Health and Beauty

A pink soap with calendula-infused oil

I will admit that pot marigold (calendula officinalis) has never been my favourite flower. I am more of a peonies type of girl. However, after studying the really amazing properties of these orange blooms, I had to admit that they really are a superior kind of flowers. They are packed with so many benefits it is hard to list them all, and they actually taste pretty good as a tea as well.

Calendula is particularly recommended for skin issues: wounds that won’t heal, scars, skin infections, eczema, or more generally dry skin. It can be taken as a tea (and it actually tastes quite nice), or you can make a little infused oil or balm to use directly on the skin. It has antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties, and it is a herb for a gently, moisturizing soap.

As I had some dried calendula flowers, I thought I would try making a soap out of them, infusing calendula-infused shea butter as a base for extra gentleness and moisture. Adding herbs or flowers to your soap can be very useful because it adds a health dimension. Many herbs lend themselves pretty well to the soap-making process: lavender and chamomille are quite common as they are soothing, relaxing plants, but you can also use more original combinations. Nettle for instance is an interesting choice as it is astringent and helps relieve acne.

It is my 1st time using calendula infused oil and I am quite taken by it. The soaps turned out really pretty and I am quite pleased with them, so I am sharing my recipe.

Recipe for 4 medium sized soaps

Soaps ready to cure!
  • 190g Shea butter (I had about 150g left after infusion)
  • 2 tablespoons of calendula (marigold flowers)
  • 100g olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons of pink clay
  • 30 drops of palmarosa essential oil
  • 43g of potassium hydroxide
  • 75-80mL of water

First of all, melt your shea butter, add the dry calendula flowers and let infuse. There are several ways to do this: you can use a crockpot on the lowest setting, or use a double boiler, which is what I did. You want very gentle heat, so I got my shea butter to melting point then switched off the fire to let the butter infuse gently. I repeated this a few times over 2 days. Alternatively, you can also leave your oil in a sunny spot for a few days. I then drained using a fine sieve (or a piece of muslin). You will lose a bit of oil at this stage and that’s completely normal. You could also actually leave the flowers in the soap, but I preferred to take mine out this time. This is your infused oil, and it is packed with properties from the flower; it is a very potent ingredient.

Once you have drained the butter, make sure to weight it again as you need precise measurements for soap making! Use the sage lye calculator for reference.

I then added 100g of olive oil and mixed well.

To make the lye, I used 43g of potassium hydroxide for about 75mL of water. Again, use the sage calculator to check how much lye you need, as you can easily go wrong with soaps. Add the potassium to the water, never the opposite way. Make sure to wear gloves and safety glasses for this part. The lye will heat up; leave it to cool down for a while until it is pretty much room temperature. Don’t rush it: if the lye is too hot, your soap will reach trace much faster and it might impact its texture. I added my pink clay powder straight into my lye after it cooled down, to make sure I didn’t end up with clumps.

Add the lye to your oil mixture. You can also add your additives at this point: here, I used palmarosa essential oil. You only need a little (less than 1% overall) as essential oils are very concentrated. It’s better to avoid if you are making soap for children, or if you have very sensitive skin. Blend thoroughly, ideally with a stick blender. After 5-10 mins, your mixture should start thickening up to a thick custard consistency. This is what we commonly call the “trace” stage. You can finally pour your mixture into clean, dry molds.

Trace stage

This is what is known as cold-process soap making, therefore your soaps will need to be cured for a while in a cool dry place. First of all, take your soaps out of their molds (or cut them to desired shape) after a few days, and put them in a dry place, out of direct sunlight (mine are in a cupboard). Curing allows the moisture to evaporate, and it makes the soap harder and longer lasting. It varies according to the composition of the soap: the minimum is 4 to 6 weeks, but castille olive oil soap is frequently left to cure for 6 months to 1 year. This process also depends on the conditions where you leave: temperature, humidity…. This is a longish process but it can’t be rushed, because this allows the lye to fully saponify. If not fully cured, the pH of the soap will be too high to be used on the skin.

Since this recipe does have a large percentage of olive oil, I am aiming to leave it cure for about 3 months in the dark place, until it is completely hard. They already smell divine and I really can’t wait to try them!

My new molds!
Health and Beauty

It’s all about SOAPS ! Flax seed oil and Shea butter soapmaking

I’m fascinated with soap making processes at the moment, and I have been looking up dairy soaps and olive oil soaps, which both sound amazing! I am ordering some ingredients and will be sharing more detailed recipes soon. Basically there are four options for soap-making :

– the Cold Process : mixing lye and oils

– the Hot Process, similar to the first one, but during which the soap is cooked

– using a Melt and Pour base: melting a pre-prepared solution and adding fragrances and oils

Rebatching, with means reusing soaps and adding new ingredients to transform them.

Savon de Marseille - Traditional soap making using olive oil
Savon de Marseille – Traditional soap making using olive oil

I am a big fan of ‘Savon de Marseille’, soap traditionally made in the Marseille area in France, and the famous Aleppo soap, both of whom are usually made with olive oil. Many soaps nowadays contains sulfates (in particular sodium sulfates) which dehydrates the skin. I have some ghassoul clay, Moroccan Argan oil and Flax oil which I would love to use in a soap. Goat milk soap is also popular at the moment: it is hypoallergenic, moisturizing, and great for sensitive skins.

I chose a very simple recipe to share with you as I am a beginner with soaps myself, but hopefully I will get more adventurous once I get the hang of it. I have chosen to follow the Cold Process method and I have used sodium hydroxide to make the lye, as this is the most natural and traditional way of making soap. It is also easier to check exactly what goes into your soap, as Melt and Pour often contain a long list of ingredients.

Flax seed oil and Shea Butter Soap 

For the Lye:

25 grams of caustic soda

65g of distilled water

For the oils:

150g of Flax seed oil

50g of Shea butter

Flax seeds are high in Omega-3 fatty acids and have many cosmetic benefits : they help to smooth the skin and to clear acne
Flax seeds are high in Omega-3 fatty acids and have many cosmetic benefits : they help to smooth the skin and to clear acne

You will also need two glass containers to combine and heat the ingredients, a spatula (I used a silicon one), a whisk or hand mixer, and moulds. It is important to protect yourself with gloves and goggles in case of a reaction, as caustic soda can be dangerous. Don’t leave within reach of children! Also remember to not use aluminium utensils as they react with lye.

– Carefully weight and prepare the ingredients.

-Add the solid caustic soda to the water (Never ever do it the other way around as it will ‘erupt’). This will heat, so put on the side and leave to cool.

– Combine the Flax seed oil and the Shea butter in the 2nd glass container and place in a pan of hot water until completely melted. Remove and leave to cool.

-Once both liquids are at room temperature, pour the lye solution into the oils and start mixing with a whisk or mixer. After around 15 mins, the mix will start solidifying into a custard consistency. This is called ‘tracing’: a drop into the mix will leave a trace. At this stage you can add a few drops of your favourite essential oil.

– You can then pour the mix into your moulds, and set aside. After a few days, the soaps should be hard enough to be removed from the moulds, and are now ready for curing! It is recommended to leave the soaps cure for about 6 weeks, until the Ph levels have gone up (above 7), which means they are not acid anymore and can be used on the skin. You can use Ph strips to check if they are ready. Pictures of my experiments coming soon!

You can create your own recipes easily using a soap calculator such as the Sage.

My first batch after curing :

My first batch of soap: flax seed oil and shea butter
My first batch of soap: flax seed oil and shea butter