I’ve always had allergies. Even as a pretty young kid, I remember needing to be careful about using the right sunscreen and shampoo, or risk the painful, itchy hives that would result wherever I came into contact with a new product. Over time, I was able to make good choices, based on lots of hard won experience, but I was always just a bit jealous of my friends who could use fancy skin creams and deliciously scented bath products. Above all, I wanted to have the same soft, smooth, healthy skin that they seemed always to take for granted!
I did have a few trusted products that I relied on, but a couple of years ago it seemed that even those began to provoke an allergic reaction. And this time, I wasn’t alone; several of my friends found that their skin had changed radically over time (especially after they had their children) and now they too were looking for gentler, simpler bath products to take good care of their skin without added dyes, perfumes and preservatives.
Once again, I experimented with a wide range of products in search of one which would not bother my skin. I had to cut a lot of possibilities right from the beginning because they contained sodium tallowate or sodium lardate, both of which are made from animal bi-products. I also spent a long time in a fruitless search for soap without either sodium palmate or sodium palm kernelate, both of which are made with oils from oil palm trees. Palm oil and palm kernel oil are popular because they are economical and produce a nice, hard bar of soap with lots of lather, but it’s difficult to know for sure if the palm trees were raised sustainably. Oil palms are often farmed on land that was once vibrant forest, but which has been burned clear, covered with chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and doused with water pumped or piped in to support those thirsty trees.
Worse still were the soaps which didn’t include a full listing of their contents, so it was never possible to be certain that the soap would meet both my practical and ethical needs!
It was a chance conversation with a fellow allergy sufferer online who pointed me toward the idea that I might make my own soap and be able to control exactly what would go against my skin. And so I began to research and experiment! I tried exotic blends of coconut oil, canola and castor, and kept running into the same problems: though the bars I came up with did get the job done and produced lots of fluffy lather besides, they still made me itch.
And then I found an anecdote in a very old book on soapmaking history, which suggested that one of the earliest recipes for soap was also one of the simplest; just pure olive oil, lye and water. I tried it and fell in love immediately; it’s no wonder that people have, for so many centuries, relied on the remarkable properties of olive oil for all their skin care. The soap I made with this recipe could not have been simpler, but the result was amazing: creamy, silky lather that left the skin feeling soft and smooth, and gently moisturized as it cleaned, with a fresh, light and almost lemony scent that needed no heavy perfumes. And I wasn’t the only one who noticed the change: now my friends were admiring my skin and asking what was my new secret!
I shared the results of those first few batches with my network of allergy-sufferer friends, and before I knew it, requests came pouring back. Could I make a version with some exfoliating scrub added? How about a version with clarifying Tea tree oil, or the relaxing scent of lavender? Each request spurred another round of research and experimentation, and now I’m delighted to be able to share what I’ve learned with others.