Making soap.

As a formulator with no formal training, all of my formulations go through many different drafts before even being made into an actual product to be tested. A lot of things go into developing a formula; current market trends, ingredient cost, availability of research done by others to substantiate cosmetic claims (i.e., does ginkgo extract really enhance collagen production?). I’ll save countless versions of formulas before I land on one which I deem worthy of using my pricey ingredients to test. 

A recent survey of my inventory showed that I have made close to 80 different products; be this with just a variation in fragrance or not, that’s a lot of stuff to keep track of. Even before expanding to this wide array, the thought of adding soap (bar soap, mainly) to my repertoire did not sound like a good idea; there aren’t many other uses for some of the soap ingredients that I’d need to buy, and one way I keep my costs down is to use one ingredient in several different formulas, rather than having a different list of ingredients for each of my 80 products. Also, I am not a bar soap user, and I’m not a fan of selling products that I don’t use personally.

“Well, I don’t use it, but you certainly should give me your money for it.”

I’d sound like an asshole.

As time passed, I reconsidered the idea of making soap – but it would have to be liquid soap. Facial cleansers, body wash, hand soap. As I started doing research on ingredients and formulas, the sulfates debate was everywhere. I decided it would be in the best interest of my consumers to avoid sulfate-based surfactants altogether, and opt for naturally-derived and naturally mild surfactants. The two I purchased are cocamidopropyl betaine and decyl glucoside. Decyl glucoside is “sugar (glucose) derived from cornstarch and fatty alcohols (decanol) derived from coconuts” (source: http://www.personalformulator.com/wvss/product_info.php?cPath=1&products_id=10). Cocamidopropyl betaine is derived straight from coconut oil. Can’t find much more natural surfactants than these.

My first soap formula was a pretty basic facial cleanser with all water-soluble ingredients; distilled water, rose hydrosol, lavender hydrosol, panthenol (vitamin B5), glycerin, my two surfactants, and a non-toxic paraben-free liquid preservative. 

Decyl glucoside can make soap very alkaline, so I used testing strips to check the pH before throwing this on my face – good thing too, because it was damn near a pH of 9, which would be super drying. Added 0.1 gram of citric acid and it was brought down to a more comfortable pH of 5, which is very close to skin’s natural pH level.

Liquid Soap

                        It just looks like foamy water.

The immediate results were anticlimactic. It was watery and I could barely smell the hydrosols. I wanted something thicker and better smelling, but am firm in my previous decision to never add synthetic fragrances to my facial products and wanted to keep this particular formulation oil-free, so fragrance oils and essential oils were out. The surfactant ingredients aren’t bad smelling per se, they smell like…soap, basically. I washed my face with the disappointing concoction, and it worked like a facial cleanser should work, but it did leave my skin a little dry and tight. (Thankfully I already make facial moisturizer.)

So I decided to table the fragrance issue and work on the viscosity. Now, I currently have two naturally-derived ingredients that I use as viscosity increasing agents in lotion; stearic acid and cetyl alcohol. I know that stearic acid has been known to be comedogenic (pore-clogging), so I did a quick Google search on using cetyl alcohol as a thickener in liquid soaps. Jackpot – found a source that states it can be used as a thickener at up to 6% of the formula. Cetyl alcohol is a fatty acid (vegetable oil-derived) which comes in the form of little white pellets. I melted some in the microwave and added it to the underwhelming foamy water. The initial 3% I added didn’t seem like enough, so I figured I’d go all in and add 6%. It now looks like lotion.

Lotion Soap?

       Definitely thicker, but I’m still skeptical.

No sense in letting this pile of goo in my hand go to waste, so I went to the bathroom to wash my face for the third time today. The cetyl alcohol did manage to squelch some of the lather, which is ok since facial cleaners shouldn’t have massive amounts of bubbles anyway, but the fatty acids in the cetyl alcohol were definitely noticeable – after my skin dried it wasn’t nearly as tight as the first go-round.

This definitely isn’t the final formula – I will be adding all kinds of goodies to make it more moisturizing/astringent/better smelling/whatever I want the final product to be – but it’s a pretty good start.

So, there you have it. My first experience making soap. It wasn’t so scary after all, but I’m glad you were here.

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