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What is Soap?

The soap sold here is all traditionally made cold process soap. But what is that, really?

You may notice that solid bars of soap are hard to find in big shops these days and of the few that you can find, most aren’t really described as “soap” on the label. This is because, legally, they are not soap. They are pressed bars of solid detergent and moisturising ingredients.

This soap starts out as a combination of oils – sustainable palm, olive and coconut – in a combination that I found really beneficial for my own skin. Sodium hydroxide and water (and sometimes tea!) is added and the mixture is stirred to form a goopy liquid that looks a bit like cake batter.

This is then either poured into moulds as it is, or I add colours and fragrances first. The raw soap has to sit for at least 12-24 hours before it is solid enough to cut, and then another four weeks to cure before it can be used. This is a very old process that has been used over thousands of years, in many different cultures, to create something that can be used to safely clean skin, clothing and, well, anything else really.

Now soap has kind of a bad reputation. Some people tend to think that it dries the skin or can aggravate eczema. That may well be true for some people but as a life long eczema sufferer myself, I found my skin was so much more cooperative when I switched from liquid body washes to soap. I used to have permanent cracks on my fingers all winter and patches of itchy, scaly skin on my feet and the back of my knees. Sometimes I would wake up and be covered from head to foot in flakes and cracks, and I was forever switching around, trying different creams and body washes in the hope that something might work.

It was the cube shaped Savon de Marseille that was my gateway drug. I couldn’t quite believe the difference it made. In fact, writing this has reminded me about how bad it had been…! All the soaps I sell here, I have used myself.

Of course everyone is different and I absolutely would not, and indeed cannot, make any claims that the soap will do anything in particular for your skin.

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What is Melt and Pour Soap?

You may well have seen brightly coloured bars of soap in stacks at some pricey shops – exuberantly fragranced and with elaborate lists of beneficial ingredients. But what’s the difference really between those soaps, and the ones here?

Basically, it’s where they start from. Traditional soap takes time. After the saponification process, it takes at least four weeks for the soap bars to cure, or season, before they can be used. The longer they are left, the better the lather. Castile soaps can be cured for many months.

However, this operation doesn’t scale very well. So in order to make production as simple and efficient as possible for a large, international chain, it’s far easier to mass produce base ingredients centrally, ship those out and have smaller local factories add the specified ingredients and then mould and cut the soaps for the customer in the shop.

The base here is what crafters know as “melt and pour” soap – produced in huge quantities, these bases can be melted in a microwave and you can add whatever you like, within reason. Once the soap has cooled and set, it can be used straight away.

Now, this is not to say that melt and pour soap is no good. Certainly you can do things with melt and pour that you can’t do with cold process soap. But it’s a different type of product. It doesn’t last as long as cold process soap and some people find it harsher on their skin.

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Welcome back, soap, we have missed you

Soap: discovered or invented centuries ago and indispensable ever since. Unfortunately in recent years its popularity diminished, replaced by bright liquids in plastic bottles that claimed to be superior – but now that those plastic bottles are piling up and people are discovering that quite a few of them make their skin unhappy, soap is on the rebound.