Using Additives in Soapmaking Part 1: Functional Additives – Bright Packaging and Raw Materials
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Using Additives in Soapmaking Part 1: Functional Additives

on March 14, 2024

Using Additives in Soapmaking Part 1: Functional Additives 


Functional additives in cold processed soap making, can serve a specific sensory purpose, enhancing often the soap’s performance and texture.  Limited literature exists as to whether the additives maintain the skin benefits after the saponification process, hence the majority of soapers will use it for the sensory performance (and market it as such).  And as Kevin Dunn describes in his book “I realized that the true art of soap making is how to create a bar of soap that is tantalizing and pleasing to the senses”. 


In the world of soap crafting, the magic often lies in the everyday ingredients found right in our kitchens. While specialized additives certainly have their place, the simplicity and accessibility of kitchen herbs and botanicals make them an excellent choice, which are also listed below. 


Let’s dive into some of the most common additives that are used by cold processed soap makers. 


  1. Clays:


Clays are natural minerals with fine particles that come in various colors. Common choices include kaolin clay, known for its mildness, and bentonite clay, valued for its absorbent properties.  


For centuries, clays have been integral to beauty care, offering a myriad of benefits. Their exfoliating, cleansing, and invigorating properties make them a cornerstone of skincare. Additionally, clays excel at absorbing excess oils, dirt, and impurities from the skin, contributing to a healthier complexion. 


Some clays that can be used includes: 


Bentonite Clay - A pale gray clay derived from volcanic ash, known for its ability to absorb toxins from the skin. When incorporated into soap, it imparts a subtle green hue and proves beneficial for individuals with oily or acne-prone skin. 


Pink Clay - A variety of kaolin clay with a delicate pink hue and a fine texture. This clay is ideal for imparting natural color to soaps, bath bombs, or makeup. Its gentle nature makes it suitable for sensitive skin. 


Green Clay - A clay abundant in minerals, giving a light green tone, perfect for crafting handmade soap bars. Renowned for its cleansing and hydrating properties, this clay is suitable for all skin types. 


Rhassoul Clay - An entirely natural mineral clay, versatile as an ingredient in soap and other products. With its distinctive reddish-brown color, it is commonly referred to as Ghassoul Clay or Moroccan Lava Clay. 


Kaolin Clay - A natural coloring agent suitable for soap manufacturing. It's gentle on dry, sensitive skin as it doesn't strip oils. Additionally, it aids in scent fixation and is commonly incorporated into an essential oil blend prior to adding it to the soap. This clay will not color your soap white. Kaolin clay also adds some slip to your soap.  


Where to get it: You can find cosmetic-grade clays from specialty soap-making and cosmetic suppliers, health food stores, or online retailers. Look for reputable sources that offer high-quality, finely milled clays. 


How to use it: Choose a clay that suits the desired properties of your soap. The recommended use is typically around 1-2 teaspoons per 500g of oils in your soap recipe. This can vary depending on the type of clay and the desired effect.  To avoid clumps in your soap, mix the clay with a small amount of water or oil before adding it to the soap batter. Add the hydrated clay mixture to your soap batter at trace. Blend thoroughly.  


  1. Milk and Dairy Products:


Milk can enhance the creaminess of soap and contribute to a luxurious lather. This can result in a smoother, more enjoyable application and cleansing experience.. Options include cow's milk, goat's milk, yogurt, buttermilk or even coconut, oat or almond milk for a vegan alternative. You can either use liquid or a powder version of the soap.  The fats and proteins in milk can help hydrate and nourish the skin, making it a good choice for those with dry or sensitive skin. Milk contains lactic acid, a natural alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), which can gently exfoliate the skin. This may help in removing dead skin cells and promoting a brighter complexion. 


Milk-based soaps are often marketed as being luxurious and beneficial for the skin. The addition of milk can be an attractive feature for those seeking high-quality, nourishing skincare products. 


Where to get it: Fresh milk products can be sourced from local farms, farmers' markets, or specialty grocery stores may provide fresh milk. Alternatively, powdered forms of milk are available for convenience. Ensure they are free from additives for the best results.  You can find milk derivates from specialty soap-making and cosmetic suppliers, health food stores, or online retailers. 


How to use it: To incorporate fresh milk in your soap, you can either substitute your water in your recipe for all the milk or substitute a part of your water for milk.  Freeze the fresh milk in ice cube trays. This helps prevent the milk from scorching when it reacts with the lye. Once frozen, measure the amount of milk you need for your recipe. 



  1. Honey


Honey is a popular and beneficial ingredient in cold process soap making, contributing a range of properties that can enhance the quality of the soap.  It’s a natural humectant, meaning it attracts and retains moisture. Honey also has natural emollient properties that can soften and condition the skin. Due to the sugar content, it adds a touch of luxurious feel to the soap. 


Where to get it - Local beekeepers, farmers' markets, or health food stores are great places to find high-quality, raw honey. Ensure the honey is pure and hasn't undergone excessive processing for maximum benefits. 


How to use it - Typically, 1 to 2 tablespoons of honey per 500g of oils in your soap recipe is a common range, but you can adjust based on your preferences and the desired properties. If you're adding honey to your soap, it's recommended to warm the honey slightly before incorporating it into the soap batter. This makes it easier to mix and helps prevent clumps. Since honey is a liquid, you may need to account for it in your overall liquid content. Adjust the water amount in your recipe accordingly. Incorporate a high-sugar content additive, like honey, into your soap can increase cause an aggressive gel phase and increase the temperature of the soap. Be prepared to take the necessary measures to prevent your soap from cracking open at the top due to high temperatures. 



  1. Oatmeal



Oatmeal is a remarkable addition to cold process soap, renowned for its myriad skin benefits. Its gentle exfoliating properties delicately slough away dead skin cells, promoting a smoother complexion. Rich in natural compounds like beta-glucans, oatmeal provides a soothing and calming effect on the skin, making it an excellent choice for individuals with sensitive or irritated skin. Furthermore, oatmeal's ability to absorb excess oil can benefit those with oily or acne-prone skin. In cold processed soap, oatmeal not only enhances the soap's texture but also contributes to a nourishing and wholesome cleansing experience, leaving the skin feeling refreshed and revitalized.   


You can either use rolled oats or colloidal oats.  Rolled oats are whole oat groats that have been steamed and then flattened with large rollers to create flakes. Colloidal oatmeal is finely ground oatmeal that has been milled into a very fine powder. 


Where to get it - Rolled oats or colloidal oatmeal can be sourced from grocery stores. Opt for organic and minimally processed varieties for the best results.  You can find milk derivates from specialty soap-making and cosmetic suppliers, health food stores, or online retailers. 


How to use it - If using rolled oats, grind the rolled oats in a food processor or coffee grinder to achieve a coarser texture. This will provide a gentle exfoliation in the soap. You can use the rolled oats as is for a rougher texture.  No further processing is required if using colloidal oatmeal, as it’s already finely ground.  You can prepare the oatmeal into a thick paste, using a portion of the water, or add the oatmeal into the batter after trace.  The amount of oatmeal to use in your soap recipe depends on your personal preference, the desired level of exfoliation, and the size of your soap batch. As a general guideline, you can start with about 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground oatmeal per pound of oils in your soap recipe. 



  1. Activated Charcoal



Activated charcoal is a fine, black powder made from carbon-rich materials. Activated charcoal in soap acts as a powerful detoxifying agent, drawing impurities and toxins from the skin's surface. Its porous nature allows it to absorb excess oils, making it particularly beneficial for individuals with oily or acne-prone skin. Additionally, activated charcoal contributes a striking dark color to the soap and provides a deep-cleansing experience, leaving the skin feeling refreshed and revitalized. 


Where to get it - Activated charcoal can be found in health food stores, pharmacies, or online. Ensure it is labelled as food-grade or suitable for cosmetic use. You can also find it at specialty soap-making and cosmetic suppliers, and other online retailers. 


How to use it - A common starting point is 1 to 2 teaspoons of activated charcoal per 500g of oils, but you can adjust based on your preferences. Incorporate the measured activated charcoal into the soap batter. It's advisable to mix the charcoal with a small amount of the soap batter before adding it to the main batch to prevent clumps. Activated charcoal can accelerate trace, so work efficiently once it's added. Adjust the amount of activated charcoal based on your desired color and level of detoxification. 


  1. Herbs and Botanicals



Herbs and botanicals include a wide range of plant materials such as lavender, calendula, or chamomile, chosen for their visual appeal and potential therapeutic benefits.  Finely ground herbs or botanicals can act as gentle exfoliants, helping to remove dead skin cells and promote a smoother complexion. This can contribute to a mild and natural exfoliation in the soap. Herbs and botanicals can also add natural colors to the soap, creating visually appealing patterns or hues.  Herbs and botanicals are also a great addition for soap top decorations. 



Where to get it - Grow your own or source dried herbs from herbal suppliers, farmers' markets, or online retailers. Make sure they are free from pesticides and other contaminants.  You can also find herbs and botanicals from specialty soap-making and cosmetic suppliers, health food stores, or online retailers. 


How to use it - Select herbs and botanicals based on their intended benefits, such as soothing, exfoliating, or providing color. Popular choices include lavender, chamomile, calendula, rose petals, and mint.  If using whole herbs or flowers, dry them thoroughly to prevent mold in the soap. You can air-dry or use a dehydrator. For finer texture, you can grind them using a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder.   


To extract the properties of herbs, you can create herbal infusions by steeping them in a carrier oil or a water-based solution. This infusion can be added to the soap batter.   
Using herbs and botanicals to decorate soap tops adds a touch of natural elegance, enhancing both the visual appeal and sensory experience of the soap. 


By understanding what each functional additive brings to the soap-making process, you can make informed choices about where to obtain these ingredients. Remember to prioritize high-quality, natural sources to create soap that not only looks appealing but also provides excellent skin benefits. 


Happy soaping! 


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