Once you really start experimenting with soapmaking, you end up with a lot of it. Some of it ends up stuck in a giant ball on the end of a spoon (“seizing”). Some of it does weird things, like “volcanoing” in the mold.
Some of it doesn’t retain the fragrance you expect, or the colors come out strangely (“This. Is Not. Blue. On OUR planet anyway”) or is way mushier than what you thought it would be and ends up sticking to the cutting knife, to the mat, to you, the cabinets, the floor, and to random passersby out in the street. When you’re first starting out (and if reports are correct even when you’ve been doing it for a while), sometimes you get surprised. The only things you can do are to follow your ideas, your carefully evaluated recipes, and your GMP procedures while you’re making it. If it comes out, you always test the soap for pH safety, and then you just let it cure.
“Curing” is the process whereby you cut your soap and then just leave it alone for a period of time — anywhere from four weeks to over six months in some cases. The water used in the processing slowly evaporates out, and the soap becomes harder and theoretically more long-lasting. Some people say it becomes milder and bubblier during the cure as well. That’s why, for every batch of soap you make, it’s a good idea to hold back at least one or two pieces and just let them do their thing on the curing rack. But the others? You send ’em out to your Intrepid Testers, after ensuring they are safe, and let them find their way.
So: Intrepid Testers: These are the soaps that have cured, and are looking for tryouts in the next couple weeks.
Sea Reef: The islands of the Caribbean are usually surrounded with coral and stone reefs that break, redirect, and even still the waves. Viewing them from the surface, the effect is a spectacular variation in the colors of the water.
This photograph is only one example. Along the reefs, shades from light and forest greens, sky and navy blues, delicate violets and purples close to night are striated, streaked and sometimes massed together.
The seas along the reefs inspired me to try out some new colorants. In “Sea Reef,” I began with a classic olive oil, coconut oil and shea butter basic recipe that I knew performed well, along with a bright, fresh breeze of a fragrance I also knew. I then picked out some cosmetic-standard pigments: Ultramarine Blue, Ultramarine Violet, and Chrome Green, and did a mold swirl to try to replicate the mixing of the colors of the sea across a reef.
Harbor: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, they say, and I think this applies to almost every endeavor. Before Sea Reef, I experimented with the same basic olive oil, coconut oil and shea butter recipe, but along with the Ultramarine Blue pigment I tried a fragrance that I hadn’t worked with before but liked a great deal “OOB” (out of the bottle).
Now here’s the story on fragrancing soap: some fragrances can screw you up. What some do is “accelerate” the process of saponification — the alchemy whereby a sodium hydroxide solution transforms the present oils into soap. The key is to manage the process so that it doesn’t happen so fast that it turns into a solid, immoveable mass before you get it into the mold. Guess what? This fragrance accelerated like a bat out of hell. It went faster than an Internet entrepreneur in a brand-new Tesla. It would have taken superhuman dexterity to get it into a mold. I ended up with what folks call “soap on a stick,” but I did manage to save a few pieces before it all turned into a brick.
The fragrance to my sense is also outstandingly “oceanlike.” There are only a few pieces, though.
Night Sky: Last comes my favorite, and probably the one that has to be babied the most. It’s a “milk” recipe — a soap where the water usually used to dilute the sodium hydroxide into a solution is replaced by milk. They are difficult, cranky, annoying and unpredictable soaps to make, and yet some folks swear that they are the best real soaps on the planet and won’t use anything else. The quality for the user is more than worth the terror for the maker.
But let’s back up one second. Most of the Caribbean islands are unusual in that their placement in the tradewinds, as well as the absence of light and atmospheric pollution, creates outstanding views of the night sky at sea level. (Want more info? Go here: www.caribbeanastronomy.com . Do it.) Without naming names, I’ll tell a story of a person who pointed up at the sky from a little island house and said, “What’s that? An airplane trail or something?” I said, “That’s the Milky Way. You can see it here.”
“Night Sky” is my attempt to capture that extraordinary vision of the edge of the galaxy. It is made from olive oil, coconut oil, and coconut milk, and is colored with completely natural activated charcoal. The highlights are eye-and lip-safe cosmetic-grade micas (the same stuff in mineral makeup), each piece individually painted with artists’ brushes. It is a soft and gentle soap that will be ready in about two weeks.
The scent is a rich but measured sandalwood-based spice fragrance. It is intoxicating.
I’m looking for testers on all three soaps. Let me know if you’re interested at my contact on this blog.