Soap Base Formulation – Why So Many Soaps Fail

soap and oil bottles and wood table 151x151Ever use a soap that didn’t lather or that left your skin feeling tight and dry, despite the label being full of ingredients meant to pamper your skin? The internet is full of specialized reasons and advice, but the cause of most underperforming soap is, like a lot of things, simple and fundamental. And it’s also as old as soap itself. The problem isn’t lack of exotic ingredients, but a weak foundation – poor formulation of the soap base itself.

It Comes Down to This
Here’s the scoop on formulation, and you’re not required to actually like chemistry to share in the news. Soap is the result of a full chemical reaction in which a section of an oil molecule (or fatty acid) attaches to a sodium ion. By choosing oils that have specific molecular properties (in other words, choosing the right fatty acids) and blending them in the right proportions, it’s possible to create the results we want in our soaps – creamy, fluffy lather that’s extra moisturizing in a long-lasting bar.

3 8oz at 150Give and Take
There’s a catch, though. Fatty acids that give soap one property can diminish others. Oils that contribute to fluffy lather can make a soap drying to the skin. If you find a mix that creates nice lather as well as a bar with decent moisturizing ability, you can be left with soap that barely lasts, dissolving too quickly in water.

Good soap formulations are tricky, because they need to juggle and solve all the variables, finding the balance that maximizes the most desired qualities – creamy fluffy lather, moisturizing ability, bar hardness, and shelf life – all in one soap.

Bottle of fir tree essential oilDon’t Be Fooled
Here’s the most important thing to take away from a formulation discussion. If you don’t have a well-formulated base, exotic ingredients won’t produce the soap you’re looking for. In the right blend, shea butter can be a great enhancement. But adding a specialty ingredient – because it’s seen as recipe magic or simply to justify putting it on the label – can’t fix soap with a bad foundation.

Heart and Soul
Too often, when customers bring us a recipe for a bar they’ve always loved, we see a jumble of glamorous ingredients that are expected to yield extraordinary soap. The problem is, glamorous ingredients aren’t what produces extraordinary soap. Our formulation advice is always this: keep it simple and focus on the soap’s properties – its heart and soul – not a fanfare of ingredients that give you dazzle without substance.

 

2 thoughts on “Soap Base Formulation – Why So Many Soaps Fail

  1. I’m very new at soap making. I’ve only bought a pre-mixed oil blend in a bucket, which is good for newbies, but I’d like to take it a few steps further now. What is a good blend? Is there a place to find the right ratios or a basic recipe you can follow and then make changes as you want? I bought a book to read up on it, but everything is in weights- metrics at that, and since I don’t own a scale- it makes it rather cumbersome. Anyone have a simple oil blend that works? And how much lye and water to oil ratio? I hated chemistry but love to cook, so I thought this would be an easy hobby….. Oy VAY!

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