For My Handmade Soap Testers

Thanks so much to all of you who’ve stepped up to try the latest batches!

As most of you know, this soap is carefully made in absurdly small quantities by hand from individual oils, butters, essential oils, fragrances, herbs, infusions and even enfleurages. The technique is traditionally called “cold process” soap. I like to make it because it’s the very best kind of alchemy:  you start with a few ingredients that bear absolutely no resemblance to the end product, you follow rigorous steps at speed and with precision, and when you’re done you either have what you’re after or you have a complete and mystifying (and if you’ve really screwed up, a Hazmat-team-worthy) disaster.  How much more thrilling can a project get?  Those medieval guys, they knew what was worth doing.*

One of the things about cold process soapmaking is that (if it works) the soap requires a “curing” time after it’s made.  Curing shouldn’t be a matter of safety.  A properly designed and prepared recipe should be pH-safe very soon after unmolding, and I confirm safety at several points in the process with testing. (Also, by trying it out on myself first.) What curing does is slightly different.  Curing dries and hardens the soap, making it last longer.  It also allows you to see if colors or fragrances change over time, and many people say the soap becomes milder and bubblier.  Cures last from at least four weeks to over six months, depending on the recipe.

So for the folks that are testing out the new bars — thank you!  You’re evaluating the end product of a very small-scale and long-term process, and I could really use your feedback.  So when you’re trying it out, think about the following and if you can, send me your thoughts:

  • How does the soap make your skin feel? For example, moisturized, clean, too dry, too hard to rinse?
  • How was the lather? For example, bubbly, creamy, rich, too thin, too hard to produce?
  • Did you like the way the soap looked?  How was the size of the bar, and were the colors and appearance attractive or not?
  • Was the fragrance appealing? Was there enough, too much, or not enough of it? Did the fragrance “match” the appearance of the soap?
  • Are there any other changes that you would suggest?

You can send your thoughts to stargazer@accidentalalchemist.com, or just post a response here.  Let me know which soap you’re testing in your remarks. What you say, good or bad, matters to this accidental alchemist.  Thank you.

* Endnote:  The university doctors and the freelancers with pointy hats weren’t the only people doing alchemy in the Middle Ages.  Alewives and herb-women did it all the time, and with a great deal less fuss.  But the women were only making beer and medicine, instead of gold and immortality elixirs.