Herbal soaps – and a good cause

Have you ever made soap? Did you know you could make it from natural ingredients and even use oils derived from or infused with medicinal herbs with beneficial properties? Did you know there are places in the world where mothers and babies are literally dying from illnesses that could be prevented by basic sanitation and hygiene?

If not, keep reading.

If you know nothing about soap, I previously wrote a post you may be interested in that covers how soap works. When I decide to “look into something” it’s intense. I even interviewed a chemist.

I began making soap a year or two ago. Given my interest in product design, I wanted to try as many things as I could.  I had seen a Harvard University article discussing the dangers of triclosan as an antibacterial agent in soap.  One of the questions I asked myself was why there were any synthetic ingredients in soap, to begin with.

I found myself researching soapmaking and thinking about how I could formulate it to better suit my needs.  My first few endeavors were aesthetically unremarkable and disappointing but did get my hands clean.

This is my first batch from well over a year ago.  It was castile soap.  I still have it because no one wanted to use it. It looks like mouse droppings (it’s lavender flowers in the batter).


I persisted and a few batches (and a lot of raw materials) later, I was no longer embarrassed. Once I achieved what I considered success, I took a break and forgot about it for a bit. This is a rustic soap with cranberry seeds for exfoliation.

It became a priority again when I read a heartbreaking article about fetal deaths in Malawi attributed to preventable infections in Malawi. The article discussed the lack of access to antibiotics, the unsanitary conditions women give birth in, malnutrition, etc. The part that I couldn’t get past was that a named contributing factor was soap.  A bar of soap in Malawi can cost almost a monthly wage.  The lack of access to soap, the lack of ability to clean and sanitize hands and bodies, was contributing to poor maternal and fetal outcomes.  See CNN article here.

Soap. A basic staple that anyone, even the homeless in America, can easily get access to.  It is found in nearly every public and private bathroom in America.  I was so upset that I told my colleagues about the article. I was moved when, a few days later, one of them shared the information he had found about the Malawi Project, an Indianapolis based nonprofit that provides aid to Malawi.  Anything sent to their headquarters could be loaded onto their 40-foot ocean carriers and transported to Malawi.

Rather idealistically, I bought a bunch of soap on sale at Whole Foods one day, intending to send it the group.  Then reality kicked in and I realized how insignificant and downright foolish it would be to send one bag of soap to a country with a population of over 18 million. It needed to be much more, and I couldn’t afford to supply everyone.  I didn’t know how to help.

I mentioned it in a class assignment a couple of months later. A faculty member suggested I try to collaborate with other herbalists and product makers.  Most herbalists I knew didn’t make soap. It isn’t part of the school curriculum and many soap recipes call for synthetic colors and fragrances.  I thought that introducing synthetic dyes, fragrances, and other ingredients could wreak havoc on people unaccustomed to them.  A bit disheartened, I decided to perfect my art before I could move forward and come up with a better plan.

During my free time over the last couple of months, I used YouTube, e-books, and the tutorials on the soapqueen.com and brambleberry.com to learn how to make soap (better).  I had to experiment a lot to get nice colors with mineral mica or herb infusions since I refuse to use synthetic dyes. Getting the essential oils right (and knowing which ones would come through the final product) also took some time. Figuring out how to add things like activated charcoal without ruining the batch was a challenge. Adding designs for visual interest and using shaped molds ending up being a blast. Basically, it ended up being a really nice artistic and scientific challenge.  Behold some of the experimentation below.

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After I popped the last few batches out of their molds, I knew I was there. I understood the chemical reactions occurring and I had a sense of which chemicals would play well together.  I really liked the round activated charcoal soap that almost had an industrial look to it.  The second batch I am calling the mermaid batch.  The mineral mica made the hand created swirls really shimmery.  My favorite part? I used infused herbal oils and rosemary, clove, and orange essential oils. I was going for soap that would last through lengthy transportation, would hold up well, and could just maybe help kill some microbes.

I sat down to write this post, unsure of where I was going with it. I wanted to showcase my work, but also, I really needed to come up with ideas because this cause has stayed on my mind for months.  I am a mom. I cannot imagine giving birth to my children on a dirty floor and knowing that they might not survive due to preventable infections.

I still wasn’t sure what I could do.  In a rather duh moment, towards the middle to end of this post, it came to me. This is when I ask other herbalists, aromatherapists, gardeners, crafters, or people that just want to participate.  I ask for suggestions. I ask for help.  And  I offer whatever I can.

As soon as I published this article I started emailing people.  I cannot purchase all the materials to make all the soap I would like (how much soap does it take to provide for 18 million?), but I can certainly offer my services, free of charge. My offer to those I have emailed, and those of you still reading, is that I will gladly teach workshops on herbal soapmaking if the soap is sent to the Malawi Project.  I will come to you. I will teach you or a group. I will formulate recipes for you and show you how to make them a reality.  Alternatively, I will offer the same if the soap is sold and the profits donated to the group.

I am still looking for more ideas and would like to have a larger impact. I did not want to sit on this any longer so I am putting this out to the universe. Please hit me up if you are interested or have ideas. Let’s do this! Contact me

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