Lemon juice is an old beauty treatment, believed to help heal blemishes and whiten the skin. It's touted as a moisturizer, exfoliant, and toner. The same claims have been made more recently for orange peel.
Whether citrus has any real effect on skin or not, its fragrance is delightful. Citrus scents are among the most popular for soap. Citrus essential oils are notorious for fading, though, and many vendors' products are weak to begin with.
The citrus soaps I experimented with all had excellent lather, possibly because of the sugar in the juice they were made with. I used Cool Technique for these soaps to prevent scorching the sugar in the juice.
Most soaps I made with the fruit juice for liquid had a pleasant orange color. Again, the lack of scorching from the lye probably helped keep the color clear and fresh, so this is another advantage of using Cool Technique.
Not surprisingly, any use of peel, even finely ground peel, will result in a gardener's soap or scrub soap. If the peel is dried before use, it's much scrubbier. In my experiments, I thought some of the soaps were too rough, although my gardening friends liked them. Peel—especially the finely powdered peel—did seem to help stabilize the scent, but the texture may not be what you want.
Citrus essential oils are notorious for fading in cold process soap. I experimented with many of them and found that their stability varies quite a bit, depending on their strength and quality to begin with.
I thought they might be more stable if I used Cool Technique soapmaking, but low temperature didn't increase the stability of the EOs.
A number of sources recommended using may chang (litsea cubeba), vetiver, lemongrass, lemon myrtle, or lemon eucalyptus to stabilize citrus essential oils. I didn't try everything suggested, but of the ones I did try, I was most satisfied with lemongrass.
Contrary to popular ideas, citrus oils are not reactive with lye or other soap ingredients. Reactivity is not the reason they fade.
12 ounces (340 grams) coconut oil
6 ounces (170 grams) olive oil
12 ounces (340 grams) sunflower oil
9 ounces (255 grams) liquid (citrus juice, citrus juice mixed with another liquid, or citrus juice mixed with milk, cream, or yogurt)
4.3 ounces (124 grams) lye
Optional additions: citrus peel (either powdered or ground), citrus essential oil, citrus fragrance, supplementary fragrance or essential oils, oatmeal, honey.
This soap was extremely popular with my testers. It has great lather. The peel makes it a scrub soap.
The liquid was a 50-50 mixture of fresh orange juice and whole milk yogurt, mixed together before freezing. I used 1.6 ounces of 10× orange essential oil for the fragrance. I also added about a tablespoon of pulverized dried orange peel that had soaked overnight in more of the orange EO.
Use the basic recipe. For liquid, make a 50-50 mix of yogurt and water. Add one tablespoon honey. Mix very well—I used a food processor. Freeze.
I used a mixture of lemon essential oil and lemon verbena fragrance in this batch.
This version traced and set quickly, which wasn't the case with the other variation of the basic recipe. I've used the fragrance before without trace acceleration, so it wasn't that either. I believe the accelerant must have been the honey.
Even with the addition of litsea and lemongrass, the grapefruit scent did not hold well. Either a stronger essential oil or a fragrance oil might improve it.
9 ounces (255 grams) coconut oil
7.5 ounces (213 grams) avocado oil
3 ounces (85 grams) sunflower oil
10.5 ounces (298 grams) olive oil
1 tablespoon pulverized grapefruit peel
9 ounces (255 grams) frozen ruby red grapefruit juice
4.2 ounces (120 grams) lye
For scent, I used a blend of 2 ounces grapefruit EO, .3 ounces lemongrass EO, and .25 ounces litsea EO.
This soap has no fruit juice, because I wanted to see what role the juice might have in color, scent, and lathering. The result was good lather, especially creamy, and a paler color than any of the fruit juice soaps. The color did change in the first 24 hours, becoming somewhat darker and more orange. So at least part of the warm color of the juice soaps is caused by the essential oil, not the juice.
The scent was a blend of lemongrass essential oil and mint essential oil. At least in the early stages of curing, I couldn't pick out the mint as a separate scent. The lemongrass essential oil seems more stable in soap than any of the others, except possibly the bergamot.
10.5 ounces (298 grams) sweet almond oil
10.5 ounces (298 grams) unsalted dairy butter or ghee
9 ounces (255 grams) coconut oil
9 ounces (255 grams) frozen plain coconut milk
4.5 ounces (129 grams) lye
Many soapmakers overlook dairy butter as a potential soapmaking fat, but it works quite well. However, butter does have an odor, as do many other unrefined fats. From one batch to another, the odor varies from negligible to unacceptable, and I never succeeded in pinning down the factor that caused the problems, much to my frustration.
My experiments with dairy butter should be regarded as just that—experiments. It was very successful for me with this lemongrass soap, less so with a lavender EO soap I made on another occasion. The texture of butter soap is outstanding.
Supposedly, bergamot fixes the scent of orange. It's a citrus-like fragrance. I suspect it adds more citrus scent without fixing any. I also found I don't particularly care for the scent of bergamot. It's just different enough from orange that it smells "off" to me.
The scent was more stable than orange essential oil, even the 10× orange EO.
The orange peel powder produced a slightly gritty texture, so addition of peel—even very fine powder—will give you a scrub soap. It's possible that the powdered orange peel helped make the orange fragrance of this soap more stable. It's definitely lasting longer than most of the other citrus soaps in this experiment.
1 tablespoon orange peel powder
3 ounces 10× orange essential oil
.5 ounces bergamot essential oil
9 ounces (255 grams) half and half (light cream), frozen
2.1 ounces (60 grams) orange juice, frozen
6 ounces (170 grams) peanut oil
9 ounces (255 grams) coconut oil
15 ounces (425 grams) olive oil
4.2 ounces (119 grams) lye
Mix the orange peel powder with the essential oils several hours before making your soap. The half and half and orange juice may be combined before freezing.
If I were using citrus EOs in soap, I'd greatly prefer 10× orange or lemongrass to any of the others I tried for this project.
I don't particularly favor coarse scrub soaps, so I'd use commercial orange peel powder over any of the homemade citrus peel I made. Orange peel seems to harden a bit as the soap is used, and with coarser peel, the scrub effect can get harsher than I like.
I'm often asked about turning a soapmaking hobby into a business. I actually went the other way—started off apprenticing to a professional soapmaker, ran my own business, then decided after a year or two to drop back to hobby status. And then, of course, I also decided to write about what I'd learned and figured out.
Since writing my first soapmaking books—Smart Soapmaking and Milk Soapmaking—I'm proud to say that quite a few of my readers have become successful professionals. Not that I take much credit for this. I might have given their boat one little push away from the dock, but they're the ones who've been paddling and steering it ever since.
So, I don't pretend to be a professional soapmaker. I'm a writer who makes soap. But I do have some observations, based on friends' experience and my own.
When I was in business, I was very naive about marketing. I expected the soaps, if they were good enough, to almost sell themselves—aided by good packaging, of course. Looking back, some of my mistakes were quite funny.
I went to a Christmas fair one year with soaps I'd made on a Nutcracker Ballet theme. There was Spanish Chocolate, Arabian Coffee, Sugar Plum, Chinese Green Tea, Snowflake—the whole cast. They were nice soaps. But I wasn't offering them to a particularly arty crowd. Very few people were interested.
Another failure had to do with packaging. I kept hearing about how packaging made a difference. So I bought a number of beautiful baskets from Amish people in Wisconsin.
They were miniature melon baskets, just the right size to hold a bar of soap and a matching lotion, or two bars of soap—small gift sets. They were inexpensive too, and added only about three dollars to the price of the set. They came in natural as well as lovely colors. And they were keepsake quality. (The photo shows what they looked like, though this one isn't miniature.)
But they didn't sell. Three dollars is three dollars. I gave away beautiful baskets for years.
I tried joining a local chamber of commerce and participating in their activities. This wasn't effective. Neither was giving samples, either in person or through the mail.
A good part of building your business is figuring out what doesn't work and getting rid of it.
If you're in a market with many competitors, how will you stand out? It's sad to go to a farmers' market with three or four soap vendors. None of them are making enough for their effort and investment to be worthwhile.
On the other hand, if there's a market opening up that you discover or create for yourself, you may have fairly smooth sailing. But don't go into a soapmaking business blind.
Any online bookseller or library will have many current books on craft businesses. Find and study them. There are even a few books specifically on soapmaking as a business. And at least one computer program for pricing and inventory control in a soapmaking business.
Know the laws in your area. Get the licenses and permits you need. Follow all laws about labeling, taxes, and fees.
Unless you're working under the supervision of an experienced soapmaker, please don't start selling as soon as you've made a batch or two. It takes a while to get consistent quality and to have responsible confidence that your product is safe.
Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild—More resources for craft business soapmakers than I could possibly mention, including affordable insurance.
Soap and Cosmetic Labeling and Good Manufacturing Practices by Marie Gale
Making Soap, Cosmetics & Candles (formerly Saponifier Magazine)