Persistence of essential oils.

The use of essential oils in soaps is optional. It’s up to you whether you add oil or not to your soap. There are soap makers who don’t like essential or scented oils and they make unscented soaps. And that’s fine, such soap isn’t worse, it still fulfils its function – washes the skin and removes impurities without causing excessive dryness. It just doesn’t smell. I mean, it smells, but this fragrance is very delicate and hardly perceptible, and often the smell of oils that were used to make it is more noticeable. Such non-scented soap is ideal for pregnant women, small children and allergy sufferers because all these groups should use essential oils carefully or not use them at all. 

Nevertheless, the fraction of soap makers adding essential oils to the soap is buoyant because, let’s face it, the smell of the cosmetic is very important for many people. Often it is the smell that convinces us to buy a particular cream or shampoo. In other words, it’s just nice to wash oneself with fragrant soap.

Advantages… 

Essential oils seem to be a fairly obvious choice when it comes to scent hand-made soaps. Why? 

  • First of all, there is not much alternative for them – yes, there are fragrance oils, or synthetic fragrances, but a large proportion of soap makers try to control the ingredients that they add to their soaps and avoid artificial substances. Essential oils are obtained from the plant material by means of steam distillation or extraction, so they meet the requirement of “naturalness” as much as possible.
  • Secondly, they are rather easily available, most of them can be found in pharmacies, herbal stores, florists. 
  • Thirdly, unlike fragrance oils, only some of the essential oils accelerate the solidification of the soap.
  • Fourthly, the smell of most oils, although quite one-dimensional, is simply nice. There are no artificial notes here – the smell of citrus oils resembles real citruses, and not the smell of dish detergent. With the right combination of oils, you can get really beautiful fragrance notes.
  • And fifthly, essential oils are substances that according to research, have a positive effect on the health and condition of human skin and hair.

and disadvantages of essential oils

However, it is worth being aware that the use of oils in soaps also has its drawbacks. Essential oils are not cheap, and usually we need about 10-15 grams per half kilo of oils to make them smell. That’s quite a lot, considering the cost of 7-10 ml bottle, which oscillates around 7-15 zlotys (there are much more expensive oils). This, of course, increases the cost of making soap.

The smell of oils disappear from the soap after some time. Some fragrances escape from the soap very quickly (citrus oils), others more slowly (geranium, patchouli). Most fragrances are difficult to notice one year after making the soap, and some fragrances disappear much earlier, for example after two or three months. You can extend the life of the oil by “anchoring” it with, for example, clays, but let’s face it, it doesn’t give spectacular effects.

Essential oils may have an allergic effect, most are not recommended for pregnant women, and some oils (especially spice oils, such as cinnamon or anise) can irritate the skin, especially the sensitive one. How we react to essential oil is an individual matter. Therefore, beware: before you add any oil to the soap, test it on yourself. Of course, we don’t use oils directly on the skin. Just add it to your favorite oil (jojoba, argan) and watch the reaction. If after such a test nothing will happen, then after adding it to the soap also probably nothing will happen to you because skin contact with soap is short.

How to use oils in soap? 

I try to have a common sense approach to oils in soaps. I don’t see the point of adding very expensive oils to soaps, such as Roman chamomile oil or rose oil (not to be confused with rosewood oil). Soap is a cosmetic that we rinse off, the time of its contact with the skin is quite limited, and thus the duration of the impact of all potential benefits of essential oils is limited. I have not come across any research into the effectiveness of oils in soaps.

I’m not saying that oils in soaps give nothing to the skin, but I also don’t want to spread some false beliefs that they do wonders. Many oils have bactericidal and antifungal properties, they can be helpful, for example, in the fight against acne and this is scientifically proven, but this doesn’t mean that soap with such oil will remove a cause of disease.

(In this context, it is worth remembering that cosmetics do not cure, they can only support the fight against disease processes or do not disturb it. In case of serious illnesses, you have to see a doctor).

For those of you who love oils and can’t imagine soap without them, I have prepared a table today, such a small pill of basic knowledge of essential oils just for the needs of a beginner soap maker. You will find here very short characteristics of popular, inexpensive and relatively easily available essential oils. The second column describes the effects of individual oils on the skin and mucous membranes, i.e. those parts of our body that the soap comes into contact with. The third column contains examples of oils that create interesting fragrance notes with a selected oil and can be successfully combined together. The last column lists possible side effects that should be considered before using the oil.

As an aside, of course, I’m aware that fragrance is a very subjective matter. What is a beautiful fragrance for one person may be unbearable for another. Lots of people hate the smell of patchouli, which is a bit associated with the smell of old hippie. There is probably a large group of people who hate citrus oils or pine oil because they evoke associations with air fresheners. For example, I tolerate anise a little (I associate it with disliked childhood sweets), and I love cinnamon or ylang-ylang. Nothing can be done about it. Everyone has their own taste. That’s why the connections I give are just a starting point. It’s best to experiment and check what fragrance appeals to you and which doesn’t. Sometimes you can be quite surprised, because the oil we dislike, in combination with others gives an original, intriguing fragrance.

Persistence of essential oils

What essential oils are best for soap? As I mentioned before, essential oils differ quite a lot, both in properties and smell. If we want to use them in soap, it is worth being aware of these differences, because thanks to it, we can create the best tailored soap for our needs. It is also worth knowing a thing or two about the smell, or rather its persistence in a cold-made soap. Essential oils, despite many unquestioned advantages, have one serious disadvantage – they disappear from the soap quite quickly. “Quite quickly” is of course a relative concept, but in the case of oils it means several weeks to several months. Some oils “escape” from the soap after a few weeks – these are primarily citrus oils, while some are long-lasting (in one of my soaps, patchouli oil was still noticeable a year and a half after adding it!). Due to the length and intensity of persistence of smell, we can divide the fragrance notes of oils into upper, middle and lower ones.

Upper notes – they disappear the fastest 

Middle notes – last a little longer than the upper notes and are the content of the fragrance 

Lower notes – last the longest, are strong, clear and cement the smell

Theoretically, for soap to smell long and interesting, it is recommended to mix oils from these three categories, but as with rules, it is worth breaking them and creating fragrances yourself. If you don’t know what to combine and which oils escape quickly and which will stay in the soap for a long time, I recommend the following division: 

Essential oils – fragrance notes

Upper note (fleeting) Middle note Lower note (long-lasting)
Basil Star anise Cedar
Bergamot Cinnamon (leaf) Rose tree
Lemon Black pepper Clove
Eucalyptus Tea tree Frankincense
Grapefruit Geranium Myrrh
Lime Ginger Patchouli
Cajeput Juniper Sandalwood
Tangerin Coriander Vetiver
Spearmint Lavender Ylang-ylang
Orange Neroli  
Pine May chang (litsea cubeba)  
  Oregano  
  Peppermint  
  Rosemary  
  Sage  
  Lemon grass  
  Thyme  

Summary

The above division is quite arbitrary in places – for example, eucalyptus is for me between the upper and middle notes, and lavender between the middle and lower notes. Essential oils can also be different, different manufacturers – different oils. For example, I have experienced longer and shorter persistence of mint fragrances. Because soapmaking is largely chemistry, but even more so art, I think it’s worth playing the artist and approaching the composition of the fragrance creatively. Experiment, combine fragrances, and write what works for you and what doesn’t. Of course, within the safety limits – the recommended amount of essential oils in soap is from 3 to 5 percent. If you want the oil to smell in the soap longer, you can try mixing it with a small amount of white kaolin clay (or other if you make coloured soap), iris root powder or just combining fleeting and long-lasting oils.

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