Any Real NEED for Butters in Soap?

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BrewerGeorge

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So I've been doing a bit of research on the shae vs cocoa vs mango butter question and it occurred to me: Do I even NEED butters at all in soap? I mean, I've learned that there is no point in using beer (a little sugar and a tiny bit of milk for protein are just as good) and I've learned that coconut milk is not much more than a coconut oil emulsion. So who's to say the same isn't true of the butters?

Obviously good soap can be made without them; that's not what I'm asking. More subtly, is there anything I can do with butters in soap that I can't do without them? Short of label appeal, which isn't a concern for me. For instance, cocoa butter is often said to harden a bar, but is this quality different from or better than the increased hardness from adding 1% stearic acid? Is the increased "creaminess" from adding shae noticeably different than adding a bit more olive oil?

I'm hoping you all can shed some light on this, because my instinct is that the relatively expensive butters should be saved for non-saponified uses and I should stick to oils for soap. My gut tells me that the "violence" of the lye environment is going to strip everything down to its basic elements and obviate all these good qualities I'm reading about in unsaponified butters.

What do you think?
 

soaring1

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I use Shae in a lot of my recipe's and was just thinking on this the other day. I will be following this thread.
 

kchaystack

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I think it is going to be personal opinion. The only way to know if you like soap without butters is to make some and try it.

I use a small amount of shea in my soaps. I also use it in lotions - so I keep it on hand. I like the way my soap feels, and I don't find my supply cost to be an issue, so it does not bother me to keep using it.
 

shunt2011

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I'm with kchaystack. I too use it in my soaps and other items and like the feel. It's absoutely a personal thing and trying it for yourself is the only way to know if you'll like it or even notice a difference.
 

dixiedragon

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I haven't done any serious experiments. Regarding hardness, though, I think most stearic acid is harvested from palm oil? So if you are wanting a hard bar of soap that's all veggie and palm free, you can't use stearic. If I use butters in soap, it's ONLY in all veg soaps. I don't really care for palm oil b/c I feel like the ONLY thing it is good for is making soap hard. It doesn't add creaminess or conditioning like lard does.
 

BrewerGeorge

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Since a lot of this is subjective judgment, and we can't blind ourselves to knowing what's going into soaps WE'RE making ourselves, I'm wondering if there might be a bit of confirmation bias in the evaluation of butters in soaps - especially when people know they like the unsaponified forms in lotions, bath bombs, etc. I confess, I'm hoping for DeeAnna or somebody to smack down the Science! of fatty acid ratios and such for a less subjective viewpoint.

As for the cost, kchaystack, it's not really an issue for me either except as a matter of avoiding waste. I don't mind paying for quality, but I don't want to pay extra for something for no benefit, if you know what I mean. And since I have to source most supplies from the 'Net, shipping is a concern on this front as well. In the cocoa butter/stearic example, the shipping cost of a pound of butter gets me supplies for 8 batches, while the same shipping cost for a pound of stearic covers 25 batches. Ultimately, I'm not trying save money, I'm trying not to waste it.
 

kchaystack

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Well, shea has a lot of unsaponifiable components - while those might not be totally unaffected by lye or heat of the reaction, I am betting they lend something more than adding pure stearic, which just becomes soap - fast.
 

galaxyMLP

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I'll say this.

I do think its subjective and we have a confirmation bias but:

1: The butters are not just comprised of stearic acid (yes, I know, you know that). You'd have to extensively study the fatty acid profile of the butters and create a formulation that matched the same profile in a recipe.

2: look at something like lard vs. palm. they have pretty close fatty acid profiles but to most people they feel completely different.

3. You can't sub olive oil for shea. They have completely different profiles and feel totally different in soap (I know, it was just an example)

4. If you sub in fatty acids exclusively in soap, you'll be loosing out on creating any glycerin

5. If we could just simply sub butters with other fats like stearic acid, you could also say the reverse would be true. But, we cant. Look at shave soap. You can not sub the stearic acid for shea or cocoa butter even if you get a similar or very close fatty acid profile (I know that you also add stearic in after so its not exact but... you get the idea.)

6. Our calculators don't show all of the different fatty acids that make up an oils' triglycerides. I know for shea there is something like 3% fatty acids that are not on the list. There are also unsaponifiables in different oils. Each of those is going to bring something different to the party. Lye doesn't destroy everything.
 

Earthen_Step

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When I first started making soaps I never used butter. I added shea butter first and think it added a new element of softening/conditioning the skin. Later I added cocoa butter and thought it was similar in conditioning but added more to the hardness to the bar and creaminess to the lather. Now I add some cocoa butter and shea butter to most soaps made. I don't know the science behind it but really enjoy both in soaps. I have gone as high as 30% with cocoa butter, it speeds up trace dramatically -- work time is minimum at high levels. I notice some qualities as low as 3%. The sweet spot to me seems 5-10% shea and/or cocoa butter. I have never played with mango butter so can't say anything on that one. I have only used unrefined coacoa and shea butter, so I can't say anything about refined. Hope more people chime in, I'd like to hear others experiences as well.
 

IrishLass

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I agree with Kchaystack- much depends on personal experience.

One thing to keep in mind when comparing butters to stearic in soap, is that stearic is pretty much just stearic acid and/or palmitic acid. Butters, on the other hand, come with a host of other goodies such as oleic, linoleic, linolenic, as well as various unsaponifiables that are unaffected by the lye..... so, a soap made with butters as opposed to just using stearic in their place will feel different than the one made with stearic in place of the butters.

Another big thing to keep in mind is that stearic acid is a pure acid with a melting point of 140F and it reacts instantaneously with the lye. If you use much more than 5%, you'll be looking at soap-on-a-stick unless you soap on the hot side or do HP. Butters, on the other hand, are more forgiving in that aspect.


IrishLass :)
 

BrewerGeorge

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I love the way this thread is going. :D

Don't get too hung up on the stearic example, as it was just that. I know you can't just sub stearic for cocoa butter. The idea is a bit broader- can we get similar profiles with common fats as we get from using butters? I mean, none of us are Unilever and I'm not talking about creating some FrankenOil with multiple, isolated fatty acids. I'm thinking more like whether "A bit of stearic, a bit of avocado, a bit of lard, a bit of whatever" makes a similar final product.

Also a sub-question: Is it safe to say that there are two classifications of "butters?" Seems like we have the "real" butters like cocoa, mango, and shea that are naturally butters. Then there's a "second tier" like coffee and avocado which are oils whipped in a hydrogenated vegetable oil carrier. These others are the ones I'm most dubious of in soap. Right or wrong?
 

shunt2011

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I can't speak to any of the other so called butters. I have only used Shea and Cocoa. I hope one of our science geeks can answer you questions more fully for you. Heck, we may even learn something new.
 

Obsidian

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I think it really depends on what kind of soap you want. A all veggie palm free recipe really needs butters to create a hard, creamy long lasting bar.
If you aren't limited on what oils you use, then you can get very similar results using animals fats. Too me lard is quite similar to shea, maybe not quite as creamy but it doesn't reduce lather like shea can and its cheaper. I have used shea at 20%, it's a nice soap but nothing special.
As far as coco butter goes, I don't seen any good benefits from using it in soap except to harden. I've also used it at 20% and while it made a super creamy lather, it had very little lather and it left my skin feeling pretty awful. I do like CB as SF in HP or a shave soap.

Personally, I would never use any of the man made "butters". To me they seem like crisco with some kind of good oil/additive in it to make label appeal and drive up the price.

Of course this is very subjective. You feel beer can be replaced with sugar and milk, I feel both those ingredients are fairly worthless in my soap but I do like using beer. I also really, really like coconut milk, its much more noticable than any animal milk.
 

topofmurrayhill

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Don't get too hung up on the stearic example, as it was just that. I know you can't just sub stearic for cocoa butter. The idea is a bit broader- can we get similar profiles with common fats as we get from using butters? I mean, none of us are Unilever and I'm not talking about creating some FrankenOil with multiple, isolated fatty acids. I'm thinking more like whether "A bit of stearic, a bit of avocado, a bit of lard, a bit of whatever" makes a similar final product.
You are working your way towards something I concluded a while back. The properties of your soap depend in large part on the proportions of the various fatty acids that go into it. To me, oils are simply sources of fatty acids. I formulate recipes by looking at a bar chart of the fatty acids and tuning it for the properties I want.

As you implied, a certain amount of stearic acid is desirable for hardness and skin feel (it seems to feel better than palmitic). Butters are the costly veggie source of stearic acid. Animal fats are the cheap alternative source. It's generally best to get your stearic from oils, but you can get a small amount by adding free stearic acid at the cost of accelerating trace.

In my world, oils that are thought of as similar are very different. The fatty acid proportions are so important that virtually no oils are 1:1 substitutes for each other. If I substituted lard for palm, for instance, it would throw my recipe completely out of whack. I could, however, change the percentages of the other oils to compensate.

This is a very different approach from liking or disliking certain oils, or thinking in terms of the properties of oils. It gives you a lot more control, and it doesn't intrinsically matter what oils you use. There are various ways of arriving at a similar result.
 

ngian

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Hello George

As everyone else here already stated, you should try it yourself to estimate if butters can help soap make it a bit "better". I have already used only Shea at 10% and I like the silky feeling it gives to lather. I think someone cannot get the same feeling if for eg. high superfat is used. This silkiness is not something that it concerns the butter's fatty acid profile but the remaining "dark side" of the butter. Maybe by using a good amount of silk fibers instead of Shea, you would possibly get the same property but only with experiments someone can be near the these answers.

I think small experimental batches is a way that will give you some answers for your skin and perception on the matter.

Here are mine so far (only one is about shea):

Testing Extra Virgin vs Pomace Olive Oil

Testing Lard vs Shea Butter

Testing a few soft oils in 40%
 
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Susie

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I don't use butters in my soap. I have tried shea and cocoa thus far, and decided that I preferred soaps made without them. I like high lard or high lard/tallow bars for their hardness and creamy lather. But I decided this after trying soaps made with them, then without them. YMMV.
 

Arimara

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I've been lazy with my butters and left them for body cream uses. But I don't mind using them in soaps since they do add something to the mix. I can say that as far as liquid soap goes, butters matter, especially if you were aiming to emulate Irish's famous recipe on any level. I recent liquid soap batch showed me that much (I have to shake my soaps a bit to see any pearly sheen but man, what a pretty coffee soap it made).

As for liquids, coconut milk is really a nice additive to soaps. Beer soap is nice and so are milk soaps but I think I like my coffee and coconut milk based soaps better (I did not mix the two together but it sounds like a plan).
 

Susie

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If you want the color of coffee to remain fairly dark when mixed with CM, you really need some extra strong coffee. Mine became a very pale beige.
 

navigator9

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Why not try a blind test? Make several recipes, and let people decide for themselves. I love blind tests. We're too close to the process to be able to decide without any bias. We know what certain oils and butters are "supposed" to add to the soap. But testers who know nothing about the ingredients, can give you a real eye opening look at your soap. Make up a questionnaire that addresses your areas of concern, and get as many friends and coworkers as you can to participate. People enjoy doing this, because they get to voice their opinion...and get free soap! I made all of mine uncolored and unscented, to look as much alike as possible, and I scratched numbers deeply into them, so users wouldn't get confused. They were about 1/6 of a regular bar, so the testing process wouldn't take forever. The testers knew nothing about any of the ingredients. Having carefully chosen the ingredients, I had definite expectations about what the results would be, so I was totally surprised when the results went in an entirely different direction. I know my opinions of my different soap recipes were definitely skewed by knowing too much, and this test really drove the point home. You can get some valuable information from a blind test.
 

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