“I would like my soap to smell like pears, can you make that?”
“How about strawberries?”
“Can I get soap with big colored chunks in them?”
These are just a few of the questions we get regarding soap scent and soap color. Like all other ingredients in natural skin care products, it is crucial to understand the ingredients that provide these two key soap characteristics.
First, let us deal with scent. Generally, in soap and skin care products, there are two primary sources: Fragrance Oils or Essential Oils.
fragrances: These are oils that should be avoided. Fragrance oils are always synthetic, and, for many people, can leave skin dry and sometimes irritated. Now, it is easy to figure out that “Caramel Bliss” is a synthetic fragrance, but what about soap or skin care products that have the labeling “Natural Lavender Fragrance”? Everyone knows that lavender is a great smelling plant, so it makes sense that a scent such as “Natural Lavender Fragrance” would be natural. After all, they say it is! Think again. This sort of product is also synthetic. Confused? Well, to identify synthetic scents, it usually comes down to one simple word: FRAGRANCE. If you see it, avoid it. If you also see “Natural Fragrance”, avoid this too. Both mean the scent is synthetic.
essential oils: These are the good scents, and the ones that you want to make sure are scenting your soap and skin care products. The labels will always say “essential oils” if this is how they are scented. Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts used for scenting. They are obtained from the roots, bark, and leaves of plants, usually through steam distillation. In the case of citrus oils, essential oils come from the skins of the fruits. Unfortunately for those who love sweet scents, citrus is the dominant type of fruit that yields essential oils. Other fruit scents (apple, pear, berry) are synthetic.
The use of essential oils provides two great advantages. First, when used in proper proportions, essential oils will not irritate the skin. Second, because there are none of the synthetic perfume bases, everyone thinks that products scented with essential oils smell better!
In keeping with proper definitions of natural, the colorants used in soaps should be derived from natural sources. And just like with scent, the color needs to be “truly natural”, not just stated as “natural”. This means that colorants need to come from herbs, plant extracts, and clays. But what about those bold colors that I want my soap to have? Don’t worry, there are three ways to achieve some great colors.
essential oils: As mentioned above, essential oils are normally used for providing natural scent to soap and other skin care products. Some essential oils, such as citrus oils, can provide both scent and color. However, because of essential oil colors, some color/scent combinations aren’t possible. For example, you can’t have a pale yellow soap that smells like cloves, because clove oil is brown.
direct addition or colors: This is the easiest way to control the color. Once we are near the end of the mixing process, we simply add our herbs, clays or combination of the two. Figuring out what color the soap will end up is relatively straight forward, as the color of the herb or clay is a good determinate of the final product. There is, however, those few outlying herbs, such as Rosemary Leaf Powder, that are one color (green) but produce another color (a golden color). So, make sure to experiment before making large quantities.
steep herbs to extract color: This is the most challenging way to color your soap but it also produces some of the most rewarding colors. The herbs that are great to do this with are organic annatto seed, wildcrafted alkanet root, and madder root. This can be done by steeping your herb of choice, straining the herb out of the solution and adding the colored oil to the mix. Depending on the color desired, the amount of herb and the steep time will vary. This can also be done in a combination of directly adding an herb and steeping. Experimentation is the key!
If you see any variation or combination of the words fragrance, fragrance oil, or natural fragrance don’t be fooled. There’s nothing natural about it. And to get truly natural colors, make sure either herbs, plant extracts, or clays are used. When it comes to “Natural” products, the key is to read carefully!