I love talking to people who have just discovered handmade soap for the first time. They’re always surprised to discover how different it is from the soap they usually buy at the grocery store. And they always get excited about how moisturizing it is without being greasy, and how it doesn’t strip and dry their skin out.
Real, handmade soap and commercial soap are two very different animals. Commercial soap often isn’t really soap at all but more of a detergent bar, made in huge factories with cheaper ingredients and lots of chemicals.
Handmade soap, on the other hand, is usually made from just vegetable oils and sodium hydroxide (aka lye, which initiates the transformation of oils into soap, but isn’t actually present in the final product). The basic equation for handmade soap is Fatty Acid (oil) + Base (lye) = “A Salt” (soap)
One of the other big reasons that handmade soap is less drying comes down to one magical word: glycerin. Glycerin is a byproduct of the saponification process, and it is an incredible moisturizer. Commercial soap manufacturers remove glycerin from their soap during the manufacturing process because they can sell it separately to make more money, and because removing it extends the shelf life of the soap so that it can sit in warehouses or on store shelves for years and years. Handmade soap retains all of its glycerin, making it very moisturizing.
(And while we’re on the topic – transparent soap is often referred to as “glycerin soap” but this is a misnomer, as glycerin is not needed to produce transparent soap. Transparent soap is just soap that is made clear by adding solvents to prevent crystals from forming as the soap cools. So, transparent soap can contain glycerin, but not necessarily — and some transparent soap can be quite drying.)
I was in Santa Fe last year for the first time, one of the driest places in the country, and on the shuttle ride back to the airport everyone was talking about how dried out their lips and skin had been during their visit there. The driver said the key to combating dry skin was glycerin and I thought, of course, the magic of glycerin. In a desert climate like Santa Fe you had better get you some glycerin.
Beyond the physical benefits, people seem to really enjoy the aesthetic appeal of a handmade bar of soap — these bars of soap are unique and organic looking. I’ve had several people tell me just seeing their handmade bar of soap sitting on their soap dish made them happy. They have personality! And they smell more appealing than the generic chemically-scented “Irish Spring” Bar. The scents of handmade soap bars are very unique, and there are many options for non-synthetic scents. I scent all my bars with only natural plant essential oils, which really brings nature into your shower.
Maybe all this handmade soap magic is why I still love giving handmade soap as gifts? And why I still like receiving homemade soap as a gift…