Vegan Breastmilk Lotion Bar

This recipe doesn’t use any animal products (unless you count the breastmilk) and is based on (but not exactly the same as) my easy vegan hair conditioner/lotion bar recipe.

If you are breastfeeding and want to try making cosmetics, this is a fun one to try. It’s super thick when it goes on your skin so perfect for hard skin on your feet, chafing or sore areas, and knees and elbows. Otherwise, due to the low melting point you can use it like a Lush massage bar (I use it on my C-section scar and rub the oil in using gentle circular movements; I’ve been doing this since 7 months post CS). If you use this on oily areas, it can cause spots as it’s very rich.

I haven’t tried this out on babies so I don’t know how it would go. My baby has super-sensitive skin and I find he is fine with the melt and pour breastmilk soap and otherwise I apply breastmilk directly from my boob to his skin if he gets a rash. However, everyone’s baby is different and yours may be more sensitive than mine (or have different allergies).

Once the breastmilk has gone in, this is 100% a lotion bar not a conditioner (breastmilk is super-cleansing for hair but not very conditioning, despite the fact it’s great for skin).

This recipe doesn’t use a huge amount of breastmilk, but it’s little and powerful when combined with the rest of the ingredients. This bar is scented. If you prefer unscented (e.g. if you have very sensitive skin), leave out the lavender oil and it will smell like a combination of the other ingredients (when I make this unscented, mine has a strong shea/cocoa butter smell).

This recipe makes 1 bar of lotion in a standard rectangular mold.

You will need:

  • A glass jug
  • A spoon for mixing
  • A soap mould
  • 40g shea butter
  • 30g olive wax
  • 20g cocoa butter
  • 20g coconut oil
  • 10ml breastmilk
  • 10ml avocado oil
  • 15 drops lavender oil

Method (no microwave… scroll for microwave method)

  1. In a saucepan, boil some water and place your glass jug in it.
  2. Add the cocoa butter and olive wax as these take the most heat to melt.
  3. When they have melted, add the rest of the ingredients except the lavender oil and breastmilk.
  4. Once the whole lot has melted, remove jug from saucepan, add breastmilk, lavender oil and mix well.
  5. Pour the mixture into your soap mould and leave it to harden. This takes about 2-3 hours.
  6. Pop it out of the mould. Wrap to keep moisture out immediately and it’s ready to use!

Microwave method:

  1. Put the cocoa butter and olive wax in the microwave and heat in 30-second bursts until they have melted.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients except the breastmilk and lavender oil. Heat in 20-second bursts until everything has melted.
  3. Add the breastmilk and lavender, pour into a mould and leave to harden for 2-3 hours.
  4. Pop out of mold. Wrap. Enjoy.

This bar may crack after hardening. This usually happens when it cooled too fast. It’s still usable if this happens. Don’t melt it again after adding breastmilk or essential oils as it will denature the breastmilk/essential oil and speed up expiry.

This bar has unpasteurized breast milk in, so will last about 2-3 weeks before it might go off. You can prevent this by adding preservatives, but I haven’t tried those or researched them (except to know they exist and are mandatory in all liquid cosmetics sold in the EU) so I can’t recommend any.

Soapmaking: What is a water discount?

A water discount is a reduction in the amount of water needed to dissolve sodium hydroxide lye. When you use a water discount, the soap will harden faster because there is less water in its batter (the mixture that eventually becomes soap). You only use a water discount for cold process or hot process soaps that use lye. You don’t need a water discount for melt and pour soap because the oils are already saponified and the lye has been used up before you ever get the melt and pour container!

Advantages of a water discount:

  • Your soap will cure faster
  • Your soap will be harder (ideal for Castile soap)
  • The soap can be taken out of the mold more easily
  • The mold will be easier to clean (less residue = less cleaning of the little corners of your molds is required – a constant problem I’ve had with homemade cosmetics, especially my all-natural conditioner bar).
  • A water discount helps balance the recipe if you’re adding other ingredients that contain water such as if you are using milk (including breastmilk) or if you’ve mixed mica powder with water rather than alcohol before adding it to your soap.
  • If you want to force a strong gel phase for a specific soap design, a water discount is a great addition to the other things you can do such as using heat pads around your soap while it’s curing.

Disadvantages of a water discount:

  • Your soap batter will thicken (solidify) faster, making it harder to work with. If you’re doing a color effect such as a swirl, you will want your batter to reach trace (ideal thickness) then to solidify slowly, to give you time to make your desired effect.
  • It can also effect your colors by messing with the heat of the soap. The reaction between lye and oils (saponification) is an exothermic reaction — it gives out heat. And if it heats up too much, it will affect what the soap looks like. If you want to avoid gel phase (e.g. when making cold process breastmilk soap, you do NOT want it to get too hot or the milk will spoil before the soap is done), don’t water discount more than you need to for the extra liquid in the milk.

To calculate a water discount, you use a percentage:

The usual amount of water to lye is 70% water to 30% lye. That means you use 70ml of water for every 30g of lye.

Discounting the water by 10%, you would have 63ml of water to 30g of lye.

Discounting the water by 20%, you would have 56ml of water to 30g of lye (this is a heavy water discount).

You also need to factor in whether your recipe requires a superfat (leftover oil for more nourishing soap bars). In this case, you usually wouldn’t discount your water.

Stuck? The very best resource on calculating the amount of oils, water and lye for your recipe is the Brambleberry Lye Calculator (it also calculates fragrance, but beware in the EU some of the fragrance results are higher than permitted under EU law if you’re selling your soaps). This tool is phenomenal!

Easy AHA exfoliating melt and pour soap recipe (variations for all skin types)!

This recipe is super-easy and so good for skin, especially in wintertime when dryness can be an issue. It seems like the combination of leggings, hot air indoors and going out on cold wintry days can cause skin to become flaky.

Add to that, on a cold day, no one wants to spend time moisturizing when they get out of the shower. I know at this time of year I’m so busy and cold, my skincare routine always goes right out of the window!

If you need to know how to get started with soapmaking, go here. Otherwise, read on and find out how to make an AHA exfoliating melt and pour soap. This recipe makes 1 bar of soap that should fit into a rectangular silicone soap mould, so scale it up to suit your needs.

Ingredients:

10 ml Cherry kernel oil

90g Melt and pour soap base

1 ml Cherry blossom fragrance

A pinch of sliced up loofah

Method (makes 1 soap weighing 100g):

  1. Cut about 90g (3 oz) of soap base from the block of melt and pour base. Chop the base finely and place into a glass jug.
  2. Heat the soap base in the microwave or place the jug in a pan of boiling water until all the base has melted.
  3. Add 10ml cherry kernel oil and about 0.5ml of fragrance.
  4. Mix in the sliced up loofah for extra exfoliating power. Once it’s all stirred up, pour into a soap mould and wait for it to harden.

How it works:

The cherry kernel oil is a natural AHA exfoliator, that helps get rid of dead skin cells on the surface of your face and body, increasing cell turnover and ditching dry skin.

Most AHA ingredients found in shop-bought products are chemically derived, whereas the cherry kernel oil retains its moisturizing properties, making it perfect for exfoliating dry winter skin!

The loofah helps speed up the exfoliating process by physically removing any dead skin (the stuff that can sometimes flake when you’re drying off after a shower).

An advantage of melt and pour soap is there’s no lye to handle, so this recipe is safe to make around pets or children. Having said that, be sure not to let them eat the finished product or any of the ingredients!

You can probably turn this into a cold process soap recipe, if you’re the sort of person who likes to customize every last ingredient in a soap recipe, but if, like me, you’re more excited about the finished product than the process taken to get there, melt and pour is a great choice!

Any melt and pour soap base will work fine with this recipe. I prefer the goat’s milk one but obviously, if you’re vegan, you would want to avoid that. The standard SLS/SLES free Stephenson’s melt and pour soap base is always a good choice, but there are so many choices for melt and pour soap bases, you’re bound to find one which becomes your favorite!

Variations:

Combination skin (oily and dry)? If you want this recipe to work better on oily skin, switch the fragrance oil for tea tree oil instead. The tea tree oil will help with hard-to-clean blocked pores and encourage spots to clear.

Super-dry, sensitive skin? Add 10ml avocado oil to this recipe, use no fragrance at all, halve the amount of loofah and be sure to use your usual cream(s) after the shower. Avocado oil is super-hydrating without being greasy or weighing your skin down (there’s nothing worse than feeling shiny after a shower, is there?) and many people with extremely dry skin find fragrance oils can dry them out even more, so making it unscented will help, too. By reducing the amount of loofah, you still get rid of dead skin cells but without causing irritation.

Oily skin? Add 1/4 tsp of French Red Clay (ultraventilated) and switch the fragrance oil for tea tree oil. The French red clay will help control oil production from your pores, and draw impurities out of them, while the tea tree oil will help with problem spot areas.

Did you try this recipe? Let me know in the comments!

How to get a swirl effect in melt and pour soap

A lot of soapmakers tell you that you can’t get nice colour effects in melt and pour soap. They are wrong. Today I am going to share some of the colour effects I’ve achieved using swirls and layering techniques in melt and pour soap, and explain how you can do them too. Once you’ve tried it out, you’ll have beautiful soaps crafted artistically, just like in cold process soaps!

What is a swirl?

A swirl is where you have more than one colour in a soap, and usually you would spin it e.g. on a Lazy Susan. What is a Lazy Susan, I hear you ask. A Lazy Susan is one of those plate things that people used to use for Thanksgiving in the 1970s because you can spin it around instead of passing the carrots across the table… which is pretty lazy, hence the name.

A Lazy Susan a bit ugly on the dining table and in this day and age of Instagram and Martha Stewart, people tend to have a nice centrepiece in the middle of the table and just pass the carrots to each other. So people dumped their Lazy Susans in the garage and now you can use it to make soap instead! At least, you can if you are making cold process soap.

It doesn’t work so well in melt and pour. I suspect part of the reason why some cold process soapers look down on melt and pour is because they try to do things the exact same way you would do them in cold process, then they decide it’s the soap that’s the problem when it goes wrong.

There is absolutely a way to get a swirl effect in melt and pour, it’s just you don’t swirl it the same way as you would swirl a cold process soap!

How do you swirl in melt and pour?

To get a swirl effect, I use mica powder colours. I love these because they are available in vivid shades. They have a nice shimmer when you use them in high concentrations. Best of all, they show up really well in melt and pour soap. Colourants have to work extra hard in white melt and pour because, as you’ll know if you have ever done cold process, soap isn’t naturally white. The white colour comes from the addition of titanium dioxide, which can nix your other colour choices, especially if you want natural colours. Clays etc struggle in white melt and pour soap. Mica is a natural mineral so it’s a great all-rounder.

Melt your soap and split it into two separate jugs.

In a separate jug, mix your mica with a little rubbing alcohol (if you have no alcohol, you can put the mica directly into one of the jugs of melted soap as this will dissolve in melt and pour, but for colour effects, you get more control over the outcome if you mix the colour up separately because then you can add a little at a time to one of your jugs of soap). You will want about 2 teaspoons of alcohol to half a teaspoon of mica. You can use more alcohol than this, but it will start to overpower the scent of the soap very quickly.

Add a little of the dissolved colour to one of your jugs of soap and stir it in. Add more gradually until you get the colour you want. For a melt and pour swirl, I find it works best if the two colours of soap you use for the swirl are high-contrast, so, quite far apart e.g. black and white, bright pink and white, etc.

Pastels and white don’t tend to show up very well in a melt and pour swirl, but you could do one jug with some pastel and the other jug with a very intense colour, or a contrasting colour. I did quite a nice pink/dark pink strawberry melt and pour soap with pastel pink and vivid Barbie pink.

Once your colours are mixed up, let the soap cool to about 38 degrees celsius (about 100 fahrenheit). You can test this with an infrared thermometer if you have one, or you can tell if the soap has cooled enough because it starts to thicken very slightly. An infrared thermometer doesn’t need to touch the soap, making it ideal for soaping which can be hard to clean out of a regular thermometer. You may have to stir every few seconds to stop a skin forming on the top of the soap (don’t wait until the skin has formed, if that gets into your swirl it won’t look great). You will probably also need to pour your soap quickly, unless you live somewhere hot with the air conditioning turned off, like Malaysia, or a campervan in the Scottish summertime.

Once the soap is at the right temperature, pick up both jugs at the same time. Pour them into the mould from opposite corners. Where they meet, you should get a nice effect, you can emphasize this by moving both jugs in a clockwise direction (or anti-clockwise. As long as they both go the same way). You may have to practice this a bit to not just mix the two colours when you pour into the mould.

You might be wondering if you can make swirls with clay in melt and pour. You can, but the colours from clays don’t come out very strong so the contrast won’t be there. Indigo powder or charcoal powder could work very well, however, if you contrasted the dark colour with a lighter one like yellow French clay. The benefit of adding charcoal or clay to the soap is that your scent will work better, too, so it’s worth experimenting with using these natural colourants in your soaps!

What is a layer?

In cold process soap, this is where you pour one layer of soap (that’s been blended to medium trace) in one color, then pour another in another colour, often using zig-zag-type movements to get the colour to move around. To get a swirl in cold process, you pour your soap in lots of layers before putting your soap mould on a lazy Susan and spinning it. However, this requires you to work with thicker soap than you can easily get in melt and pour (because melt and pour is chemically different to the trace stage of cold process, it behaves differently and the viscosity is nowhere near the same). In cold process, the layers stay together because after you’ve poured them, the soap gets hot (saponification is an exothermic reaction which means it gives out heat) while it sets. In melt and pour soap, once you’ve poured it, all that happens is it cools down. So because the chemical reaction has already taken place before you ever get your block of melt and pour soap, the soap itself isn’t able to “cook” itself into a solid bar of soap. So in melt and pour, if you try and layer the same way you would in cold process, it won’t work. Your soap will just fall apart.

How do you layer in melt and pour?

This is a surprisingly controversial topic because people who don’t make melt and pour tend to believe you can’t layer it. But you can! And it’s surprisingly simple.

There are actually two ways to layer melt and pour soap. The traditional method and the one I’ve discovered. One is a lot better than the other. 😉 #sassysoapmaking

The first, less good method is to pour a layer, let it set, spray alcohol on it right before pouring the next layer. This makes your soap smell of alcohol because melt and pour doesn’t evaporate any alcohol in the mixture because it doesn’t go through gel phase. Yucky drunk soap.

The Double Melt Method

This second method, which I call the Double Melt method (patent pending… jk haha), produces a nicer result but you need to watch the soap closely to get it right. You will need a microwave for this.

Layer your soap by pouring, letting it form a decent skin (it should flex like a trampoline when you gently press down on it) and pouring the next layer, over and over until you have a full mould of soap.

Next, turn your microwave down to its defrost setting. Put the soap mould inside and turn it on for about 20 seconds for individual bars of soap or about 40-60 seconds for a big loaf mould (assuming your microwave is a standard 750 watt one). This should provide just enough heat to get the layers to melt together. You might get a little colour bleed between layers with this method.

Let the soap cool down and harden for about 1 hour before unmoulding it, that way if you’ve heated it too much, it will set fully.

I’ve gone into more detail on layering with the Double Melt Method in this separate article, including what to do if it all goes wrong (and my soapy disaster when I messed this up).

Leonarda Cianciulli: The dark side of soapmaking

When I think of soapmaking, I imagine someone working in their kitchen making cold process soap with colourful swirls. I don’t think of death, crime and cannibals. Yet that’s all swirling in the murky past of this beautiful-and dangerous-hobby.

The Soap-Maker of Correggio: Leonarda Cianciulli

Forget Sweeney Todd. This real-life soapmaker from Italy killed three women and turned them into soap. And teacakes.

Leonarda Cianciulli was a respected middle-aged woman, a mother of four sons, but who had lost ten children in infancy and had three miscarriages.

Taking her time to groom her victims, she picked women who lived alone and she claimed to have solutions to their biggest problems.

Her first victim, Faustina Setti, was desperate to find a husband, and Leonarda claimed to have found the perfect man for her.

Her second victim, Francesca Soavi, was in need of a job, and Leonarda told her she knew of a school, far away, which was recruiting.

Her third victim was a former opera singer, Virginia Cacioppo, who wanted to work in theatre, and was only too willing to believe Leonarda had found her a job working in Florence.

Instead of helping these women (I mean, she’s not called “the life-fixer of Correggio”, is she, we know she did something pretty grim), she killed them with an axe, cut them up, then used sodium hydroxide to turn them into soap. Which she then handed out as gifts to her neighbors. Not only that, but she then baked them into her teacakes which she also (you guessed it) handed out to all her neighbors as well as eating them herself and feeding them to her four children.

Why did she do this?

Good question.

Her oldest son had decided he was going to join the Italian army during the second world war and Leonarda, having lost ten babies before, and being superstitious and visiting fortune tellers besides, decided the only way she could protect her son was by making human sacrifices.

Yep, Italy is still a Catholic country. And Catholicism is still a major world religion which doesn’t do human sacrifice. I don’t know what bizarre mental leaps she had made but this woman’s actions were and still remain completely irrational. She died in prison in 1970 of a brain apoplexy (a bleed in the brain) so maybe she’d had one before. Or maybe she had undiagnosed post-natal depression.

Moral of the story? Don’t believe do-gooders who give you offers that are too good to be true. Or don’t eat teacakes given to you by middle-aged women. Or don’t sacrifice people. Who knows?

Happy Halloween.

The dark side of soapmaking

When I think of soapmaking, I imagine someone working in their kitchen making cold process soap with colourful swirls. I don’t think of Mafia, crime and cannibals. Yet that’s all swirling in the murky past of this beautiful-and dangerous-hobby.

The Soap-Maker of Correggio: Leonarda Cianciulli

Forget Sweeney Todd. This real-life soapmaker from Italy killed three women and turned them into soap. And teacakes.

Leonarda Cianciulli was a respected middle-aged woman, a mother of four sons, but who had lost ten children in infancy and had three miscarriages.

Taking her time to groom her victims, she picked women who lived alone and she claimed to have solutions to their biggest problems.

Her first victim, Faustina Setti, was desperate to find a husband, and Leonarda claimed to have found the perfect man for her.

Her second victim, Francesca Soavi, was in need of a job, and Leonarda told her she knew of a school, far away, which was recruiting.

Her third victim was a former opera singer, Virginia Cacioppo, who wanted to work in theatre, and was only too willing to believe Leonarda had found her a job working in Florence.

Instead of helping these women (I mean, she’s not called “the life-fixer of Correggio”, is she, we know she did something pretty grim), she killed them with an axe, cut them up, then used sodium hydroxide to turn them into soap. Which she then handed out as gifts to her neighbors. Not only that, but she then baked them into her teacakes which she also (you guessed it) handed out to all her neighbors as well as eating them herself and feeding them to her four children.

Why did she do this?

Good question.

Her oldest son had decided he was going to join the Italian army during the second world war and Leonarda, having lost ten babies before, and being superstitious and visiting fortune tellers besides, decided the only way she could protect her son was by making human sacrifices.

Yep, Italy is still a Catholic country. And Catholicism is still a major world religion which doesn’t do human sacrifice. I don’t know what bizarre mental leaps she had made but this woman’s actions were and still remain completely irrational. She died in prison in 1970 of a brain apoplexy (a bleed in the brain) so maybe she’d had one before. Or maybe she had undiagnosed post-natal depression.

Moral of the story? Don’t believe do-gooders who give you offers that are too good to be true. Or don’t eat teacakes given to you by middle-aged women. Or don’t sacrifice people. Who knows?

Happy Halloween.

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!

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!

Vegan green tea hair shampoo bar recipe

My love affair for all things green tea began long before I ever moved to East Asia. Being in Japan last year really cemented it.

The rumors about Japan are true. They use matcha green tea for everything. In our hotel, the shampoo and conditioner were green tea. And they were phenomenal.

So since lockdown, when soap and other cosmetics suddenly vanished, I decided to start making my own cosmetics. I had planned to make a melt-and-pour shampoo bar before anything else, but I ended up making soaps successfully, first, and getting product safety tests done on my essential oil soaps. At the same time, my shampoo bars were not going so well.

I couldn’t understand it. Both my soaps and the shampoo bars were made using the correct bases (don’t use soap base for shampoo bars! I know a lot of bloggers say you can do it with soap base, but if you care about your hair, you need to use proper shampoo base) but my shampoo bars weren’t mixing properly and when I tested them on my hair, they left residue. Eeek!

Eventually, I found out where I was going wrong. The rubbing alcohol in this recipe is essential. Do not skip that step.

You will need (makes one 100 gram bar; scale up for more than one):

  • A glass jug
  • A saucepan of boiling water on a stove
  • A spoon
  • 85 grams Stephenson’s Solid Shampoo Base (this doesn’t seem to be available to buy on US Amazon but you can get it shipped to the US from the link above which is UK Amazon)
  • 1/4 tsp Green tea powder
  • 1 tsp Rubbing alcohol (I’ve linked to Amazon there in case you can’t get out to a store, but you can get cheap rubbing alcohol in the Dollar Tree so don’t spend more than you have to).
  • 5 grams Avocado oil (substitute with another oil such as olive oil, jojoba or almond oil if you don’t have this)

    If you’re in the UK/Ireland you can get your green tea, rubbing alcohol and avocado oil on these links, instead.

How to make vegan green tea melt and pour shampoo bar:

  1. Cut the melt and pour shampoo base into small squares and put it into the jug.
  2. Place the jug inside the pan of boiling water (alternatively, use a microwave to melt the base).
  3. Remove when the shampoo base has melted.
  4. In a small cup, mix the green tea powder with the alcohol.
  5. Once this is mixed, add it to the shampoo base.
  6. Add the avocado oil.
  7. Mix well.
  8. Pour into your soap mould. Leave to harden for about an hour and a half, then wrap.

I am so happy with this recipe (finally)! Let me know what you think in the comments! If you have a microwave, you can melt the melt and pour shampoo base in your microwave, checking every 30 seconds to be sure not to scald it!

Want to know more about how to make your own cosmetics? Check out my complete guide to soap making.

Vegan hair conditioner bar recipe that you can even make in a campervan!

I searched and searched the WHOLE DAMN INTERNET and none of it had a recipe like this. I wanted a recipe using natural, vegan ingredients, so I could make my own conditioner bars. I also wanted something that didn’t require expensive or bulky equipment to make it.

I needed this recipe to make a bar, not a liquid, because I travel a lot and I have super dry curly hair, and I am very fed up of not being able to take conditioner on a plane unless it’s in my checked baggage or in a very tiny bottle.

When I didn’t find a vegan hair conditioner bar recipe for travel, I made my own.

This bar is super-nourishing for very dry hair, you really don’t need much of it. I like to use it by working it into the ends first, while my hair is wet, then moving up slowly until I get to my ears. Lastly, I put the rest onto my hair from my parting downwards in one or two swift strokes.

If you accidentally use too much, get a bit of your shampoo bar and rub it between your hands then wipe the lather onto your hair where there’s too much conditioner.

This conditioner is a little bit soft, I’ve played around with the recipe and every time I’ve tried to harden it, it just goes oilier but not harder. So I find the original bar cracks into three or four pieces after a few uses, but after that it seems pretty stable.

If you’re a fan of using a bit of coconut oil to moisturize your hair, you will LOVE this recipe as it incorporates coconut oil but makes a solid bar for travelling with!

You will need:

  • A glass jug
  • A spoon for mixing
  • A soap mould
  • 40g shea butter
  • 30g olive wax
  • 20g cocoa butter
  • 20g coconut oil
  • 10ml rice bran oil
  • 10ml avocado oil
  • 30 drops lavender oil (or other essential oil of your choice)

Method (no microwave… scroll for microwave method)

  1. In a saucepan, boil some water and place your glass jug in it.
  2. Add the cocoa butter and olive wax as these take the most heat to melt.
  3. When they have melted, add the rest of the ingredients except the lavender oil.
  4. Once the whole lot has melted, remove jug from saucepan, add lavender oil and mix well.
  5. Pour the mixture into your soap mould and leave it to harden. This takes about 2-3 hours.
  6. Pop it out of the mould. Wrap to keep moisture out and it’s ready to use!

Microwave method:

  1. Put the cocoa butter and olive wax in the microwave and heat in 30-second bursts until they have melted.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients except the lavender oil and heat in 20-second bursts until everything has melted.
  3. Add the lavender, pour into a mould and leave to harden for 2-3 hours.
  4. Pop out of mold. Wrap. Enjoy.

So there you have it, a 100% vegan conditioner bar recipe that requires nothing complicated or weird, no dodgy chemicals and you can even make it in a campervan. Let me know if you’ve used it!

If you want to learn more about making cosmetics, you might like my really long and comprehensive article on how to make soap!