Educating my customers about the history of soap and the soap making process has been a passion of mine for over 20 years. I've been making soap in various forms since my first solo batch of traditional lard soap at the age of 15. I'd been watching both of my Grandmothers make soap since I was a small child.
I have made and sold soap in various states across the US as my husband of 22 years is a 100% disabled Army veteran who retired with 23 years of service from the Army in 2017. Everywhere we went, I made soap gaining loyal customers across the US. I have made pretty much any form of soap you can think of. I even owned my own organic goat's herd for six years and made goat's milk soap from my own hand milked goats. I have given speeches on soap making at major events and I have taught soap making to literally hundreds of people at this point.
Over time, my interests grew to include herbalism and I became a certified herbalist. As I grew as a Savonnier I began to incorporate my herbalism with my soap making. For the past ten years I have been making exclusively olive oil soap which is milled into a fine herbal soap outlined in a process below.
With the advent of the craft market many people have voyaged into soap making as a craft. I think this is fantastic! I have even taught cold process soap making in many states over the years and many of those people now make and sell soap at craft markets. But I hear so many fallacies when I wander craft markets about soap from craft soap makers. The first of which is the superiority of cold process soap. Which quite frankly is just poppy cock.
The finest soaps in the world: Savon de Marseille, Syrian Aleppo, Greek Olive and African Black Soap soap have been made for thousands of years using the same high heat processes where oils/fats are brought to very high temperature in giant stone cauldrons, or over tribal fires and newer steel holding tanks. Hot process soap commands a high price world wide as the finest soap in the world because the chemical reaction caused during the heating phase creates the mildest form of soap by instantaneously dissipating the lye through a chemical process called: saponification. This soap may be "aged" to achieve maximum hardness. A hard bar of soap lasts longer than a soft one. But hot process soap has no need for curing because the lye is consumed in the cook and it can be used instantly.
Why do craft producers not make hot process soap? Because it has a certain amount of "danger" involved you're heating lye to very high temperatures, it can be very messy if you don't have the proper equipment and you don't know what you are doing and it is temperamental. Making hot process soap is a true art form. It takes many years for an artisan Savonnier to develop the skills for making hot process soap. These skills are generally guarded and not taught to just anyone.
Cold process soap on the contrary creates a soap which must be "cured" for 4-6 weeks to be safe for use. This is because saponification occurs over time in these soaps as the oils/fats are never brought to high heat temperatures. This soap is unsafe to use on the skin because the lye is still present at high volumes for several weeks. Cold process soap will always have a small trace of lye leftover in the soap and therefore should not be used by those with sensitive skin conditions such as: psoriasis, eczema or rosacea.
Cold process soap in craft markets generally is made either as melt and pour soap where someone purchases blocks of premade soap they melt down to add chemical colorants and chemical fragrances to ( I used to actually supply large blocks of goats milk soap made from my herd's milk to a large West coast supplier of melt and pour for this purpose as a large part of my business when I lived on the West Coast) or it is made using cold process techniques using cheap oils which have virtually no benefit to the skin and many of which are sourced in environment harming ways such as palm oil.
Please don't ever use a palm oil based soap. The palm oil available in the US is almost exclusively harvested in Indonesia where giant portions of the rainforest are being burnt and replaced by palm plantations. This is not a "sustainable" practice and it is destroying the home for hundreds of species which only live in this region to include the orangutan. The kicker is: palm oil is virtually useless as a skin health promoting oil as it has none of the nutrients needed for the ph of human skin.
Cold process soap is known for its bright colors and punchy scents, but these bright colors most often come from chemical based dyes and chemical based fragrance oils.
Here at Raven's Grove I make all of our soap myself in a process first handed down to me in my family and then modified over time as I grew as a Savonnier. The base soap is made with ONLY: Olive Oil at 80% and Coconut Oil at 20%. I incorporate the use of sea water collected at Tybee Island in the traditional way soap has been made cross culturally which allows me to use very little lye in the chemical process as the seawater adds additional salts.
I sell this base olive soap in very limited quantities because I have a large enough customer base for my French Milled soaps that I can barely keep up with demand and consume all of the base olive soap in my own soap operation.
The second difference from our soap vs. craft soap is that original olive oil base soap is turned into a paste using professional grade equipment and then I add back to it: shea butter, cocoa butter, lanolin, beeswax, vitamin e, oatmeal and organic cow's milk over several milling steps. In the final mill mica a completely natural rock based form of colorant is added for color and my own unique blend of: teas, herbs, flowers and essential oils are added to our body soaps to create a 100% natural, non sulfate, non paraffin, non chemical dye or fragrance good old fashioned soap. Our face soaps I add different forms of clay, oatmeal, honey, charcoal etc to promote skin nourishing, balancing and healing. This I can say for certainty is as close as you are going to get to a traditional French Milled Soap made right here in the Savannah Metro.
How can I offer my soap at $5 a bar when many craft soaps sell for much higher? This is the easiest question to answer. I make this from scratch all by myself. I grow many of my own ingredients and I produce enough soap to buy oils, butters and fats in bulk further reducing my costs. Small craft producers have very high overhead in the components they must purchase to make their soap. This overhead is passed on to you the consumer in the price of their soap. As for traditional Savon de Marseille, Syrian Aleppo and Greek Olive Soap these soaps command a high price as luxury soap and if you ever get the opportunity to try them I highly recommend them they are worth every penny. Until then, you always have the simple luxury of Raven's Grove fine milled olive oil soaps made right here in the Savannah metro with Tybee seawater!