Artificial Fragrances
- Artificial Colors
- Too much coconut oil content
- Base ingredients of poor quality
- Specific essential oils
So, we wondered, how might we go
about creating a bar of soap with lots of glycerin
and no alcohol without requiring artificial colors
and fragrances to cover up shoddy base ingredients?
To find the answer we went on a
blast from the past…
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