Soap making is one of life's little pleasures crafters love and enjoy. Knowing how soap is made and the science behind it will allow you to develop your own recipes while keeping you safe during the process. It takes a strong alkaline agent to turn oils into soap, therefore, knowledge and safety are essential in making soap.
Where does the joy come in? There are endless possibilities with ingredients you can add for scent, texture, or color along with many techniques and molds used to design each bar.
Once you have a basic understanding of the techniques and ingredients you can begin designing your own recipes. Begin with a recipe that suits you and your skin and then start adding variations. You will find that oils play an important role in the amount of lather, butters help with moisturizing skin, and essential oils and other plant extract add homeopathic effects. Ensure that you are using proper amounts of oil to lye whenever modifying a recipe.
Safety is number one especially when dealing with a strong alkaline agent. Wear gloves, goggles, apron, and sleeves that cover your entire arm; work in a well-ventilated environment; use heatproof containers (preferably glass) for mixing lye and water; and keep the work area clean.
This is the most difficult to recognize in cold process soap making. Simply put, trace is met when the oils and lye water have emulsified. Upon pouring the lye water into the oils the mixture will begin turning cloudy. The mixture will quickly become creamy after a few quick pulse from a stick blender. Light trace, the ideal time to include additives, is met when the mixture has no oil streaks and a consistency similar to cake batter. Medium trace has a consistency of thin pudding and trailing of soap will remain on surface of soap mixture.
Essential oils, not to be confused with fragrance oils, are derived directly from plants or trees and may vary in odor. Essential oils are volatile and have a short shelf life. Wait until you are ready to pour the soap into the mold before scenting with essential oils. The oils will accelerate trace. The oils can be blended together to create a unique scent for your soap.
You can use many natural ingredients to add color to your soap including clays and herbal infusion. Pigments and oxides in powder or liquid form are more commonly used.
Powder colorants need to be mixed with a lightweight oil. Add the colorant to the soap mixture after reaching light trace. Remember that some colorants will fade over time.