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!

My lavender essential oil doesn’t smell strong in soap

This article aims to help you get the perfect lavender fragrance in your soap – every time! Be sure to also check out my 10 ways to make your essential oil show up in your soap for more tips!

Lavender is such a strong fragrance in the plant, you would expect it to be the ideal candidate for a good, intense soap scent, especially in melt and pour, where essential oils are usually stronger than in cold process. Instead, I’ve found homemade soap often seems to absorb lavender essential oil, so the homemade soap doesn’t smell strong enough.

Eek!

There are several types of lavender; the most common are French lavender and Bulgarian lavender, both of which use the Latin name Lavandula Angustifolia. French lavender essential oil is more expensive but Bulgaria now produces most of the world’s lavender oil, so you are more likely to find this in shops.

There are over 400 different species of lavender worldwide, which can have different potency and fragrance, but the commonest is still Lavandula Angustifolia.

If your lavender soap doesn’t smell strong enough, there are several ways around this, depending on what you’re more comfortable doing.

1. Add more lavender. Be bold! This is the most obvious solution, and probably the one you would try first. However, it doesn’t always work, and you need to be careful not to put more scent in your soap than the EU guidelines tell you to.

2. A better way to get your lavender to smell stronger is to let your melt and pour soap cool before adding the fragrance. Stir it to stop a skin forming on the top and wait until it’s reached about 37 or 38 degrees celsius, then add your lavender oil and pour straight into your soap mould. This takes practice because the soap will solidify very quickly, but adding the lavender at the lowest possible temperature will give you the best scent results.

3. The third way (if you want to cheat) is to use artificial lavender fragrance oil as well as your lavender essential oil. This will give your soap the fragrance you would expect from lavender soap while the essential oil sits in the background with its skin-loving properties. Obviously whether you would do this or not depends on how comfortable you are with artificial fragrance oils. I’m not the biggest fan of them, but if you find the right one they can be good.

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!