Guest post by Amber Beltran of A Squirrel & A Scholar Soap Co.
Greetings crafty friends! In a guest blog entitled “Incorporating Resins in Cold Process Soap!”, I had such a fun experience making an infusion with opoponax resin, and incorporating it into a batch of soap using Nurture Soap’s alluring “The Devil’s Door” fragrance oil, I’ve been itching to experiment with other resins to include in more soapy adventures! I treated myself to a bottle of Nurture Soap’s “Kismet” fragrance oil, and was instantly infatuated with it! The original scent this fragrance oil duplicates (extremely accurately, I might add!) is a widely popular, well-known aroma by the name of “Karma”, and is a scent mainly comprised of smooth, yet uplifting orange notes, and cozy patchouli. To my happy nose, Nurture Soap’s “Kismet” fragrance oil is a peacefully-centering, earth-loving, aromatic masterpiece! I had zero doubts this magnificent scent would go perfectly with another resin-inspired soapy theme!
Before we delve into this project though, let’s quickly discuss why on earth anyone would ever want to include resins in handmade soap. Resins come from the super-sticky sap of plants and trees. Various resins have been used and enjoyed for literally thousands of years; from ancient civilizations to present-day! Prized for their rich aromas, they’re used in incense and perfumery. They’re also used for natural dyes, religious, spiritual and/or personal ceremonies, and in the healing of minor wounds. In soap making, resins are appealing in that they contain natural sugars, minerals and enzymes, which are naturally antibacterial. Used alone, they can impart a subtle, yet pleasing aroma to handmade soaps, but when paired with a complimenting fragrance and/or essential oil, the results can be positively magical! For the divine scent of Nurture Soap’s “Kismet” fragrance oil, one resin in particular really stood out to me: Copal!
THE SCOOP ON COPAL
If I were to describe the scent of copal resin in my own words and opinion of it, the best way I could do so would be to compare it to frankincense. To my nose, copal definitely shares similarities to frankincense, but is somehow “lighter”, or less “heavy” in character. In other words, to me, copal resin smells like a more “feminine”, slightly “perfumier” version of frankincense... If that makes any “frankin-sense” at all! It’s positively lovely, and one of my personal favorite resins! In doing some research on copal, I discovered some pretty interesting things about it!
Copal is a tree resin from the (drumroll please) copal tree! The actual word “copal” is derived from the word “copalli”, which directly translates to “incense”. Found in abundance throughout present-day Southern Mexico and Central America, ancient civilizations, such as Mayan, Aztec and Pre-Columbian cultures ceremoniously burned copal as incense atop temples and pyramids. In Mayan ruins, copal resin was discovered in burial grounds, leading historians to believe the resin held sacred, ceremonial value to these ancient peoples. By the 18th Century, Europeans discovered it to be a valuable ingredient in producing high-quality wood varnish. It became widely used in the manufacturing of furniture and carriages.
As I sat there, deep in thought, going back and forth between sniffing the copal resin and “Kismet” fragrance oil, it suddenly occurred to me exactly what I wanted to do with these two ingredients within my soap! Using the color turquoise in my soap’s design seemed a great choice in paying artful tribute to the ancient civilizations who used and enjoyed this resin, as jade stone and turquoise were also highly valued during this time. Using the color orange seemed the perfect way to compliment the delightful orange-patchouli scent of “Kismet” fragrance oil, and when it was all finished, I’d call this batch “Aztec Orange”! With a game-plan in mind, I decided to get going on my soap project. The first course of action would be to get my copal resin transformed into an infusion which I could incorporate into the batch!
MAKING INFUSIONS WITH RESINS
The first step to making an infusion with resins is to get the resin itself ground down into as fine of a powder as you possibly can. Luckily, copal resin is in an intermediate stage of hardening. While it’s not a soft, “gummy” resin, it’s also not as hard as other resins, such as opoponax or amber, so with the help of a mortar and pestle, it’s actually quite easy to grind by hand. So easy in fact, my 8-year-old son begged to be given this task! With a face as cute as his, I couldn’t say “no”, so instead, I supervised and allowed him to make the infusion!
Under my proud supervision, my son ground the copal resin to a fine powder, and we were careful to weigh it once he’d finished. Exactly how much ground resin you’d like to include in an infusion is entirely up to you, but for me, and my 32oz batch, I wanted at least a half ounce of ground resin with which to infuse in oil. We ended up with .60oz, but that was A-Okay with me! When it comes to exactly how much oil to infuse your ground resin into, that’s also a matter of preference, but for me, I prefer to use a ratio of 4-parts carrier oil to 1-part ground resin. Any type of light carrier oil you’d like to use will do just fine, but since I was planning on substituting part of my recipe’s olive oil with the resin-infusion, and incorporating it as my recipe’s superfat, I decided to infuse the ground copal in olive oil.
Once you’ve poured your carrier oil of choice over your ground resin, give the mixture a good stir with a spoon to get everything nice and combined, then place the resin/oil mixture in a water bath in a crockpot. Make sure your resin/oil mixture is in a heat-safe jar or container with the lid on. If you’re like me and are fairly certain aliens came down and abducted every single lid to your Mason canning jars, heat-safe plastic wrap can be used to securely cover the top of your jar as well! With a crockpot filled about 3 inches from the bottom with water, place your resin/oil mixture in the center of the pot, set the heat to “Low”, place the lid on the crockpot, then allow the resin to become a lovely infusion over the course of 4 to 6 hours.
After 4 to 6 hours, use pot holders to carefully remove your resin infusion, and allow it to cool down to around room temperature. Once cooled, thoroughly strain the infusion (a fine-mesh tea strainer works great for this), so that all that remains is the infused oil. Resin grounds can often feel too harsh, scratchy, and even tacky on the skin, so it’s best to strain your infusion well. Some resins can impart a beautiful color to the carrier oil once fully infused (dragon’s blood resin comes to mind), but in the case of copal resin, it’ll change the texture, or viscosity, of the carrier oil to a thicker, more “syrupy” consistency. In all cases, any resin you use will impart its glorious aroma to an infusion! At this point, your resin infusion is complete, and ready to be added to a fabulous batch of soap!
DESIGNING “AZTEC ORANGE” COLD PROCESS SOAP!
With the copal resin infusion made and ready to rock in our batch of soap, it was time to focus on the actual design. In my mind’s eye, a soap with two layers looked lovely. With the help of Nurture Soap’s “Sea Green” mica, the first layer, or bottom half of the batch would be a beautiful, lighter shade of turquoise, and to celebrate the enlivening orange note in “Kismet” fragrance oil, real, dried orange peel would be added for a wonderful, “scrubby” sensation! Both lemon and orange peel are two of my absolute favorite natural exfoliants to add to soap batches, as despite being larger exfoliants, they’re still gentle, yet delightfully effective! There’s no right or wrong amount to add to your own soap recipes; it all just depends on the level of “scrubbiness” you desire. For me, I enjoy incorporating dried citrus peel at a usage rate of 1TBS per pound of batch oils.
The second layer, or top half of the soap batch would be a drop swirl design featuring bright colors of white, orange, red-orange and more turquoise. For the finishing touches, turquoise-colored soap frosting would be piped on top of the batch, then embellished with melt & pour embeds to tie the theme of the soap’s design together. As always, the soap frosting portion of this project is completely optional, and entirely up to you (your soap batches don’t need soap frosting to be totally awesome!), but if you’d like to include this step, along with decorative embeds, you’re more than welcome to create the same, or similar, embeds as I did, or customize them any which way you’d like! To represent the semi-precious gemstones ancient Aztec and Mayan civilizations adorned themselves with, I made gemstone embeds in “Sea Green” mica. Representing the dense, green jungles of Southern Mexico and Central America, leaf embeds in “Savage Garden” mica turned out strikingly beautiful, and to pay homage to our orange-inspired theme, orange slices in “Mango Tango” mica looked adorable!
For the actual colors I’d be using within the soap batch itself, beyond our “Sea Green” mica-colored bottom layer (used at 1/2tsp per pound of oils to appear slightly lighter), the drop-swirl design planned for the top layer would feature “Winter White” mica, the deeply-pigmented shade of “Orange Marmalade” mica, the fabulous turquoise tone of more “Sea Green” mica, and a color-blend consisting of 1-part “Lemon Drop” mica to 3-parts “Candy Apple Red” mica, to create a coral-like shade which would be more predominately red than orange in the finished soap.
READY, SET, SOAP!
Before getting into the actual soap making portion of this project, I do have a quick confession to make! I’ve worked with resin-infusions in cold process soap before, but never copal resin specifically. Knowing that resins contain natural sugars, and seeing just how thick and viscous the copal had made the olive oil I infused it into, I had a sneaking suspicion this particular resin infusion would move fast, speeding up trace once incorporated into my recipe. I went ahead and COMPLETELY IGNORED these suspicions however, opting to use a moderate liquid discount, a less “forgiving” recipe, and even more sugar, added to my lye-water solution. While I don’t regret that decision, being pleased with the finished results, I certainly ended up having to work FAST while making this particular batch of soap! With this being said, at the end of this blog, I’ll go ahead and include a way more “forgiving” recipe that you can use with a copal resin-infusion, should you wish to re-create this soap project, without having to dash and mash your soap batter into the mold, like I did!
With that little confession aside, my first order of business was to divide my soap batter in half, treating it as if it were two separate batches. One portion was designated as the bottom layer, and the other was set aside for the top layer. Alternatively, you can also opt to divide your total recipe in half, making two smaller batches instead, if you prefer to do it that way.
Remember when I mentioned wanting to add my resin infusion as my recipe’s superfat? Well, this is where that also comes into play! When I made my opoponax infusion for a past blog, I opted to superfat my recipe at 0%, then add the opoponax infusion to my recipe as extra oil, which ultimately increased my recipe’s superfat to 6.3%. To demonstrate another way to do this, for this batch, I decided to calculate my recipe with a superfat of 5%, then subtract the weight of my resin infusion from my recipe’s total olive oil. For example, if one’s recipe calls for 10 ounces of olive oil (or any other unsaturated fat, or “soft oil”, you’d like to substitute in your recipe), and you have 2 ounces of a resin infusion you’d like to incorporate, you’d simply use 8 ounces of olive oil within your recipe, then incorporate the remaining 2 ounces (for a total of 10 ounces) by way of the resin infusion later on.
Starting with my first portion of soap batter, and anticipating things moving a little quickly, I incorporated “Sea Green” mica, “Kismet” fragrance oil, the orange peel and lye solution into my batch oils prior to using my stick blender to blend it to trace. This allowed me extra time to get everything nice and combined by hand, prior to blending the batter to a light trace and incorporating half of the copal infusion. I was worried I wouldn’t have enough time to get everything fully combined if I began at a light trace, and am thankful I chose to do it this way, since I don’t think I would have! Stirring in the lye solution, fragrance oil, mica colorant and orange peel by hand first didn’t just prove to be a saving grace when it came to how quickly the resin infusion accelerated trace, it also proved to be exceptionally pretty to look at too!
Using my stick blender, I blended this first portion of soap to a very light trace, then held my breath as I added the resin-infusion to the soap batter. Things really sped up at that point, but it’s very important to get that extra oil fully combined within the soap batter before pouring it into the mold. If your soap batter isn’t fully emulsified, you could end up with “weepy soap” that has leaky pockets of unsaponified oil, so staying calm and not sweating that acceleration too much is key! It’s more important to get that resin-infusion fully stirred-in and incorporated with the soap batter, as there are always ways to use acceleration to one’s design advantage!
What was originally planned to be a straight layer within my soap’s design ended up being made into an uneven layer, but this was definitely one of those “acceleration advantages”! Using the back of a spoon, I had a little too much fun creating peaks and valleys of texture within the soap, and to complete this uneven, rustic-like look, a dusting of “Maya Gold” mica (to create a shimmery mica line) looked positively perfect for the theme of this project!
For the top, drop-swirl layer, I repeated the process again, only this time, by the time I had split the batch into its appropriate portions for the four different colors I was using, I didn’t need to use my stick blender at all! Stirring the copal resin infusion in by hand was enough bring my soap batter to a light trace, which went from a light, to a medium, and finally a thick trace very quickly on its own! That’s totally okay though, because as we all know, a drop-swirl poured at a thicker trace will produce bigger areas (or “blobs”, as I like to call them!) of color, and I was absolutely fine with that! Unfortunately, there was simply no time to stop and take pictures of this process, but by remaining focused and working quickly, I was able to get every last drop of soap in the mold. By the end of pour, my soap batter was so thick, I had to do some mashing and bashing to ensure my soap wouldn’t end up with unsightly air-pockets, but the end result was worth it! Using a spatula to smoosh the last of my super-thick soap batter into the mold, I decided to, once again, create some uneven texture, then finish the look off with a dusting of more “Maya Gold” mica.
Since I had planned from the get-go to only add the copal resin infusion to the main portion of my soap batch, it was smooth sailing when it came to piping the soap frosting on top of the loaf. I was able to slow my pace down and use my absolute most favorite color-blend (possibly in the whole wide world!) to color the soap frosting! That’s right, as I’ve mentioned many times before in previous blogs, I’m talking about Nurture Soap’s “High Society” mica, mixed at equal parts with “Winter White” mica! I just can’t help it; I'm amazed by the sheer versatility and beauty of “High Society” mica every single time I use it! Is it green? Is it blue? Is it teal or turquoise? Depending on the usage rate, YES, TO ALL! Once I’d finished creating my pyramid-like peak of soap frosting atop my batch of soap, I accentuated its stunning awesome-ness even more with a dusting of Nurture Soap’s “Gold Dust” Enviroglitter, then happily placed each decorative embed on top! It was time to put this batch to bed for the night, leaving it uninsulated in a cool location in my home... The natural sugars within the batch had things really heating up!
HAPPILY UNPLANNED RESULTS!
Making this batch of “Aztec Orange” cold process soap, using the centering, almost Zen-like aroma of Nurture Soap’s “Kismet” fragrance oil, and a copal resin infusion, taught me a few things. As a side note, I think that’s what I love most about soap making... No matter how long you’ve been making soap, or what your level of experience is, the learning process never ends! There’s always something that keeps you on your toes, humbles you, uplifts you, boggles your mind, or enlightens you! This craft never grows stagnant because newfound knowledge is always flowing in!
When it comes to this particular batch, I learned that copal resin isn’t like opoponax or dragon’s blood resins (which behave like little angels in cold process soap!), as it can actually speed up trace quite a bit... Especially if you’re stubborn, like me, and go against your better judgement to use a more “forgiving” recipe, sans accelerating additives and liquid discount! I also learned that it’s totally okay to not produce the precise design you had in mind... You just might love what you get all the same, or even more! Another key reminder was that of “going with the flow”! When things began thickening up faster than I had anticipated, I had to change my process and method to accommodate that, but it’s an excellent “refresher” that even when things don’t go quite as planned, almost any plan can be changed on the fly. Even inconveniences, like heavy acceleration, can be used to one’s advantage (check out my blog posts entitled: “Using Acceleration to Your Design Advantage”, or “Revisiting Acceleration for Therapeutic Soap Making”)!
As you continue on in your own soapy adventures, I hope you find moments when this amazing craft continues to keep you on your toes. It’s these moments that ever refine you as the incredible soap maker you are, and keep the channels of knowledge and experience flowing! After all, being on your tippy-toes is only but a higher vantage point! Happy “staying-on-your-toes" soap making, my crafty coconspirators!
RECOMMENDED, SLOW-MOVING RECIPE FOR THIS PROJECT:
*Remember to prepare your resin infusion 4 to 6 hours in advance, allowing it to cool prior to making soap. Substitute the resin infusion for part of the total olive oil in this recipe, as described above. Split the batch in half if wishing to create two layers.
- Sodium Hydroxide (Lye) @ 5% Superfat
- Distilled Water, Recommended at Full Liquid (No Discount: 3:1/Water: Lye)
- 45% Olive Oil (Partially Substituted with Copal Resin Infusion)
- 25% RSPO Palm Oil
- 25% Coconut Oil
- 5% Castor Oil
- Copal Resin Infusion (At Least 2oz Recommended for a 32oz Batch)
- 6% “Kismet” Fragrance Oil
- 1TBS/PPO Dried Orange Peel (For Bottom Layer)
- 1/2TSP/PPO “Sea Green” Mica (For Bottom Layer)
- 1TSP/PPO: “Winter White” Mica, “Sea Green” Mica, “Orange Marmalade” Mica & 3-Parts “Candy Apple Red” + 1-Part “Lemon Drop” Mica-Blend (For Top Layer)
- “Maya Gold” Mica (For Mica Lines)
SOAP FROSTING RECIPE
- Sodium Hydroxide (Lye) @ 5% Superfat
- Distilled Water @ 33% Lye Concentration (2:1/Water: Lye)
- 45% Olive Oil
- 25% RSPO Palm Oil
- 25% Coconut Oil
- 5% Castor Oil
- 1TSP/PPO: “High Society” + “Winter White” Mica-Blend (Blended @ Equal Parts)
- “Gold Dust” Enviroglitter
- Melt & Pour Orange Slice Embeds in “Mango Tango” Mica
- Melt & Pour Leaf Embeds in “Savage Garden” Mica
- Melt & Pour Gemstone Embeds in “Sea Green" Mica