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A Handmade Tale
By Debbie Steele




I love the simplicity of bar soap: just pick it up, wash with it, put it down. No bottles, caps or accessories needed. But let’s face it, most mass-market soaps have about as much personality as a stick of margarine.

Enter handmade soaps. With their irregular shapes, interesting textures and fabulous scents, handmade soaps can be a totally refreshing experience. There are currently an incredible number of small handmade soap crafters selling their products online (just take a look at Yahoo's directory listings in the handmade soap category).

Let me start with a couple general comments: In my experience, makers of handmade soap are some of the nicest, most enthusiastic entrepreneurs you're likely to come across. Also, handmade soaps tend to be very reasonably priced, so even if you make a "mistake", it won't be a costly one.

If you visit several of the online stores selling handmade soaps, you may find that they start to sound very much the same after a while. It is frankly difficult to decide which soaps to try. Well, that's why I'm writing this!



The Party Line


According to The Handcrafted Soap Makers Guild, a nonprofit professional trade organization, "commercial soap bars...are actually synthetic detergents...In contrast, Handcrafted Soap is soap in its true, pure form...When properly made, these soaps contain both soap and moisture-rich glycerin."

Because of this glycerin content, they continue, "users of Handcrafted Soap frequently comment on how the soap leaves their skin feeling soft, smooth and itch-free." Many (most?) makers of handmade soaps describe their products as gentle, designed for sensitive skin or occasionally for facial use. Visit SoapGuild.org for further reading.

In my experience, however, most soaps (and shower gels) can leave my skin with that squeaky-clean feeling that tells me it's a little too dry. So, I always follow with a good moisturizer. Just trust your judgment on this one.



Dive Right In
Anastasia's Ideas

In my opinion, handmade soaps are epitomized by those offered by Anastasia's Ideas. Like their creator, Anastasia Crabtree, these soaps are positively overflowing with personality!

anastasia's ideas logoOne of the first of her soaps I tried was the Roman Chamomile with Rose Soap. Roman Chamomile is reputed to help reduce stress and combat PMS. The soap is  loaded with chunks of rose soap. Wow!

The aroma was so intense, I literally got a "head rush" the first time I used it in the shower (and I haven't even used that term in years)! I am currently enjoying her Rhassoul Super Body Polish, a rich, earthy slab of soap made with Rhassoul clay. At my bathroom sink is her fabulous Lavender bar, with a topping of real lavender buds and a clean lavender scent.

In my husband's shower is Hero with a Thousand Faces Soap, perhaps one of the most beautiful bars I've ever seen: shades of deep green and brown swirls.  The aroma is subtle, green and earthy. According to Anastasia, this soap "will blow away your guy's stress and indifference!" She suggests combining it with a back rub just to be sure.

Finally, waiting in the wings is an African Queen Shea Butter Smoothie, an exfoliating bar with peppermint, spearmint and lavender (this might be a little too much for all over use, but perfect for knees, feet and elbows).

Anastasia's soaps come beautifully packaged in handmade paper, and she offers this guarantee: "I really believe that you will love everything, but if you are not completely thrilled, just call me."

How often do you get a guarantee like that? Prices range from $6.00 to $12.00 per bar.



Wade in Slowly

Suisun Bay Soap Company

If you're a little intimidated by the bolder handmade soaps, a nice way to get started is to try a more conservative soap.

The soaps from Suisun Bay Soap Company are creative and thoroughly enjoyable, but not at all intimidating. Honey Milk and Rose and Oatmeal and Vanilla are Suisun Bay Soap downright comfortable.

For something a little more exotic, try  the Indonesian Lemongrass with Wild Ginger or the Mediterranean Aloe with Vitamin E (this is a great choice for men).

If you're looking for vibrant color, try the Papaya with Jojoba and Kukui Nut Oil bar. his brightly-colored bar looks like half cherry Popsicle, half cantaloupe. The scent is a surprisingly mild fruity-floral smell.

They also have a good selection of glycerin soaps. All in all, Suisun Bay is a place where I can happily fill up my virtual shopping cart.

One note about these soaps: the bars do not last long; a week of daily showers is about all you can expect from one. They sell for about $3.50 per bar; join Suisun Bay's eClub and get 25% off your first purchase at Suisun-Bay.com.



Dip Your Toe in the Water
Chelmsford Herbal Soap Company

Still too adventurous for your taste? The following soaps are completely non-threatening.

Chelmsford Herbal Soap Company specializes in delightful, nourishing shea butter products. At Bathtime Suds Report, we have long been fans of their creams and lotions. They also have a nice selection of handmade soaps. Not surprisingly, my favorite is their Shea Butter Soap, rich and creamy with a soft aloe scent.

Some of their soaps are scented only with essential oils and botanical ingredients, such as their Lavender and Comfrey bar. Others are  scented with fragrances like Plumeria, Apple Pie and Oceania. 4oz bars sell for $3.95. Chelmsford is definitely worth a visit. While you're there, be sure to pick up some cream or lotion!


Gently Now
The Soapmeister


soapmaking processAnother gentle introduction to handmade soaps comes from The Soapmeister, a.k.a. Cheri Neveu. Cheri has a fascinating and informative Web site, including her bio, information and photos of the soapmaking process (like the one at right), and such attention-grabbing articles as The Secret to Bathing Pets, Scent Offense and A Tale of Two Chickens.

The Soapmeister's soaps are pretty typical of the offerings of hand made soap crafters, including such staples as Oatmeal and Honey, Lavender and Plain Jane.

I tried two of her soaps: Olde Fashion Rose Water and Avocado-Calendula. Both were very mildly fragranced. In fact, I had both bars going at once, and if I closed my eyes, I couldn’t tell them apart. They just smelled like soap. At almost $7 per 4-5 oz. bar, these soaps are pricier than those of comparable companies.


For soaps with a Texas flavor, check out Texas Soap and Sundries. Here you'll find Yellow Rose soap, Texas Bluebonnet soap and a nice assortment of other blends (which are not all named after the Lone Star State).
Texas Soap & Sundries Old Fashion Lye Soap
I tried Pure Luxury, a spicy blend of sandalwood, peru balsam and cinnamon (cinnamon can be irritating to sensitive skin; I used this for hand washing only).

I also tried Jasmine Delight, a crisp floral blend of jasmine, lavender and roman chamomile. Both these soaps had pleasing, assertive aromas. The bars are about 3.5oz and sell for $4.95 each.

Texas Soap & Sundries also offers their handmade soap by the loaf (approx. 3
˝lbs for $48.00); this will give you about 14 bars of soap. Available at TexasSoap.com.


Let me finish by saying: If you're a bar soap fan, or even if you've given up on bar soaps because of the snooze factor, I really encourage you to try out some handmade soaps.

You'll be expanding your horizons, supporting some wonderful small business owners, stimulating the economy...and, oh yes, staying clean in the process.





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