Below you’ll find an ever-expanding range of definitions and information on soap making ingredients and terms 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 Antioxidants 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.