Lye pockets due to undermixing or glycerine rivers? (Ghost Swirl)

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Sep 13, 2021
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Beginnerish hobby soap maker trying increasingly complex designs asking the age old question: Is it lye or glycerin?

Cut the soap after 21h, saw weird darker discolouration in addition to the two intended hues. Additionally, saw many little spots of moisture along the middle of most bars. The moisture disappeared after about five minutes of being exposed to air.

Background: Tree Marie Soapworks (Youtube) inspired ghost swirl. Poured three layers vertically with dividers, then swirled it. Middle layer was made with 26% lye concentration, outer layers were made with 47% lye concentration.

I am fairly sure everything was measured right, the soap got pretty hot on the outside considering the low water layers were on the outside (uninsulated). Soaped at ~ 90°F. Given that the inside was the 26% lye conc., and high water content apparently promotes glycerine rivers, it seems likely that the discolouration are glycerin rivers, but the moisture I initially observed worries me. Maybe after 21h with 26% lye in the middle of the soap this is normal? Watching the tutorial, she mentioned that the high water batch kept tricking her into thinking it was already emulsified when it wasn't, hence wondering whether I undermixed. The bits of soap that were mixed with low water concentration were completely dry. Would hate to have to bin this, because I love how it looks.

5% avocado oil, 5% sweet almond oil, 5% castor oil, 40% olive oil, 25% coconut oil, 20% palm oil, 5% superfat, minute amount of Energy from Brambleberry and 0.3 tsp rose clay PPS (fragrance and clay way too little, I was experimenting)

Thank you!
PS: Left bar in picture is vertically cut end piece, the two on the right were horizontally cut (loaf mold).


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Gorgeous swirl! I wouldn't call that “(b)eginnerish hobby soap mak(ing)” (but it's your perfect right to be modest). Deliberate glycerin rivers/ghost swirl is an advanced technique, and from what I see, it is no obstacle for you 😀 (for me it is).

Auntie Clara is indeed the gold standard when it comes to glycerin rivers/ghost swirl. @Marsi's link is great for a quick yet thorough overview; I personally find her earlier write-up richer from the technical/experimentalist aspects.

Regarding the rims: It's in the very nature of glycerin rivers to make the soap appear uneven. In bulk soaps, this gives a craquelure like pattern, since the internal tensions/clumping has no other way to relax than in random patterns. With a delicate swirl, however, there is a lot of internal surfaces that can serve as a support for a more ordered, deliberate break-up of the smoothness of the gel.
As far as I understand glycerin rivers, it is kind of an “internal contraction” tendency of soap molecules during gel phase (without external contraction), that is strongest at low lye (= high water) concentrations, and usually hardly visible unless you're adding opacifiers/colourants like clay or TD.
I'd call the rims a full success. Think of them like the outline contours in comic drawings – they might have no counterpart in reality, but they are a great help to grasp the shapes and emphasise structure. And hey, it's a third colour for which to achieve you didn't have to work. What more do you want?

Not so sure what the “crying” is about. Doesn't sound like glycerin dew, since you said it appears immediately, and evaporated by itself. Oils (fat oils, FO) wouldn't have disappeared either. So batch water (lye) is indeed the most probable conclusion.
Give it a day or two, watch if tiny crystals form at the places of the water drops, and/or soda ash is forming. Then, make a zap test. If it's not zappy, the soap is safe and it was no more than a transient cosmetic issue. If it is zappy, then things might become more complicated.
Have you made the two soaps as two separate batches, each with their own lye solution? Or did you make one batter (with the high concentration) and then divide it and whisk/SB in the extra water into one half? That's a neat trick Auntie Clara utilises to go around the issues of getting a batter with low lye concentration to a stable emulsion.
Excellent, so discolouration is normal, and I have got more soap makers to follow which will lead to more inspiration and more soaps and I already have too many soaps and I am moving country soon... ;)

I made the two soaps in separate batches. Did not even occur to me you could mix in the water later. Great to know that is an option!
So far no crystallization on the wet spots 12h later. I will keep observing. Thank you guys!
I wouldn't call it “discolouration”, it's the natural colour of the soap batter that is just slightly unbalanced due to some separation magic.
Update: Zap tested different areas of a few bars and all I get is the disgusting taste of fragrance oil. ;)

Now I am kind of keen to try this again with the "adding water later" method and see what the results look like, but there are too many other designs to try first.

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