The History of Soap
The creation of soap can be traced back to around 2800BC. Babylonians, Mesopotamians, Egyptians, as well as the ancient Greeks and Romans all made soap by mixing fat (usually animal fat), wood ash and water. Read an extensive history of Soap here.
From its beginnings until the 1800s, soap making was monopolized by a few groups using exclusive techniques unknown to the general public.
As the demand for soap was high (still is) this made the cost of soap quite expensive.
Once the chemical process and recipe for soap making became more well known, this significantly reduced the cost of soap over time.
Handmade soap has been increasing in popularity as people become more discerning about the integrity of the products we purchase, including creative ways to get back to basics in our fast-paced technology-focused world.
Traditionally, soap has been made through either Hot Process method or Cold Process (more popular with soap makers today)
The Cold Process Soap Method
Sodium Hydroxide (Lye) is dissolved in water, then blended together with fats including plant derived butters (Cocoa, Coconut, Mango, Shea etc.) and liquid oils (Olive, Avocado, Castor, Hemp Seed etc.) The fats and oils used will depend on the base recipe of the soap.
Other properties are quite often added to the soap batter (again, this depends upon the recipe) and may include clays, milk, honey, colourants and Essential oils or fragrance oils.
The completed mixture is then placed into a mold for the Saponification process which usually takes around 24 hours. Saponification is when fats and oils are turned into soap by reaction with an alkali (Sodium Hydroxide). The outcome of saponification is a safe soap that contains no harmful chemicals.
The soap is removed from the mold, cut into bars, and placed onto a rack for curing which can be around 4-6 weeks (depends on the oils used). If it is an 'all Olive oil' soap, it can take up to a year or more to cure.
Handcrafted Soap Properties
Handcrafted soap does not contain detergents. It is usually full of skin loving ingredients (stated above) and Glycerin, which is produced during the saponification process. Glycerin is a humectant which means it draws moisture from the air to your skin, leaving your skin soft and moisturized.
The Cost of Handcrafted Soap
Most soap makers purposefully use high quality ingredients that are often organic and sourced through reputable local business, so you know that each bar you purchase is not only made with integrity but made to love your skin! Ultimately, you get what you pay for!
The variety achieved from mixing different oils, additives such as clays, milk, honey, pigments, phthalate free fragrance and Essential oils, and even the way they are molded and cut, are some of the great things about handmade soaps - no two bars are ever the same as they are truly works of art.
Commercial Soap - the Difference
Firstly, Commerical soaps are actually detergent bars. These bars usually contain chemical-based colorants, dyes, fragrances, lathering agents, and preservatives (and many other gobble-dee-gook names of substances)
Commercial soap production is mainly carried out in four steps
glycerin removal - as glycerin is more expensive than soap it is usually removed by commercial soap manufacturers to create other beauty products such as moisturizing lotions. This is carried out by adding a concentrated brine solution to separate the glycerin from the soap
soap purification - the substance that is left over once the glycerin is extracted is rotated at very high speed (centrifuged) to extract excess water and salt
finishing - the left-over product is then heated to around 120C and sprayed into a low-pressure chamber where the water in the 'soap' particles is evaporated and removed. Fragrances, fillers, pigments, preservatives, etc. are then added.
Commercial soap manufacturers are able to sell their product 'soap' at a lower cost to the consumer due to their 'less costly' ingredients, somewhat questionable additives to create the appearance of a good-looking product, and the extraction of the beautiful naturally occurring properties such as glycerin, as well as their ability to manufacture it in an ongoing process with huge output.
Ultimately you get what you pay for!