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Mailbag Monday is a new feature on the site where I share reader's questions and the answers. You can ask questions about candle making, soap making, or any of the related crafts that we engage in. Just email me with "Mailbag Monday" in the subject line. You can also check out previous questions I've answered in the Mailbag Monday Archive.
Kathy from Arizona had been selling her soap at a recent craft show and had a disagreement about ingredients with a fellow soap maker. For this week's question, she writes:
"This women was at a craft fair and she was telling me she made her soap from scratch. I knew she didn't, it looks exactly like a melt and pour. She said that when I make my soap from scratch it contains sorbitol ..just like her "natural" soap! I know I am still learning but I was going crazy trying to figure this out!
This is her ingredient in her soap 'Ingredients: Coconut Oil, Palm Oil, Castor Oil, Safflower Oil, Glycerin, (kosher, of vegetable origin), purified water, sodium hydroxide, sorbitol, shea butter, sorbitan oleate, soybean protein, titanium dioxide, essential oil, and fragrance.' She acted like her soap was just as good as mine - which I know is made from scratch (because I made it!)"
Kathy, there are several great lessons here...several of which you've already learned:
- Your soap is only as good as the ingredients in it.
- Understanding what each ingredient is, and what its function in the soap is, is vital to making the best soap possible.
- Just because an ingredient is natural doesn't mean it's good, and just because it's synthetic, doesn't mean it's bad.
- Labeling your soaps correctly is very important.
- Soap makers who either don't understand the above...or choose to fib about what's in their soap drive me crazy! They give honest, conscientious soap makers a bad reputation, and make it harder for all of us in the handcrafted soap industry.
That said, while it would be possible for her to have made her soap from scratch with those ingredients, it's very very unlikely. I can almost assure you that her soap is made from a melt and pour base from the SFIC corporation. SFIC makes excellent melt and pour soap base. When I was selling soap commercially, it was the base I used for my soap. It's good soap...and as close to "natural" as you're going to get.
But compare her ingredient list above, with the ingredient list from SFIC:
- Coconut Oil
- Palm Oil
- Safflower Oil
- Glycerine (kosher, of vegetable origin)
- Purified Water
- Sodium Hydroxide (saponifying agent)
- Sorbitol (moisturizer)
- Sorbitan oleate (emulsifier)
- Soy bean protein (conditioner)
Look familiar? The only difference is the shea butter, which she could have added herself, or just bought the "shea butter" base from SFIC. The added glycerin, sorbitol and sorbitan oleate are the give away. Sorbitol and sorbitan oleate are alcohol/alcohol derivatives that help the soap have a lower melt point - essentially taking a cold process soap and making it melt-able.
Is her soap bad? Not at all. Is it made from a melt and pour base? Almost definitely.
Thanks for the great question - and for helping to make the world of craft show soap making a bit more honest!