Attack of the Smurfs! (a.k.a naturally coloured soap Part 1)

Time for an update on our soapy adventures…

The original soap making attempt using the Little Green Workshops kit worked a treat – the bars kept their lovely orange blossom scent, and gave a good lather with some poppy seeds bits for a nice bit of scrubby exfoliation as well (although my other half felt they were a bit too scrubby at times). I’ve always been wary of soap as my skin tends to feel quite dry and tight after using soap bars, prompting me to use shower/body washes instead, but I thought this soap was a bit less drying and kinder to my skin. Overall I was pretty pleased with it.

OK I have to admit at this point that in my research about what sort of soaps to try next, I have become slightly obsessed with looking at soap art/porn online and dreaming about all the creative soapy loveliness I could create. Many of the beautiful colourful soaps online are coloured with synthetic colourants, which give a vibrant colour palette with which to create an amazing array of patterns and effects. The colourants are widely used and have been tested for skin safety so it’s not a problem as far as I know to use them, however I wanted to stick to more natural ingredients in my soap as far as possible, so I started doing some research into natural colourants.

There are a wide range of natural chemicals, dyes and clays that are used to colour soaps, including (but not limited to):

  • Activated charcoal (black and grey)
  • indigo (blue)
  • various clays (brown, pink, green, yellow)
  • madder root (pinks and reds)
  • saffron (yellow)
  • annatto (yellow)
  • titanium dioxide (white)
  • metal oxides (eg iron oxides – brown, chromium oxide – green)

To get started I ordered some indigo and titanium dioxide, with a view to making a beautiful swirly soap à la this soap Queen tutorial. I kept the basic soap recipe the same as my previous batch:

  • 300g olive oil
  • 300g coconut oil
  • 400g rice bran oil
  • 138g sodium hydroxide
  • 300ml water

For the colours, I dispersed 1 tablespoon of indigo powder into 40ml of rice bran oil (taken from the allowance above), and in a separate bowl dispersed 1 teaspoon (5ml) or titanium dioxide into 40ml rice bran oil. I made these a few hours before I was planning to do the soap, and kept mixing them to try to disperse them evenly.

I made the soap as before, and when it reached a thin trace I added about 20ml of “Energy” fragrance, a blend of essential oils with a citrus-like smell, made by Bramble Berry that I bought from Aussie Soap Supplies. I used the Bramble Berry fragrance calculator which recommended I add 40 ml of Energy fragrance for a light scent, but my other half isn’t keen on scented soaps and would prefer unscented, so I reduced the amount as a compromise, adding maybe about 20ml instead. After mixing in the fragrance, I split the batch into two (roughly in half) and added blue indigo to one half, and white titanium dioxide to the other and mixed.

Now for the fun stuff! To make the swirls, I poured about a quarter of one colour and then the other in layers into the mould, the soap is still at quite a thin trace and poured from a height above the mould, so the layers break through into the ones underneath and create swirls. I had made a coat-hanger swirling tool to swirl the soap some more, but got scared about it all mixing 2015-09-06 19.59.14together so I didn’t use it in the end! Next time…

I saved a small amount of each colour for the top decoration, and poured alternating thin lines of each colour lengthwise along the top. Then using a kebab skewer I dragged from side to side to create a pretty patterned top.

I insulated the mould with a large towel, and waited (im)patiently for saponification to occur. After 24h I could wait no longer, and decided to unmould it.

I carefully unwrapped it and managed to tease it out of the mould. The patterned top still looked pretty but the blue colour had faded to a pale denim-like colour – I’m not sure if this was due to this part cooling quicker than the middle, or perhaps some soda ash developing due to a reaction between unsaponified lye (Sodium hydroxide) and the air.

IMG_2482Ah well, no matter, pressing on I carefully cut into the block , excited to see the swirlyness lying within. Whoops, should have waited! Although it was solid, it was still a little soft and some bits were broken when I was cutting it into bars. The swirls looked pretty good though, and the blue was so dark! I could probably get away with using a lot less indigo next time, and it would still be plenty blue enough.

My plan was to give away some of these soaps as Christmas gifts to friends and family, however after curing the soap and testing a bar, we may have to re-think that option. It turns out that not only does the blue look pretty dark in the bar itself, but it makes an exciting and slightly horrifying dark blue lather when you use the soap!

2015-11-10 19.39.13

Worried that it might dye the skin and/or the bathroom of our unsuspecting gift recipients, we’ve decided to keep this one for use at home and make alternative soapy gifts for Christmas 🙂

I still like it anyway, and I haven’t turned blue so far! (like a Smurf, get it?)

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