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Homemade Soap – Good Clean FUN!

June 1, 2009

When we were putting together the first issue of JUST CAUSE Magazine, a lot of people sent me samples of products that they wanted to include in the JUST Shopping section. Amongst them was a humble bar of soap. Of course, it was a bar of Coco Zen chocolate soap, and, as one who has frequently said she’d like to be covered in chocolate, I could not resist getting naked and lathering up. And it was heavenly.

As I always do, however, I started thinking. (This is a problem I’m working on, as too much thinking can sometimes ruin a good thing, but I digress.)

Suddenly, this humble bar of soap seemed like the answer to the issues of mass-consumerism that I’ve really been struggling with. Primarily, I’m pretty fixated on the packaging and waste that results. All those bottles of soap need to be manufactured, and then thrown away or recycled (which is only marginally better.) Secondarily, I’m fixated on the chemicals. I’m not convinced that I want to put anything ON my body that I wouldn’t put IN it, seeing as your skin is the largest organ of your body. Not to mention in the environment as it goes down the drains.

But in my hand was this little bar of chocolatey simplicity, and it occurred to me that a bar of soap makes sense. There is no waste, no packaging, no weird chemicals. It’s perfect.

Me being me, I wanted to try and make my own soap from scratch. So I did a little research about soap. Soap, it turns out, is simple stuff. It is, essentially, made from two ingredients: fat and lye. Has been for centuries (until, that is, petroleum companies needed to find a way to use their leftover sludge, and turned it into an artificial fat, but again, I digress.)

You can use nearly any fat, really. Butter, lard, any kind of oil. They all behave differently in terms of lather and how long they will last, but they all work. They also all behave differently in terms of what they do with your skin.

I found this simple recipe for making soap at home on treehugger.com, and this is more or less what I did on Sunday afternoon. The whole process was remarkably simple and gratifying.

For my soap I used Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, Grape Seed Oil and Hazelnut Oil. All of these are food grade, so it was edible until the lye went in. I also added essential oils that are good for moisturizing and firming up “old” skin like mine (orange, grapefruit and lemongrass.) At the very end, I added ground cinnamon for scent, exfoliation and skin “stimulation.”

And ya know what? No weird chemicals. No excess packaging. And it was cheap! The best part, however, was the smile of my dad’s face. He recalled his mother making soap, when he was a little boy on a farm in Northeast Missouri. She made it with freshly rendered lard, but I love my lard for cooking and am just too greedy with it. Of course, that made me smile.

Somewhere in all of our modernization, we have just forgotten the simple and natural ways that people lived for generations prior to the industrial revolution. A bar of soap may seem like a small thing, but I think that it’s a big step towards cleaner living. You don’t have to make your own, just ditching the bottles of cleansers is a huge step. And yes, it’s incredible on your skin. (Of course, you can still use pure olive oil as a moisturizer, I’ve been doing that for months and have baby skin, I swear!)

(In the fall, I will no doubt be back ranting about leaf-blowers. If they aren’t a metaphor for everything wrong with modern society, then I don’t know what is. Noisy, lazy, wasteful, polluting. Pick up a rake and a broom and get some exercise, quietly and without fumes!)

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