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!
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."
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
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
my opinion, handmade soaps are epitomized by those offered by
Like their creator, Anastasia Crabtree, these soaps are
positively overflowing with personality!
One of the first of her soaps I tried was the
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
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
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
Honey Milk and Rose and Oatmeal and Vanilla are
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).
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
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
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!
Another gentle introduction to handmade soaps comes from
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
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.
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).
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.