The Downside of Perfection

Goats Soap

Perfection is a tricky business. Most of the time it’s a long road with the end destination not even in sight. I am pleased to tell you that Austin and I have finally managed to make perfect (yes, perfect!) soaps. No more panic attacks because the soap turns a strange colour or ceases unexpectedly. Instead, fluffy lightly traced mixtures that go through the gel phase like clockwork.

So what do you do once you’ve reached perfection? … You start missing the imperfections. You realise it’s the journey that counts not the final destination. The adrenaline rush surging through you when a soap goes off too quickly for example, or the anticipation which colour a soap will be after it cools down. Or the excitement mixing lye with coconut milk not knowing whether the mix will separate because you didn’t throw it into cold water fast enough. So I guess I have to raise the bar higher to get back my adventurous spirit.

With these words I’ll leave you with my beautiful goat’s milk soap recipe and some wise words on the wonders of goat’s milk in soap: It’s a fantastic soap for sensitive skin as it cleans and softens the skin without drying it out. The acids in goat’s milk help exfoliate the skin leaving new cells on the surface making your skin look smooth and healthy. And don’t get me started on the vitamins and minerals in goat’s milk. It’s just an overall brilliant product to use in soap!

Goat’s Milk Soap

400 gr. coconut oil
225 gr. sweet almond oil
100 gr. olive oil
270 gr. goat’s milk
80 gr. lye
fragrance oils (I applied a small amount of caramel and oatmeal fragrance)

The Critical Path of Soap Making

My company sent me on a project management course before Christmas with the sneaky plan that I might be a certified project manager by the end of January. I figured it will come in handy if I ever want to throw myself in front of investors pitching my built from the ground with my own soft little hands cosmetics brand. Hence, I listened carefully to our instructor Liam who tried to make the boring matter plump and delicious like an embalmed baby bum. I managed to stay awake most of the time.

With the exam deadline looming (next Monday; in case someone wants to send good wishes, chocolate or flowers), my brain is occupying itself with terms like baselines, scope, budget, work break down structure, schedules and controls. Unconsciously, I started applying the PMBOK rules to my soap and lotion making. As per the PMBOK standard I am creating a unique product through progressive elaboration. With regards to soap and lotion making I noticed that change control and risk management strategy is key.

Take this example. Below’s the output of my recent soap making endeavour.


That’s my first multi-coloured soap (not a great picture, but the soap is actually quite lovely). So in case you can’t see it properly it’s purple at the bottom and white on top. Not bad for the first time soap-maker you might say. Not quite right. The colour was supposed to turn turquoise. In fact, it changed from a lovely peach to yellow, brown, green and then purple. What the heck? So now it’s smelling coconutty. Had I known it was going to turn out purple it would have been lavender instead!

I have learned to keep my risk log (aka my little recipe book that smells of fresh linen ever since I stabbed myself in the finger when opening the bottle with aforementioned fragrance oil) constantly updated. I also noted “make better swirls the next time” as a must-have improvement opportunity.

So what’s my take away from all of this? Documenting learnings and failures is key. Damn, I think I need a bigger risk log.

P.S. I also made some delightful bath bombs at the weekend. The pictures are R rated though as I put them into a heart shaped ice cube silicon mould and they rose like little mushrooms. Needless to say that warranted another entry into the risk log.


The Chemistry of Soap Making

More interested in ticking boxes on little pieces of paper handed around in class rather than the periodic table of the elements I barley passed chemistry in school. I am certain that’s a partial explanation why every second batch of soap I have made to date yielded unexpected results. From “does not set” to “separates into water and oil in the mould” to “can’t say the word ‘holy crap’ fast enough before it forms a hard blob and can’t be poured at all.”

Before I started the process I learned there were a couple of methods how to make soap. I decided on the “cold soapmaking process” because you can make it at home with ingredients you find in the supermarket and your friendly neighbourhood DIY stores (little did I know that B&Q and Woody’s stock the ominous sodium hydroxide as “caustic soda” which I use to unblock my drains ever so often). It’s also a process that produces a high quality soap with lots of skin moisturizing oils and natural glycerine as well as a harder bar that doesn’t get mushy when left in a wet puddle on the sink for too long. Curing these soaps for 4-6 weeks is important to get rid of possibly remaining sodium hydroxide.

So this is how it goes: For cold process soap, very simply put, you combine sodium hydroxide, water and oils, mix the whole thing, pour it into a mould and – voila, you have a soap once it has set. That’s the theory as it applies to me. For the chemically advanced, the alkaline solution (sodium hydroxide) causes a chemical reaction called “saponification” turning the whole thing into salts of fatty acids and glycerine.

You need the right amount of sodium hydroxide (from here on only referred to as lye) in relation to the oils otherwise your soap making goes pear-shaped. The same is true for the temperatures – oils too cold or too hot can mean that the saponification process doesn’t kick in. Let me also tell you at this stage that caustic soda is, well, caustic. Mixed with water it smells like Dante’s inferno and if in contact with your skin stings like hell (and most likely leaves burn marks if not washed off immediately). It also discolours most liquids that I used instead of water. Imagine my surprise seeing my goat’s milk turn a bright yellow and the red berry tea I added to create a lush pink turning first green and then orange. Just so you know.

In a nutshell it’s all pretty easy. Really. Well, most of the time.

Caustic Soda Front Caustic Soda BackGreen Tea in mould