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A Guide to Soap Terminology - June 11th, 2008


I believe in the educated consumer. He/She is in fact, my favorite type of customer! With so many terms being tossed around by marketing campaigns in regards to cosmetics and soap, the meanings can often become obfuscated. I don't think many manufacturers intend to be misleading, but fail to be precise in their language to sell product. My goal is not to become fabulously wealthy selling soap (thought it might be nice *wink*) so much as it is to enjoy the craft of saponification. It is art in harmony with chemistry. It is a feast for all of my senses and thrills me much in the same way tiny seedlings do.

In no particular order:

SAPONIFICATION - The reaction of an alkali with fatty acids to create a salt compound called soap. Creating a by product commonly called glycerin.

HAND MADE - Easy! Made by hand right? If 90% of the finished product was made by a machine and the last 10% of the product was assembled by hand is it still hand-made? The Handcrafted Soap Maker's Guild requires that the majority of their member's soap making process be accomplished by hand alone. Soap that is hand made retains it's natural glycerin.

ORGANIC - Organic on it's own means "of, pertaining to or derived from living organisms". In the US, there are no official standards for the usage of the term "organic" for cosmetics, soap or the ingredients they contain. Some soapers use organic oils in their soap recipes and market their soap as Organic. Since soap is a wash-off product I've come to the conclusion it's a waste of my money and in turn yours to use up organic oils for that purpose. To me it's like washing your windows with expensive "organic, all-natural" cleaning fluid when a little white vinegar works just as well. I do encourage consumers to buy organic cooking oils, though.

NATURAL - This can mean anything. Keep that in mind whenever you see it. Mother Nature is just as efficient at creating deadly poison as any human chemist. Only she prefers subtly and balance.

ARTISAN - A skilled craftsman/woman. Of a higher artistic quality than mass-produced.

COLD PROCESS - A process for making soap that does not employ heat to finish the saponification process. Cold process requires more time for the soap to cure, but yields a very fine-textured opaque soap that is quite hard and long lasting. It is my personal opinion that cold process soap lathers better.

HOT PROCESS - A process for making soap that employs heat to speed up the saponification process. Finished soap is ready to be used as soon as it cools and yields a softer soap with a kind of crystalline quality similiar to Melt and Pour Soap.

GLYCERIN - A by product of saponification. It is colorless, odorless and tasteless humectant (retains moisture). In Handmade soap the glycerin is retained. In commercial soap manufacturing, the glycerin is removed and sold to cosmetic manufacturers. Such soap tends to be drying and leaves your skin feeling tight or stretched.

GLYCERIN SOAP - A term commonly referred to soap that contains glycerin. More appropriately called Melt and Pour, because it can be melted at a low temperature and poured into molds very easily. Great for simple crafts and elaborate decorative soap. It melts away quickly with use. It's commonly transparent. But not all transparent soap is Melt and Pour and not all Melt and Pour soap is transparent. *grin* You can spot this type of soap by simply reading the ingredients. Glycerin will be listed as an ingredient because it is added back into a soap base or added to a synthetic soap base. I think this is silly. But it is cheap and easy and can be make to look very similiar to cold process soap.

FRENCH MILLED - Soap that has been shaven into small bits and passed through HOT rollers that extract the glycerin. This soap is then extruded into shapes. This soap tends to be very hard and long lasting.

TRIPLE MILLED - French Milled three times. Virtually no glycerin left.

SYN-DET- Synthetic Detergent. Not soap in the true sense, but often called soap because it also foams and cleanses. It actually foams and cleanses Very Well, perhaps a little too well for skin. IE. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and it's relatives. Some labels will tell you it's derived from Coconuts. Which is true. But you'd have to understand what 'derived' means as well to make an informed decision.

EXTRACT - In cosmetic applications: "to withdraw by chemical process, also to treat with a solvent so as to remove a soluble substance". Extracts retain most of their beneficial substances, but there is little a consumer can do to know exactly how much of the solvents used are retained in the refined extract.

MOISTURIZING - I object to this term in conjunction with cosmetics and soap mostly because I think it is misleading. A large part of your skin's function is to be a barrier between your fragile innards and the outside world. It excretes sebum and retains water to protect itself from the drying elements around us and usually does a fine job all by itself. Soap, as a wash-off product does not have the capacity to moisturize your skin. It can be formulated to be mild and Less Drying than harsher soaps. If you want to moisturize your skin, the best practice is to drink water. Lotion will assist your skin in holding in your natural water.

DERIVED - See extract. "To produce a substance from other substances using a chemical reaction"

FRAGRANCE OIL - Synthetic scents. Created by combining single molecule scent chemicals, often with essential oils. A very complicated and beautiful (and lucrative) science. Some people are sensitive to them.

ESSENTIAL OIL - Volatile Organic Compounds extracted from botanical sources using distillation. Often used for scent and homeopathic applications.

SODIUM HYDROXIDE - An alkali I use to create soap. It is manufactured by passing electricity through salt water. I use technical grade which is 99% pure (the last 1% being sodium carbonate). Also used to create the crunchy smooth skin of pretzels.


Sodium Lauryl Sulfate - July 20th, 2007

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Go look at all the foaming products you put on your skin. I bet most of them list Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (or any of it's relatives!) as an ingredient. In fact, it's usually one of the first.

I'm not the kind of person that gets hysterical about "all-natural" propaganda. I try to be very objective about the use of synthetics in our lives. They certainly have their place. They are not inherently evil.

But it really gets under my skin the more I learn about cosmetic manufacturing process and as I realize how cheaply made and potentially problematic the products we use on our skin every day really are.

There is a whole bouquet of synthetic chemicals out there for products you apply to your skin! It's all very mysterious isn't it?

I don't know what it is, I can't even pronounce it, but it will make my hair soft and manageable, keeps beasties from growing in it, makes it smell nice and it looks pretty!!

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS for simplicity sake from this point on) is used as a thickener and to create a copious lather. People love lots of lather! You really feel like you're getting really clean when there's lots of lather!

You may see SLS listed as being derived from coconuts and this is true. But as a soaper, I know that using a lot of coconut oil in my soap is going to produce a harsh soap that will dry my skin and has the potential to irritate it. So I try not to use more than 10%.

Then I found the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet)for SLS. An MSDS is a piece of paper that lists the physical properties, toxicity, health effects, first aid, reactivity, storage, disposal, protective equipment and spill/leak procedures for materials used in a workplace and is required by OSHA. WOW! Here are some juicy exerpts:



I thought that was quite interesting. Then I found this:

"MSDS's are not meant for consumers. An MSDS reflects the hazards of working with the material in an occupational fashion. For example, an MSDS for paint is not highly pertinent to someone who uses a can of paint once a year, but is extremely important to someone who does this in a confined space 40 hours a week"

Considering all the products you use on your skin that contain SLS and it's relatives every day, you ARE coming in contact with these chemicals 40+ hours a week.

Even companies that sing songs of great praise about the luxurious nature of their products put this stuff in there! It's cheap. That's the bottom line. SLS is cheap.

So how DO consumers learn about the products they use on their skin? Where is the warning label for me? The manufacturer just told us that it was derived from coconuts and that sounds nice enough, doesn't it?

A side note:

Even more annoying to me is when I see a non-food product that has "ORGANIC" on the label. There is no standard for the use of the word organic on anything except food. Soap is not natural, and therefore cannot be organic. Natural soap is an oxymoron. There is nothing natural about passing electricity through salt water to obtain sodium hydroxide (lye), combining it with rendered fat and oils and rubbing the end result all over you body to remove sebum and dirt.
Wonderful! Yes. Natural? No.

A lot of these "organic" products have the gall to list SLS (and it's relatives) as an ingredient as well.

*Okay! Rant over!*

I am such a nerd.


Self-Reliance - May 16, 2007

Interlakin Grape vine grown after the manner of Espalier

It often seems like a have a lot of hobbies. My husband would gladly second that. In reality, I only have one. My purpose in all that I do is to keep my brain active and learn to how be self-reliant.

It seems to me that we have arrived on the other side of a gilded age. We have realized that it is not always better to pay someone else to do most everything for us. To rely so much on strangers to meet our needs.

We've all heard stories of dangerous pathological and chemical contaminations in consumables. It's always good to learn to take care of ourselves. There is a lot of satisfaction in it.

Carla Emery, in her book The Encyclopedia of County Living, outlines some skills an independent woman possesses at the end of her book. I really recommend her book and I keep it in my kitchen as a ready reference.


Blame - April 18th, 2007


Yesterday, a disturbed man killed 32 people.

When things like this happen, most people immediately find their hearts sympathizing with the victims and all the people who have been affected. Primarily in my mind, the families.

I think that is a normal and healthy response.

There is a large body of individuals however, who's first inclination is to lay the blame somewhere. I guess in some instances, it's just part of the anger step in the grief process. But, I find myself repulsed by finger pointing. My momma, is quick to point out that three of your fingers are pointing back in your direction when you find fault somewhere else.

Even more repulsing (but not nearly so much as the crime that occurred) is the frenzy of media activity that whips up everyone into a froth when the scent of blood is in the water.
I made of list of were it has been suggested we place blame for this tragedy:
The Va. Tech President
Students who didn't reach out
Government (for not properly regulating English majors, I suppose)
The Internet
Video Games
President Bush (seriously, I didn't make that up)
Lack of Security in schools
The girlfriend (or so the Australian press says)

Could'a, Should'a, Would'a, DIDN'T - is a phrase I like to use when people start making blame statements.

I think many people believe that laying the blame somewhere is the first step in preventing it from happening again. Prevention is a productive idea. But too often, blame is merely a political soapbox, an emotional knee-jerk reaction, and a ratings net.

It is a frightening things to speculate for our secular society that we have absolutely no control over much of what happens. But we are capable of acting in the events we find ourselves in. Liviu Librescu, a 76 year-old Professor of Engineering saved many of his students by placing himself in the gunman's path as they escaped.

"Be the change you want to see in the world" -Mahatma Ghandi


Last Will and Testament: When I die, turn me into a diamond. - April 9, 2007

Photo courtesy of

"Diamonds are a girl's best friend". I never really took much of a shining to diamonds till I got engaged and we went shopping for the star I would wear on my finger. We went to Tiffany's just for fun. WOW! I just couldn't stop staring at the gorgeous 3 carat celestial orb in the glass case. The piece of worldly finery that I finally decided on had a combined weight of .25 carats. I love it!

I read a news article the other day about a company that takes carbon from your body (from your ashes or from a hair sample) and turns it into a diamond. I am so enchanted with that idea! I think I would love to have a diamond made from some of my Sweetheart's hair. He thinks it's creepy. I think it's a great excuse to buy a diamond. The chances are pretty slim, though. A single .20 carat yellow diamond will cost $2,699. That doesn't include a setting!

It's wonderful to want and to dream.


Amelia Earhart - April 2nd, 2007

Amelia Earhart

I recreated this photograph of Amelia Earhart in pencil for a high school drawing class. Since that time, I've been interested in the story of her attempt to circumnavigate the world. I guess I'm not the only one. Hundreds of books of fiction and non-fiction have been written about her.

Today, I found an article about the acquisition of a reporter's diary of the time by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR). Adding a little bit more detail about the events surrounding her disappearance in addition to the work the group has already done on the South Pacific.

Amelia took off from Lae, New Guinea on July 2, 1937 to begin the last leg of her journey. She was to land on Howland Island in the South Pacific, spend the night and travel on to Hawaii. No one knew the bumpy runway at Lae had ripped the antennae off her plane. She was able to send messages, but could not receive any incoming messages. The Coast Guard cutter Itasca in the sea off of Howland was awaiting her arrival, along with members of the press and a welcoming committee attending the airstrip. The Itasca had been receiving her radio transmissions as she approached but were completely exasperated with the brief, static nature of her transmissions. As well as the fact she didn't reply to anything they sent to her.

Her navigator, Fred J. Noonan, has been blamed by many for the failure of the flight. It was his responsibility to estimate the imaginary "line of position" that ran northwest-southeast through Howard Island. If his navigation was off, the plan was to fly up and down this imaginary line until she found the island.

Her voice was heard for the first time at 2:48 a.m.

- "sky overcast"
- at 6:15 a.m. "200 miles out"
- then later "100 miles out"
- at 7:42 a.m. "KHAQQ to Itasca. We must be on you but cannot see you. But gas is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet."
- at 7:58 a.m. "we are drifting but cannot hear you." the reporter's diary indicates he heard, "we are listening but cannot hear you".
- at 8:55 am no one can even hear her engines "We are on the line 157 337... we are running on line north and south." The radiomen agreed she sounded distraught; one thought she was near hysteria. Then the radio went silent and the search began, but she was never found.

Radio waves bouncing off the atmosphere can be heard thousands of miles away.
In Rock Springs, Wyo., Dana Randolph, 16, heard a voice say, "This is Amelia Earhart. Ship is on a reef south of the equator."

15-year-old Betty Klenck heard a woman say, "This is Amelia Earhart Putnam," followed by pleas for help and agitated conversation with a man who, the girl thought, sounded irrational. She recalled the man, "seemed coherent at times, then would go out of his head. He said his head hurt ... She was trying mainly to keep him from getting out of the plane, telling him to come back to his seat, because she couldn't leave the radio.
"She was trying to get somebody to hear her, and as the hours went by she became more frantic."
Betty listened for nearly two hours, taking notes in a school composition notebook as the signals faded in and out. They ended when the fliers "were leaving the plane, because the water was knee-deep on her side,".
She believes she may be the last living person to have heard Earhart's distress calls.
Her father, Kenneth, who also heard the voices, contacted the Coast Guard, but was brushed off with assurances that the service was fully engaged in searching for the fliers. "He got mad and chucked the whole thing because of the way he was treated."

On a small, flat reef referred to as Gardner the remains of a skeleton, a woman's shoe, an empty sextant box, an aluminum panel, a man's shoe heel, a piece of Plexiglass (that matches the specifications of Earhart's twin-engine Lockheed Electra's side window) and what appears to be a campsite littered with local animal life remains have been found.

TIGHAR believes that they will solve the mystery of the fate of Amelia Earhart in the near future.


April Fool's Day - April 1st, 2007

Kool-Aid in the shower head. The only reaction I got was, "gah".

You'd think an Evil Empress would be able to pull off decent prank! When you remember the night before, you can't make any promises.

Mother Nature had a prank of her own. It snowed in the night. Spring is here - Sike!


Spring is for Daffodils - March 30th, 2007


Photo originally from, HERE

What a gorgeous day it was yesterday. I took the opportunity to weed out in the front bed under the dogwood tree, were the spring bulbs are blooming. The sweet fragrance of the poets daffodils I planted last fall brought to mind this poem I found in High School. I have always loved daffodils, members of the Narcissus genus. Supposedly named after the Greek figure in mythology who was punished for the Gods for his vanity. In another story, the narcissus flower was created to entice Demeter's daughter Persephone away from her companions so Hades could abduct her.

Interestingly enough, it's derived from the greek word "narke" for numb. Does that remind you of narcotic?

Window Ledge in the Atom Age
by E. B. White
from "The Second Tree from the Corner"

I have a bowl of paper whites,
Of paper-white narcissus;
Their fragrance my whole soul delights,
They smell delissus.
(They grow in pebbles in the sun
And each is like a star.)

I sit and scan the news hard by
My paper-white narcissus;
I read how fast a plane can fly,
Against my wissus.
(The course of speed is almost run,
We know not where we are.)

The grow in pebbles in the sun,
My beautiful narcissus,
Casting their subtle shade upon
Tropical fissus.
(No movement mars each tiny star;
Speed has been left behind.)

I'd gladly trade the latest thing
For paper-white narcissus;
Science, upon its airfoil wing,
Now seems pernissus.
(Who was it said to travel far
Might dissipate the mind?)

I love this day, this hour, this room,
This motionless narcissus;
I love the stillness of the home,
I love the missus.
(She grows in pebbles in my sun
And she is like a star.)

And though the modern world be through
With paper-white narcissus,
I shall arise and I shall do
The breakfast dissus.
(The tranquil heart may yet outrun
The rocket and the car.)


Evil Empress - March 23, 2007

My husband and I came to the realization a long time ago that if at any point reality turned on its head, I would become an Evil Empress. About the time I realized that Kryptonite would be most effective if delivered intravenously.

To my delight, I discovered this list (oh, how I delight in lists!) of THINGS I WILL DO WHEN I BECOME EVIL EMPRESS. My favs:

1. While seduction has its place in my vast arsenal, I realize that "evil" and "skanky" are not mutually inclusive. Royal Dressmakers unable to realize this fact will be flayed alive in the presence of their replacements.

2. I will wear flats, or better yet, running shoes when executing crucial plans.

3. My slinky sorceress' robe will have a chain mail foundation garment, at minimum.

4. I will not seize power for my beloved son or husband or other close individual, especially since they may not, in the end, be grateful that I was so ruthless and treacherous on their behalf. I will seize power for myself and grant my loved ones small fiefdoms they can call their own, if they want. (Something my ancestor, Eleanor of Aquitaine might have purposefully pursued at an early date.)

5. My poison-fanged or -clawed beast minions will not be spiders, snakes and ravens, but kittens, goldfish, and canaries.

6. I will wear form-fitting clothes rather than flowing gowns: they're just as, if not more, flattering and are less likely to snag on something or catch fire at the moment of triumph or escape.

7. If I married into the title of Evil Empress under duress then my very first order of business must be the disposal of the Evil Overlord, since he must already know he can't possibly trust me as far as he can throw me. (love you sweetie!)

8. I will not mistreat, abuse, or plot elaborately to kill my Beautiful Yet Innocent Stepdaughter (she's destined for something, count on it). Instead I will treat her with all the kindness and love possible while slowly reshaping her in my image.

9. My Radiant Amulet of Power will not be worn around my neck on a thin gold chain, or on a ring that is two sizes too big for my finger. If a line of sight is required, then a good strong locking watchband will do. If the amulet need not be exposed, being Empress I have a variety of far more secure hiding places at my immediate disposal - and to heck with the glow.

10. I will keep my hair short and my fingernails trimmed. Short hair provides no convenient handle for the Hero, Sidekick or Backstabbing Evil Ally. Trimmed fingernails enable me to press The Button myself, rather than rely on minions with blunt nails or try to find a stick.

11. I will locate any phobias or nervous habits I may posses and take therapy until I can overcome them; that way, I can't be chased from the scene of my Ultimate Triumph because someone dropped a snake from the air vent.

This is my content and I reserve the right to it. Leave it where you found it. You don't know where it's been! The right click demon will flay plagiarizers alive. grrrrrr