Underrated and Overrated Soaping Ingredients

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Hi everyone!
I’ve been searching the internet to better understand which soap ingredients matter more than others, and trying to weed out ingredients that have “label appeal” but no impact on the actual quality of the soap. Then I realized I could just ask!

As experienced soapers, what ingredients do you find are overrated, often used in soap but with little effect? And viceversa, what ingredients have you found to have a substantial benefit but are not often used?

I’m asking about anything, from additives to colorants, fragrance oils and base oils. The “effect” can be anything that would make a person trying the soap appreciate it without knowing what’s inside. Or something that achieves the same effect as a more expensive and fancy alternative.

Some ingredients are hard to get, others just expensive, and it would be nice to know where to invest and where to save money and effort.

For example, I got the impression that goat milk is overrated, not adding any more benefit than regular cow milk.
Instead, sunflower oil is quite nice as a light liquid oil, and more than sweet almond oil it’s really eco-friendly since it’s a robust high-yield crop that grows almost anywhere.

But what about all the expensive oils like Argan, Tamanu, or Neem? Does tea tree oil actually have antibacterial properties when mixed in soap? Does beer and wine do anything more than just a spoonful of sugar?
I’d love to hear all your thoughts 😊
 
I don't much notice anything special in my soaps from using butters at 10% or less. It's not cost effective to use them at higher percentages, so I no longer use them. A must have oil for me is avocado oil at 10%.

Milk, beer, wine, honey, etc are a label appeal thing imo. Sugar does the same thing. I use them though, I switched to goat milk because I got asked for it so much.

Expensive oils are wasted in soap.
 
I’d love to hear all your thoughts 😊
Never underestimate the power of olive oil and its reputation. Even if you personally don't use it for whatever reason, no other soap matches its popularity.

These iconic soaps are sold world-wide to this day:
100% OO Castile from Spain.
100%-70% minimum OO in Savon de Marseilles (France)
80% OO + 20% Bay Laurel in Allepo Soap (Syria)
All the above can be duplicated using Zany's No Slime Castile recipe. :nodding:

Basic Trinity of Oils formula appears in popular soaps like Dr. Squatch and many cottage industry type Handmade soaps. Coconut, Palm & Olive form the 3 legs of the trinity to produce an INS Value 157 -- i.e., INS 160 being so-called "Perfect Soap" -- a balanced bar for all skin types.

Basic Trinity of Oils Printout

So. stepping down from my soapbox now, I'm retired.
But, if I had it to do all over again, that list of soaps would comprise my stable of soaps to sell as well as my personal stash.
:computerbath:
 
I’m asking about anything, from additives to colorants, fragrance oils and base oils. The “effect” can be anything that would make a person trying the soap appreciate it without knowing what’s inside. Or something that achieves the same effect as a more expensive and fancy alternative.

I got the impression that goat milk is overrated, not adding any more benefit than regular cow milk.
True. However, GM soaps have definite label appeal over other types of milk. I made GM soaps and lotion for a wholesale customer for 10 years. They raised goats. It's a good way for the animals to earn their keep! 😁

Instead, sunflower oil is quite nice as a light liquid oil, and more than sweet almond oil it’s really eco-friendly since it’s a robust high-yield crop that grows almost anywhere.
While I love HO sunflower oil, and almond oil, and avocado oil, I rarely use them in soap. IMO, I prefer them in leave-on applications like lotion, cream, lip balm and similar applications. The one soap where I use HO Sunflower is CARROT TISSUE OIL where I infuse carrots in sunflower oil to make a lovely facial soap.

But what about all the expensive oils like Argan, Tamanu, or Neem?
Argan is known for being the single best oil for conditioning hair & scalp. I would not use it in soap though. I would use it straight, with a blend of Rosemary, Lavender & Peppermint dissolved in Poly 80 to stimulate the scalp. Cover with a shower cap for an hour or so, massage well, shampoo with a mild LS.You can also use just a drop or two spread across your palms to smooth and condition any flyaways after styling your hair.

I have no experience with Tamanu or Neem but I've read enough to think they work well in whatever bath & body product you make that needs a bit of them to serve a particular purpose.

Does tea tree oil actually have antibacterial properties when mixed in soap?
Tea Tree, as well as Lavender, are two of the best-selling essential oils used to fragrance soap. Very popular soaps that sell well. Whether the antibacterial properties survive the lye process is up for debate. I believe they do, along with the customers who buy them.

Does beer and wine do anything more than just a spoonful of sugar?
Haha. Well said!

Beer soaps have enormous appeal among some segments of our society. For me, my "Sudswieser" Soap made with Guiness or any other imported beer, contains vitamins and hops that are good for hair. My beer & egg soap has copious amounts of luscious lather that feels like it's good for my scalp.

A cold beer rinse just adds to the conditioning. It leaves my hair soft, manageable and shiny. :thumbs:

I don't believe wine has the same qualities. :smallshrug:
In any case, I'd rather drink it.
 
Taking a cue from Dr. Squatch’s Glossary of all-natural ingredients, the addition of FAs or additives I like and use from that list are:

FAa - Shea butter in addition to Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, and Palm Oil (Sustainable).

Additives: GM Powder, Coffee (& grinds), clay (Glacial & White Kaolin), pine tar, oatmeal, cornmeal (& corn starch), sea salt, charcoal powder and beer.

Natural Colorants: Annato, Indigo, Spirulina

Others: Have Lichen Moss on hand but haven’t tried it in soap yet. I was happy to see it on the list.

FRAGRANCE: I have almost all of the essential oils listed. If I were starting over, that list would suit my fragrance blend preferences quite well. I'm very curious about trying terpenes. I once tried half a dozen samples to create green cleaning products but never tried them in soap.

Never used: Hops, Yeast, Sand, Yogurt or Iron Oxide.

Other than that, it’s a pretty good list of ingredients for those who wish to promote an all-natural line of handmade soaps. Short and sweet without creating an excessive amount of options, high inventory to maintain, or storage space.

Final Note: Don’t be afraid of the space between your Dream and Reality. If you can dream it you can make it so. ~ Belva Davis
 
Agree with @mx5inpenn and @Zany_in_CO. As a new soap maker (one year) my favorite ingredients not mentioned above include: salt: gives a marvelous lather and leaves skin smooth. Bees wax adds hardness. Alkanet bark to color (gray to pink to dark rose/purple tinting depending on how much is infused in soap oil.) Silk fiber seems to add a bit of density to lather but not sure how I’d prove that.
 
I can't speak for others, but I do see and feel differences when using silk, neem oil, and goat milk.

Silk fibers dissolved in the lye water make for an extra silky-feeling soap and lather.

Neem oil as part of a high-lard recipe is wonderful for my husband and others with skin issues such as eczema and psoriasis.

My high-lard goatmilk soap is the only soap I've ever been able to use on my face. If I make the same excact recipe without goat milk, it makes my face both peel and break out.

My dear friend only wants ZNSB made with goat milk. When I made it once without GM (because I forgot), she called me up and said, "You did something different to my soap, and I don't like it. My skin is drier and itchy." Point being, she had no idea - and neither did I - that she was testing a different soap than what I had given her the first time. It wasn't until I went back and compared batch notes that I realized the first soap I'd given her had GM in it, and the second one did not.

So, while there may be folks who don't feel or see any difference when certain additives are used, others definitely do. And that's ok - we are all free to make soap that works for us and for our users. :)
 
I don’t have nearly the experience of others here, but I love my pine tar soap using a basic Trinity formula. I also love seaweed added to ZNSC for a silky feel on my permanently dry skin. I’m also a fan of GM and use it whenever I can get ahold of the fresh stuff. I leave all the other fancy ingredients to others since I make soap just for family and a few friends. I have eczema and dry skin and prefer to save the neem and quality oils and butters for leave on products….that said, I have had excellent results following any and all advice from @AliOop and @Zany_in_CO and may try adding neem to my next pine tar batch.
 
As experienced soapers, what ingredients do you find are overrated, often used in soap but with little effect? And viceversa, what ingredients have you found to have a substantial benefit but are not often used?

I’m asking about anything, from additives to colorants, fragrance oils and base oils. The “effect” can be anything that would make a person trying the soap appreciate it without knowing what’s inside. Or something that achieves the same effect as a more expensive and fancy alternative.
I did a lot of experimenting with different oils and butters my first year of soap making in my bid to make something different and special. I had my 'control' soap of Olive, Coconut, Palm and Castor Oils and then compared all new recipes with it. IMHO...using anything*** but Castor Oil under 10% is a waste of time and money. I know a gal who advertises Shea Butter in her soap like it's a big deal, but she's only using it at 2%. :shakinghead: As for adding Cocoa and Shea Butter...does it really make a difference? That is where personal preference comes in and why we all have our favorite recipes.

Using expensive oils such as you describe are a waste of money. To start with, soap is a wash on/rinse off products that is only on skin for maybe five or ten minutes...that is not enough time to reap any benefits. Which brings up the next thing and that is that the Sodium Hydroxide and the saponification process destroys many of the 'benefits' and breaks down oils and butters into their base fatty acids. So why would I spend $2.70 oz (in bulk) for Argan Oil when the similar fatty acid profile of Palm Oil is $0.18 oz?

I also think it's a waste of money to have a bunch of different recipes; I'm speaking from a business perspective. Now I do make three different soaps...Regular, Goat Milk and Mechanic's, but the Mechanic's Soap is just my Regular Soap with Pumice Powder added and my GMS is similar to my Regular expect that I use goat milk instead of water and I don't use Cocoa Butter. By not going too far off the beaten path...multi-tasking my ingredients, I am able to keep my costs down by buying in bulk. And I'm continuing to 'multi-task' my ingredients as I add to my product line with Lotion Bars, Whipped Body Butter, Lip Balm, Salt Soap, Bath Salts, and Sugar and Salt Scrubs. Admittedly I will be going off the beaten path as I am starting to explore Lotions, but I'm looking at a Base as opposed to making completely from scratch.

Additives...that's a different kettle of fish. IMHO...making your soap with coffee/tea, wine/beer/bourbon, or adding pureed fruits and veggies, and even adding CBD Oil is strictly about label appeal; NONE of that stuff 'adds' anything to the soap. Does goat milk really add anything to soap...I honestly don't know, but it is a very popular soap and so long as I have a source for the milk, it doesn't really cost me more to make it. And it's the reason why I got into soap making in the first place.

On the other hand additives like Sodium Lactate, salt, sugar, honey, Sorbitol, Citric Acid, ROE. Sodium Citrate do have an effect...they can make your soap physically harder, they can make it more bubbly, they can prevent deterioration/DOS. And this of course brings up other additives like Tussah and Mulberry Silk, Collodial Oatmeal, Kaolin Clay, etc. Some people swear that it makes a difference, others say that it doesn't. I honestly don't know, but KO is so cheap, so why not?

Some ingredients are hard to get, others just expensive, and it would be nice to know where to invest and where to save money and effort.
Yeah...that can be a problem. I am very fortunate to be a soap maker in the United States where we can get pretty much any kind of oil or butter we want. Naturally some ingredients are going to be more expensive...like Argan Oil, Laurel Berry Oil, Monoi de Tahiti Oil, but we can still get it. And if I have a market for Aleppo Soap, I'm going to charge more for it than I would my Regular Soap because it costs me more to make it.

You have to start with what you have that is reasonably available to you and makes a good soap; for me that was Olive, Coconut, Palm and Castor Oils. Not only are they oils that every soap supplier sells, but I can run down to my local market and pick it up if I run out. Then I considered what kind of soap "I" would like because at the end of the day, if I closed up shop...I'm going to be left with all that soap. This is kind of tricky because if I was strictly a hobbiest, I would probably have a different recipe. Kind of like buying a skein of merino/cashmere/silk blend at $39.95 to make myself a pair of socks as opposed to using a less expensive superwash yarn at $17.00 to make socks for my kids. But I am in business so I have to consider that my market will bear and the market says 'superwash'.


*** - Speaking of oils/butters.
 
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By not going too far off the beaten path...multi-tasking my ingredients, I am able to keep my costs down by buying in bulk. And I'm continuing to 'multi-task' my ingredients as I add to my product line
I've said it before and I'll say it again... I like the way you think! :nodding:
 
I've said it before and I'll say it again... I like the way you think! :nodding:
Part of it is "Necessity the mother of invention". I don't have a heck of a lot of storage space in our garage for whole lot of different buckets, boxes, bottles and bags. Hubby is a border line hoarder and his idea of getting rid of stuff is to repack three boxes into two boxes and say "See, I got rid of a box of stuff." LOL Not counting goat milk, the only single use ingredient that I have is Pumice Powder and a little goes a long way so it doesn't take up a lot of room. The second part is cost...it's cheaper for me to purchase 26.5lbs of Cocoa Wafers than 5lbs.
 
I did a lot of experimenting with different oils and butters my first year of soap making in my bid to make something different and special. I had my 'control' soap of Olive, Coconut, Palm and Castor Oils and then compared all new recipes with it. IMHO...using anything*** but Castor Oil under 10% is a waste of time and money. I know a gal who advertises Shea Butter in her soap like it's a big deal, but she's only using it at 2%. :shakinghead: As for adding Cocoa and Shea Butter...does it really make a difference? That is were personal preference comes in and why we all have our favorite recipes.

Using expensive oils such as you describe are a waste of money. To start with, soap is a wash on/rinse off products that is only on skin for maybe five or ten minutes...that is not enough time to reap any benefits. Which brings up the next thing and that is that the Sodium Hydroxide and the saponification process destroys many of the 'benefits' and breaks down oils and butters into their base fatty acids. So why would I spend $2.70 oz (in bulk) for Argan Oil when the similar fatty acid profile of Palm Oil is $0.18 oz?

I also think it's a waste of money to have a bunch of different recipes; I'm speaking from a business perspective. Now I do make three different soaps...Regular, Goat Milk and Mechanic's, but the Mechanic's Soap is just my Regular Soap with Pumice Powder added and my GMS is similar to my Regular expect that I use goat milk instead of water and I don't use Cocoa Butter. By not going too far off the beaten path...multi-tasking my ingredients, I am able to keep my costs down by buying in bulk. And I'm continuing to 'multi-task' my ingredients as I add to my product line with Lotion Bars, Whipped Body Butter, Lip Balm, Salt Soap, Bath Salts, and Sugar and Salt Scrubs. Admittedly I will be going off the beaten path as I am starting to explore Lotions, but I'm looking at a Base as opposed to making completely from scratch.

Additives...that's a different kettle of fish. IMHO...making your soap with coffee/tea, wine/beer/bourbon, or adding pureed fruits and veggies, and even adding CBD Oil is strictly about label appeal; NONE of that stuff 'adds' anything to the soap. Does goat milk really add anything to soap...I honestly don't know, but it is a very popular soap and so long as I have a source for the milk, it doesn't really cost me more to make it. And it's the reason why I got into soap making in the first place.

On the other hand additives like Sodium Lactate, salt, sugar, honey, Sorbitol, Citric Acid, ROE. Sodium Citrate do have an effect...they can make your soap physically harder, they can make it more bubbly, they can prevent deterioration/DOS. And this of course brings up other additives like Tussah and Mulberry Silk, Collodial Oatmeal, Kaolin Clay, etc. Some people swear that it makes a difference, others say that it doesn't. I honestly don't know, but KO is so cheap, so why not?


Yeah...that can be a problem. I am very fortunate to be a soap maker in the United States where we can get pretty much any kind of oil or butter we want. Naturally some ingredients are going to be more expensive...like Argan Oil, Laurel Berry Oil, Monoi de Tahiti Oil, but we can still get it. And if I have a market for Aleppo Soap, I'm going to charge more for it than I would my Regular Soap because it costs me more to make it.

You have to start with what you have that is reasonably available to you and makes a good soap; for me that was Olive, Coconut, Palm and Castor Oils. Not only are they oils that every soap supplier sells, but I can run down to my local market and pick it up if I run out. Then I considered what kind of soap "I" would like because at the end of the day, if I closed up shop...I'm going to be left with all that soap. This is kind of tricky because if I was strictly a hobbiest, I would probably have a different recipe. Kind of like buying a skein of merino/cashmere/silk blend at $39.95 to make myself a pair of socks as opposed to using a less expensive superwash yarn at $17.00 to make socks for my kids. But I am in business so I have to consider that my market will bear and the market says 'superwash'.


*** - Speaking of oils/butters.
 
I find that cocoa butter at 5% does make a difference, especially in my lard soaps. Maybe not a difference in skin feel during or after use, but it definitely adds something to the lather that I really like. It's hard to explain, but there is a cushiony feel to it. I've been adding it to all my batches for awhile now.
 
All these responses are super insightful.

I will say that adding honey or sugar has a big effect on increasing bubbles.

I save the exensive oils like jojoba, meadowfoam seed, and sweet almond for leave-on products, mainly lotion bars.

I do use cocoa butter and/or shea butter in soap and do find it makes for a harder bar.
 
I find that cocoa butter at 5% does make a difference, especially in my lard soaps. Maybe not a difference in skin feel during or after use, but it definitely adds something to the lather that I really like. It's hard to explain, but there is a cushiony feel to it. I've been adding it to all my batches for awhile now.
Interesting, I might have to put this to the test.

Really digging the feedback, especially as someone who hasn't soaped a whole lot.
 
I'm going to add a "Worth the hype" with Jojoba oil!
As it is technically a wax, it does not saponify. I include it as an additive in my normal soap recipe; using at the equivalent to 5% of my oils, while still not actually including it in the oil/lye calculation. My dad, who has VERY sensitive skin, LOVES this! I make a scent-free, Dye-free version for him and he prefers this a million times more than my normal scent-free, dye-free soap.
 
What a great thread!

I'm only in my second year of soap making so take everything with a grain of salt, but I have an opinion that not any of you seem to share. That is that I do not like olive oil in my soap. Any soap that I have OO in gets super mushy since my bars experience high traffic and my climate is super humid. Even bars that I buy from professional soapmakers that have OO in them, go mushy on me, no matter how well I treat them. From hearing everyone rave about it in soap, I figured I'd love it, but nope. It's just not for me. Just goes to show you that for certain ingredients, people can have wildly different results based on conditions and personal preference.
 
@MellonFriend there are actually a fair number of us here on SMF who do not enjoy OO in our soaps, because it makes our skin dry and itchy. Others don't like the slimey or "snotty" lather from high-OO soaps.

No doubt my favorite high-lard soap might make others queasy, or the tight creamy lather isn't their cup of tea.

Thankfully we all get to choose our favorite recipe, eh? :)
 
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I will say I HATE OO in soaps in any amount, and I can always detect a soap that has OO. I mostly prefer my low CO Tallow/Lard soaps and really notice no difference with milks added so I do not add any since I no longer sell. I do love a very long aged, min 6 months with a year being better, a 100% almond oil soap. It makes a very gentle soap, but 0 lather without a long cure time. I also love my high shea butter soap after a long cure as a facial bar although I very seldom use soap on my face, water only for my face 90% of the time. Both of my girls have always done very well with neem oil in their soaps when their skin gives them trouble and I also had a large clientele that purchased my neem soaps.
 
I don’t know if there are any ingredients that are just label appeal if you are focused on your brand and know your ingredients. I use very unique oils and butters and they fit my brand while elevating my soaps.
Neem oil is in all my soaps and find it’s incredible as a soap ingredient while the “trinity” is drying on my skin given that coconut oil’s cleansing ability. I use it very little.
 
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