As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, I consider myself more of a Soap Artist than a Functional Soaper, but when selling, Functional Soap often sells better than Soap Art. Therefore, I am dedicating more of my future soap making to the utility of soap and saving the artistry for design challenges.

While many soap makers follow recipes from books or websites, I’ve learned to formulate my own recipes and analyze the conditioning, moisturizing, hardness, cleansing and creamy qualities by modifying the percentage of oils mixed in the recipe. By mixing oils at different ratios, there will be variations in the composition of fatty acids which alters the properties of the soap. While the idea of a gentle soap may seem universal, perhaps if you are making a soap for mechanics you’d want a more cleansing soap. People often prefer a moisturizing soap in the dry winter months and a deodorant soap in the heat of the summer. Hence, we make soaps with different recipes for different purposes. Facial soaps should be more gentle than body soaps or other special purpose soaps.

Over the last year, I’ve participated in many soap swaps. The first order of business is always to look at the soaps, smell, read ingredients, consider the packaging, the design, etc. Maybe I use the soaps or, many are given away. Afterall, I do have a gazillion soaps of my own to use. Of the soaps that I do keep and use, I find some that I really, really like and others that may smell and look nice, but aren’t necessarily outstanding as far as the recipe goes. Of the soaps that I really like, many are still mis-labeled or don’t have a complete list of ingredients. This is real pet peeve for me. While “Soap,” in the absence of cosmetic claims (soothing, moisturizing, cleansing, purifiying, etc) is not legally required to list all ingredients, dang it, I want to LEARN from the soaps I use! What was it that made that soap nice? Sometimes it isn’t just the balance of oils but additives or water substitutes that can make a soap particularly nice. For instance, if my balance of oils leaves something to be desired for bubbles, I can add sugar, maple syrup, honey, etc. If I want more creamy lather, I can sub out part of the water for goat’s milk, coconut milk, yogurt or add those same ingredients in powder form.

Getting to the point- I would really like to work toward a soap swap where PLAIN guest size bars are submitted without labels, but ANONYMOUSLY* numbered and distributed to other soapers. The recipient would then use the soap and go online and give feedback reviewing their impression of the soap’s performance. Were you satisfied with the creamy texture or was there room for improvement? Were the bubbles fluffy or small? Was the soap moisturizing or drying? Do you like the fragrance stronger or lighter? Then, upon submission of the feedback, the recipient would receive a copy of the SOAPCALC print out, including additives, fragrance or essential oil blends, liquids, exfoliants… that’s right, the WHOLE RECIPE. I think in this way, we could actually learn from other people’s soaps. I can’t tell you how often I use my own soaps and get out of the shower to look at the recipe and pause to consider, “what made that soap so stinkin’ good?” What do you think? Would there be an interest in soapers anonymously sharing their personal recipes for the sake of getting feedback on their soap from other soap makers and actually learning as they use other people’s soaps?

Why “ANONYMOUS” you ask? Good question! Soap makers, like the rest of the world, are a cult of personality. There are leaders whose followers love everything they do and will compliment that person regardless of what they do. If we are just considering plain soaps, then the drive is to learn about the soap performance, not to flatter the artist. Further, if the soap maker’s name remains anonymous, then there isn’t the concern that that crafter’s local competition now “knows their recipe.” Chances are, you’d never make it onto the competitor’s radar if the submissions are anonymous. Again, is there any interest out there?