Soap Maker’s Glossary

Soap Maker’s Glossary

Below you’ll find an ever-expanding range of definitions and information on soap making ingredients and terms. INCI names are shown in brackets.If you feel a term or definition should be added that could benefit other visitors, feel free to drop us a line. All accepted contributions are credited in this section. Please note, the information provided in this glossary and elsewhere in the ‘Sud’s Law’ section of this website is for informational and general guidance purposes only. Always cross-reference particular information you seek from several sources to ensure accuracy and seek the advice of professionals in the case of any uncertainty. Absolute definition – a highly concentrated oil essence usually extracted from flowers requiring the use of a solvent such as hexane for the extraction.

Alkali definition – A base or hydroxide, such as soda or potash that is soluble in water and gives a high concentration of hydroxyl ions in solution. In solid soap making the modern alkali of choice is Sodium Hydroxide, for liquid soaps, Potassium Hydroxide is the alkali of choice.

Almond Oil, sweet (Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis) – expressed from the seed of the sweet almond plant, high in omega 3 and popularly used in massage therapy, almond oil has a medium viscosity and may be substituted for olive oil in soap making. A hydrating oil associated with improving complexions and for softening the skin.

Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis) – pulp taken from the leaves of the aloe plant containing amino and fatty acids and used as an effective remedy for wounds, skin problems and burns, including sunburn. Believed to boost the immune system if taken internally. Contains some unsaponifiables – oils that do not react with the lye water when added to soap mixtures and are left in their natural state (best added at trace to retain beneficial properties).

Anise (Pimpinella anisum) – a Mediterranean plant that grows up to 1 metre in height yielding fruits with a strong aniseed/liqorice smell and taste. The oil is extracted through the crushing and steam distillation of the fruit. Anise contains anethole, a medicinal compound that has been used since antiquity for settling stomachs and excessive gas production. Anise oil is reputed to have anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, and antiseptic properties.

Annatto (colourant) – extracted from the seeds of the evergreen shrub found in Central America used as a yellowish-red dye in the food industry. In soap making annatto seeds steeped in a warmed vegetable oil for an hour or so will produce anything from a yellow to deep yellow-orange (depending on how much is added to the oil) which, in turn will colour the soap the shade obtained from the steeping process. Soaps coloured using annatto are sensitive to light and will fade so store away from strong light sources.

Anti-oxidants definition All living cells are damaged by oxygen (through the process of oxidation) which is believed to be a contributing factor to the ageing process (although there is no categorical proof as of yet). Anti-oxidants are found in a number of vitamins such as vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium and carotenoids. Toxic molecules called free radicals are produced quite naturally by cells. A free radical is a molecule containing one less electron than a normal molecule. This molecule will try to bind another electron to it from a readily available source such as the fat, DNA or protein found within the cell causing damage to the cell in the process. The theory with an anti-oxidant such as vitamin E is that they ‘donate’ extra electrons to floating free radicals within cells thereby blocking their destructive potential.

Arachidic (acid) A long-chain fatty acid found in certain oils such as peanut, groundnut, and fish oil. Arachidic acid has surfactant-like properties making it a commonly used ingredient in cosmetics.

Astringent definition A substance that draws together skin tissue. Oils with astringent properties will clean the skin and constrict the pores.

Avocado Oil – Pressed from the fleshy fruit surrounding the pip of the avocado fruit. The oil contains a high amount of unsaponfiables and is believed to have regenerative, moisturising and anti-bacterial properties. Some manufacturers use avocado oil in sun screen preparations. There is some speculation that avocado oil might increase the production of collagen within connective tissue.

Babassu Oil – Also known as cusi oil. A moisturising, emollient oil, with similar properties to coconut oil that remains solid at room temperature (in temperate climates) but melts on contact with the skin due to its relatively low melting point. In soap making, Babassu oil can readily be used as a substitute for coconut oil.

Balsams -Resinous and aromatic substances containing high amounts of benzoic or cinnamic acid extracted from certian tree species. Some balsams such as the Balsam Fir were used by native American indians in medicinal preparations for the treatment of asthma, coughs and colds and to heal cuts and sores. Others, such as Peru Balsam are known to contain anti-bacterial properties and can be used to help treat wounds and kill parasites.

Beeswax – A wax secreted by honey bees for the construction of honeycombs can vary in colour from yellow – gray-brown. A bactericidal substance with softening, emollient and humectant properties. Beeswax adds substantial hardness to bars of soap and is usually added to soap recipes at no more than 7-8% of the total oils and fats. Used in candle making, beeswax candles are said to last longer than parrafin candles.

Behenic acid– A minor constituent of most vegetable, animal and fish oils used in conditioners to aid their smoothing properties.

Benzoin – A balsamic resin obtained from species of the laurel and storax families. Anecdotally, benzoins are said to have bactericidal, anti-fungal, healing, symptomatic pain-relieving and anti-oxidant properties but require more research before their true benefits are understood. Used commercially in lotions, ointments and cold sore creams.

Borage Oil (Borago officinalis) – Also known as Starflower Oil. Extracted from the seeds of the Borage Plant , Borage Oil is rich in essential fatty acids that aid cellular regeneration. Borage oil has emollient, anti-inflammatory and soothing properties.

Canola Oil (vegetable oil) – a particular cultivar of rape seed oil.

Calendula – (calendula officinalis), also known as pot marigold. Calendula petals are yellow/orange in colour and rich in carotenoids, believed to stimulate the immune system. Calendula oil can be readily made by steeping the flowers in a warmed vegetable oil for several hours. The resulting yellow-coloured oil is said to have anti-inflammatory properties.

Caratenoids – a group of compounds coming from carotenes and xanthophylls which are anything from yellow to red in colour. The pigments are found in plants and algae (and also the animals that eat the plants). Caratenoids are converted to vitamin A in animals, are a good source of anti-oxidants and help enhance the immune system.

Carrier Oils definition – also known as base oils. A generic term applied to vegetable oils which essentially dilute the concentrated effects of essential and fragrance oils.

Castor Oil (Ricinus communis) – a highly viscous, pale-yellow oil extracted from the seeds of the castor oil plant. Contains ricinoleic fatty acids. Used in medicinal preparations for cysts, polyps, corns and warts and taken as a laxative. In soapmaking it is a wonderful skin softener; adding 5% castor oil to batch oils will create a rich, soft lather. Castor oil is slow to go rancid, if kept in cool conditions and out of sunlight a shelf life of between 6 and 12 months is normal. We have used 14 month old castor oil in test batches which has been fine. Castor oil in a usable condition should have almost no smell.

Chlorophyll (natural colourant) – a green pigment formed in the cells of plants, algae and certain lower lifeforms that initiate the process of photosynthesis (simply put, turning light & water into ‘food’ – basic sugars and carbohydrates). If administered directly to the skin, as a poultice for example, it is said to have anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and wound healing properties. In soap making liquid chlorophyll is used to colour soaps anything from pale through to dark green shades.

Clary Sage (Salvia Sclarea) – a member of the mint family and a highly aromatic plant found across the Mediterranean. In dried form it is used to season food. The essential oil is extracted from flowers and leaves through the process of steam distillation and is clear to pale-yellow in colour. Clary Sage is reputed to provide numerous benefits including: the alleviation of anxiety, headaches, depression, menstrual cramps and is even said to help regulate hormonal changes during menopause.

Cocoa Butter – obtained from roasted, crushed cacao beans and pale-yellow in colour, this vegetable fat has a low melting point (will melt on contact with the skin). Cocoa butter is naturally rich in vitamin E, is a strong emollient, moisturiser and high in anti-oxidants. If stored in a cool environment, out of sunlight, it will remain in a usable condition for well over 2 years.

Coconut Oil – obtained from the flesh of coconuts (copra) and white to very pale yellow in colour. Coconut oil is available in 76 degree (melts at 76 deg F), 92 degree and 100 degree varieties. All are fine for making soap although we use 76 degree coconut oil because it melts a little quicker. 76 degree oil is semi-solid at room temperatures (in temperate climates) and will melt almost instantly on contact with the skin. Probably the most indispensible oil in the soapmaker’s locker since it imparts hardness to finished bars, produces a fluffy, stable lather, and is economical when compared with most other vegetable oils. Once thought to increase cholesterol levels if used regularly in diets, recent clinical studies have uncovered many, almost certain, benefits and is now believed to actually lower cholesterol levels! A known anti-oxidant, with powerful anti-microbial and anti-viral properties. Coconut oil does not add moisturising properties to a bar of soap so it is usually a good idea to limit it to 30% or less of total oils/fats in a recipe. In larger quantities coconut oil will begin to dry out the skin. Provided it is stored in a cool environment away from sunlight coconut oil should last 12-18 months without showing signs of rancidity.

Cold Process definition – a process whereby vegetable or animal fats (acids) react with a base (lye water) to form soap via a chemical process called saponfication. When the mixture begins to thicken it is said to be at the ‘light trace’ stage (if a small amount of the soap is drizzled over the mixture leaving lines that quickly disappear back into the mixture this is known as light trace). At light trace, most of the additives that give the soap its smell and colour along with any botanicals are usually added. As the mixture continues to be stirred it will begin to visibly thicken (if a small amount of soap is drizzled over the mixture leaving lines that sit momentarily on the surface before disappearing back into the mixture this is known as full trace). Once full trace is achieved the soap mixture is poured into moulds, wrapped in insulating materials such as blankets and left in a warm place to continue saponifying. Wrapping the soap mixture in blankets helps to retain the heat given off during saponification which, in turn, helps to ensure that all of the Sodium Hydroxide reacts with the oils to form soap. The soap mixture is usually left wrapped for 24 hours or so before ‘demoulding’ and cutting up into bars ready for curing.

Comfrey Root (Symphytum officinale) – this herb contains a compound called allantoin which promotes the quick healing of cuts and wounds by accelerating tissue growth helping them to close more quickly. A popular additive to ointments and salves, comfrey appears to alleviate eczema symptoms, acne, swellings and localised skin trauma caused by burns. Dried comfrey root may be crushed and powdered and added at trace to create a soap with soothing, healing properties. The powdered root will turn soap anything from a purple lavender to dark violet colour depending on the quantities used.

Copaiba Balsam (Copaifera Officinalis) – a pale yellow to golden oleoresin that accumulates in the trunk of the copaiba tree. Believed to have stimulating, diuretic and disinfectant properties. The resin contains caryophyllene a phyto-chemical having strong anti-inflammatory, fungal and pain relieving properties. When used externally on the skin it is believed to alleviate the symptoms of psoriasis and other skin disorders as well as athletes foot.

Curing – in cold process soap making usually a 2-4 week period after soap has been ‘demoulded’ and cut up where soap is stored in a cool, dry environment allowing the saponfication process to be completed. The purpose of curing is to allow the soap to lose excess moisture thus creating harder, longer-lasting bars and to make the soap milder by allowing the bars to reduce in alkilinity.

Discounting definition – a percentage reduction in the amount of Sodium Hydroxide required for all the oils in a soap mixture to be completely saponified (turned into soap). If a discount in Sodium Hydroxide is applied, a corresponding amount of unsaponified oils will remain in their original state in the finished bar of soap. Discounting the amount of Sodium Hydroxide is desirable if soap makers wish to keep some of the beneficial properties of the original oils.

Emollient definition – a (moisturising) substance that softens and balances the skin in dry complexions.

Essential Oils – the concentrated essence of a substance or plant. Essential oils are powerful insofar as they contain the concentrated fragrance and properties of the plant they were extracted from. In pure form certain essential oils can be detrimental to health so should always be diluted with carrier oils. Some essential oils, even when diluted, are not recommended for certain groups of people such as expectant mothers or people who suffer from specific allergies or complaints. Advice and research should always be taken with warnings clearly labelled where appropriate before products containing essential oils are offered to the public. Essential oils are produced through steam distillation, solvent extraction or expression/cold pressing. With steam distillation, steam passes through the plant vapourising the oil contained within the leaves, bark, flowers and twigs the oil vapour is then condensed and separated into water and the raw essential oil. The expression extraction process is normally used to extract the essential oil from seeds, nuts and citrus peels and involves cold pressing. A lot of flowers are either too delicate or do not contain enough essential oil for steam distillation to be an effective method for extracting the oil. In these cases, solvent extraction is used. Solvent extraction involves the use of a solvent such as hexane. The resulting combination of extracted oil, waxes, resins and oil soluble plant material is called the ‘concrete’. The concrete is then refined through the use of an additional solvent such as ethyl alchohol which dissolves the lower molecular weight compounds leaving the fragrant oil in solution. A final distillation removes the ethyl alchohol leaving the pure oil known as the absolute. Absolutes tend to be the most expensive of the fragrances due to the extended extraction process.

Fixatives – essential oils are sometimes referred to as volatile oils because they evaporate readily. It is estimated that approximately 50% of the essential oil added to the soap mixture at trace during cold process soap making is lost 24 or so weeks later. Certain essential oils help to stabilise volatility in others when mixed with them helping to retain their fragrance and properties. Examples of fixative essential oils are litsea cubeba, anise, patchouli, Balsams, benzoins and clays also help to fix other essential oils.

Fragrance Oils – synthetic, manufactured oils designed to mimic the fragrance of essential oils. Some fragrance oil manufacturers will blend a small amount of the essential oil to boost the fragrance. Once formulated, fragrance oils are relatively inexpensive to manufacture and are therefore usually cheaper than their essential oil counterparts. Fragrance oils do not contain the therapeutic properties of their essential oil counterparts.

Gel Phase definition – this phase occurs in both cold process and hot process soap making and is characterised by the saponifying soap turning opaque or translucent and appearing ‘jelly-like’. The gel phase is the intermediate stage between the liquid soap mixture turning solid.

Glycerin – a clear, sweet, colourless, viscous liquid that occurs extensively in nature, for example, it is found in the cells of plants and animals. In soapmaking, glycerin is a bi-product of the saponification process and adds moisturising properties to the finished soap. Commercial soap makers remove the glycerin from soap often replacing it with cheaper, synthetic moisturising agents. They do this because it is more valuable when sold separately as an additive for creams, lotions and other products such as nitro-glycerin for the manufacture of dynamite. Melt & Pour soap is sometimes referred to as glycerin soap. Good melt & pour soap bases should incorporate a high percentage of glycerin. When sourcing a melt and pour supplier, check to ensure that glycerin is listed in the top two or three listed ingredients before making your purchase.

Grapeseed Oil (Vitis vinifera, vegetable oil) – extracted (with the use of a solvent) from the pomades/mush leftover from grapes pressed for wine making. Grapeseed oil has a low viscosity (i.e. is thin) and is practically clear in colour. The oil has emollient and moisturising properties and is easily absorbed by the skin. Containing vitamin E and with high levels of anti-oxidants, incorporate grapeseed oil as a minority oil (around 5%) in recipes and add at trace to retain these beneficial properties in the finished bar.

Hazelnut Oil (Corylus avellana) – an edible oil with a full, strong flavour, expressed from (roasted) hazelnuts, the fruit of the hazel tree. Rich in protein, unsaturated fats, vitamins B6 and E, and anti-oxidant phenolics. Hazelnut oil is easily absorbed by the skin making it an effective carrier oil for essential oils drawing their benefits deep into the skin. The oil is reputed to be beneficial for acne, inflammation and an excellent skin toner.

Hemp Seed Oil – pressed from the seeds of the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa) and high in essential fatty acids (the omega 3 & omega 6 family of fatty acids that cannot be produced naturally within humans), refined hemp oil is colourless and clear. The oil acts as an emollient adding moisture-balancing properties to dry skin complexions and believed to act as an anti-inflammatory. The high fatty acid content means that the oil is prone to rancidity so shelf life is extemely limited when compared to most other carrier/base oils. Storing the oil in a fridge or even a freezer can help to extend its usable life to around 3 months if stored unopened. Once opened, seek to use hemp seed oil within 1 or 2 weeks.

Hot Process definition – as with the cold process, lye water and fats (vegetable oils or animal fats) are mixed together but with the crucial difference being the temperature at which the saponification process takes place. In hot process soap making lye water and fats are boiled anywhere from 80 to 100 deg C. ensuring full and rapid saponification and negating the need for a long curing period.

Humectant definition – Any substance with the ability to absorb moisture from the air (hygroscopic). Glycerin is a an example of a humectant.

Hydrating – combining with water.

INCI Names definition (International Nomenclature Cosmetic Ingredient) – an international system of ingredient names that must be declared on all consumer products where applicable. The idea behind the system is to enable consumers to identify ingredients that may have an adverse affect on their health – for example the identification of allergens such as nuts. INCI names tend to be a mixture of Latin, scientific and english terms. In this glossary the INCI name is provided in brackets.

Jojoba Oil (Simmondsia Chinensis) – also referred to as goat nut oil. The oil is pressed from the seeds of the jojoba plant (Simmondsia chinensis) and forms as a waxy-like liquid at room temperature (in temperate to warm climates). Unrefined jojoba oil appears clear/golden in colour and has a mild fatty odour. Refined jojoba oil is colourless and odourless. Both types contain vitamins B & E. Jojoba oil is prized by the soap maker because its properties resemble sebum – the skin’s natural oil – and is appreciated for its long-lasting, moisturising abilities. Adding the oil to soap recipes produces bars with increased cleansing, conditioning, moisturising and softening properties. It is widely believed to alleviate skin complaints such as acne and psoriasis. Although relatively expensive when compared with most other common carrier oils jojoba is stable and isn’t prone to oxidation which gives it an incredibly long shelf-life. It can also be added to other carrier oils that are prone to rancidity, as a preservative, to extend their usable shelf lives.

Lauric acid – a fatty acid occurring naturally within oils such as coconut, laurel and palm kernel oils and believed to have anti-microbial properties. If taken internally (the acid is present in the milk of certain mamals for example) it is believed to raise metabolism through the stimulation of the thyroid glands.

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) – a tall grass growing up to 3 feet in height and native to India and Sri Lanka with a sharp, lemon scent. Lemongrass is highly astringent helping to balance oily complexions when applied externally. The essential oil is believed to have anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties making it effective against skin complaints such as scabies, ringworm, dandruff and acne. The oil is also an effective skin toner, tightening wrinkles.

Lignoceric acid – also known as tetracosanoic acid, is a saturated fatty acid present as a minor constituent in plants.

Linoleic – an Omega unsaturated fatty acid particularly abundant in safflower and sunflower seed oil noted for its anti-inflammtory, moisture retention and alleviation of skin complaints such as acne.

Litsea Cubeba (Litsea cubeba) – also known as May Chang, the oil is steam distilled from the fruit of the tree and has a ‘lemon sherbert’ smell reminiscent of lemongrass. The oil mixes well with other citrus scents and has the added advantage of acting as a fixative thus helping to stabilise more volatile essential oils prone to diminishing in strength in finished bars. The therapeutic properties of Litsea Cubeba are believed to combat acne, act as an insect repellant (as with many other oils with citrus notes), disinfectant and antiseptic.

Lye Water – made by mixing water with a base or hydroxide. Before potassium and sodium hydroxide production techniques were discovered, giving the modern soapmaker a means to make lye water of a known strength, one of the common methods to make lye water was through the leeching of water through wood ash.

Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) – the supporting information produced by manufacturers supplying raw materials covering areas such as physical, chemical, environmental characteristics, toxicity, risk and safety information. MSDS information from suppliers is important to ascertain and file since it enhances the soap maker’s understanding of how ingredients behave within finished product; provides insight into safe levels of use; storage advice and guidance on whether warnings and/or advice is required on product labels. MSDS information is normally readily available from your supplier however, if you find it difficult to get hold of the MSDS sheets there are a number of free online resources holding extensive databases where searches can be performed. Some you might try are: MSDS Solutions Centre (requires registration), the Vermont Safety Site and MSDS Search.

Melt & Pour Soap – also known as glycerin or melt and mould soap. ‘M&P’ soap is supplied in several different bases including olive oil, honey, goats milk, natural, SLS-free and clear. As the name suggests, the base is weighed out (enough to fill the required mould), cut into chunks and then melted either in a microwave (for smaller batches) or in a double boiler/bain-marie. Once the soap base has melted, colourants, essential / fragrance oils, botanicals and micas are added before the liquid soap is poured into moulds to set.

Micas – a silicate material occuring naturally in certain geological formations that comes in a range of colours and is highly resistant to heat. Due to its properties mica can be ‘cleaved’ into ultra-thin, elastic sheets providing a versatile material used in numerous applications for example, insulation and acoustics. In cosmetics, mica is valued for its ability to glitter and refract light away from skin blemishes.

Milled Soap definition – a process where manufactured soap is drawn through rollers and crushed. Milled soap is reputed to lather up better and have a finer consistency. It also has the added advantage of requiring less essential or fragrance oil since the process is undertaken at cool temperatures making volatile oils less prone to evaporate.

Neem Oil (Azadirachta indica) – extensive research on the properties of neem oil has shown it to have numerous therapeutic applications not least anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-viral and is highly effective against ringworm, eczema and scabies. The oil is extracted from the seeds of the evergreen tree usually through cold pressing (which ensures that most of the beneficial properties of the oil are retained). In soap making, neem oil is usually incorporated as a minority oil (around 5%) to make fantastic anti-nit and anti-flea shampoo bars. In pure form, neem oil is extremely potent being used in organic pesticides and has been shown to be effective as a contraceptive. Neem oil in soap is safe for use by pregnant women or women wishing to conceive, but, as ever, always seek advice if you are unsure on whether soap containing neem oil is right for you.

Oleic – In its most literal sense oleic means ‘deriving from oil’. Oleic acid is a mono-unsaturated, omega-nine fatty acid that occurs naturally within plants. Canola, grapeseed and olive oils contain high amounts of oleic acid.

Oleoresin – a substance containing volatile oil (see essential oil) and resin usually extracted through steam distillation. Turpentine, is an oleoresin distilled from coniferous trees.

Olive Oil (carrier oil) – obtained through the cold pressing or sovent extraction of the olive fruit, harvested from olive trees. The extraction method for the oil depends on the grade of oil being produced. There are essentially 4 main extraction phases providing 5 classified food grades of the oil (in Europe).

Extra Virgin – derived from the first, light pressing of the fruit;

Refined (Grade A) – extracted from a ‘second press’ of the fruit with the use of more pressure;

Refined (Grade B) – extracted from the already crushed fruit with the use of a solvent such as hexane;

Pomace – solvent extraction from remnants of the Grade B press with the olive pits/pomace also used.

Pomace olive oil is the cheapest grade and tends to be the olive oil of choice for the soapmaker and for good reason since it contains a high degree of unsaponifiables that seem to accelerate the soapmaking process by pulling the fats/oils together more rapidly. Olive oil attracts moisture to itself and is therefore a wonderful moisturising agent, drawing and holding moisture close to the skin without stopping its natural function. It is also mild and cleans well making it one of the indispensable oils in the soapmaker’s repertoire. The 100% olive oil bar was made famous by Spanish soapmakers in the Castile region from around the 9th century onwards but nowadays most commercial soap purporting to be ‘Castile’ will contain a significant proportion of animal tallow (rendered animal fat) to add hardness to the finished bars. Incorporate higher percentages of olive oil into the recipe for milder, moisturising bars but be sure to add a good proportion of coconut and/or palm oils to create hardness in your finished bars.

Parabens definition – a family of preservatives derived from benzoic acid used in food and cosmetics. There is some suggestion that parabens may be linked to cancer (studies of women with breast cancer have shown parabens to be present in the affected tissue) although no conclusive evidence linking parabens to cancer has yet been established. Most cold process soap recipes will produce soap with a shelf life of at least a year negating the need for preservatives. Certain carrier oils such as safflower, sunflower and hemp seed, are more prone to rancidity so if longer shelf lives are required adding a natural preservative such as grapefruit seed extract is one possible way to address this.

pH (Potenz/Power of Hydrogen) definition – a concept first introduced by Soren Peder Lauritz Sorensen, a Danish scientist, to measure the relative acidity/alkalinity of a substance. The pH scale measures from 1 to 14 with acidic substances registering less than 7 on the scale while alkaline substances register greater than 7. A pH of 7 is considered to be neutral (water, for example, registers close to 7 on the scale). pH can be measured in a number of ways. For most applications ‘Litmus paper’ or ‘Universal Indicator Paper’ can be used. Litmus paper will turn shades of red if it comes into contact with an acid while alkaline substances will turn it shades of blue. For practical purposes, the skin adjusts well to pH falling within the 5.5 to 10 bracket. Milder soap can be crafted by ensuring a good degree of unsaponifiables in finished bars and a curing period of 3-4 weeks (if the cold process is being used).

Palm Kernel Oil (Elaeis Guineensis , vegetable oil) – obtained from the kernels (seeds) of the oil palm tree and yellowish-white in colour. Palm kernel oil is high in lauric acid – a saturated fatty acid with a low molecular weight – which gives excellent lathering properties while imparting hardness to finished bars. As with coconut oil, palm kernel oil can dry out the skin if used in too high an amount so keep to around 10-20% in your recipe.

Palm Oil (Elaeis Guineensis, vegetable oil) – extracted from the pulp of the oil palm fruit, the unrefined oil appears yellowish/red in colour due to the high levels of carotene it contains. As with palm kernel oil, incorporating palm oil into your recipe will produce harder bars with a creamy stable lather. Palm oil is considered by many ‘soapers’ to be one of the 3 indispensable oils, the other two being coconut and olive oil. It is readily available in either refined or unrefined states and is one of the cheapest oils on the market. Palm oil can dry out the skin if added at too high a proportion so it’s best added as a minority oil at around 20% of total oils. With unrefined palm oil, be aware that incorporating even a relatively small percentage of palm oil (i.e. 10%) will turn finished bars a light shade of yellow/orange so if you wish to create white bars purchase refined brands.

Patchouli Oil (Pogostemon Cablin, essential oil) – the oil is extracted through steam distillation from the plant’s leaves and has a rich, sweet earthy/musky scent. Reputed to have numerous therapeutic benefits including: anti-depressant, antiseptic, anti-fungal, insecticidal and believed to alleviate the suffering from menstrual cramps.

Peanut Oil (Arachis Hypogaea) – also known as groundnut oil, the oil is extracted from the kernel (nut) either through solvent extraction or by cold pressing. When added as a minority oil in soap recipes (i.e. anything up to 20% or so) the oil will add lathering, moisturising and conditioning properties to the finished bars. Some people suffer from allergies to nuts and certain grades of peanut oils will cause a reaction in allergy sufferers so, as ever, always seek advice if you are unsure whether soaps containing peanut oil are right for you.

Peru Balsam (Myroxylon pereirae) – also known as Balsam of Tolu, a sap extracted from the Peru Balsam tree by ‘tapping’ (incisions are made in the bark with the sap usually collected with rags as the sap pools). The fresh balsam is reminiscent of cinnamon in smell. As with Copaiba Balsam, it has a host of medicinal and therapeutic applications a few of which are: antiseptic, anti-parasitic, alleviation of eczema and other common skin complaints, chapped hands, and augments blood circulation (in a similar fashion to Benzoin).

Potassium Hydroxide (KaOH) – also known as caustic potash, potassium hydroxide is used by ‘soapers’ to create liquid soaps and shaving creams.

Rancidity definition – caused by the oxidation of fatty acids. Chemically, an oxygen ion is replaced with a hydrogen ion causing destabilisation of the molecule. Saturated fats are less susceptible to oxidation hence carrier oils/vegetable oils containing saturated faty acids tend to have longer shelf lives than oils with unsaturated fatty acids. Oxidation can be slowed by a number of means: storing in air-tight containers; storing at lower temperatures (sometimes even freezing is suitable for certain oils), or by mixing with other oils high in anti-oxidants.

Rapeseed Oil (Brassica napus) – a member of the mustard family known for the bright, dense yellow flowers they produce. Rapeseed is grown commercially for bio-fuel, the food industry and for animal feed. Adding rapeseed oil to a recipe will increase the conditioning and moisturising properties of the finished bars. Rapeseed oil contains only a small percentage of saturated fatty acids and is therefore prone to rancidity.

Rebatching definition – a process whereby already-made cold process soap base (usually this is just a pure base with no scent, colourants or botanicals added) is grated and melted down with the use of a double boiler/bain marie and, once the base has liquified, scent, colourant and botanicals are added. The melted base is then spooned/poured into moulds. The advantage of rebatching is that less scent is required, the disadvantage though, is that it is difficult to create consistent and well-compacted finished bars – they tend to look grainy. Rebatched soap is not the same as milled soap.

Ricinoleic acid – an unsaturated fatty acid that is produced from castor oil. The ricinoleic content in castor oil gives the oil its high viscosity.

Safflower Oil – extracted from the seeds of the bright yellow or orange/yellow thistle-like flowers of the safflower plant either through the use of solvents or through cold pressing. Sourcing oil that is extracted through cold pressing is worthwhile since many of the beneficial properties of the oil are retained. Safflower oil has similar properties to sunflower oil belonging to the Asteraceae family. Easily absorbed by the skin, and said to have anti-inflammatory properties, added as a minority oil (around 5-10%) in soap recipes will increase the moisturising properties of the finished bars. Like sunflower oil, safflower oil contains high amounts of unsaturated fats and is therefore prone to rancidity.

Sandalwood (Santalum Album, essential oil) – extracted from the heartwood of the sandalwood tree through steam distillation, sandalwood oil has a medium viscosity and is pale-dark yellow in colour with a sweet, woody scent. Many soapers use sandalwood in combination with other essential oils for ‘men’s fragrances’. Believed to be non-toxic and non-irritating for sensitive skin complexions, it has many therapeutic properties and is reputed to be an anti-inflammatory and anti-septic.

Saponification definition – a chemical reaction in which fatty acids react with an alkali to produce soap.

Sebum – an oily secretion of the sebaceous glands that helps to moisturise the hair and skin. The sebaceous glands are present in the dermis of mammals and ‘open out’ to the skin via pores. Certain oils when used in too large a proportion in soap recipes can have the effect of ‘drying out’ the skin which essentially strips the skin of sebum. Oils such as palm and palm kernel should be used as minority oils (around 20% of total oils) in recipes for this reason. Conversely, jojoba oil is a wonderfully moisturising oil said to closely resemble the properties of sebum. Mass produced soap found on the supermarket shelf typically contains a combination of vegetable oils and tallow with the moisturising glycerin having been removed from the soap. The result tends to be a bar of soap, high in chemical additives such as parabens and sodium lauryl sulphate, that strips the skin of sebum leaving it feeling dry and sensitised.

Shea (nut) Butter (Butyrospermum Parkii) – extracted from the seeds of the shea (karit) tree through the process of cold pressing or solvent extraction and sometimes used as a substitute for cocoa in ‘chocolate’ confectionary. Generally pale yellow in colour, it is a fat being solid at room temperature and is added to soap recipes for its moisturising and emollient properties. With a high vitamin A & E content along with complex fatty acids shea butter is said to restore elasticity to the skin and also is believed to help regenerate skin cells. Add as a minority fat (around 5-10%) in recipes for a bar of soap with superior moisturising and restorative properties.

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate – commonly known as ‘SLS’ and prevalent within cosmetics, bath and body products such as shampoos, toothpastes and soaps and is usually a majority ingredient commonly to be found within the first 4 or 5 listed ingredients. SLS is used as a ‘filler’ in products and for its lathering and degreasing abilities however, little seems to be known of the long-term effects on the body of this known skin and eye irritant. A number of studies have highlighted evidence for SLS contributing or causing dermatitis and there is also some suggestion that toothpastes containing SLS may contribute to mouth cankers (ulcers). SLS is also known to dry the skin and haor follicles out.

Sodium Hydroxide (NAOH) – also known as caustic soda, a strong alkali / salt used in the production of soap and other products such as paper and aluminium. Sodium hydroxide mixed with water is called lye water. Sodium hydroxide should always be added to water in a controlled fashion and never the other way around since it causes an exothermic reaction (gives off heat) and gives off caustic fumes.

Sunflower Oil (Helianthus annuus)- the oil is extracted through the cold pressing of the sunflower seeds. The oil contains a high element of unsaturated fatty acids which means that it is prone to rancidity and should be carefully stored in cool, dry conditions to maximise shelf life. Add to soap recipes at around 15-30% of total oils to increase the moisturising properties of the finished bars (some soapers happily substitute sunflower oil for olive oil in their recipes as a cheaper alternative). The oil contains high levels of vitamin E and is able to help the skin retain mositure.

Superfatting definition – a mechanism the soap maker can use to ensure that not all of the oils/fats in a soap recipe are saponified into soap and remain in their natural state (and thus retain some of the beneficial properties of the original oils or fats). Certain oils and fats contain a degree of unsaponifiables which do not react with the lye water and remain in their natural state in the finished bars of soap these oils are sometimes referred to as ‘superfatting’ oils. Adding larger quantities of these oils in recipes relative to the amount of sodium hydroxide used will ensure that some of the oil will remain in its original state usually making for a more moisturising bar (and often a slightly softer bar).

Surfactant definition – a substance that is able to lower the surface tension of water and make compounds more soluble. Surfactants are able to help the skin absorb substances more readily.

Sweating definition – during the curing period in cold process soap making soap can have a tendency to ‘sweat’ (i.e. gather moisture on the surface of the bars), this is usually down to a high glycerin and/or sugar content. Glycerin is a humectant – a substance that attracts moisture from the air. For the same reason, melt & pour soap can also appear to ‘sweat’ if finished soap is not wrapped or kept in an air-tight container. In cold process soap sweating is also caused when excess moisture in bars of soap works its way to the surface and condenses into droplets (this occurs when the moisture in the bar is greater than the moisture in the atmosphere immediately around the curing bars). The best way to tackle sweating is to ensure that curing soaps are kept in cool, dry conditions. Excess moisture can also be wiped from the bars of soap.

Therapeutic definition – a substance that is known to have or appears to have curative or healing properties.

Tallow – a white, odourless and tasteless mixture of fats rendered from animals.

Trace – in cold process soap making, the point at which the mixture of fats and lye water begins to visibly thicken. A classic test for trace is to drizzle some of the mixture over the soap. If ‘drizzle lines’ remain momentarily on the surface before disappearing back into the mixture trace has been achieved.

Unsaponifiables definition – elements of an oil or fat that do not react with the lye water but remain in their original state retaining any therapeutic benefits. Avocado oil, for example, contains a high element of unsaponifiables.

Vetiver (Andropogon Zizanioides, essential oil) – a grass usually found in tropical climates with extensive root systems. The viscous oil is extracted through steam distillation from the root and varies in colour from yellow/orange to light green. It carries a complex earthy/musky scent with woody undertones. This non-toxic and non-sensitising oil is believed to have numerous therapeutic benefits some of which are: calming, relief of aches and pains (including rheumatic aches), helps to heal wounds, and acts as an anti-inflammatory.

Vitamin A – required by the body for the healthy upkeep of mucus membranes and cells found within the skin; bone formation; synthesis of glycogen; to maintain healthy eye sight (especially the regeneration of the eye lenses); and is an anti-oxidant. As with most vitamins, the body is unable to produce them naturally relying on food and other sources (including soap and bath products) to absorb and store them.

Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) – is vital to maintain healthy cells, bones (since it increases the body’s ability to absorb calcium – a lack of vitamin C is directly linked to the bone wasting disease scurvy), gums, and the production of collagen (connective tissue) amongst others. The body is not able to produce vitamin C naturally so must rely on external sources – principally through diet – such as oranges and other citrus fruits. Like many vitamins, it is an anti-oxidant.

Vitamin E – a strong anti-oxidant that helps to clear pollution from the body and prevent degenerative diseases. Found in numerous food sources such as nuts, oils and whole grains it may alleviate the suffering from menstrual cramps and hormonal imbalances.

Wheatgerm Oil (Triticum vulgare) – produced through the cold pressing of the vitamin-rich embryo of the wheat kernel (grain), a rich source of fatty acids and vitamins A, B, D and E. As an anti-oxidant it can be used to prolong the shelf life of other carrier oils when mixed with them. It is believed that wheatgerm is effective against many skin complaints including psoriasis, eczema, burns, sunburn and dry skin. It is also believed to stimulate blood circulation. Wheatgerm oil deteriorates when subjected to heat and light, to extend shelf-life refrigeration is recommended. The oil is not suitable for people with wheat or gluten allergies.

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