Is Your Soap Natural?


People often ask me…Is your soap natural?

That is a difficult question.

I want to say yes to this; to reassure people that my soap doesn’t contain harmful ingredients. I use ingredients that are common, minimally processed and you don’t need a degree in chemistry to pronounce the names. I use mainly essential oils to scent my soap, I use pigment colours to colour them and I don’t use preservatives like parabens.

In reality, I have to say no. Strictly speaking, they are not natural. In fact, no soap is.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term natural as ‘Existing or derived from nature; not made or caused by humankind’

As soap does not exist by itself in nature, it is not natural. It is made by humankind.

That is not really what my customers are talking about. Natural has come to mean something different than the dictionary definition. I think everyone accepts that even things that are derived from nature need to have a bit of processing by humans if just to remove impurities or to standardise concentrations. Natural has become a word overused in advertising and marketing which really doesn’t mean much anymore. Each person has their own idea of what is natural whaich may be different than another.

People are really asking if the soap is safe for their skin.

So let’s go through the ingredients we use here at Hazelrock House and I’ll tell you all about them.

 Sodium Hydroxide aka Lye.

Yes, we do use this caustic and very harsh substance in our soap. It is definitely not natural. However, it is a key component in the chemical reaction that creates soap. Soap cannot be made without it. Once the chemical reaction of the Sodium Hydroxide is completed there will be none left in the soap. In fact, we add extra oils to ensure this is the case.

The traditional way of making a lye solution was to wash wood ash with water and keep the resulting liquid.  There was no way of accurately judging how much Sodium Hydroxide was actually in this solution and the resulting soap was generally quite harsh and drying. Nowadays because our Sodium Hydroxide is made in a chemical production factory, we can be sure of the concentration and make sure there is no extra Sodium Hydroxide in the soap. And we can be confident that there are no other impurities contained in it. We are better equipped to make a safer soap that way. And it is a lot more convenient to use!

 Soapmaking Oils.

Soapmakers generally use a wide variety of oils in their soap and each will have spent many years developing their own recipe.  Oils can be extracted from plants and animals in a few different ways. At Hazelrock House we prefer to use plant oils as they are easy to source, easy to use and will appeal to everyone including vegetarians and vegans. We don’t use organic oils at present due to their high cost.

We do use palm oil in our soap as we have a reliable source of sustainably farmed palm and so we don’t affect the habitat of the Orang-Utan. We support the palm oil workers by demanding sustainably produced palm oil rather than not using it at all. We would like to see reform of the palm industry rather than the industry destroyed and many local workers out of work with no way of supporting their families. We feel that palm adds a fantastic quality to our soap which cannot be replaced by any other oil even after 8 years of testing.

We use around 8% extra oils in our soap. This is to ensure that all the Sodium Hydroxide is used up in the reaction. The extra oil also leaves a protective film of oil on your skin after washing, like a lotion, which moisturises, nourishes and protects the skin.


Many people ask if we use synthetic fragrances in our soap. We mostly use essential oils but for some types of fragrance there are no essential oils, so we use skin safe fragrances instead.

Yes, it is true that essential oils are more ‘natural’, by that I mean they are at least derived from nature. It does not follow that essential oils are better for your skin. Essential oils can be very potent and can contain a large number of allergens which may irritate the skin. Synthetic fragrances too may contain allergens but we stay clear of the allergen-heavy ones. In fact, some of our synthetic fragrances contain no allergens at all. Less likely to irritate than many essential oils.  

All our fragrances and essential oils are sourced in the UK, tested to ensure that they contain only skin safe ingredients. But never tested on animals.

If you do find you are irritated by handmade soap, it might be worth finding out which allergen you are sensitive to. That way you can stay clear of that allergen. All allergens in Europe must be listed on the packaging and all are only allowed in tiny quantities. If you inform yourself you can still enjoy handmade soap even if you have sensitive skin.

We always carry at least one soap which is fragrance-free just in case!


Soap can be coloured in many different ways, both with ‘natural’ or synthetic colours. When we refer to synthetic colours we are really talking about dyes made in a factory. Some of these are in small enough particles to penetrate the skin, which isn’t really desirable in your soap.

 ‘Natural’ colours can be clays or plant extracts and infusions.  Some plant extracts fade over time in soap. Some morph into different colours. They all have their advantages and disadvantages.

Clays are fantastic and we use them a lot in our soap. Other semi-naturals we use are oxides and ultramarines. Traditionally these compounds would have been mined from the ground but now are made in a lab or factory.

Making them synthetically ensures that there are no impurities like the mined ones would have contained. So not natural but nature identical.

Other things we use are spirulina, seaweed, cocoa powder, herbal infusions and spices. All the colours we use have particles too large to go through the skin barrier and so just get washed down the sink. They don’t stain your skin or your shower. Or your conscience.


We don’t use them because we don’t need them. So you won’t find any parabens or other preservatives in our soap.

The Cold Process.

Commercial soap is made in a very automated and harsh way, with the soap being boiled and filtered and all the glycerine produced as a result of the reaction drained away. This can result in a harsh, drying soap.

We use the Cold Process Method where our soap is reacted at much lower temperatures, so as to keep as much of the properties of the oils, herbs and essential oils as possible. We keep all the glycerine in the soap so it can soften and soothe your skin.

All of our soap is made in small batches which means we are present for the making of every single one and we can then ensure the absolute top notch quality of each bar.

Each of our bars is cured for 4-6 weeks before being packaged, to finish the chemical reaction that has taken place and also so some of the water used can evaporate making a harder and longer lasting bar.

Other ingredients such as Tetrasodium EDTA, Propylene Glycol, SLS, SLSA and much more.

We don’t use them because we don’t need them. We don’t need any fillers or artificial detergents, everything we use has a reason to be there and we don’t need to pad them out with other cheap ingredients. Our soap is only made from quality stuff!

So back to the original question.

Is your soap Natural?

My soap is made with care, using quality, responsibly sourced ingredients, in a gentle way, with naturally derived and minimally processed ingredients where possible. When we use non-naturally sourced ingredients, we do so because they are the best and the safest.

No soap is Natural.

Why You Should Make (Or Buy) Handmade Soap

Why Make (or Buy) Handmade Soap


It’s confusing, isn’t it? So many different products for washing your skin these days. Liquid soap in a pump, soap from the main commercial providers and now over the last few years there has been a big resurgence of handmade soap makers all over the world. So many different types of soap and it’s so difficult to choose the best one to use.

You should use handmade soap.

‘But you make and sell handmade soap’ I hear you cry…’You are biased!’ Well, actually I am but for very good reasons.

I first started to make handmade soap because I have psoriasis. I don’t have a serious case but I found that when I use products that moisturise my skin the psoriasis is much better. I use a lot of moisturiser on my knees and elbows and on my hands. But when you have a young family you are constantly washing. I found my hands were very dry and this was causing more frequent outbreaks.

At that time I was using liquid handwash. I did some research and found that it wasn’t actually soap. It was a mixture of other detergents which were playing havoc with my hands. So I stopped using that immediately.

I switched to bar soap which I bought in the local supermarket. Well, that was just as bad. My hands were really dry and the skin was cracked and broken.

At last, I read an article in a magazine about making handmade soap. But here in the West of Ireland back then, there wasn’t any available locally. So I decided to make my own.

You can read all about it in the Just Do It post.

Turns out that handmade soap is made in a completely different process than commercially made soap.

Commercial soap is made by boiling all the ingredients together until the saponification reaction is complete. Then the solid soap is sieved off. The remaining liquid contains the glycerine produced in the chemical reaction. This is removed, the glycerine recovered and sold to the cosmetic industry.

Handmade soap has a much lower reaction temperature than this. Most soap makers soap at around 30-35 degrees C. This allows the properties of the oils used to have a better chance of being retained.

Of course, handmade soap makers don’t remove the glycerin from their soaps. They keep all that moisturising goodness in there. And that’s one of the reasons that handmade soap is more expensive.

Because the soap is boiled and then sieved off, there is no extra oil in commercial soap. Handmade soap contains up to 10% extra oil…called the superfat. This is to ensure all the lye is used in the reaction but also so your hands are left soft with a thin layer of nourishing goodness after washing. Commercial soap can strip oil away from the skin without replacing it, leaving the hands dry. The superfat in handmade soap replaces the oils washed away with the dirt and leaves you hands feeling like you have used lotion on them.

Commercial soap makers are trying to make a lot of profit so they tend to use cheaper oils. Handmade soapmakers are worried about making the best bar they can and they love to experiment with different oils. So you tend to get luxurious oils in handmade soap formulations. As new oils become available, the possibilities are endless. My particular favourite is cocoa butter.

Handmade soap may also contain lots of other lovely additions like milk, honey, oatmeal, botanicals or seeds. You won’t find these in commercially made soap.

Handmade soap makers do not use preservatives. It’s just not needed. So there aren’t any nasty preservatives hidden in there.

Commercial soap sometimes contains a lot of other harsh detergents besides the soap. These can be drying and may not agree with some skin types. Handmade soap only contains soap. No other detergents.

If you use handmade soap you can make sure all the ingredients are sustainably produced. The big one I’m thinking of here is palm oil (more about that in another post later). Most commercial soap uses palm oil as it makes a hard bar of soap. But we have no way of knowing if the palm oil used in commercial soap is sustainably farmed. N on sustainable farming of palm oil destroys the habitat of the Orang Utan.

Commercial soap sometimes contains other ingredients to add bulk. These are fillers and don’t add to the efficiency of the soap. They are just there to make it heavier and bulkier…and worse value. No need for these in handmade soap. Everything in it has value and is worth putting in.

If you make your own handmade soap you can customise it to contain the ingredients you love. If you only use essential oils, put those in. If you are vegan, only use plant oils. If you love cocoa butter (like me) you can use lashings of it in your soap. You can tailor any recipe to suit your own needs. How’s that for power over your own skin?

Lots of us soap makers run our own businesses. We strive to make a living out of the craft that we enjoy (and that benefits others) often at a very small amount per bar. When you buy from a handmade soap maker you are supporting small business, not the big guys. You are helping to put food on someone’s table, helping with school books, paying the bills. Not adding to the riches of a faceless company.

If you buy your soap locally, your money stays local. The soap maker spends money locally too. That’s got to be good for your town and your area.

Handmade soap is gorgeous! Whether it is a simple bar or something more intricate, handmade soap is so much more decorative than your plain bar. Much better for giving as a gift. Everyone loves getting something handmade. It’s much more thoughtful than something made in bulk.

I love handmade soap. It’s unlike any other kind of soap available. If you don’t already use it I urge you to give it a try. Find a supplier at your local farmers market or in your local gift shop. Search online…or even buy from me! Once you try it you won’t use ordinary soap again. And it’s really fun to try making it. In fact, it can get you hooked.

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Saponification (For the nation!)




Saponification (for the nation)!


For all you non scientists out there who are currently inwardly groaning at the mere mention of chemistry, I’m here to make it simple (or at least a bit simpler).

You don’t really need to know all this to follow a soap making recipe but it really helps if you would like to design your own recipes later. I always like to know what is going on in a chemical reaction because that way it can be controlled. And that means there is less chance of something going wrong that you can’t explain.

What is soap and how does it work?

First we need to understand exactly what soap making is. In a nutshell it is the chemical reaction between a sodium or potassium hydroxide with a triglyceride (fat). This reaction is known as saponification.

We want to make soap because it is a surfactant. Soap helps to hold oil particles in suspension with water in much the same way as egg yolk does with the oil in mayonnaise. In effect a surfactant is an emulsifier. It helps oil and water to mix.

We need surfactants to help water clean our clothes and bodies because water is not very efficient at cleaning on its own. Water has a high surface tension which allows it to form droplets instead of spreading out when it hits a surface. It also does not dissolve oil well and this is a problem because the oil particles are where the dirt usually is.

So how does soap help?

It is down to the structure of the soap molecule.

There are two distinct areas in this molecule, a negatively charged head and a long tail which is uncharged. On one end there is a negatively charged head which is hydrophilic (mixes with water). On the other there is a long chain tail which does not have a charge and this is hydrophobic (doesn’t mix with water).

Having a molecule which has water loving and water hating ends allows the soap molecule to form a bridge between each of the oil and water layers.

The hydrophilic charged end mixes with the water and the hydrophobic end mixes with the oil. Eventually enough soap molecules combine with the oil and water that they hold the oil in suspension within the water.

These spherical complexes are known as micelles. In this way the oil particles cam be separated from the surface, held in suspension and then washed away.

Soap is an anionic surfactant and other detergents such as SLS are cationic surfactants as they have a positively charged head.


The reactants of saponification

The Sodium Hydroxide (lye)

In our case we are using NaOH (lye) as the hydroxide. Once this is dissolved in water, it separates into two parts, a Sodium ion and a Hydroxide ion. We call this a strong base because it almost totally breaks down into its constituent ions. It is really very reactive.

In order to pull the positively and negatively charged ions apart, energy must be added.  This is called the Lattice Energy. As the water molecules are attracted to and surround the ions, energy is released into the solution. This is called the Hydration Energy.  The hydration energy released is more than the lattice energy taken in to break the bonds and that is why the solution heats up. It is an exothermic reaction.

The Fats

Fats or triglycerides are made up of fatty acids and glycerol

The fatty acids are the part that combines with the Sodium to make up the soap molecule. Fatty acids come in two types depending on the structure of the carbon based tail. Saturated fatty acids (like lauric and myristic acids) have a long straight chain whereas unsaturated fatty acids (like oleic and linoleic acids) have a bend in their chain due to a double bond.

Each Triglyceride contains a glycerol molecule with three fatty acid tails.

In the saponification reaction, the glycerol side of the molecule splits off and forms glycerine. This leaves 3 fatty acid tails. Each of these reacts with a Sodium ion and forms a soap molecule (which is actually the salt of the fatty acid).

Each fatty acid requires one Sodium Ion to react with it so each molecule of fat needs three sodium ions.

The different fatty acid tails are different weights. You get more molecules in one gram of an oil with shorter (and lighter) chain fatty acids and fewer molecules in a gram if the fatty acid chains are longer (and heavier).

Scientists have worked out the proportions of lye (NaOH)required for each oil, depending on the fatty acid composition of the oil. These are called SAP values.

This way we can ensure that each molecule of lye is reacted completely with an oil molecule and there are no free lye molecules left in the soap.

We can test for free lye molecules in the soap we make using phenolphthalein. If there are no free OH- ions, the soap will remain colourless. If there are free OH- ions, the soap will turn a vibrant bright pink.

So there you go…It wasn’t that bad really! As I said at the start of the post, you really don’t need to know all this if you are just following a simple recipe but it does come in handy if you are formulating your own recipes.





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Safely Working With Lye

Safely Working With Lye

Many people who want to make soap are put off by the use of Sodium Hydroxide (Lye) in the making of it. The fact is that you need lye in order to make soap from scratch.

Just a note. In this post I’m going to refer to solid Sodium Hydroxide as lye and Sodium Hydroxide dissolved in water as lye solution.

If you really don’t want to handle lye, then you can use melt and pour soap, which is great, but you don’t have the same level of control over the ingredients you put in. It’s like using a store bought mix to bake a cake…It tastes fine but you can’t vary the recipe. And creative people like us…let’s face it, jiggling the ingredients is what we are all about.

I’m here to tell you the best ways of dealing with lye so it is safe to use. After all you wouldn’t be put off making a cup of tea or coffee because you need to work with boiling water. You wouldn’t want that on your skin either. It’s all about managing the risks.

Safety Equipment.

This is a must. Goggles and gloves are absolutely necessary for safe lye handling.

I know you don’t want to wear them and they get in the way but they really could save you from a nasty burn or significant eye damage.

Keep the goggles on until after your dish washing is finished. It seems like overkill but I personally have been splashed in the eye with caustic fresh soap whilst doing the dishes.

It’s important to wear closed toed shoes so you don’t get any on your feet if you do have a spill.

Some books advocate the use of long sleeved tops but I find they can hold lye solution or fresh soap next to your skin so I prefer short sleeves. You can then wash any splashes off straight away.

If I am doing a complicated procedure with the soap eg piping or layering, I use the plastic sleeves that scientists use. I tend to be messier whilst piping and they are easily available on amazon if you don’t fancy the bare skinned route.

Lye storage.

Lye awaiting use should be kept in an airtight box as it absorbs moisture from the air. Some books say that absorbing water weakens the lye, but it just means that your chosen weight is composed of both lye and water, so there isn’t enough actual lye in your soap at the end. And more water than you wanted.

Label the box well and keep on a high shelf out of reach of children or pets.

If you are storing lye solution, this advice goes double. You must keep the jug out of reach of children and pets.

Make sure you keep it in a non-leaking container with a lid once it has cooled down. Hot solutions should not be kept in closed containers in case the pressure builds up inside.


Make sure children and pets (and maybe partners!) are well out of the way and won’t come into your soap making area during the soap making.

If you want you can turn off your phone or TV as well if you find them distracting.

Leave that lovely glass of wine until after the soap making session, you’ll need a clear head. Reward yourself after you are done!

Mixing the lye solution.

This is best done in the sink so any spillages can be easily contained.

The dissolution of lye in water creates a huge amount of heat, and plastic jugs sometimes are not up to the job.

You can test your jug beforehand by filling it with boiling water (in the sink) and seeing if the plastic resists this kind of heat. This is a similar level of heat produced by the chemical reaction so it’s a good indicator of how your plastic will perform.

Many soap makers use stainless steel jugs instead to be sure but avoid aluminium jugs as they will react with the lye solution.

When you are ready to mix the lye and water make sure you add the solid to the liquid. The reaction is exothermic, it releases heat.

If you add liquid to the solid slowly, the small amounts of liquid will heat up so fast that they could evaporate explosively and spray out of the jug. Adding the lye to the liquid will avoid this as the larger amount of liquid will be able to absorb the heat.

Add the lye slowly and mix well with a spoon. If you don’t mix well enough you will end up with a layer of undissolved solid lye at the bottom of your jug. It’s almost impossible to get this to dissolve, and you don’t want to have lumps of solid lye in your soap. You should always strain your lye solution through a sieve even if your lye has dissolved, just in case.

When the lye is mixed, it can give off some pungent fumes. Don’t breathe this in. Make sure you work in a well ventilated area. I have a window above my sink which I always open.

Some soap makers mix their lye on the hob under the extractor fan. Some mix their lye outside. All of these are fine but if you aren’t using the sink you can put your jug in a basin instead.

I always cover my lye immediately with a layer of cling film (saran wrap) so no fumes can escape.

Splashes of lye.

Some soap makers advocate the use of vinegar on lye splashes and burns, but this isn’t the best plan. The idea is that vinegar (a weak acid) will neutralise the lye solution (a strong alkali) but it’s really not enough. In addition, they will react together with the possibility of creating more heat.

The best advice is to wash any splashes under a running tap, just as you would do for any other type of burn. This will wash the lye away and cool the area.

Purity of lye.

If you are making soap you really need to be ordering your lye from a reputable supplier. There are many soap making websites around the globe that would be happy to supply you with lye that is suitably pure for soap making. You could go to a hardware store to buy it but you risk buying a contaminated product.

Lye is usually sold as a drain cleaner but not all drain cleaners are pure lye, some are other things entirely and some can be a mixture of multiple chemicals. Best to buy the pure stuff.

Protect your surface.

You can use a plastic tablecloth or newspaper. Lye and freshly made soap will most likely react with the varnish on your table.

And finally, the soap making cleanup.

The not so much fun bit. Once the soap is made it is still very caustic as the chemical reaction hasn’t been completed yet. Washing up these caustic dishes can present a few problems.

You will need to wear your goggles and gloves for the clean up as well. Even better, get out your heavy duty washing up gloves.

You can wash your dishes in the conventional way in the sink. You’ll need a lot of dish soap to cut the grease, lots of hot water and the patience of a Saint. There are easier ways!

Many soap makers wipe their dishes out with paper towels first and dispose of these in the bin. This makes it much easier to wash as there isn’t a lot of soap residue left on the dishes.

Some use clean rags to wipe their dishes which they then wash. The rags are put away overnight and washed in the washing machine the next day when the mixture has almost completely turned to soap.

Others put all of the soapy dishes in a box or large plastic bag and leave the whole lot in the shed or garage until the next day. Then they can wash the soap residue off much more easily and you don’t need any dish soap at all.

It’s not a good idea to put freshly made soap in the dishwasher as it can react with any aluminium inside as well as the rubber seals around the door.

Whatever way you choose to clean up, you can now have that glass of wine!

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Soap Making Equipment

Soap Making Equipment

Soap Making is one of the most cost effective hobbies to start because it doesn’t require much specialised equipment to get started. Many things you’ll need can be found in your own kitchen. Leave the expensive stuff until you find out if you love soap making (I think you will!)

Weighing – Scales are a necessary piece of kit. It’s not possible to use measuring equipment instead because all the ingredients for soap making are measured by weight. This is due to the need for accuracy. I would recommend spending some money  on them if you don’t have a set already. They are not expensive and can be bought online or in your local electronics store.

Chopping – You’ll need to do this to break up any oils such as palm or coconut oils which generally come in large blocks. A suitably sized knife is perfect for this. Soap additives such as petals, leaves and herbs may also need to be chopped up before adding.

Melting – Your hard oils will need to be melted before you can use them. You can put them in a stainless steel pot on the stove or you can use a microwave (obviously use a plastic bowl in the microwave). You’ll need to let them cool a bit before they will be at the correct temperature.

Measuring temperature – It’s really handy to have a thermometer as a new soap maker. You can easily make sure the temperature of your oils and lye mixture is within the recommended range before you start. All soap makers have their own preferred temperature at which to soap. I prefer just above room temperature so I don’t really use a thermometer much anymore. But it is useful to have one until you find your own preferences. You can get them in any kitchen store or online if you don’t already have one.

Stirring and scraping – Spatulas are perfect for this! I love to get every last drop out of my soaping bowl. Plastic is best as wooden spoons tend to react with the lye as does aluminium. You can use stainless steel spoons as they don’t react but they are not as good at scraping.

Bowls and jugs – Anything big enough to fit your soap recipe is perfect. Again plastic is best but you can use a ceramic bowl too. Stainless steel pots can also work but make sure your pots are not made from aluminium or they will react with the lye present. Make sure the jug you use for the lye mixture can resist a fair amount of heat. Mixing the lye with water is an exothermic reaction, so glass is not the best plan. Heat resistant plastic is best but many soap makers use metal jugs. You will need smaller jugs for mixing colour into portions of your batter. Small bowls are very useful for mixing powdered colour with water or oils

Mixing – You can mix by hand in which case all you will need is a long handled spoon or a whisk to stir…but this can take a very long time. Most soap makers use an immersion (or stick) blender. This allows very fast mixing without the addition of bubbles to the mixture. Electric mixers…the type with beaters, are not the best as they add too much air to your soap mixture causing air bubbles in the finished soap.

Moulding – just about anything can be used for a mould if it is lined. My first soap was moulded in a plastic lunchbox. Or you can use an empty milk carton (washed first of course), a Pringles carton or a yoghurt pot. Silicon cooking moulds are very convenient as they don’t need to be lined and are easily removed from the soap. The variety of moulds you can buy once you are ready is quite staggering.

Swirling and patterning – Once you have made your new batch of soap you might want to swirl the colours together. Chopsticks are perfect for this, small spoons are great, a wire clothes hanger can be bent into a swirling implement, almost anything you can think of that will move the soap around can be used. Patterns can be made on top of the soap to give it texture. You can be as creative as you like.

Insulation – If you choose to insulate your soap you will need a few old towels or blankets to wrap around it. You may also want a piece of old cardboard to cover your soap if your mould doesn’t have a lid.

Table protection – Soap mixture is very likely to damage your table surface as it is very caustic to begin with. You can use a paper tablecloth, an old piece of fabric, newspaper, a layer of cardboard or anything similar to protect your table.

There are so many things that you can use you’ll find yourself looking around thinking ‘Can I soap with this’ !

So now that you are all set up you are ready to visit the article on Working With Lye.

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A Drop of the Black Stuff

A Drop of the Black Stuff.

I live in the West of Ireland in a gorgeous seaside village called Kinvara. It’s beautiful here…not only do we have the Wild Atlantic Way on our doorstep but we have the dramatic backdrop of the Burren too. That mysterious slab of limestone provides a lot of inspiration for me as a creative person.

Of course visitors from around the world arrive here to enjoy the delights of our surroundings and they all have one thing in common. They are all excited to try a drop of the Black Stuff here in Ireland.

Many people find it very strange that I would use something like a pint of stout in my soap making but actually it is very common to use liquids other than water. Milk, beer, tea and coffee are common as well as an endless variety of herbal infusions.  Each of these liquids adds something to the soap. Milks and beers are full of conditioning proteins. Herbal infusions carry the properties of the herbs used. Some extracts may add colour to the soap.  But Guinness is one of my favourite. Of course any brand of stout will do.

If you haven’t made soap before please check out the soaping 101 or Soap Queen  youtube sites for all the instructions you need. This recipe is a little more advanced and I recommend you try a few simpler recipes before you attempt this one.

You will need

  • An assortment of plastic jugs and bowls
  • A stick blender
  • A thermometer
  • Safety goggles and gloves
  • A lined soap mould
  • An ice bath

The recipe

  • 500g of stout frozen into ice cubes
  • 500g Olive Oil
  • 450g Coconut Oil
  • 400g Palm Oil
  • 100g Cocoa Butter
  • 50g Shea Butter
  • 100g Canola Oil
  • 226g Sodium Hydroxide
  • Cocoa Powder dissolved in water or glycerine.
  • Lemongrass, cedarwood and Patchouli

The first thing you need to do is put on your safety goggles and gloves. Always. Every time. Even keep them on until the washing up is done. It’s just not worth it. Keep children, pets and any other distractions out of the way.

Start by melting your solid oils in the microwave or on the stove and leave to cool. Add your liquid oils to this.



Place your ice cubes in a plastic container and put this container into and ice/water bath. Slowly and gradually add your sodium hydroxide whilst stirring. The reaction of the sodium hydroxide with the water is exothermic…It releases heat. We don’t want our stout to heat up too much or it will denature the delicate proteins contained within. Too much heat and the stout will scorch resulting in a very smelly liquid. Don’t worry too much if this does happen as the smell will reduce during the cure time. It is best to try and avoid it though.



Once all the ice cubes are melted and the sodium hydroxide is dissolved, it is time to combine our liquids. For those new to soap making this is the crucial moment when the magic begins. The chemical reaction of the oils and the sodium hydroxide is what creates the soap. More about chemistry in another post.


Add the sodium hydroxide solution to the oil. Stick blend until trace happens. Add the fragrance blend and stir well.




Separate one quarter of the mixture into a separate jug. To the larger portion add the cocoa powder mixture and blend well. Pour into the mould.



To the smaller portion add the titanium dioxide and blend well. Carefully layer this on top of the brown soap in the mould. You don’t want the layers to incorporate. It sometimes helps to pour slowly onto the back of a spoon to slow the mixture down.



Wait until the soap has firmed up a little and then form peaks on the top.  I use a chopstick to make this look.



Spritz with alcohol and cover with cling film (Saran wrap). Leave for 24 to 48 hours before unmoulding. One the soap is out of the mould you can cut into slices and place on a shelf and leave to cure for 4-6 weeks.



So there you have it. A little slice of the Black Stuff from the Wild Atlantic way.

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Meet Emma. From Science to Soap

 Science and Soap.

My journey from Scientist to Soap Maker.

I always loved science at school. I found it intuitive and exciting. I loved the processes involved, the scientific method and the sheer wondrousness of biological life.

As I progressed through my scientific education, the physics fell to the wayside (too much maths!) and I concentrated on Biology and Chemistry. I was fascinated by the way the natural world worked and the chemical processes that governed it.

I graduated from Queens University Belfast with an honours degree in Genetics, during which time I met my lovely husband. I then did a Masters degree in Medical Laboratory Science.  After working in the medical diagnostics industry for a couple of years, I decided to move into teaching and achieved a Postgraduate Certificate in Education as well.

I loved teaching. It is a challenging but very rewarding career but I wanted to take a small break while my children were babies. We had just moved to Southern Ireland from Northern Ireland so the time seemed to be right. Three children later and I discovered handmade soap.

I have suffered with psoriasis for many years. Thankfully for me it’s not too serious but I do have flare ups every once in a while. I had read about natural soap in a magazine and had tried to find some locally here in Ireland but to no avail. I researched a little further and discovered that it was possible to make soap myselfand bought a book with recipes and instructions. It seemed a good fit with my scientific background.

I was totally hooked and I knew this was what I wanted to do.

Financially the idea of starting my business here in Ireland was a complete nightmare as the housing market crashed and my husband was made redundant. With no income and a mortgage in negative equity we had no choice but to move to where the employment was.

We rented out our house and moved to Stirling in Scotland where my talented husband had managed to get a new job. We moved in January and by August I started trading as Purple Herb Soap.

I started by booking some craft fairs. My first one was in the Scottish Wool Centre in Aberfoyle, a beautiful little Scottish village just at the foot of the mountains. I traded there over the summer and Autumn.

The next year I was invited to join a group of artists and makers who run a small craft shop just at the side of the main shop called Handmade. I was part of this lovely and supportive group of people for several years.

I joined the Made In Stirling Initiative who have a pop up shop for local businesses in Stirling. It’s a great place to find something really unique.

I also did many many craft fairs! My favourite was the Christmas craft fair at Stirling Castle with carol singers, traditional music and dancing and of course mulled wine and mince pies.

I became involved with Cowane’s Hospital  which is historic building in Stirling. John Cowane was a merchant in Stirling who left a sum of money on his deathbed to build a retirement home for elderly merchants who had fallen on hard times. I was proud to be a trustee of the building and I had my soap making workshop there. I was involved in the organisation of craft fairs and fundraising events to raise money for the maintenance and eventual renovation of the building. I loved being part of the team there. (

During this time I developed my perfect soap recipe along with a range of body butters, bath salts and bath bombs, lip balm and other assorted bath time goodies. I also taught soap making lessons and did kids soap making birthday parties. I gave demonstrations for ladies groups and I even participated in delivering youth training programmes. I was also regularly in Primary schools giving soap making lessons as part of their science curriculum and to teach them how to make soap for their own fund raising efforts.

I regularly opened my workshop to the public as part of the Open Studios programme. Have a look at this lovely article written about me from Ann Shaw, one of the organisers of the event. I realised that there was no chance of me wishing to return to teaching…even thought it might be better paid. I love being my own boss, working around the needs of my family and the creativity it affords me.

We lived happily in Stirling for five years until disaster struck. My husband was made redundant again!  So we were on the hunt for another job. In a strange twist of fate my husband managed to find a great job back at the company he was made redundant from the first time. So I closed Purple Herb Soap and moved back to Ireland.  We are now living in beautiful Kinvara, County Galway and ready to start up the little business again. This time it’s called Hazelrock House.

I’m planning great things…so watch this space!


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Just Do It (Stop Whining!)

So far I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time procrastinating about writing this blog.

Not enough time. More pressing things to do.

But actually….

….Maybe I’m JUST SCARED.

What if nobody reads it?

What if everyone thinks I’m stupid?

What if it’s not good enough?

Well, my fears may prove to be justified. But what if my fears are wrong?

I would miss out on doing something fun, something that might help promote my business, something that might help me improve as a person.


I was just as unsure the first time I made soap.

I’d done my research. I had gathered all my ingredients and I had researched the method. I watched countless YouTube videos on the subject.

I had a palm oil problem. I went to the local Chinese supermarket to get it but they only had unrefined Palm oil, which is bright orange. Somehow I still expected my soap to be white!

I wanted to scent it with some lavender essential oil I had at home. I also had some lavender buds left over from another project.

Everything went great at first. I weighed my ingredients, made my lye mixture,  melted my oils and then blended it all together.

I added my lavender oil and buds and poured it into a plastic lunchbox. I covered it with an old towel and left it until the morning.

I did peek. I still do.

Next morning I anxiously uncovered the soap.

It was still orange and it had brown (lavender sized) lumps in it. The lavender buds had turned into something resembling mouse droppings. And I couldn’t get it out of the lunchbox. I hadn’t lined it. It smelled amazing.

Now some people would say that this was an EPIC FAIL.

But not me. I loved it.

I scooped it out of the lunchbox with a spoon, mouse poo lavender and all. Some came out in chunks. I left it to cure. Well, most of it. I will confess I ran into the bathroom and tried a chunk of it straight away.

I was hooked.

I’ve made a few improvements in the last 8 years since that first try.

I’ve tweaked my recipe many times. I’ve perfected mould lining. I no longer put lavender buds in the soap (but I sometimes put them on top). And I use refined palm oil (sustainably farmed of course).

But I’ve never regretted facing my fears and doing it.


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