On Why I No Longer Make Soap

I’ve blogged before about making homemade soap. I used to make it both for my own use and as gifts. I even started making homemade soaps for gifts for the casts of various shows I’ve been in. Those who know me in real life will know that I haven’t been making soap lately, and readers of the blog might have noticed that I suddenly stopped posting about soap updates and new recipe ideas.

So, on a related note, recently another beauty Instagrammer and blogger, Goals to Get Glowing, posted on her Instagram about some pH tests she’d done of a couple cleansers she’d been trying. One of the cleansers had a pH of 9.5, which is quite high for a balanced facial cleanser. The brand attacked her for revealing this and claimed that their cleanser was fine because it was the same pH as soap.

Well, that’s not surprising because it *is* soap. The first ingredients after water are saponified oils. So, yes, it will have a pH similar to soap. But do we want to wash our faces with soap?

Well, when I first started making my own soap, it was part of my efforts to make my skin care routine as natural, traditional, and homemade as possible. So I would remove makeup with an oil-based cleanser, like my homemade cleansing balm, and then follow it with my own homemade soap. I found information about how using soap on your skin wouldn’t disrupt the balance of your skin if you used a pH-balancing toner, which I made out of diluted vinegar.

The problem with that, however, is that my skin apparently didn’t get that memo. I began to go from having relatively clear, easy-to-deal-with skin, to getting a lot of spots, along with dryness and redness in other parts of my face. I tried eliminating comedogenic oils and butters that I thought were the problem. And then, I found this post about pH in cleansers. So I went and bought a bottle of the natural, pH-5 cleanser that I’d been using before trying to switch to homemade products.

And it was like night and day. I didn’t have immediate results, but right away, my skin was less irritated. My active breakouts started going down and I had fewer spots to replace them. And my skin just felt nicer in the morning, less dry. I eventually picked up a few more tricks, such as using multiple layers of watery hydration instead of one heavy cream, and using occlusives when it’s dry out, but the first and biggest improvement I had was from changing to a low-pH cleanser.

Since then, I tried to relegate my homemade soap to being a body cleanser. But eventually, I noticed that I was having similar problems on the rest of my skin. Irritation in my armpits. Small bumps and spots on my legs. And even a fairly raging fungal infection that was probably at least helped along by having sensitized skin. So I switched to a low-pH body wash. I already use low-pH shampoos because my hair absolutely rebels when I use something alkaline.

So that really leaves my homemade soap somewhat neglected. And because I wasn’t using it myself and I noticed that I had so many skin problems that went away when I stopped using it, well, I find myself not feeling right giving it as gifts. It’s been months (possibly even over a year) since I’ve made a bar of soap, and I’m seriously considering giving away my soapy equipment. It is sad to lose a loved hobby, but I certainly have other pastimes to fill the empty space.

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Weekend Crafting and Historical Exploration

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I had a lovely, relaxing weekend, this weekend. I started off on Friday evening by having some friends over to play board games and share a nice fall meal. I made my standby butternut squash pasta casserole, along with mini cheesecakes to celebrate a friend who had a birthday last week. It was simple, but delicious and certainly fortified us for an evening of fun games. It also served to soak up some of the cocktails we poured.

And then on Saturday, I went to my aerials class, and then just relaxed. I puttered around in the kitchen with some crafts. I recently ordered all the butters and oils and beeswax I need to make lip balms and lotion bars for holiday gifts, but I receive a small sample of cocoa butter in the order. I also recently bought some babassu oil for soaping, but discovered it could be a lovely balm ingredient as well. So I mixed up a couple of experimental batches. The cocoa butter was just enough to make one tube of lip balm. I mixed it with beeswax and some hazelnut oil to make a chocolate-hazelnut lip balm, although it smells only lightly of cocoa butter.

Then, I mixed up a slightly larger batch of babassu oil, mango butter, and beeswax to try out as both a lip balm and a lotion bar. I poured most out into an empty deodorant container (clean, of course) to use as a body butter, and then also was able to fill five lip balm tubes. The babassu oil melts at just below body temperature so it rolls on smoothly, but soaks in rapidly, so the skin is not left feeling greasy. I used some of it after shaving last evening, and found it left my skin feeling velvety, not oily. Boyfriend especially appreciated it, as when I use a soft balm in a jar, I tend to apply too much and my lovely smooth legs get a little greasy.

From there, I decided to make another batch of soap. This one used tallow, coconut oil, and olive oil to make a lovely, simple bar. I increased my super fat just a tad, as I’ve found my recently-tested first batch to be a touch drying. And I added oatmeal and calendula to the soap batter for an extra skin-soothing touch. They rested in my craft room for a couple days and I unmolded them this morning. My crafting room shelves are certainly filling up with soaps and balms!

I also used Saturday to just rest and relax and make a big batch of butternut squash and sweet potato soup for my lunches this week. The soup comes together quickly, simmers for a while, and blitzes up in the blender with very little effort. And soup and a cheese sandwich will be a nice early-fall lunch.

After such a relaxing Saturday, I went out on Sunday. I went downtown and spent the day at the National Museum of American History, where I browsed their new Innovation wing. There, I learned about all the inventions we take for granted that really changed the world. I was fascinated that they chose to include things like alarm clocks and deodorant along side exhibits about televisions and computers. And they had an entire exhibit about how ready-to-wear clothing changed the way people dressed and how the poor could move upwards in society. A truly neat look at how the early 20th century changed our social structure.

But the day spent on my feet meant I was particularly glad to come home to Boyfriend’s vegetarian chili and a nice hot bath for my Sunday evening beauty ritual!

And On Into Fall

Yesterday was the first day of autumn. It passed without much note for me. I got up, went to work, and went to my aerials class, the same as any Wednesday. I think we shall celebrate in earnest tomorrow with friends and games and a nice autumnal dinner. This morning, I’ve brought out my plaid flannel shirt for a slightly chilly morning, and had an autumnal breakfast of porridge with dried fruit.

I am happiest when it is chilly in the mornings. Even if it’s going to be a hot day eventually, a cool, maybe even slightly grey morning feels right to me. I’ve noticed that the sun stays down longer and I often spend the first hour of wakefulness in twilight illumination. I’ve been rising early to make a pot of herbal infusion and let it steep under a tea cozy while I shower and dress. Then, I can curl up with a shawl or blanket and enjoy the stillness of a cool morning before beginning my day.

It just so happens that this week is the final week of the four-week cure I’ve given my first batch of soap, so I tested a homemade soap bar this morning in my shower. It bubbled up beautifully and had no lard smell to it. It was fun to use something that was made by me, though I wonder if it might be a bit drying to my skin. It’s no mind, though, because it just means that I’ll have to play around with more recipes.

I actually finished off my first pound of lye this weekend when I made a batch of sheep’s tallow soap. So I ordered a new jar of it, along with some fun goodies. Because I love the smell of roses, I’ve decided to try a fragrance oil called “Fresh Cut Roses” and some pink clay to color the bar a light rose color. I’ve started getting fancy, and may even try some soaps with goat’s milk or oatmeal for more skin-softening loveliness.

The best part of autumn is that it now feels like crochet weather. Through the winter and early spring, I worked on my merino wool shawl using Smooshy sock yarn in a colorway called “Cloud Jungle,” which is a complex blend of greys and neutrals that looks like the clouds over a forest in early winter. I’ve half-finished the main body of the shawl, and then I plan to edge it with a green tweedy yarn and make an earth-toned shawl for sitting with a cup of tea in the afternoons in winter. With the weather cooling down, perhaps my work on that will pick up!

A New Endeavor

I hinted at a new craft project I’ve taken up in my last post, but I didn’t give any details. Well, here’s the big reveal:

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Last week, I made my first batch of cold-process soap!

I’ve been interested in soap-making for years now, but never took the plunge. At first, I wanted to make an unscented olive oil soap for a family member who had very sensitive skin. But as the years went on, I’ve realized that some of the best fats for soap-making are the local, traditional animal fats I can get from farmers around me. Of course, this appealed to my vintage sensibilities and I’ve spent some time researching both vintage soap recipes and modern soap research.

That, coupled with my new attempts at all-natural hair and skin care, let me to more actively look up what I would need to start making bars of homemade soap using lard and tallow. Eventually, maybe I can make a bar of soap that serves all my showerly needs, hair and skin alike!

I started out with a basic recipe mostly based on lard, but with just enough coconut oil to provide nice lather and cleansing power. I had meant to try using tallow, but the store was out of it. I also made a bar with mostly olive oil and just enough coconut to provide lather to put away to cure for holiday gifts for those whose sensibilities might be offended by animal-based soaps.

Both recipes went smoothly, and I’ve just cut up the second batch yesterday. My first batch was a small, 1-lb. batch that I poured into silicone muffin cups to mold. They make very cute soaps. But I wanted something more traditional for gifts so I poured the soaps into a square silicone pan and cut it into rectangular bars.

I’m very excited about my new hobby, and hopefully will be able to test my new soaps on myself and Boyfriend in the next few weeks. And then, I have lots of other recipes planned, from a luxurious facial care bar, to a bar using sheep tallow! I’ll report back here with each and every batch, though.

My Vintage-Inspired Beauty Routine, Part 2: Body

The second part in my series on my beauty routine is my body care routine. My body routine is actually quite minimal, but I use natural products that smell and feel luxurious, so my shower every day is like a mini spa getaway.

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My body care routine is minimal because I try to make sure my lifestyle is conducive to beauty. I eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water. I find that eating enough fat is key to having soft skin and shiny hair. It’s a trick I learned in high school when I worked for a chocolatier.

I also keep active. This is an important beauty trick, as I find my skin is clearer when I’m active, in addition to my body looking and feeling better. Brisk walks (especially when it’s chilly!) leave me with a renewed sense of energy and a rosy glow. I try to take one nice walk each weekend, and get in bits of walking where I can during the week. I also perform my yoga and dance stretches several times a week to keep my limbs limber. It helps me carry my body more easily.

You see, a lot of beauty, especially vintage beauty, focuses on comportment as much as lotions and potions. Victorian women had their corsets to help them maintain erect posture, but I’ve cultivated it on my own. Over the summer, I was cast in a play where I played a character from 1905, and was able to get away without being corseted because my posture was sufficient to give the illusion of corseting.

But of course, most people read “beauty” and want to know about the lotions and potions. So I’ll go through my daily body beauty routine.

First, I drink a glass of water upon rising. This really should have gone in the skincare post because it’s made all the difference in the world with my complexion. I don’t add anything to it, just a glass of room-temperature water (I keep it by my bedside table all night so I don’t even have to go to the kitchen to get it). After that, I might get up and do some light stretches. Boyfriend takes the first shower most mornings, so I can plan my day, perhaps write a little, and choose my wardrobe. Then, I’m in the shower.

My shower is quite short. I will cover hair care in a later post. For my body, I wash with a cotton washcloth and some naturally-made soap with lots of lovely oils, and a light rose scent. Right now I’m using Good Soap from Whole Foods, but I’ve often used Mystic Water Soaps in the past. Most of my body care products are either rose or citrus scented. At the end, I turn the hot water down and rinse off with the coldest water I can stand. Then, I leap out and towel off.

I use my rose soap to shave my armpits when they need it, and I use either my soap or a bit of hair conditioner to shave my legs, about once a week. I shave my legs a bit more frequently when the weather and my schedule is conducive to showing a bit more leg, and less frequently in the dead of winter when my legs never see the light of day.

When I get out of the shower, I deodorize with a spritz of rosewater and a swipe from a crystal deodorant. I’m sometimes a little funky by the end of the day, but very few things will prevent that for me. So I stick with the natural stuff and try to change clothes or wash a bit if I feel myself getting stinky. Then, I apply lotion to my legs. I usually rub any excess into my elbows and hands. It was a trick to find a good body lotion because I have certain sensitivities, but this Acure lotion is my current favorite. Duly scrubbed and lotioned, I can head to the bedroom to dress!

In the bedroom, I finish off the one last step of my body care routine: fragrance. I had a bad skin reaction to some fragrance a few years back, so I’ve become very very careful about what I put on my skin. But I was fortunate to find Pacifica Beauty. All of their fragrances are derived naturally and have never caused a reaction, and their Persian Rose is a lovely pure rose scent, with just a hint of the warm undertone of myrrh to ground it. I dab it on at my pulse points. I also have a small vial of jasmine oil that I use for special evenings with Boyfriend. Every man I’ve ever met goes wild for the smell of jasmine.

Once in a while, maybe a couple times a month, I’ll give myself a real scrub-down with a pair of exfoliating gloves. I rinse with cold water, and apply rose-scented apricot kernel oil to my body. It leaves me smooth and glowing and just a little pink. This is particularly nice in conjunction with my weekly mask. I can apply my mask, and rinse it off under the warm showerhead. The steam helps soften the clay a bit before rinsing, so I don’t have to scrub my face too hard.

But for the most part, my body care ritual is simple and focuses first on best practices, and then on just a few good-quality ingredients. It’s just enough to keep me feeling feminine and clean without overdoing it.