Maria Gale is a true soap maker through and through. The author of Soap and Cosmetic Labeling
, and previous president of the Handcrafted Soap Makers Guild
, she has a new book out titled 300 Years of Natural Soap and Cosmetic Recipes
. She says, "The journey that resulted in the writing of this book is much like my own soap making journey, and I’m sure, much like many of yours."
Her new book is as practical as it is fascinating. By collecting hundreds of years' of soap and cosmetic recipes, she not only provides a valuable resource to soap makers of all levels, but shows how much we have in common with soap makers throughout history.
Getting Started - Creating Recipes
I bet you started out the same way as I did...
I started out just plain wanting to know how to make soap. I dabbled at first with melt and pour soap, but soon knew that I wanted to learn the basics of cold process soap making. I really felt like I had become a tried and true soap maker after the first batch I made where I created the soap recipe completely from scratch.
Marie Gale started the same way...but in addition to her love of soap making, she had a love of books and a love of discovering historical information about the craft she loved. She shares, "Throughout my life, I've had a tendency to collect books and materials about subjects of interest to me…When I started researching soaps an cosmetics over a decade ago, it was no different. I scoured bookstores for books both old and new, and as more resources became available online, my quest expanded exponentially."
This book represents the collective fruits of her book and recipe collecting efforts - and is a real gift to the soap making community. Not only does it give you a historical perspective of this centuries-old craft, but gives you some real practical, useful recipes to use as-is, or to act as inspiration or jumping off points for your own soap and cosmetic recipes. There are recipes that come from books that are hundreds of years old...and recipes that come from books recently published.
300 Years of Recipes
The recipes in the book were selected to give a representative sample of different historical types of recipes. They are categorized primarily on the general type of product (e.g. soap, cream, salts, masks, perfumes, etc.) There’s also a special section of “Strange & Bizarre” recipes which includes a recipe for “Snayle Watter" (Snail Water), "Arsenical Cosmetic Lotion" (after all, who doesn’t want a little arsenic in their lotion?), and "Eye Water for Weak Eyes" (made with rose water, laudanum and wine.) As Gale says, “It’s no wonder that the U.S. Government felt the need to implement the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act to try to protect citizens from unsafe products and unsubstantiated claims.”
There is also a comprehensive section on ingredients that helps the reader to “translate” some of the recipes into the modern soap making kitchen. The ingredient section alone is fascinating reading – a compendium of the many wild and wonderful products of our natural world – and a prime example that just because something is natural, doesn’t mean it’s safe!
How to Use This Book
I think the most wonderful use for the book is to use it as an inspiration for your own soap and cosmetic recipes. It will help you to understand how ingredients go together and in what proportions. For example, while you may not be able to make (from the “Balms and Salves” section):
(from Toilet & Cosmetic Arts (1866))
- .5 pint Almond Oil (pale)
- 2 oz. Spermaceti
- 4 oz. White Wax (pure)
- 1.5 dram Mace, Expressed Oil
- 1 dram Almond Essential Oil
It's very similar to this recipe, which you could very well make:
- 1 part Cocoa Butter
- 1 part Almond Oil
- 1 part White Wax (pure)
That recipe is pretty much the same as the basic recipe for my cocoa butter massage bars
, and very similar to most recipes for body butter
! Even though we can't get spermaceti anymore, by looking at how the original recipe was formulated, you can help formulate your own.
I also found lots of inspiration in the "Soap and Soap Scents" section. Similar to the collection of recipes, there are dozens of scent blends listed, which should give you some creative ideas and examples for your own scents!
While I was familiar with many of the recipes from books like Soap: Making, It, Enjoying It
(1975), The Soapmaker’s Companion
(1997), and Smart Soapmaking
(2007), I loved seeing that basic soap recipes have remained pretty consistent for hundreds of years – using the basic oils – coconut, tallow, palm, castor, olive etc. Other than a couple that used rare ingredients, most of the historical recipes could be made today. Like Gale says in the book, "...you will be able to use this wealth of information not only to make products following the recipes as given, but to use them as a jumping-off point so you can develop your own unique soap and cosmetic products for personal use or sale."
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy