Recently we were at the Bay Arts Trunk Show and had the occasion to speak with a gentleman who identified himself as a retired physician. He had a lot of chemistry questions for Steve, and asked a lot of questions about the process used to make soap. One of the questions he asked was “Do you super-fat your soap?” Superfatting is a process of adding additional oils or butters to the recipe formula. The soap formula means there is more fat in the mixture than the lye can react with during the “saponification” process. Saponification is the process that combines the oils with the lye, blending and neutralizing them both, forming hard bars of soap. The result is a soap with superior moisturizing and emollient qualities.
Moisturizing is a goal we all try to achieve. Daily life, and exposure to the elements will naturally dry out our skin. This doctor went on to give us a skin anatomy lesson, explaining that in the top layers of our skin is a natural oil that helps to keep that moisture protection. When skin issues develop they are generally related to the over abundance or absence of oil in the skin. Soap, unless it is superfatted, will break down dirt and oils on our skin. From WebMD here is a brief explanation:
Cleansers are designed to remove dirt, sweat, sebum, and oils from the skin through the action of surfactants. Surfactants work by surrounding dirt particles and oils, dissolving them in water, and removing them as water runs over the skin. In addition surfactants aid in the normal exfoliation process of the skin. However, surfactants can also have the following harmful effects on the stratum corneum, or outer layer of the epidermis:
- After-wash tightness (AWT)
- Damage to the barrier function of the skin
Cleanser Interaction with Stratum Corneum
It is helpful to understand how cleansers interact with various components of the stratum corneum.
Cleanser Interaction with Stratum Corneum Proteins
Corneocytes are protein complexes made of threads of keratin in an organized matrix. Cleanser surfactants bind to these proteins allowing them to become over-hydrated and swell. This swelling can make it easier for the cleanser ingredients to penetrate into the lower layers of the skin where they can interact with the nerve endings and immune system, possibly causing itching and irritation. When the water evaporates it leaves the corneocytes dryer than before. Finally cleansers can cause a reduction in the level of natural moisturizing factor (NMF) in the stratum corneum.
So when the good doctor asked if we Super-Fat our soap and learned that we do his face lit up. “You need to explain that to people. This is wonderful, and your soap stands out for this quality too. Your soap will protect the natural oils in your skin, prevent dryness, irritation and after washing tightness. Tell your customers this. ”
So we have something new to share about our soap. Who would have thought that the subject of natural soap making would have so many facets. In the 4 years we have been making and selling soap we have received feedback from customers that has been encouraging. In my own life i see the difference by using our own soap. Every once in a while an email arrives from a customer with a thanks, or a comment about the soap they either bought or received as a gift. One of these emails arrived in mid May… we had participated in Great Lakes Art Fest in Novi Michigan on Palm Sunday weekend…. we remember the woman that came to our booth. She looked over all of our soap, checked every label, and expressed how discouraged her daughter was with a skin issue that would not stop. She bought 6 or 8 bars of soap and said this was worth a try. The email explained how that skin issue her daughter had was disappearing, clearing up miraculously. Truth is it was probably a combination of change of diet, and the use of our soap… but we were delighted to know that in a small way our soap was attributed to help. We just love the adventure of learning more and more about what we do.