Monthly Archives: August 2012

Labor Day Sale! and Other Announcements

Just a few quick notes – we’ve got a coupon code (“LABORDAY”) good in our Etsy store at least through Monday, which will get you 15% off. Autumn is my absolute favorite season, and as Labor Day is the traditional end of summer, it seems like a good opportunity to celebrate. Hope everyone has fantastic weather this three-day weekend!

One of our autumnal fragrances – Autumn Afternoon!

Also, we’ve recently changed the shipping policies (yes, again) in the Etsy store as well. Shipping remains flat-rate within the US, usually $5 per order. But rather than maintaining the high rates necessary to offer flat-rate shipping for international orders, those have returned to their earlier settings – for Canada, $5 for the first item and $1.50 per item thereafter; for the rest of the world, it’s $8 for the first item and $1.50 per item thereafter. For international orders which end up paying at least $1 more shipping than it costs to send the item, I will either refund the difference or include a little something extra in your order.

One last thing: We expect to be in Lawrence, KS on September 9 for the Fall Arts & Crafts fair, and a bit closer to home at the Red Barn Outdoor Market on September 15.  We’ve got lots more exciting stuff coming up, so keep an eye on our calendar!


Product Profile: Shampoo Bars

Not everyone has heard of shampoo bars, and for those who haven’t, the idea of solid shampoo can be pretty weird. There are quite a few benefits to be found in this form factor, though, starting with the eco-friendliness of cutting down on plastic bottles from shampoo – but the goodness doesn’t end there.

Jasmine & Bergamot Shampoo Bar

Shampoo bars are a great treat for your hair! Not only do they not strip away so much of the natural protective oils in your hair as some harsh synthetic shampoos can, but they contain several rich, hair-loving oils like castor oil and jojoba oil, to add moisture and shine. Only the driest of hair needs conditioner after washing with solid shampoo and following up with a quick vinegar rinse (I use 2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar in a quart of warm water). Don’t worry, the vinegar doesn’t leave your hair smelling like a salad – but if you prefer, you can use diluted lemon juice instead.

Depending on a variety of factors, it can take up to a couple of weeks for your hair to adjust to the new shampoo, but many people report their hair being softer and shinier straight away. Not to mention, a shampoo bar lasts *much* longer per dollar than a bottle of shampoo!

If it turns out that your hair and our shampoo bars don’t get along after all, they also make great all-over soap, even richer and more moisturizing than our regular SunSoap.


Let’s Discuss Our Process

Did you know that we’ll blend up most of our products in any scent in our catalog – not to mention custom scents – at most of our shows? Yep! We take along all our fragrances and quite a few of our products that we make in bulk or ingredients to make others, and we’ll mix up things to your specifications while you wait.

Show Mixin’ Setup

What can we make this way? Well: Hand & Body Cream, Shower Gel, Foaming Soap, Body Mists, and Perfume Oils. At some shows we also have the materials to make Lotion Bars, Solid Perfumes, Body Butter, and Sugar Scrub, but the former two require electricity and extra working room, and the latter two require cool weather and/or excellent climate control, so those aren’t present at most of our shows.

We are also always happy to take orders for items to be delivered after the show.

So come on out and find us at one of our in-person shows, and get a product made just for you – or if you’d rather have us all to yourself and your friends, we also do parties!


Fragrance Profile: Ginger Pear

Summer is waning here, and while she undoubtedly has a few scorchers in reserve to throw at us yet, my thoughts at least have turned toward cooler weather. I’ve been thinking a lot about food-related fragrances lately, and the Ginger Pear scent is definitely pretty high on that list.

Ginger Pear SunSoap

The listing description is as follows: “The mouthwatering aroma of fresh, ripe pears combines deliciously with the spiciness of the ginger to create this gorgeous blend.” As fruity/spicy scents go, it’s fairly subtle, with the pear scent predominating and the ginger supporting from below, and it’s phenomenal.

This fragrance was discontinued for a while, but I’ve recently brought it back for a limited edition run due to popular request, and if there’s enough demand it may be back to stay. It’ll be around for the next little while, anyway, so enjoy it while you can!

You can find all of our products in this fragrance here.


How-to: Lotion

When I was learning to make soap, it was not a smooth road; not every experiment worked perfectly. Still, I have only once ever ended up with a COMPLETE disaster of a result when making soap, which was not due to a failed experiment, just evidently One Of Those Things (seriously, I never have figured out what went wrong with that batch).

On the other hand, when I was learning to make lotion, I had failure after failure after failure. I ended up with oily, slimy messes, with curdled piles of glop, with things gone awfully wrong in about as many ways as things can go. I had books and blogs aplenty telling me ways to make lotion, and I couldn’t make a single one of them work, and it was frustrating.

To help out people who may be having similar troubles, I provide here one of the first successful lotion recipes I ever came up with, which in fact is the direct ancestor of the recipe I still use today.

You will need:

  • Kitchen scale capable of measuring to 0.1 oz
  • Two microwave-safe containers, each large enough to hold the entire batch
  • Spoon, whisk, and/or stick blender
  • Sanitizing solution
  • Thermometer (infrared is best; if using candy thermometers you’ll want two)
  • Containers, NEW AND UNUSED, six 4 oz bottles or equivalent
  • 18 oz Filtered water
  • 3.8 oz Sunflower oil (or other oil(s) of choice)
  • 1.2 oz Emulsifying wax
  • 1 oz Stearic acid
  • Preservative (0.2 oz of Germaben II or 0.1 oz of Liquid Germall Plus)
  • 0.3 oz Fragrance, if desired

Before we get into details, let’s talk a little about the ingredients and why we use them.

Water makes up most of this recipe, because this is a lotion and that’s the way they work. If the proportion of water were lower, it would be a cream – but really, if you lowered the water proportion enough for it to be less than the other ingredients, it would be such a thick cream it would be difficult to use. The water is not only here to help achieve the desired consistency, though – it plays a role in the moisturizing effect of the finished product, too. Using filtered water helps keep out unwanted mineral contamination from hard water, and also bacterial contamination – more on that in a minute.

The oil phase is where you have the most opportunity to play here. I specified sunflower oil because that’s what I started with, but feel free to mix and match all you like – find oils that have properties you like and use amounts of those adding up to the stated amount of oil here, and it should work just fine.

As I’ve mentioned before, oil and water need something to hold them together if they’re not going to separate shortly after you stop stirring. Emulsifying wax is not the only choice for this, but it’s easy to use, fairly inexpensive from just about any soap/lotion/cosmetics supplier I’ve found, and works well. I use another emulsifier for conditioners and facial moisturizers, but more on that later.

Stearic acid (a fatty acid, not an acid-acid) is added here to make the lotion thicker. It’s not absolutely necessary, but does add a nice touch.

Preservative is absolutely vital unless you are planning to a) keep your lotion in the fridge, b) use it up within a couple of weeks, and c) never EVER use it on broken skin, like after you shave or if you have a hangnail. Oil + water = absolutely perfect territory for bacterial and fungal growth, and there’s nothing quite like opening your jar of lotion to discover it covered in a forest of mold. Ugh. The procedure below outlines how to minimize the amount of bacteria in your lotion at the outset, but pretty much nothing is ever entirely sterile, and even if you got it 100% sterile at the beginning, as soon as it’s opened and exposed to air there’ll be icky nasties landing on the surface. So use preservative and stop the growth of yuck in its tracks! I have used two different preservatives over time and like them both quite a lot – I started out using Germaben II, which is very effective, can be added to your lotion after it cools below 140F, and I only stopped using it because I was searching for a paraben-free preservative. These days I use Liquid Germall Plus, which also works well but needs the lotion to cool off a bit more (120F) before you add it.

Fragrance isn’t necessary, but can be fun! Make sure what you use is skin-safe (i.e. not intended for candles or oil diffusers or other things and not tested for skin sensitivities); you can find thousands of options out there from various suppliers.

Right! On to the actual making.

…wait. Not quite yet. First you need to sanitize all your equipment. Everything – bowls, spoons, mixer attachments, a funnel if you’re going to use one, whatever it is, if it’s going to touch the lotion or lotion ingredients, into the sanitizer it goes. It’s not so complicated as it sounds, though – just put the things in the sink, fill it with warm water (but not so hot you won’t be able to put your hand in it to get things back out again), and add a quarter cup or so of bleach – more if you have a really huge sink. After half an hour or so, you can remove the items and rinse them with blisteringly hot tap water, which we can consider pre-sanitized for these purposes.  OK, now it’s time to make lotion.

Heat the water in the microwave until it reaches about 180F. Carefully move to an area out of the way and monitor its temperature from time to time while working with the oil phase. If it falls below 160F, put it back in the microwave for a bit. Holding it at this temperature helps assure the proper emulsion, and also helps cut down on any bacteria there might be in the water.

Put the sunflower (or other) oil(s), emulsifying wax, and stearic acid in the other container and heat it in the microwave on short (30 second) bursts until everything is melted. Check the temperature – if it’s above 160F, set it aside to cool; if it’s below, put it back in the microwave for another temperature burst.

When both the oil and water phases are within a couple of degrees of 160F, gently pour the water into the oil (not the other way around – not only does oil not pour as well so you’d be leaving some of your goodies behind in the bowl, you get a much better emulsion pouring water into oil than the other way around) and stir with a spoon until the lotion is well emulsified. Most people recommend using a stick blender at this point to stir it very thoroughly to ensure the lotion is well blended and smooth, but I don’t find it to be necessary. It certainly doesn’t hurt, though, so go right ahead and do so if you like – just be careful not to go too crazy with it, because if you whip too much air into the lotion it’s likely to set up with foam in the top and feel a bit odd.

Keep an eye on the temperature. When it cools to 140F (for Germaben II) or 120F (for Liquid Germall Plus), add preservative and fragrance and stir thoroughly, then bottle, let cool the rest of the way, and enjoy! And once you’ve got the knack of it, go wild – not only vary the oils as mentioned above, but try adding other things – silk, vitamin E, aloe, silicone, squalane, glycerin, goat’s milk, botanical extracts, whatever you like! Also remember, you can change the consistency by changing the amount of water. Tinker away, and make awesome lotion.


Product Development: Massage Oil

I’ve talked a little about my product development process before, and I thought I might take a closer look at it. I picked massage oil as a starting product for this because it’s relatively straightforward; no complicated manufacturing techniques or chemistry, just ingredient selection and blending.

The development process in action.

The first step in any product development is to come up with a detailed list of what qualities the product needs to have. First and foremost, a massage oil needs to reduce the friction to allow the masseur to apply pressure as needed without causing pain or damage to the skin over the muscles, while not reducing it so much as to eliminate the efficacy of the massage. Secondly, it should be a lightweight oil, easily absorbed by the skin but not absorbed so quickly as to need to be frequently reapplied. Thirdly, the effect of the oil on the skin itself should be considered; it should be non-comedogenic, nourishing and gentle to the skin.

Even for a simple and straightforward product, then, we start out with quite a few restrictions! The last one is likely to be the most restrictive, so let’s start by ruling out all the oils likely to cause clogged pores and breakouts. There are several ways to get this information, but for these purposes a chart like this one should do nicely. So, it looks like we’ve got quite a few low-comedogenic oils to choose from. Bringing in the “lightweight” criterion cuts the field a bit further; after all, anhydrous lanolin is luscious in its way, but it is in no way a lightweight oil.

At this point it’s time to start experimenting a bit. It’s no secret that I love to use sunflower oil in pretty much any context I can get away with, so let’s put that in the mix. Avocado oil is lightweight, easily absorbed by the skin, rich in vitamins A, D, and E – absolutely, bring that on, too. Jojoba oil is a fantastic oil for the skin, due to being similar to our skin’s natural oils and easily absorbed, but doesn’t have a lot of “slip” as oils go, so we’ll add a little of this one for the beneficial stuff but not enough to reduce the main function of the product. Castor oil would ordinarily not qualify due to being a very thick oil which might easily make the blend feel too heavy, but it adds great slip and is really fantastic on the skin, so a bit of it in the formulation is probably worth the risk.

And I think that’s enough for an initial formulation. There are plenty of other oils I could have chosen (sweet almond oil, apricot kernel oil, olive oil, safflower oil, sesame oil), and if the initial trial formulation proves problematic in some way which sends me all the way back to the drawing board, I’ll consider swapping some of my choices out. For now, though, we’re starting with:

  • 1.5 oz sunflower oil
  • 1 oz avocado oil
  • 0.5 oz castor oil
  • 0.2 oz jojoba oil

Having blended these together, I can already tell I’ve almost certainly used too much castor oil and am very likely to want to scale that back in future iterations of the development. But for now, I need to finish this batch off so it can be tested, so I have another question to resolve: What shall it smell like? None of the oils I’ve used in this formulation have any overpowering smells of their own to do battle with the fragrances I choose, and I do love to use my test batches as playgrounds for fragrance combinations I haven’t tried before. So today I blended vanilla and rose to create a remarkably sensual effect, which blend I’m now considering putting into wider usage. I had considered using a eucalyptus and mint blend intended to help sore muscles, but I knew what that smelled like and wanted to test this out, so it won instead.

Ready for testing!

And now the product is ready for its first round of tests. But wait! That’s only a 2 oz bottle, and we made 3 oz of test product! Well, the remaining 1 oz is in another bottle, to which I also added 5% cyclomethicone, a silicone “dry oil”. After all, it’s not really Science! unless we have some variables, right? The purpose of the cyclomethicone experiment is twofold: It might increase the slip a bit, and can in some formulations reduce the feeling of greasiness which can be associated with heavy oils. I look forward to determining whether the addition of this small amount of cyclomethicone counteracts the heaviness of the castor oil, or whether I will still need to reduce the proportion of this oil in future formulation refinement.

There you have it – the product development process from drawing board to its first trip to the testers. Sometimes, as today, this process takes about an hour. Sometimes, it takes months – some products fail so obviously for their first few variants that it’s quite a while before they’re ready to be tested properly.

What happens next? After testing, the product is either reformulated and re-tested, or it is sent live and made available for sale.  We’ll see which way this one goes in a week or three.


Ingredient Profile: Sunflower Oil

Sunflower oil is pressed from the seeds of the sunflower (Helianthus annuus), which is a flower native to the Americas and often seen both in cultivation and growing wild in the prairies of my home state of Kansas, of which it is the state flower. We are, in fact, the Sunflower State.

Sunflower (from Wikipedia)

One thing I have learned in the time I’ve been in business, one way or another, is never, ever underestimate the value of serendipity. When I was first setting out to develop what would become my standard soap recipe, I was looking for an ingredient list which would accomplish several simultaneous goals: First and foremost, I wanted to make good soap, obviously; without this there is little point in even bothering to continue the list. Secondly, I wanted to make soap whose ingredients celebrated Kansas, and thirdly I wanted to keep the cost of ingredients low enough to be able to sell the soap for a reasonable price.

 Well, as it happens, I hit on #1 pretty solidly in a very early try when casting about for solutions to #s 2 and 3; sunflowers are a symbol of Kansas, which made that a logical place to start for #2 (I also considered several other oils for this – we grow plenty of corn and soybeans here, for instance – but the symbolism of the sunflower is compelling on this count, matched only by the bison, and I was hoping to stay away from using animal oils (I suspect bison tallow would make pretty excellent soap, though)). And while sunflower oil is far from the least expensive soapmaking oil available, it’s less expensive than most grades of olive oil while, as I soon found, being at least as good if not better in most respects.

There are two main forms of sunflower oil available, defined as “high linoleic” and “high oleic” based on their fatty acid profiles. The high linoleic variant is moisturizing and beneficial in multiple ways to the skin, useful especially in lotions and creams for its possible acne-reducing effects as well as anti-inflammatory properties, but can have a somewhat short shelf life.  The high oleic variant has a longer shelf life and is closer to olive oil in many ways. Both have their benefits, but the most readily available form of sunflower oil is high linoleic. The shorter shelf life of this variant can be somewhat extended by adding vitamin E or other antioxidants to formulations which include it, which is obviously an additional benefit to the eventual product as well – though sunflower oil has lots of vitamin E already, so this is not as vital as it is for some other oils.

In soap, sunflower oil produces a mild but slight lather and results in a somewhat soft bar of soap. Soapmaking experts recommend you keep sunflower oil below 25% of your final formulation, but I have found that this is not strictly necessary – I use nearly 80% sunflower oil in my soap. I’ll talk later about the process I went through to come up with the final formulation.

In lotions, creams, oils, and similar products, sunflower oil provides a veritable cornucopia of benefits. It is readily absorbed by the skin, non-comedogenic and light-feeling, and some research suggests it may have a significant skin-protective effect. And this in addition to the effects from the high vitamin E content of most sunflower oils, which brings anti-inflammatory effects as well as a significant bonus to skin softening and moisturizing.

In short, my state pride led me to select an oil I might never have ended up trying – and certainly would never have used so extensively – in other contexts, and which has proven to be incredibly well-suited in nearly every context in which I go looking for a cosmetic oil. See what I mean? Serendipity!