I love homemade soaps. Growing up we always had one or two scattered around the house, and I remember as a youngster being enamored by the unique scents that emanated from these funky-looking bars. They were nothing like the pure white bars I saw in my friends’ houses, and they certainly didn’t smell anything like what I saw in the grocery store. Some even smelled like dirt to me! (A smell that I later found out was patchouli, which to this day I still associate with dirt.) Homemade soaps seemed so special – almost like fingerprints or snowflakes, because no two were identical.
I love the idea of making soap, and have even tried my hand at it. However, I’ve discovered this about myself: as much as I love DIY, soap making is decidedly not for me. Maybe it’s the chemistry, but more likely it’s the lengthy curing process… I’m an instant gratification kind of gal. But that doesn’t mean that I’ve given up my love of homemade, sustainable soap! There’s no shortage of soap makers in the world, and lucky for me, I work for one of them. Badger soaps satisfy my want for homemade soap while also meeting all my sustainability criteria*. So for this special edition of “Side by Side” we’re going to look at Badger soaps as a whole. Or as I like to think of them: “homemade soaps that you don’t have to make at home.”
What are “True Soaps”?
Soap making is basic chemistry, and creating “true soap” is the process of using an alkaline substance (Badger uses sodium hydroxide, aka lye) to convert fat triglycerides (three molecules of fat + one molecule of glycerin) into soap. Because of the triglycerides, the soap naturally has glycerin, which is moisturizing and helps prevent skin dryness. The process of converting oils to soap is called saponification.
Way back when, people used lye from ashes of burnt hardwood. They would literally boil fat with ashes and presto change-o: soap. This was an imperfect science as you can imagine, as the level of lye couldn’t accurately be measured because it varied within the ashes.
Today’s “true soaps,” like Badger’s, use straight lye, instead of ashes containing lye. What this means is that we can accurately measure the exact amount needed, and no excess lye remains in the soap after the fat has saponified. So while we list it as an ingredient in our soaps, you’ll notice that lye is listed along with water and various oils. Because without adding lye, you’d essentially be holding a box of balm. (Badger is committed to full-disclosure ingredient labels, which is why we include lye on the list.)
What Makes a Good Soap?
Good soap should be hard-ish, last a long time, create a nice lather, and of course get you clean! The last part – getting you clean – is something fairly easy to achieve. However, to create a bar that is hard but not too hard, lasts long but not too long, and makes a nice, fluffy lather definitely takes patience, knowledge, attention to detail, and a little magic.
Almost all of these factors come from the oils you choose to saponify, and in what concentration. Different oils and butters (coconut oil, palm oil, shea butter, etc.) bring different properties to the soap once saponified.
This has to do with their chemical composition, because each oil contains a different set of fatty acids. The real challenge is combining them in such a way that you achieve the ideals above. So for example, we love to use coconut oil because it produces a soap that makes a really awesome lather – light and fluffy, like an actual dream. However, you don’t want to use too much coconut oil, because it’s not as moisturizing as other oils once it’s soap. We also love to use shea butter because it makes an amazing lather, and has an added benefit of containing “unsaponifiables” – fats that do not convert to soap. They are carried over as fats into the soap, making it extra moisturizing. Beeswax helps to make the bar harder, but if we use too much it will inhibit the lather. It’s a delicate dance, but perfecting it is oh so rewarding.
Palm oil, while controversial, is an ingredient that we just couldn’t substitute. It stabilizes the lather (so it doesn’t go away too fast), and makes for a really silky, conditioning, hard bar of soap. We looked at the options and decided that we would be doing a disservice not including it in our recipe. That being said, we’re also keenly aware of the issues within the palm sourcing industry and questions around its sustainability as an ingredient. In a recent blog post, Badger Janis does a really nice job of explaining why we use it, and the lengths that we go to source it sustainably.
Which Badger Soap is Right for You?
This mainly comes down to personal preference and what you’re looking for in soap. All of Badgers soaps come from the basic principles outlined above, but have added ingredients for different applications. For example, we make two soaps that are great for face and body: Moroccan Mint, and Rose Geranium. Moroccan Mint features Kaolin Clay to draw impurities from normal to slightly oily skin. Rose Geranium features finely ground oatmeal to soothe delicate, dry, or irritated skin. (Note: oatmeal means it’s one of the few Badger products that are not gluten-free.)
If you’re looking for an all-purpose bar for shower or hand washing, reach for Maillette Lavender, Lemongrass and Ginger, or Unscented. These differ in essential oil blends (or lack thereof). I find the Maillette Lavender to be relaxing, while Lemongrass and Ginger energizing and uplifting. And since I generally shower in the morning, I reach for the Lemongrass and Ginger. Unscented is a great all-purpose moisturizing bar with no added essential oils.
For little ones we offer a Baby Soap featuring our signature combination of Chamomile and Calendula. Chamomile is soothing and relaxing, while calendula is skin soothing, making it a great option for grownups with sensitive skin as well.
I do want to note that we don’t add any sort of eye-numbing ingredients, so this is not a “no tear” formula. Use extra care to keep out of eyes of all ages.
We also offer a fabulous Navigator Class Shave Soap, which pairs nicely with an old-timey brush or as just a bath bar. I love this soap so much I’ve written two blogs about it! You can read them here and here.
So if you love homemade soap, but would prefer someone else make them, remember: Badger always has your back.
*Badger makes almost everything we sell here, but some of the items we sell are made for us by others using our unique formulas and only with special ingredients chosen and approved by us. The artisanal soap is one of these items.
What do you think of natural soaps? Are you a soap maker? Strike up a conversation in the comments below!