Guest post by Amber Beltran of A Squirrel & A Scholar Soap Co.
Three weeks ago, I began a soap project I’d hoped would yield wonderfully fragrant results. I had purchased Nurture Soap’s “Botanical Bliss” fragrance oil, and was blissfully in love with it at first sniff! Its product description described it as being a spa-like scent with clean, fresh notes of herbs and florals, and to my nose, that was spot-on accurate! This was definitely an aroma worth winding down to, as I found it to be calm, serenely beautiful and soft in character! I personally thought it smelled delightfully fragrant out of the bottle, but its product description mentioned that this lovely aroma might be best in cold process soap if it were anchored with kaolin clay.
Let’s rewind some years back now... About four years ago, I had made the leap from using only essential oils in my cold process soap recipes to fragrance oils. I felt like a kid in a candy store! Not only were the prices exponentially more affordable than the essential oils I was currently purchasing, but the different scents available to me had my head spinning! However, I quickly discovered that I was having the same issues with fragrance oils as I’d had with some essential oils too... Some of the fragrances would stay put in my cured soaps, and disappointingly, some just wouldn’t. I felt completely discouraged, as I wanted what I think most soap makers want; beautiful soaps that are also wonderfully fragrant.
I had an “ah-ha” moment when my husband and I went to a farmer’s market, and I purchased some soaps from a local, fellow artisan. I was utterly jealous the first time I lathered up with a bar! The soap was gorgeously aromatic, and the scent lingered on my skin for hours afterward. What was this man doing that I wasn’t? I had to know! The following weekend, I returned to the same market and tracked him down. He was so wonderfully kind, and shared with me the secret to his fabulously fragrant bars... KAOLIN CLAY! He explained to me that he anchored all his fragrances with kaolin clay, and although it wasn’t 100% failproof, he’d had more success with it than not.
My mind was officially blown that such a simple, skin-loving, inexpensive ingredient could make such a difference, but this awesome soap maker was right! Following his suggestions, I began incorporating kaolin clay into my own cold process soap recipes and never looked back! Returning to present-day, and THIS soapy project... When I read that the blissfully beautiful “Botanical Bliss” fragrance oil would do best if anchored with kaolin clay, I was all in! I wanted to see just how fragrant and lasting this delightful aroma could be in cold process soap, so I set out to do just that! Come along with me as we make “Botanical Bliss” cold process soap together! In the process, I’ll share with you how to get the very most of those beautiful fragrances in your own soapy projects at home!
FIXIN’ TO MAKE A SLURRY!
I wish I would’ve gotten that gentleman’s name who helped me those years back; I’d give him a thousand kudos if I could! He didn’t have to help me at all, but the information he shared out of the kindness of his heart was a game-changer for me! In paying that kindness forward, let’s talk a little bit about fragrance oils. Fragrance oils don’t saponify. Just as the superfat in your recipe is extra, “free-floating” oils within your soap, so too is your fragrance oil. When you add water/liquid to your recipe, all of it must eventually cure, or evaporate, back out. As your liquid evaporates during cure, it can take some of the fragrance oil with it. This is where anchoring comes into play. Anchoring your fragrances is literally just that! It’s giving your fragrance oil something to “hold on to” while your soaps cure and evaporate all the excess liquid out.
Liquid discounting comes into play here as well, as the less liquid that must cure out of your soaps, the less fragrance oil will cure out with it. I’ve always had more fragrant results in recipes where a liquid discount was used, and I personally enjoy using lye concentrations between 33% (2-parts liquid to 1-part lye) to 40% (1.5-parts liquid to 1-part lye) in my recipes. What’s generally referred to as “full liquid”, or no liquid discount, is a lye solution made up of 3-parts liquid to 1-part lye, or a 25% lye concentration. More on liquid discounting in a future blog post though, as there’s a lot more to it than what I can sum up here, and it’s definitely a topic that deserves its own spotlight!
Going back to scent fixatives though... I know many of us have heard about kaolin clay being the “go-to” additive for anchoring scents, but why is that exactly? kaolin clay isn’t used as a scent fixative because it has magical powers which somehow make it work... Nope, it’s much simpler than that! Kaolin clay is great for anchoring fragrances because it’s very fine and highly absorbent. Simply put, it works by soaking fragrance oils up, and giving them something to “hold on to” while the excess liquid cures out of your soaps.
The best way I’ve found to get the most absorption between the clay and the fragrance oil is by making what’s called a “kaolin clay slurry”. It’s very easy to do, and very effective too! If you have the time, I’d recommend making your kaolin clay slurry at least 24 hours in advance of making your batch of soap. This gives the clay plenty of time to soak up as much fragrance oil as possible. To make a kaolin clay slurry, simply add the clay directly to the fragrance oil, then blend it in really well with a mini mixer. That’s all there is to it! Kaolin clay is heavier than fragrance oils, so you’ll begin to notice the clay eventually settling back down to the bottom. That’s no problem though! Whenever it crosses your mind, you can just return to your slurry and give it another quick mix with your mini-mixer. A great usage rate when adding clay directly to fragrance oils is anywhere between 1/2TBS to 2TBS per pound of batch oils. For this specific project, I used 1TBS per pound of oils. When it comes time to incorporate the fragrance oil into your soap recipe, you’ll add this slurry the exact same way you normally would any fragrance oil- easy peasy!
MORE ANCHORING OPTIONS!
While kaolin clay makes for a wonderful additive with which to anchor your fragrances in soap, it’s not the only one! Kaolin clay just happens to be the more popular choice, as it won’t darken or alter the color of your batch oils (except maybe to lighten them a little), it’s super fine, so won’t impart a gritty or noticeable texture in one’s recipes, and it’s an inexpensive additive which just so happens to come with some great benefits too! Kaolin clay is generally well received by all skin types, is a natural humectant, helping skin lock in moisture, and will even add a bit of “slip” to cold process soap bars!
Certainly, other fine clays are another option when it comes to scent fixatives, but really, any additive which has the ability to easily absorb oil will help to keep scents anchored too! If you’ve ever used colloidal oatmeal in a soap recipe, you may have noticed your soaps being more fragrant for longer. This is no accident, as colloidal oatmeal is wonderfully absorbent, and can also help fragrances stay put! Other examples of additives which can help anchor fragrances in cold process soap include soft botanicals, and specifically for this project, calendula petals!
Fine clays, colloidal oatmeal, soft botanicals; all of these things can give your fragrance oils something to hold on to during cure, and when used in conjunction with kaolin clay, can really increase your fragrance oil’s potency and longevity! “Botanical Bliss” fragrance oil smells so tranquil and dreamy, I really wanted this amazing aroma to shine in my soap recipe, so for this project, I decided to embrace the botanical theme wholeheartedly, while also incorporating some scent-anchoring goodness at the same time! Along with a kaolin clay slurry, this soapy project would feature lovely calendula petals. I felt confident I could get the most fragrant and lasting results in my soaps with this combination of skin-loving scent fixatives, and they just so happened to fit the project’s theme perfectly too!
MAKING “BOTANICAL BLISS” SOAP!
After mixing up my kaolin clay slurry the night before and making sure I had plenty calendula petals handy, I set to work making my blissful, botanical soap! The next step was to make some adorable melt & pour embeds to adorn the top of soap frosting that I’d pipe on top of the loaf. Using Nurture Soap’s “Magic Moments” mica, I made some elegant, pink flowers, then dry-painted a little “Cabin Fever” mica in the center of each bloom. Using “Mimosa Yellow” mica (Which is the perfect marigold-type color, if you ask me!) and “Celadon Green” mica, I made some ridiculously cute mushroom embeds, and dry-painted those with some “Cabin Fever” mica too!
For the main batch, and the design itself, I decided that this sudsy creation would feature four uneven layers in elegant and botanical-inspired colors. The layers would also have an eye-catching, gold mica line between each one. Using a bit of batch oils, I dispersed each soothing, spa-like mica color, which included “Magic Moments”, “Cabin Fever”, “Mimosa Yellow” and “Celadon Green” micas. This color scheme was the perfect accompaniment to the fresh and dainty aroma of “Botanical Bliss: fragrance oil!
Since this would be a layered design with lots of uneven texture, I blended my soap batter to a light-medium trace, then split the batch into four equal portions. Once finished with incorporating the mica colors into each one, I proceeded by stirring the calendula petals into the portions as well. Calendula petals are so soft and gentle on the skin, how much you choose to add to your soap recipes is entirely up to you. For me, and what I enjoy, a usage rate of 2 to 3TBS per pound of oils is excellent in cold process soap. You can add more or less, as desired, but for this batch, I employed a usage rate of 2TBS calendula petals per pound of oils.
Splitting my “Botanical Bliss” fragrance oil/kaolin clay slurry into four equal portions as well, I hand-stirred the fragrance oil into each portion, just before pouring it. The very first layer would be the one colored in “Cabin Fever” mica, and the fragrance oil performed beautifully for this task! Once poured, I allowed the layer to set up a little, then used the back of a spoon to create lots of pretty texture across the top. To finish the layer, I used a handy Glitter Spray Pump to add a healthy dusting of “Maya Gold” mica. This would create a subtle, yet elegant mica line, which I then sprayed with 91% rubbing alcohol to ensure my layers wouldn’t separate.
Finishing up the batch itself was as carefree and relaxing as “Botanical Bliss” fragrance oil smells! It was a simple process of just repeating what I had done previously. For the second layer, the portion colored in “Magic Moments” mica was poured, allowed to set up a little, textured, then dusted with more “Maya Gold” mica, followed by a spritzing of rubbing alcohol. “Mimosa Yellow” mica colored the third layer, and for the fourth, and final layer, “Celadon Green” completed the happy task! As you can see by the pictures, “Celadon Green” mica did turn a tad olive-toned in my fresh soap batter, but this is completely normal and nothing to worry about. Green micas can often temporarily morph in shade when first incorporated in soap batter, but as soon as saponification is complete, they’ll return to their original hues!
If you’d like to make this botanically blissful soap recipe at home, but would prefer to skip the soap frosting portion of this project, you can absolutely do that! Frosted top or no frosted top, this is a simple and fun soap design that looks beautiful any which way you slice it! You can leave the top of the batch as-is, with an eye-catching dusting of “Maya Gold” mica on top, or as a suggestion, you could also choose to mix “Maya Gold” mica with a bit of carrier oil to create a stunning mica drizzle on top. Any way you choose to complete this crafty creation, it’s going to look fabulous!
For me, I’m just a total sucker for piping the tops of my soap loaves, so continuing on, I blended up a batch of creamy soap frosting, colored it in “Winter White” mica, then piped the top with an ATECO #808 round piping tip. Once finished, I grabbed my Glitter Spray Pump filled with “Maya Gold” mica, and gave my soap frosting a light, yet whimsical dusting of golden shimmer!
Last, but certainly not least, was to get those super-cute decorative embeds placed on top and call it a day! Normally at this point, I place my batch under a towel-draped cardboard box to insulate overnight, but I did notice that this particular batch was getting HOT. I actually prefer that, as I absolutely love gelled soaps, but with melt & pour embeds placed on top, one must be mindful to not allow the batch to get too hot. To make sure my little flower and mushroom embeds wouldn’t get too warm and re-melt, I left the batch uninsulated. If you’re ever in a situation where you fear your batch may overheat, or you simply wish to prevent gel, you can always do as I did, and leave your batch uninsulated, or you can even pop the whole thing in the fridge to cool it down if you’d like.
It’s been three weeks since I made this batch of “Botanical Bliss” cold process soap, and I feel like it’s been the longest three weeks EVER! Admittedly, I’m not the most patient person! Patient with others, yes, but patient with sharing exciting news- ABSOLUTELY NOT! It was important that I wait to write this blog though, as I really wanted to see how “Botanical Bliss” fragrance oil would develop in my soaps as they cured. Ideally, waiting the full four weeks would’ve made more sense, but I couldn’t wait any longer, and with the aroma only progressively getting stronger, I felt that now was as good a time as any to share the results of this project!
As an extra bonus (For me at least!), this batch did gel, even when left uninsulated, but it did not overheat. From the get-go, “Botanical Bliss” fragrance oil was gorgeously aromatic, starting out fragrant and true from the very first bar that was cut! Now nearing the end of cure, this centering scent has actually become stronger to my nose! While the character of the fragrance still remains soft and botanically delicate, its potency is rich and aromatic! I am one happy soap maker when it comes to this batch, and this fragrance oil! It appears this fragrance really does shine in cold process soap with the help of some wonderful scent-anchoring additives!
When I was struggling and feeling so disheartened with my own soap batches not being as fragrant or long-lasting as I wanted them to be, another soap maker was there to guide me and share with me the successes that he had. Being so kind and helpful, he had no problems describing to me the methods, processes and ingredients that worked for him. I was, and still am, so grateful to that fellow crafter! He forever changed the way I make soap, as there isn’t a single batch I make where I don’t add a little (Or a little more!) kaolin clay. Even if a fragrance oil needs a little anchoring or not, it’s still a great additive to incorporate into one’s recipes! While I’ll probably never get the chance to properly thank this fellow crafter, my way of saying “thank you” is by passing along the knowledge he shared with me. My biggest hope is that another crafter will find this information helpful... Whether it’s 100 people or just one! Perhaps there is another soap maker out there who’s feeling just as discouraged now as I was back then. To that fellow crafter, I would say: Sometimes recognizing your better potential is as simple as leaning on a kind soul for a little guidance, and a little push in the right direction... Anchors away, my friend!
- Lye @ 5% Superfat
- Distilled Water @ 33% Lye Concentration
- 35% Olive Oil
- 30% RSPO Palm Oil
- 25% Coconut Oil
- 10% Castor Oil
- 6% “Botanical Bliss” Fragrance Oil
- 3% Sodium Lactate (*Optional. Added to cooled lye solution.)
- 1TBS/PPO White Kaolin Clay (*Added to fragrance oil to make a “slurry”.)
- 2TBS/PPO Calendula Petals
- Mica Colorants @ 1tsp/PPO: “Cabin Fever”, “Magic Moments”, “Mimosa Yellow” & “Celadon Green”
- “Maya Gold” Mica (*To make mica lines.)
- Lye @ 5% Superfat
- Distilled Water @ 33% Lye Concentration
- 35% Olive Oil
- 30% Palm Oil
- 25% Coconut Oil
- 10% Castor Oil
- 2tsp/PPO “Winter White” Mica
- “Maya Gold” Mica (*Dusted on top.)
- Melt & Pour Flower Embeds in “Magic Moments” Mica (*Dry-painted with “Cabin Fever” mica.)
- Melt & Pour Mushroom Embeds in “Celadon Green” Mica (*Dry-painted with “Cabin Fever” mica.)
- Melt & Pour Mushroom Embeds in “Mimosa Yellow” Mica (*Dry-painted with “Cabin Fever” mica.)
- ATECO #808 Round Piping Tip