The Best Soap Ever

*crossposted from Seven Deadly Divas*

Back when I was in college, I decided to start growing out my hair. On a long hair care board, I ran across a discussion of something called a “shampoo bar”. My hair is somewhere between wavy and curly, extremely fine, and relatively thin, so I have to be pretty careful with what I wash it with – curly hair likes lots of moisture, and regular shampoos give me the bad aquanet frizz look. Not very attractive.

After a lot of forum reading, I started looking into shampoo bars, since I figured it was worth at least experimenting. I learned that some of them are essentially just solid state shampoo – a detergent with sulfates that had the exact same effect on my hair as regular bottled shampoo. Others, however, were made with super-fatted soaps and not detergents at all.

Brief Intro to Soap:

Soap happens when you mix oil/fat/butter with lye. The chemical reaction is called saponification, and when it’s completed and the soap has cured, you’re not actually left with any lye, just soap, glycerine, and water. People can make soap with animal fats (tallow) or vegetable oils and butters.

Tallow soaps are very hard and can be harsh – my grandmother made some tallow soap and while nobody uses it to clean their skin on a regular basis, it will get engine grease off your hands or pretty much any stain out of clothing. (It also smells vaguely like sausage.) Soap for your skin is usually made with vegetable fats and is much gentler. Super-fatted soap is soap made with more oils/fats/butters than the added lye can saponify into soap, leaving delicious skin conditioning oils and butters behind in the soap.

Natural and handmade soaps also still have all the glycerine – a saponification byproduct that draws and holds moisture (humectant). Most commercial soaps remove the glycerine because they can then sell it to you in more expensive stuff, resulting in a harsher soap for you and more money for them, when you buy their glycerine lotions.


After a bit of highly unfortunate experimenting, I saw a recommendation for shampoo bars made by a lady named Ida. Ida runs an online (and in person, if you live in Ohio) shop called Chagrin Valley Soap and Craft. Most of the reviews were highly favorable about her handmade soap as well.

I bought some samples – both of her shampoo bars and of her myriad soap offerings. It didn’t take long for me to get totally hooked. While my hair only needs to be scrubbed with shampoo about once a week (otherwise I just wash it with water and light conditioner), I use her soaps every day.

My skin is weird – my face is oily and acne prone, but also very sensitive to cleansers and most face washes will leave me with horrible pizza-like patches of acne after just a few days. The rest of my body, especially my arms and legs, gets dry, bumpy itchy patches all year long, worse in winter (even here in the swamp, where we only get quasi-winter-ish weather for a few short months).

I’ve tried going Soap Free, and had about as much failure as Haemonic has had success – I wouldn’t necessarily say I stunk, but my skin was VERY UNHAPPY, even if I did drastically cut down on how often I wash the not-dirty skin (like my upper arms). Also, I do a lot of gardening. At the end of a good afternoon of work in the garden, not only are my hands and feet dirty, my legs are dirty, my hair is dirty, my ears are dirty, I probably have dirt up my nose, and depending on the wind and how sweaty I get? I probably have dirt in my bra too.

Such occasions actually require soap.

Changing over to super-fatted natural soap instead of detergent-based cleansers (or bars! many “bar soaps” at the big box store are actually detergent) got rid of all but the worst winter itchies and calmed my skin so that I only use one acne related product and a light moisturizer all year long. Which is good, because if you’re used to buying a 12 pack of Big Box Brand Antibacterial Body Soap for $3, paying for individual bars of handcrafted soap will make you a little dizzy. Being able to cut down on all the other gunk I was using helped offset the price, and I was supporting an awesome small business at the same time.

Now, I’m not going to say that only Ida makes really great handmade soaps. In fact, I know she’s one of many awesome crafters who make amazing skincare products. But if you’ve never tried a handmade, super-fatted soap before, I highly recommend you try one. And if you don’t know which one to try, maybe try a sample bar or three from Ida.

Not sure where to start? Try the Chamomile and Calendula, Cucumber Lime Yogurt, or Lemon Lavender – they’re all wonderful. If you’ve got acne prone skin, the Neem and Tea Tree is good, and extremely sensitive skin will do well with the Aloe soap and the Olive and Shea.

My favorite shampoo bars are the Carrot Milk and Honey and the Butter Bar.

I put in my first order to Ida in 2004, back before she had a checkout cart and processed all her orders just by email. These days things are more automated, and Ida has a full checkout system on her site, but the soaps are still just as awesome.

And the best part of mail ordering your soap?

Your mailbox (and your bathroom cabinet) will smell AMAZING.

To get the most use out of your handmade soaps (of ANY variety), you should store them out of direct contact with water on a tray of some kind so that they can dry. Because of the glycerine in natural soap, it tends to absorb water and “melt” more easily than detergent soaps. I also cut my soap and shampoo bars into thirds, since that gives me a good hand-sized chunk to work with and keeps the rest of the bar out of the humid shower air until I need it.

Peeved at the TV

I get it.  Christmas is coming. There are cards and trees and tinsel and badly played tinny renditions of carols on every other commercial on TV. (It’s only mid-November, so it’s not /every/ commercial yet)

But that’s not all that different. Nor are the “buy your kids 12 billion things to show you love them” undertones anything new.

Yesterday, however, after driving 300 miles back from Dallas (I drove up there Saturday for my mom’s birthday), I flipped on the TV to veg out a little and relax. And the first commercial I saw?

Scruffy Dude: “Hand-made Gifts for Christmas?”

Dude looks at his smiling grandmother, sitting across from him at the table. Dude stands up and goes into the garage with the (rather nice) hand knit mittens she just gave him.

Scruffy Dude: “Who wants that? Why not buy your friends something they’ll really like.  Like a snowmobile. I hear you can get one cheap on E-Bay!”

<more e-bay paraphernalia, showing the Dude doing “fun things” with extremely expensive mechanical items out in the snow, Dude playing with expensive electronics. He’s wearing synthetic gloves.>

Scruffy Dude sniffs the mittens:  “Smells like church.”

<Cue E-Bay tag.>

Alright.  So E-bay takes pot-shots at Etsy. Great.

Just what I wanted to see after spending 25 hours over three and a half days frantically making some woollen winter things for my mother’s birthday (after she mentioned not having any before her move).

I’m sure every person who spends countless hours working on gifts so that they can be pushed aside in favor of shiny, “expensive” (previously owned/USED) things bought on E-Bay is just thrilled. I have enough of a time with gifts that I make for people. When you spend many hours working on something? Having that something get rejected … hurts. (Which is why some of my friends will not get knitted things. If I figure out that your reaction will be to act nice-nice and then shove it in a drawer? Nope.  No knits for you.)

Now, am I actually putting any stock in this particular commercial?

Not really, though (as I’m sure you noticed) I’m slightly peeved.

To be honest, it reads like E-bay is feeling threatened by Etsy’s handmade offerings, and the fact that the makers of said handmade items are choosing to sell them via Etsy rather than through E-Bay (which has kinda become an odd shamble of used items and then huge shiny stores selling all kinds of things at normal (or higher) prices).  Which, you know, whatever. If they’re threatened enough to take potshots at handmade items in order to shill their “Christmas Crap” campaign, they’ll just lose even more of their sellers to Etsy.

Still, though, I think the whole thing is misplaced and… well, not that funny.

Sure, I get that a new snowmobile is “more fun” than a pair of mittens. But you need mittens to ride a snowmobile without frostbite, and, quite honestly, I can afford to buy enough yarn to make some mittens (less than $20 even for REALLY NICE yarn).

TLDR version – Ebay is stupid, commercials are stupid, and having to put up with Christmas for three months every year is REALLY stupid.

Also?  What the fuck does “smells like church” mean?