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What do Okra, Throat Coat Tea and Colloidial Oatmeal all have in common?

If you’ve ever cut and cooked okra, then you are familiar with the slimy goo that comes out of the process.

Had a sore throat and used Throat Coat Tea?  Have you heard of Slippery Elm Bark?  Throat Coat Tea is made with Slippery Elm Bark and Licorice Root.  In the tea, this creates a slippery substance that sooths the sore throat by coating it.

Likewise if you have dry skin or a rash, you might have used an Aveeno Bath Treatment, made with colloidial oatmeal.

But how does this apply to soap making?  Have you ever infused calendula in your oils or made a comfrey root tea as the water substitute in your soap?  In soap, calendula creates a glorious slippery feel.  I hesitate to use the word slimy, but really it is, in the very nicest way.  There is a better cosmetic term for this subatance called mucilage.

The Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients defines MUCILAGE as “A solution in water of the sticky principles of vegetable substances. Used as a soothing application to the mucous membrane.”

Mucilage also seems to have some historical reference as what we would today refer to as glue.

1911 Mucilage


Wikipedia lists some other common sources of mucilage found in Aloe Vera, Cactus, Fenugreek, Flax Seeds, Kelp, Licorice Root, Mallow, Marshmallow and Chia Seeds.  Many of these plant sources are used in soap, cosmetics and medicine for their demulcent properties.  But what… is… demulcent?

DEMULCENT, also defined by the Consumer’s Guide to Cosmetic Ingredients (It’s a handy book, I tell you) is “a soothing, usually thick, oily or creamy substance used to relieve pain in inflamed or irritated mucous surfaces.”  Note that a demulcent does not have to be plant based.  Wikipedia states that a demulcent “is an agent that forms a soothing film over a mucous membrane, relieving minor pain and inflammation of the membrane. Demulcents are sometimes referred to as mucoprotective agents…”  It goes on to list pectin, glycerin, honey and syrups as demulcents as well as oatmeal and comfrey root.  Soap makers often use honey or even maple syrup to boost bubbles, but must do so carefully as the natural sugars can cause the soap to quickly overheat.

As soap makers, our products clean the largest human organ, the external skin.  Our soap should not contact with the body’s mucous membranes.  Nonetheless, the addition of mucilage or demulcent ingredients in our soap does give a glorious soothing quality to our product that your customers will notice and love.

I hope you’ve learned something new with this entry.  I’m pleased that at least I can quit referring to calendula soaps as “slimy.”  As the children’t joke goes, “you may think it’s boogers, but it’s sNot!”  LOL  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  Getting back to serious: All in the name of Research & Development, I’m about to make some Throat Coat Tea for a water substitute and make soap!