Natalie Lo is the founder of Native Body & Skin, maker of natural body care products such as soaps, massage oils and lip moisturiser. She is really passionate about making natural skin care products and hones her skills through hard work and dedication. She’s so good in her craft that she makes soap-making look really easy! Natalie was gracious enough to take some time off on a lovely Sunday morning to do a demonstration of her ginger turmeric soap-making process.
The steps to make your own home made soaps are pretty simple. First, you need to choose your oil base (plant oil or animal fat work equally fine), measure the oil, sodium hydroxide and water. Dilute the sodium hydroxide with water and leave it to cool to a certain temperature. Heat the oil to a temperature close to the lye solution (sodium hydroxide + water). Mix them well, stir it and add in plant extracts with certain skin benefits. Once it reaches an apple sauce consistency, add in the measured essential oils. Stir it evenly and pour it into a mould.
The first thing to do is to make lye water, which is sodium hydroxide dissolved in water. Once the sodium hydroxide and water get in contact, it will get very hot – up to 70-80°C. The water has to be distilled. If mineral water is used, the minerals will bind with the sodium hydroxide.
Once you’ve measured the right amount of water you need, pour in the sodium hydroxide – you must wear gloves for this. Let it cool on the side until it gets to about 50°C.
Next, I will prepare the ginger, slicing it into smaller pieces before putting it into the blender to make ginger juice.
While it is blending, I will prepare the oil. The oil is a blend of coconut oil, palm oil and rice bran oil. Heat up the oil until it gets to around 50°C. If the oil is too cold, it will take a longer time to make the soap.
I get all my key ingredients locally, from tamu or markets. Almost everything can be found in Malaysia, and I try to make use of local ingredients as much as possible. However, it is difficult to get quality essential oils in Malaysia, so I get mine from Australia.
I came up with my own recipe after trials and errors. I do use a free online software that calculates the percentage of oil and the amount of water and sodium hydroxide you need, but the formula is my own.
In warm temperatures like Malaysia, you don’t need to insulate after making the soap because the surrounding temperature is warm enough. In colder climates you will need to insulate the soap well. Some people put it into an oven to keep it warm before removing the soap batter from the mould.
Once everything is at the right temperature, it is time to mix the lye into the oil blend. Hand stir it with a whisk until it is fully emulsified. Then, I will add in turmeric powder.
I always make this soap as it is one of the standard soaps I sell. Ginger is anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. It has the ability to relieve muscle pain. Turmeric is also part of the ginger family, so it shares the anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial characteristics, as well as being an effective skin-brightening ingredient.
Once it starts to thicken, I will add in the ginger juice, and then finally the essential oils, which is a blend of orange, lemon grass, turmeric and bergamot oil.
Finally, I will pour it into a mould to let it set. Once it has hardened, I can remove it from the mould and cut it into pieces where I will let it sit and cure for about a month.
Key points to look out for:
1. Safety first
2. Use the right equipment and tools as we are dealing with highly alkaline sodium hydroxide
3. Do research on natural ingredients that are beneficial to the skin
Some people take soap making to an artistic level. You can decorate a soap the way you decorate a cake. You can do fun stuff like creating layers, making swirls etc. Once the soap batter reaches a certain consistency, you can even put it into a piping bag and create decorative elements like flowers. Soap making is not as hard as it sounds, if you think baking cake is manageable, so is soap making!
The purpose of the demonstration is to show how the products that we use on our skin are being made. Every step is thought through with a logical reason behind. Natural products can be as effective as synthetic ones when formulated based on science. The main difference between them is: Natural soaps make use of plant / herbs extract as their key ingredient and synthetic ones do not. Although soap making is comparatively more complicated than other skin care DIYs, I still believe everyone can make effective natural skin care at home with the appreciative attitude towards nature and knowledge about the function of each ingredient.
Read about Natalie’s story!
All photos © Danielle Soong.