How to safely use essential oils in home-made soap (infographic)

Essential oils can cause harm if used incorrectly because they are potent substances. Putting the essential oil on the skin neat (undiluted, or straight from the bottle) causes irritation and can leave your skin burnt. The oil is diluted in soap to a rate of about 3% (average) which makes it less likely to cause irritation although some sensitive souls are still allergic to some essential oils even at this low concentration.

Check out the infographic and follow these tips to use essential oils safely in home made soap:

1. Buy from a reputable seller

This is the most fundamental first step. It’s not always easy to spot a fake, especially because they’re being sold online where you can’t inspect the product.

A clear bottle is a dead giveaway as genuine oils degrade in sunlight so have to be stored in dark bottles (amber is most common).

The label or online listing should tell you the Latin name. There are many oils with the same common name. If you can’t see the Latin name anywhere in the product listing, there’s a chance the oil isn’t the one you expect it to be, which will ruin your blend at best, and at worst, could cause skin irritation because you might use the wrong quantity.

The listing should always tell you the country of origin. For example, “French lavender” might say “Product of Hungary” at the bottom of the page. This would make it apparent that it wasn’t genuine French lavender from France.

Of course, real malicious fakers and counterfeiters would not honestly write “Made in Kevin’s backyard out of olive oil and artificial lavender fragrance” so the most important thing to weigh up is whether you believe the website you’re shopping on is genuine, or in the case of Amazon, whether the seller is genuine or not. Product reviews can very easily be manipulated so don’t rely on them alone. Soapmaking groups online can help warn you against scams and recommend genuine, reputable suppliers.

2. Always follow the recommended quantities

The FDA and EU both have guidelines about the amount of any fragrance (including natural essential oils) you can use in cosmetics. Usually this is somewhere between 1-5% depending on the oil and its potential toxicity. It’s very easy to want to use more essential oil when your soap hasn’t turned out very strong smelling, but there are other ways to solve this problem. Check out my article 10 ways to get the fragrance to show up in your soap.

3. Do not overheat (above 50 degrees) and ideally keep under 40 degrees (102F).

Overheating oil causes it to release free radicals as the oil’s fatty acid chains break up. Free radicals are carcinogenic as they contribute to cell oxidation. Overheating an oil is the fastest way to change it from safe to dangerous.

When an oil gets too hot, it also loses its fragrance, which is another great reason to take care over the temperature.

4. Do not eat!

This should be self-explanatory but some people do try and eat (or drink) essential oils. Unless they have been certified for food use and sold as such, it’s best not to risk it, especially when it comes to children. Just because something came from a plant, that doesn’t make it safe. All the traditional poisons of Greek tragedies were plant-based.

Conclusion:

Essential oils can be safe in soaps if you take care and follow some simple guidelines. If you need to check any information e.g. chemical compounds present in your essential oil or the maximum concentration for use in various cosmetics and soap making, contact the seller for the product safety documentation (or download it from their website if they’ve made this easy. The Soap Kitchen makes this very easy, as an example of best practice).

Sources:

Turek, C and Stintzing, F (2013) Stability of Essential Oils: A Review https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1541-4337.12006

Bejar, E. (2019) Adulteration of Oregano Herb and Essential Oil https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Ezra_Bejar/publication/337113671_Adulteration_of_Oregano_Herb_and_Essential_Oil/links/5dc5cb74a6fdcc5750348535/Adulteration-of-Oregano-Herb-and-Essential-Oil.pdf

Check out my other articles about essential oils in soaps:

All about essential oils in melt and pour soap (and infographic)

How to get the essential oil scent to show up in soap

History of essential oils in soap

How to make soap: Everything you need to know to make soap even in a campervan.

Here’s a selection of my other articles about making home made cosmetics:

Vegan green tea shampoo bar recipe

Vegan hair conditioner bar recipe

One-ingredient avocado face mask recipe

Easy melt and pour breastmilk soap recipe

At-home DIY facial for new mamas!

10 ways to get essential oils to be more intense in your soap (melt and pour and cold process)

So you’re probably looking for how to get your essential oils to be more intense in your soap. You might be making cold process soap or melt and pour soap. Maybe you’ve made some homemade soap with pure essential oils and it didn’t come out with a strong scent, or perhaps you’re planning your first homemade soap making project and are hoping to execute a perfect first-time soapmaking recipe.

Here, I’m going to go through ten ways to get essential oils to be more intense in your soap. These methods for increasing the scent of your soaps are all based on principles of chemistry. Essential oils are volatile compounds which means they evaporate easily. That’s actually why we love them! They wouldn’t smell so good if they weren’t made exactly the way they are by nature.

Getting a stronger essential oil fragrance in soapmaking is one area where melt and pour soap really outshines cold process, and is one of the reasons I prefer melt and pour soap. Secretly, I think a lot of soapmakers prefer melt and pour, but it’s more profitable for them to write about cold process because it takes more skill to make it (so there’s more to write about).

Essential oils do really well in melt and pour soap. Cold process soap tends to eat the fragrance. But these are not hard and fast rules. It took me several attempts to get lavender essential oil to show up in my melt and pour soap.

If you look at my infographic on essential oils in soap, you’ll see the results I got when I tried a range of essential oils in melt and pour soap. Lavender oil was particularly problematic in melt and pour, and I’ve written a separate article on this.

1. Have you used the correct amount of your pure essential oil in your soap?

This is the easiest fix! All handmade essential oil soaps require different quantities of essential oils to get the perfect fragrance. Bramble Berry’s Soap Queen blog has a fragrance calculator that can help you out. You can find it here.

2. Add a clay as this can hold the fragrance in the soap.

Typically, this works to intensify the scent of essential oils in cold process soap, but I found it made a noticeable difference to increasing the scent of melt and pour soap too. French clay, kaolin and bentonite are all great choices, but some of them will colour your soap so be sure if you plan to sell your soap that the colour matches what you would expect for the scent (e.g. yellow-coloured lavender scented soap would probably be a bit confusing, but yellow-coloured lemon soap or grey lavender soap would make more sense). I prefer French clay and it produces interesting muted colour effects in transparent melt and pour soap base (you end up with a beautiful translucent glow).

3. Is your soap getting too hot?

For melt and pour, it’s easy to overheat the soap while you’re trying to get it to melt, particularly if you use a microwave (which is another good reason to make melt and pour soap without a microwave). For better results, don’t add the fragrance until the soap has cooled to about 37 or 38 degrees celsius. For cold process, pack your soap with ice packs to keep it cool. If you absolutely need your soap to go through gel phase (where it gets very hot), you might have to just accept that your soap won’t smell very strongly if you use essential oils.

4. Consider using a blend of essential oils instead of one individual oil in a soap recipe.

If you have a base note, a middle note and a top note, the fragrance is more likely to permeate the soap in a more nose-catching manner. An example would be lavender as the base note, chamomile as the middle note and lemon as the top note. There are other ways to blend essential oils (you can blend them by effect, e.g. for sleep you might use lavender, chamomile and valerian, or you can blend them by group, e.g. you might want an overall citrus scent incorporating lemon, ten-fold orange and citronella. Different scents have different volatility (evaporation point, which is when fragrance is unleashed from your soap), so a blend of oils will mean your soap has a nice scent regardless of the air temperature, pressure or humidity.

5. Consider using melt and pour instead of cold process, and avoid hot process entirely if you want your essential oils to smell more strongly in your homemade soap.

There is more going on during soapmaking than the soap getting hot. The process of oils turning into surfactants (cleansers) is called saponification, and this is a chemical reaction. The heat is just a byproduct.

6. Wrap your soaps in something as soon as they are able to be unmoulded.

The wrapping needs to be something that doesn’t let oxygen in. I’ve gone through twenty alternatives to plastic for wrapping soaps in this article.

7. Burn incense when you make soap.

Sounds crazy, right? But from a chemistry point of view it makes sense. Scent escapes because it goes from an area of high concentration to one of low concentration. If the air in your soapmaking place is already saturated with a smoky scent, such as an incense stick (not the scent of an oil diffuser) you can prevent scent loss in the same way smoked salmon’s flavour is sealed into the fish (only, you don’t want your soap to smell of smoke which is why you don’t want to go too far with this method). This is a balancing act because you must always follow ventilation safety when working with chemicals.

8. Let your soap harden (and cure) near a dehumidifier or a big bowl of rock salt.

An electric dehumidifier or a big bowl of rock salt will pull the moisture out of the air, which means the scent will have nothing to evaporate into, so it will remain in the soap for longer.

9. Add a sea salt such as Himalayan pink sea salt to your soap.

Himalayan pink sea salt looks beautiful in cosmetics, and especially when it’s embedded in bars of homemade soap. The pink crystals sparkle in bright lights giving your soap an ethereal quality.

Himalayan sea salt will work as a nice exfoliant as well as helping stop the scent escaping. Just don’t put big chunky pieces of salt into a facial soap or you will get redness.

10. Mix in some charcoal, or do a charcoal swirl.

The benefits of charcoal in soap include being fantastic for acne and great at purifying in warmer climates, as well as being a good additive to prevent your fragrance disappearing before you ever get to use your soap! However, charcoal is a black powder and it will change the colour of your soap. Doing a swirl with charcoal is another option, so part of the soap is more fragrant, which will improve the overall effect while still letting you use nice colours in the rest of the soap.

That’s my 10 ways to fix your soap if your essential oil fragrance is too faint or if your essential oil fragrance doesn’t last. Do you have any other ways? Share them in the comments!

Silver Hair Tutorial: How to get silver hair at home

Are you wondering how to dye your hair silver at home? This silver hair tutorial article brings together all my knowledge about achieving DIY silver hair at home! The salons are closed, so it’s officially open season on hair dying!

There are several different methods for achieving silver hair, these ones are the ones I’ve tried and tested, and I have made YouTube videos showing you how to dye your hair silver with normal products.

Method 1: Bleach and silver toner.

This is the tried-and-tested traditional method for getting silver hair. It’s great because it’s customizable depending on the state and texture of your hair, and your base colour.

First, you bleach your hair (I’ve split this into a separate tutorial because there’s a lot you need to know before you do it). You need to bleach it to a light blonde (no orange at all) before you can go any further.

This is why the two-step method scares off a lot of people. Without good preparation and planning, you can easily wreck your hair with bleach and color remover doesn’t work on bleach because you have to bleach your hair within an inch of its life.

After your hair is bleached, it’s time to use a toner. You can do it on the same day that you bleach your hair, or you can go old-school and let it rest for two weeks first (you used to need to do this but bleaches are a lot better these days due to the huge demand for silver hair and white hair).

Your toner options are varied, and it depends on what sort of silver you’re looking for. I like a space-silver, so my absolute favourite ones are Directions Silver Toner and Crazy Colour Platinum Toner. If you’re looking more for a natural look (which I flatteringly called a granny grey in one video) Scott Cornwell silver toner is the one to pick. Here are my tutorials for them:

Silver Hair Tutorial With Directions Silver Toner:

Crazy Colour Silver vs Platinum Review and Tutorial:

Scott Cornwall Colour Restore Silver Toner Tutorial And Review (this one won’t embed):

youtube.com/watch?v=pa4Id-s1AOA

Method 2: Use a Silver Box Dye

I did all those silver hair reviews between 2014 and 2016 on my YouTube channel, although I’ve been dying my hair shades of white blonde to silver since 2004. Those are still good ways to color your hair, but they are not the only ways anymore. In 2018, some new, very exciting products exploded onto the market: Silver box dyes that actually worked! Better still, they work even if your hair isn’t bleached to a pale white.

My favourites are the Schwarzkopf Live Urban Metallics Permanent Blonde Quartz and the L’Oreal Colorista Permanent Silver. The semi-permanent dyes from the same two ranges are crap but the permanent ones are amazing. The advantage of using one of these permanent silver box dyes is you don’t need to bleach your hair as light to get the result, meaning your hair will be in much better condition. I 10/10 recommend these permanent dyes if you have longer hair. I did mine in 2018 (I did it as an ombre technique with red “roots” at the top) after bleaching my dark brown hair and it came out an absolutely stunning dark silver:

Before (you can see in the pic it’s almost black at the ends, so the above pic is a great result):

I did use the silver box dye later in 2018 after bleaching my hair a very light blonde and the result was a much lighter silver shade on the ombre’d half of my hair, so your base color will still determine how light you can go with silver hair dye.

Bear in mind permanent silver hair dye contains peroxide which will lighten your hair while it colours it. This means if you need to use colour remover, you can’t go back to your natural colour (you can’t just remove the dye and get your original colour back after using any permanent dye… that’s why they’re called permanent dyes).

Do you need to bleach your hair before using silver box dye? Check out my silver hair dye infographic flowchart to find out:

silver hair dye infographic hairdressing infographic flowchart mamaadventure

If you need to bleach your hair first, my Hair Dye 101: Bleaching Your Hair article has some great tips.

Once you have dyed your hair silver, you will want to maintain it by using a silver shampoo. I’ve covered my favourites here.

More articles on this topic:

Color Remover FAQ

How to use color remover and how it works

Wrecked your hair with bleach? Fix it!

Hair Dye 101: Bleaching your hair

Silver Shampoos Reviewed

Breastmilk Face Mask Recipe

Just in case it wasn’t exciting enough that you can make breastmilk soap, you can also make a DIY purifying breast milk face mask which is so easy, you can even do it in a campervan! Here’s my recipe for a fabulous breastmilk face mask, which you can make at home or in your van!

You will need:

Bentonite clay powder

About 30ml expressed breast milk.

A bowl

A spoon

Method:

In the bowl, mix about 3 teaspoons of bentonite clay with about 30ml expressed breast milk. Everyone’s milk consistency is different, so you may need more milk or more clay powder. Once you have a fine paste, you can apply it straight to cleansed skin.

Relax!

Leave on for about 10 minutes then wash off in water. I know people say that with clay masks you should wait for the clay to dry before washing it off, but I find with my dry skin, this is too much, so I opt for taking any clay masks off before they’ve fully hardened. If you have oilier skin, you may prefer to leave the mask on for longer. I also tend to use cold water to wash off clay masks (perfect for vanlife haha) because it closes the pores.

Pat face dry then put on your essence and moisture. Your face may be a little pink after using this mask so this is beauty maintenance for an at-home day, not a pre-wedding mask (opt for a sheet mask before a big event, instead, as they deliver quick-fixes).

How NOT to get rid of turquoise, blue and green hair dye.

Oh, wow, did I ever mess up. If you’re here, I’m guessing you did, too. Let’s commiserate together and talk about how not to get rid of unwanted turquoise, blue and green hair dye.

Some of them may say “semi-permanent” on the box, but as I found out, and you probably have, too, there is no such thing as a semi-permanent blue, green or turquoise dye. That stuff never leaves your hair. And now there’s a lockdown and the hairdressers can’t fit you in, and even if they could, you’ve lost work hours and can’t afford to pay a stylist to do a colour correction. Life really throws lemons sometimes, doesn’t it?

I’m assuming here that the reason you need to get rid of this blue or green dye is because your employer or school has a dress code that specifically says you’ll be in some kind of trouble if you show up with green, blue or turquoise hair. The goal of this article is to get your hair looking like a natural colour again so you don’t get a disciplinary or suspended or something like that.

Unfortunately, from a chemistry point of view, these blue and green dyes actually are semi-permanent. But any hair dye with a blue base (so, blue, green and turquoise, also some purples) generally causes a lot of cuticle staining, especially if you put it on bleached hair, so getting rid of blue hair is nigh on impossible.

It’s worth noting that colour remover doesn’t work for semi-permanent dyes, if you want to know more about why this is, check out this article about how colour remover works).

To diagnose how bad your problem is, wash your hair two or three times in the space of a day, drying it between washes (condition loads in between and maybe add coconut oil so your hair doesn’t dry out from shampoo).

Ideally, use some anti-dandruff shampoo such as Head and Shoulders, because there’s something in the anti-dandruff part of it that makes hair dye fade.

If the green, blue or turquoise is fading, you might be able to get it to disappear enough that most people won’t notice it. If it’s not fading much, keep reading to find out what to do.

My experience with two blue-based hair dye disasters and what I learned

I have made the mistake of using semi-permanent blue and green twice in the past 18 months. Once was on purpose, the other was a tragic accident.

First, I used the L’Oreal Colorista Teal semi-permanent dye when I was in California. I put it on bleached hair. I thought it was a fun colour when I first used it. Then it faded to a Halloween witch colour. It said it would be gone in 6 washes and I believed it. When I discovered I was stuck with this green colour, I Googled straight away and found an article on a mom blog from someone who said her son had used the exact same dye and she’d found an amazing homemade remedy to fix his hair (tl;dr she hadn’t).

It said to mix baking powder with dish soap (washing up liquid), make a big paste, put it on my hair, cover it with a bag and leave it for about 15 minutes.

Almost immediately, where the mixture touched my neck, it irritated my skin. Stupidly, I left it the full 15 minutes on my hair. Bad plan. Such a bad plan.

…Yeah, so, long story short, that shit burnt my hair so bad it was permanently frazzled and STILL BLUE-GREEN! I had to cut the ends off. I was so glad I’d only done a teal ombre. Dawn is GREAT on dishes but it wasn’t designed for hair dye removal.

how to fix blue hair how to get rid of green hair dye
Don’t use this on your hair!

DO NOT USE BAKING POWDER WITH DISH SOAP ON YOUR HAIR! I guess I’m putting it in shouty capitals for all the people who aren’t on this page yet in the hope they hear me before it’s too late.

This is what my hair looked like after I dried it (you can see how frazzled and damaged it is, and it still has that green tinge. I was so upset I had been such a beautiful silver a few days earlier):

Anyway, 12 months later, I was in New York for a crucial work conference and I’d picked up some violet Crazy Color, so I put it on the ends of my hair.

Violet Crazy Color is a lie. When I started applying it, it turned out it’s bright blue. I stopped applying it and washed it off immediately but it had already stuck, as you’ll see in the next photo. Horrendous if you were expecting a delicate pale purple tint like the bottle implies. I’m starting to wonder if whoever names/labels the bottles at Renbow Crazy Color is a sadist who purposely mis-names the colours so people have hair disasters.

Seriously, I should have suspected after the Crazy Color Silver was a platinum blonde and Crazy Color Platinum was a beautiful silver shade. I forgot. I was beyond upset. But really it was partly my own fault because I should have strand tested and I was in such a hurry I didn’t.

Anyway, during that disaster, I knew better than to try the baking powder again, and I didn’t have time to fix it any other way so I put L’Oreal Colorista Lilac on the blonde bits which made a nice effect that at least looked intentional but didn’t hide the blue.

When the conference was over, I tried bleaching it out instead.

That didn’t work either. So I put a silver dye over it all. That sort of worked but it faded in a few weeks to a sort of very very pale pastel blue staining that was patchy, and every time I tried toning it out with the Crazy Colour Platinum (yeah, I keep going back to them… I have a problem haha), it made the blue (which by this point had washed out to a nasty seaweed green shade) more obvious. So I eventually coloured over it with a medium brown and left it alone.

Basically what had happened is called “cuticle staining”. This is more common with semi-permanent, bright colours, but can also happen with permanent hair dyes, especially red hair dyes. Cuticle staining is where the outside of the hair shaft has been permanently stained with a colour. At that point, normal bleach for hair will only lift the underlying shade, not the staining, and, even worse news, colour remover can’t get at it, either.

Okay, so from my story you now know you probably can’t take the blue dye, turquoise dye or green dye out of your hair because they have caused cuticle staining. Take a deep breath.

We can still fix this. Just maybe not the way you wanted to. You can still get your hair to a point where you can go to school or work again, but you will need to be flexible about what colour your hair ends up because it can’t be blonde now until the stained parts grow out again.

At that point, cuticle staining needs to be cut out of the hair before you can bleach, and in the meantime, you need to take care not to accidentally use another product that might cause cuticle staining further up the hair shaft. This is especially important if you intend to go blonde at any point in the next two years, if that’s you, avoid bright red hair dyes while trying to fix the unwanted green or blue colour.

When trying to get rid of blue dyes (ones with a blue base), you have three options, and three things that don’t work.

What doesn’t work to get rid of blue or green hair dye:

Bleach

Baking powder and washing up liquid

Color remover

What works to get your hair looking natural again:

Dying your hair red (avoid bright or deep shades of red if you want to be white blonde in the next year or two)

Dying your hair ginger

Dying your hair brown (avoid dark brown or black as it seems like a great idea, but it’s a nightmare to get back out of your hair and you’ll be left with the green again. Also some black dyes use a green base which will make your cuticle staining even worse if you ever bleach it)

My suggestion (actually this is similar to the answer to what you should do if you’ve wrecked your hair with bleach) is to choose a box dye in one of the three colours above, either red, brown or ginger, and put that over the blue, green or turquoise. If your hair is bleached, remember you need to add some red to your hair before you can get a brown permanent dye to take.

Your only other option, if you can get away with it is to completely own this shade of green/blue (or put a nice bright colour like purple or turquoise on top) and learn to live with it until it grows out. I hear washed-out mermaid is pretty big in some places.

Other hair colouring articles you might like: 

How to get better results from colour remover and how colour remover works

Wrecked your hair with bleach? Fix it!

Hair colour remover FAQ

Hair bleaching 101: How to bleach your hair

What do I use between the silver shampoos?

Silver toning routine

What colour will that box dye really go on your hair?

Silver and white hair Q and A

How to get a China visa if you’ve changed your name

China is famous for its bureaucracy. And when we were looking to move, this highlighted a huge feminist issue with western society. I found that most countries were happy to accept the name on my passport, but China was different. If you’re a woman having issues getting a China visa, maybe my story will help you.

Flash back to 2017. Rainy northeastern England. No skilled job opportunities for people with Polish last names (I had a lot of phone conversations with agencies that went like this: Thanks, but my husband with a PhD actually doesn’t want to work in a warehouse, he’d like to work in his in-demand field, also stop being so surprised I speak English, I was born in South London).

My husband had been offered a job in China, and I’d decided to go along with him. This wasn’t an easy decision because I was finishing my master’s degree and my own career as a writer was taking off exponentially at the time. This was something I didn’t know if I could do in China, because I wouldn’t have a tax identifier (required to earn money from any US company), which was a whole separate saga and which took me to San Francisco the following year to sort it all out.

We went across to the other side of the country to the Chinese Embassy’s visa office in Manchester, which was a day’s expensive travel from where we lived. We had taken all the documents we had been told we would need. Passports, our marriage certificates, and my husband’s qualifications. I was travelling on a spouse visa so wouldn’t need proof of qualification, but I know many women who had the same problem I did with their degree certificates rather than marriage certificate.

We went to the office and took a ticket to wait in the queue. We first were denied our visas because we hadn’t photocopied our visa application forms and they wanted two copies. Then we were sent away. We photocopied our application forms. We took a ticket and queued again.

I was denied my visa this time because our marriage certificate had my maiden name on it and my passport had my married name on it. My husband, because this was a joint application, either had to apply again separately and leave me behind, or we had to find some way of proving I had legally changed my name.

I tried to explain that the marriage certificate should be enough and I pointed to where my old name was and where my new name had come from but they weren’t having any of it.

I actually had done a deed poll when I changed to my married name, because I had double barrelled (put my name then my husband’s name, which is common in Spain and other Latin countries, but not in the UK, so I’d been prepared for all sorts of nonsense), but I didn’t have a copy of the deed poll because no one had ever asked for it before; all the banks, even the passport office, had always accepted my marriage certificate because double-barrelling is actually an acceptable (if unusual) thing to do in the UK after you get married. As long as you take your husband’s name somehow, they don’t care. If you want to really confuse people in the UK, phone the bank and tell them you’ve changed to “Mrs” or “Ms” but that your name is the same as before. Heaven forbid you get used to your identity as a woman.

We didn’t have the time or money to go back across the country to try and dig out this deed poll then return before the office closed, our home was too far away, so we thought we would have to abandon this attempt to get the Chinese visas. We talked about how bad would it be if we separated for the two years and I stayed behind, because I didn’t want to stop him going.

Then, inspiration hit. I found a local newsagent down the road which, despite this being 2017, still had internet access and printing/photocopying for customers to use, and I went online, found an online deed poll, filled in my name and the date we got married, and printed it.

We hurried back to the visa office while the ink was drying. We took a ticket. Waited another 45 minutes to speak to someone. Got to the front of the queue. FINALLY handed over the last document and waited to find out what they would deny the visa for this time.

They approved it.

Relieved, we stepped out into the sun with our Chinese entry visas now glued into our passports. And in that moment, we both looked at each other and with dead certainty said the same thing: This was only the beginning.

As it happened, this was the only time we had a problem like this and this was the hardest piece of bureaucracy the whole time we lived in China. Once we were actually in the country, the visa process worked efficiently.

I did hear of other women having problems where their degree certificates were in their maiden names and their passports were in their married names. Again, I would encourage deed polls to show what went before and what your name is now.

It’s completely rubbish that the situation is like this because only women get stripped of our names, and identities, in western society, for the sake of having a permanent relationship with someone, and we are paying the price here for the patriarchy.

China doesn’t understand this as well as other countries because in China, you don’t change your name when you marry. Your family name as a woman stays the same. You have permanence. You exist as an entity separate from your husband. Whereas in the UK people wonder what’s wrong with you if you don’t take your husband’s name at all. I didn’t especially want to because his name isn’t good and mine was amazing but I felt I had to.

So if you need a visa for China and have changed your name, or if you’re looking to move to China and you’ve changed your name due to marriage, especially if you’ve then divorced and have some documents in both names, I’d suggest making a paper trail to prove it. Get deed polls if you need to, like I did. They are accepted.

History of using essential oils in soapmaking

Essential oils have been used for thousands of years. We have evidence dating back to Ancient China, India and Egypt of the use of fragranced oils (they’re mentioned in the Book of the Dead).

Frankincense was mentioned in the New Testament of the Bible and lipid residue analysis from archaeological sites shows plant oils were being used throughout history in a range of places such as Ancient Rome and Greece. The Romans used olive oil to get clean by covering their bodies with it then scraping it off with a special scraper. This was commonly done at bath houses.

There is a story that soap was first discovered by Roman women washing their clothes in the River Tiber below where the animals were sacrificed and the animal fat had somehow reacted with the clay in the river.

On the surface, this makes no sense because clay is not a source of sodium hydroxide (lye) and common wisdom says you cannot saponify without it. However, in reality, you could technically saponify with any aqueous alkaline (e.g. one with some water in it), and some types of soil are alkaline (these are almost always clay soils). I would want to do some experiments before being able to say one way or the other about whether this could really work or whether it’s just a nice fairytale about where soap came from.

The practice of putting oils into soap came later. In fact, while solid bars of soap seem old-fashioned to some people, they were only invented in Victorian times. Before this, people had a special jar of liquid gloop that was used for cleaning themselves, and they didn’t use it very often. So if you’re ever reading a Regency romance, when the author has a bath scene and the characters are using a bar of soap, you’ll know they haven’t done their research!

The Victorians were the originators of many of the unpleasant and outright dangerous chemicals that permeate our modern lives, and Victorian soap was no exception. The most popular type of soap was Carbolic Soap, aka Coal Tar Soap, which is about as unpleasant as it sounds.

It was made using the disinfectant carbolic acid, which is a carcinogenic and poisonous substance made from tar. It also has a distinctive ‘disinfectant’ scent that anyone who went to school in the 20th century would instantly recognize. Soap doesn’t need to contain any disinfectant to kill bacteria, however (we didn’t understand this back then — germ theory hadn’t been confirmed until Louis Pasteur’s work in 1863 and we didn’t have microscopes yet so couldn’t see them, either), something I will write more on in a separate article.

Soapmaking in Victorian Britain was an industry of mass-production using the cheap and disgusting byproducts of other industries (the standard ingredients were beef tallow, which is the fat that’s been removed from dead cows, carbolic acid, a byproduct of the tar industry, itself a byproduct of the coal mining industry, and sodium hydroxide, still used in soap today).

We tend to see the sodium hydroxide lye as the most dangerous and unpleasant aspect of soapmaking nowadays, but it’s the least awful of the three traditional soapmaking ingredients (fancy killing a cow and stringing it up to drain the fat, anyone? No?).

As a sidenote, tallow was also used for candle making. There’s a pub in York called the Guy Fawkes which I went in a few years ago and I couldn’t breathe while I was in there because it was lit by hundreds of candles. It was really beautiful and atmospheric but the smell of evaporated beef tallow was really sickening because I was vegan at the time.

It’s not clear when the first essential oils were used in soap, although it was only in the twentieth century that essential oil soaps became mass-produced as the New Age revolution of the sixties rejected the artificial byproducts of capitalism that were making people sick and destroying the landscape, and they started to question the way things were. Thanks, hippies!  I love that there’s another connection between vanlife and soapmaking in the history of the use of essential oils in soap.

At-home half-hour DIY facial for new mamas

The salons are closed in my country. We don’t know when life will get back to normal. That doesn’t mean compromising on beauty treatments, especially when you’re a new mama and need pampering after pregnancy and birth. Here’s my go-to facial. The steps are based on when I lived in China, where the K-beauty routine is basically standard. This facial takes about half an hour and includes plenty of time while treatments are taking effect to go sort out the baby. 😉

First, set the scene. Light some scented candles or get your oil diffuser going. Put on some relaxing music (I love Enya or Clannad, which is probably my Irish half). Get into your comfiest clothes or dressing gown. And let’s dive into the half-hour facial for new mamas.

Part 1: Cleansing

If you’re wearing make-up, sunscreen, fake tan or anything else you’ve already put on your face today, start with an oil-based cleanser. I discovered these when I was in Japan and they’re soooo good! This one is my current favourite.

Next it’s time for exfoliation. The key to keeping skin looking firm, hydrated and toned all starts with a good exfoliation. This can be a physical exfoliator, such as the St Ives apricot scrub, which I’ve reviewed here (although I don’t know if they’ve changed the recipe due to the microplastics ban… I really need to try this again), or a chemical exfoliator, such as the Nip + Fab glycolic fix exfoliating pads. If your skin needs some serious TLC, I really recommend the Nip+Fab glycolic fix exfoliating scrub, which combines the chemical exfoliator glycolic acid and physical exfoliation for a very thorough skin exfoliation.

Part 2: Face mask

The benefits of a good vitamin face mask cannot be overstated. My favourite is the Dermalogica multi-vitamin power recovery mask, which contains nourishing vitamins and the clinically-proven anti-ageing ingredient retinol (so avoid during pregnancy as it will burn your skin, but it’s fine afterwards). It’s a great dupe for Kim Kardashian’s favourite Chantecaille Bio Lifting Mask, and I haven’t yet found anything else that’s even a fraction as good as these two, so for me, the Dermalogica one is worth the splurge because retinol doesn’t just make you look younger, it actually reverses the effects of ageing.

Keep this on for at least 15 minutes and don’t get any on your baby (retinol, duh) e.g. by kissing them or snuggling them. If you can’t last 15 minutes without a cute baby snuggle, you would be much safer using my homemade breastmilk face mask recipe, which is especially good for acne-prone skin. If you’re not breastfeeding, my avocado face mask recipe literally just requires some mashed avocado. You can actually leave any of these on overnight (my last tube of the Dermalogica mask had this idea as a tip from a skincare expert inside the box and it really works). I have a Japanese silicon face cover for using with wet masks.

Part 3: Cleansing (again)

You need to wash off the face mask. If you’ve made my breastmilk soap recipe, this is the perfect time to use it, as it’s super nourishing and a gentle but effective cleanser. Otherwise, another homemade soap or plain water will work fine.

Part 4: Essence and serum

Grab your favourite K-beauty essence (mine is Innisfree soybean essence in light) and cover your face in it. I have mine in a spray bottle so I can use it as a facial mist.

Once this has dried, I add a thicker serum. I love the It’s Skin Q10 effector serum. I use the dropper to get some on my fingers then I pat it into my face, avoiding my eyelids.

Part 5: Moisture

The last thing is a replenishing moisturising cream. I have a bad track record for my favourite creams getting discontinued. It happened with my favourite Sanctuary Spa Covent Garden one, then the Manuka Doctor one, lastly the Innisfree Soybean one which I never even got around to reviewing, so I’m constantly wandering the beauty aisle like a nomad trying to find the next great cream. I still think there’s a lot to like about the Olay Regenerist 3-Point Cream, which contains matrixyl which is fab for under-eye dark blue circles, although for overall skin care, I prefer the Elemis Pro-Collagen Marine Cream, which I reviewed here in 2016 and, in 2020, my skin’s now four years older (33… wow that went fast!) and I think this cream is better for thirtysomethings than people in their twenties as you get the long-term effects as well as the short-term plumping and moisturising effect.

Finished?

If you haven’t put a lash conditioner on your eyelashes, now is the perfect time.

Don’t forget to pop some hydrating lip balm on your lips to keep them soft! I love using a bit of coconut oil as a quick DIY lip balm.

That’s it for my new mama facial. Did you try this? Let me know in the comments if you want more articles on at-home pampering!

Infographic about expats in China: Where they’re from will surprise you.

This infographic shows the number of expats in China, where they are from, what job they do and where they live in China.

This infographic shows the number of expats in China. Even after living in China for two years, I was amazed to find out the majority of expats in China are from South Korea (closely followed by the USA; less surprising).

Why did that surprise me? The two cultures of Chinese and Korean are kept very separate. Almost no Chinese people speak South Korean, and if you mention K-pop, K-beauty or Korean TV shows to young people in China, they scoff and tell you that China is better at all those things (and maybe there’s some chicken-and-egg going on here because the two styles are very, very similar). By contrast, if you don’t look Chinese, most people in China assume you speak English, even if you don’t. I was also surprised about the low percentage of South Americans and South Africans, since I know quite a few of both who live in China.

I was also surprised to find out that most expats in China live along the coastal region (loosely coastal, you still have to travel a couple of hundred miles from the main cities in most of these provinces, but the provinces themselves are the coastal ones). I was surprised that Shaanxi (where Xi’an is) and Sichuan (Chengdu) provinces were not teeming with expats, because these are great places to live and work, and I do know quite a few people who work in these areas.

While I made this infographic, it was less surprising to discover a third of expats living in China work in education, research and translation. China needs highly skilled, degree-educated workers to keep their economy forever growing and moving forward.

Click the infographic to enlarge. Keep scrolling for the graph of countries of origin for expatriates in China.

If you’re thinking of a move to China, follow my blog (right hand menu) to stay updated as I tell you everything I’ve learned about this mysterious and fascinating country in my two years of living there.

And here’s the graph with more of a breakdown of where those expats are all from although this one uses the 2010 data from the Chinese census so new data should be available for 2020 very soon:

pie chart showing country of origin for Chinese expats number of South Koreans in China number of Americans in China number of Indians in China Mama Adventure guide to China infographic

10 things to do in Xi’an, China (and 7 more I wish I’d done)

Xi’an in Shaanxi Province is one of China’s most interesting cities, and a mixing bowl of old-fashioned and modern city life. I’ve been there twice, now, and these are my top 10 things to do in Xi’an! These can be divided into “touristy” things and “local” things, to give you a flavor of some of the more authentic things you can do here.

Some of these are things you can do in other cities in China, too, but if you’re in Xi’an there are excellent versions of some things they have in other parts of China, as well as the big tourist staples such as the walls and drum and bell towers which is probably what you came to the city to see, along with the Terracotta Army.

1. The drum and bell towers

These are a really spectacular sight right in the centre of Xi’an, so really easy to get to. You probably heard all about them already but if not, here’s what you need to know:
Almost 40m high, the bell tower was built in 1384 in the Ming Dynasty and is one of Xi’an’s most recognizable landmarks. It was originally in a different location, but in 1582, the Shaanxi local government ordered it to be taken apart, piece by piece, and rebuilt exactly as it was but in the place where you can find it today. The bell tower contains several Tang dynasty bells as well as the Jingyun bell.

2. The underground walkways

Beneath the bell tower is the biggest underpass I ever saw. It goes between the metro system, the towers, the shopping malls and the roads. During the Boat Festival, it was so busy, they had police officers doing crowd control! It was literally like being carried along in a tide of people.
You can get to them by taking the Xi’an Metro to the bell tower then following the subterranean passageways to your heart’s content.

3. The Terracotta Army Museum

This is not technically in Xi’an, it’s about a 60 minute taxi ride. It made me feel all cultured and historical. The place is absolutely crammed with Chinese tourists who will elbow, shove and barge through you. It’s glorious! Respect the one way system inside the big buildings full of warriors, and don’t get mad at middle-aged Chinese grandmas when they elbow you in the ribs; they do it to everyone.
You can get here by taking a taxi (use the Didi app if you’re living in China or the Uber app if you’re a tourist, or get your hotel to book you a taxi). There is no train here. When you leave, there are a ton of Chinese taxi drivers waiting to give you a ride home, just have your hotel’s address card handy in Mandarin so they know where to drive you.

4. Walk the historic city walls.

I did this walk on my first trip to China and it was excellent and made me feel all historical and cultured.
This is a fun thing to do if you are not pregnant. You will get fantastic views of the city. Give it a miss if you are 6 or more months pregnant because there are serious steps to get onto the walls and breathlessness, loose joints and swollen ankles in 35 degree July heat is not funny.
There is at least one shop selling drinks up there and you can hire bikes to cycle around if walking isn’t your thing. Just be aware there are a LOT of reckless American tourists going around on their bikes shouting and having no consideration for other people. Don’t be that guy.

xi'an walls mama adventure

5. Go past a hospital.

You will see a fascinating slice of local life as you walk past any of the traditional Chinese medicine hospitals. On the footpaths between the hospital and the city walls, elderly people walk around following rituals. I saw some people walking backwards, while others were thumping themselves or clapping. I’m not entirely sure what they were doing but it was an experience. I didn’t take any photos as it seemed inappropriate. This is a pregnancy-friendly activity.

6. See the light show and artistic features at Starry Street mall.

The malls in China are stunning, and Xi’an has some really beautiful ones.
This one has two parts, a long thin section (which is the official Starry Street mall) and across the way, a ginormous mall, much of which is underground. It has this water mist that gets dropped down from the top of the covered walkway and they project patterns onto it with lights. It’s amazing. And there’s a reading corner, some modern art sculptures, and some really good eateries. Well worth a trip if you’re nearby. There’s also a Godiva if you’re peckish for expensive chocolates and there’s a Bread Talk if you want to enjoy authentic Chinese baked goods from a clean, reputable chain store; I recommend the Hello Kitty cake for utter creamy decadence or the donuts for a taste of really good sugary fluffy deliciousness. Pregnancy-friendly especially for those eating for two!

7. Visit the little amusement park for kids

If you have kids, there’s also a mini amusement park outside that mall, in a pedestrianized area. I’m not sure if that was permanent or whether it was only there when we visited the first time, as there’s so much to see and do in Xi’an, we went to a different part of the city for our second visit.

children's play area xi'an china mama adventure

8. Go to one of the many parks.

I especially liked Xi’an Huancheng Park which is a long thin one running north to south alongside the western walls, the Children’s Park, which is near the Xi’an Children’s hospital complex. The Revolution Park, near West 5th Road, one of the main roads in the city centre. The Daming Palace National Heritage Park is also ginormous and well worth a visit.

9. See the terrarium shop at Ocean Towers mall on FengCheng Second Road.

This is really hard to find because it’s not marked properly on Google but in real life it’s the shopping mall next to the Marriott Xi’an North (which is not where it claims to be on Google maps, but is exactly where it claims on Apple maps, another reason to use Apple maps in Xi’an). Oh, my, goodness, if you can find it, you absolutely have to see the terrarium shop, it sells terraria like nothing you have ever seen before. Basically, some artistic masters have created miniature ecosystems complete with rockeries, waterfalls, bonsai trees, plant life and ponds with tiny living fish in them. If I hadn’t been moving away from China four weeks after my last trip to Xi’an, I would have bought one and had it shipped to our apartment in Changzhou for sure! The children’s bookshop on the top floor of this mall is fabulous, too. Pregnancy-friendly activity.

giant fish terrarium xi'an china mama adventure

10. Grab some street food on Muslim Street… maybe.

This is last on my list for very good reason as I have a controversial opinion on it compared to other westerners. Lately, this has become so touristy, and the food hygiene is not good.

Everyone I know who ate there in the past year was stuck on the loo for days, and you cannot readily get Imodium (loperamide) in Xi’An (although they will sell you creosote tablets at most of the traditional Chinese pharmacies… they were sort of effective, but not as good as Imodium).

Avoid eating anything here if you are pregnant or otherwise delicate of digestion. Severe diarrhea can cause miscarriage.

But do go there to soak up the atmosphere and buy cheap non-food souvenirs in the side streets; even if you’re eighty, this area will make you feel like a twenty-year-old backpacker when you walk down the street.

For excellent and authentic modern Chinese dining, choose one of the fantastic restaurants in a shopping mall instead (I 10/10 recommend the eateries in Starry Street mall), which is how all the locals eat. Don’t make the mistake of thinking because the customers at the stalls in Muslim Street are all Chinese, that they are locals. China is a huge, beautiful country with a lot to see, the Chinese year offers a lot of time off for holidays and hardworking Chinese residents love nothing better than a good staycation.

And a few things I wish I’d had time to see:

  1. The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda
  2. Little Goose Pagoda and Gardens
  3. Tang West Market Museum in Datang Xishi (on Xishi Bei Luo, which on Google maps is half-translated to Xishi North Street).
  4. Shaanxi TV tower, because it looks a lot like the Shanghai pearl tower.
  5. Shaanxi History museum beside the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda.
  6. Tang Paradise Gardens around the corner from the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda.
  7. Qu Jiang Chi Yi Zhi Gong Yuan (aka Quijiang Chi Relic Park), just below Tang Paradise Gardens (see a potential entire travel day you could spend in this area? I got quite bad asthma during my last 3 months in China as I was heavily pregnant and the pollution disagreed with me so I was not up to walking very far and had to miss out on this amazing part of Xi’an on our second visit).

We spent a total of 10 days in Xi’an across two visits, and it wasn’t enough time to even scratch the surface of what this fab city has to offer, and yet we saw very few westerners beyond the main sites, whisked between the big tourist attractions by buses! This is one city that’s crying out for off-the-beaten-track independent exploration adventure travel and like all of China, it’s a very safe city, although some people are very surprised to see westerners walking around because most just go on coach tours and never see the real China! Go there and walk around, taking in the surroundings and seeing what modern Chinese city life is really like.

Have you been to Xi’an? Did you see any of the things on my wish list? Let me know in the comments!