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Can You Lower the pH of Castile Soap? –

This is a lovely piece on the chemistry behind soap, and why it’s not possible to simply add something acidic and make castile or homemade cold process soap have a more neutral pH. I couldn’t have written it better myself. 


Bay Rum Aftershave 

Before J left for Canada last week, I made sure he had the bath and body care necessities. One thing I’ve been wanting to try my hand at but haven’t gotten around to until now was after shave, because generally he doesn’t use it. However, he expressed a desire to have some and I wanted to see how this worked; and I was curious how it smelled, because it sounded awesome but sometimes things that sound great together end up just horrible. I was happy to find out that the scent is light and pleasant, masculine but not overbearing. It’s got a fresh, not quite woodsy smell from the bay laurel and juniper, and spicy aftertones because of the spices in the rum and the nutmeg essential oil I added. You can leave the nutmeg out if you don’t like that-both the nutmeg and the juniper are optional-and you can try other essential oils as listed in the recipe if the bay laurel alone isn’t enough scent for you. I liked it on J a lot with the juniper and nutmeg, however, J has reported back to me that using it makes his face feel a little wind burned, so we will consider leaving the nutmeg out next time as that’s possibly irritating his skin. If you decide to use cassia or cinnamon essential oil, be aware that this is a potential concern there, too. It causes increased circulation to the skin and can be a skin irritant. Not usually in such tiny amounts, but on freshly shaved skin, it’s definitely possible. Just be cautious. 

Bay Rum Aftershave (Recipe adapted from The Art of Manliness)

(This makes a ridiculous amount of aftershave, but I can’t reduce the volume any further. You might be able to halve it, I guess. It keeps well, and makes a good gift. I have ours stored in a mason jar out of the light to prevent the oils from degrading). 

Bay Laurel Essential Oil 2 grams This is not made with the traditional leaves of “pimenta racemosa”, but the scent is pretty darn close and still smells awesome

Spiced Rum (I used Kraken) 4 oz

Rubbing Alcohol 90% 4 oz (alternatives, use witch hazel here)

Distilled water (boil for 20 minutes, let cool, then measure) 4 oz

Powdered magnesium 7 grams

Totally optionally, but fun to use and means you don’t have to shake the hell out of the bottle every time: 2-3g polysorbate 20. (2g if you’re just using the bay laurel oil, 3g if you’re adding other oils) It emulsifies the essential oils into the rest of the liquid so they don’t float on top. If you have Polysorbate 20, great. If not, just shake your bottle extra well before you use it. 

Optional essential oils:

Juniper (I used ten drops)

Nutmeg (I used ten drops)

 Sweet Orange (I used five drops) 




Cassia or Cinnamon

A note about preservative (omg, groan, here she goes!): With this much alcohol, this should not need a preservative. Unless you use the witch hazel. Then you need a water soluble preservative like optiphen at the recommended rates. And… “Should not”. However, to be safe, I boiled my water for 20 minutes and let it cool then measured out my 4 oz to further reduce risk of bacteria and mold. I strongly suggest you do the same either way! It doesn’t take long and it makes a difference. 

After you’ve boiled your water, measure it into a large container (I used a 8 cup measuring bowl), then add the other ingredients. Add your essential oils and Polysorbate 20 last, then whisk well to get it to emulsify together.

 The original directions called to strain the mixture at this point, and when I did, the magnesium had clumped and I strained the majority of it out. I left the ingredients list “as is”, but I’ll be honest; when I make this again, I’m going to seriously reduce the amount of magnesium or leave it out entirely. Allegedly, it’s purpose is to close the pores and tighten the skin post shave, however, I’m told by my husband that the rubbing alcohol does a very good job of doing these things. I think next time I will try simply two grams of magnesium for the entire bottle and see how much I filter out, because wasting it all was frustrating. 

After you’ve mixed your ingredients, use a funnel to pour into whatever bottle you like for everyday use; I suggest a disc top bottle or something similar. Store the rest in a container with a tight lid that you can put in a dark place. You can even keep it in the fridge for extra longevity, although with all that alcohol, I’m not too concerned. 

I noticed with ours, the smell changed a little after about a week, or my nose did. As essential oils blend and smells mature, it’s to be expected, so don’t be surprised if you like this more or less as time passes. I think you’ll like it more. 

So J did some reading and uncovered an a article that mentioned that using magnesium in aftershave could cause skin irritations. This gets to the bottom of that “wind burn” he’s been feeling, and is reassuring to me because I didn’t think there was enough essential oil present to cause that kind of reaction but it wasn’t impossible. I am glad we don’t have to narrow down ingredients further. Apparently it’s not uncommon for this to happen. 

Also, according to the article he found, it’s generally regarded as a good thing to add a humectant such as glycerin, and something with styptic properties to aftershave. The most common DIY ingredient is alum, so that’s what we will try. As for a humectant, we can try glycerin as it dissolves easily in alcohol or we have the luxury of trying raw honey (a more expensive option, but definitely possible), or silk peptides. I’m going to encourage him to let me use silk peptides, as silk proteins closely match skin and hair proteins and I’ve personally found silk soothing in lotions and creams. Of course, we can try a small amount of both glycerin and silk, there would be no harm done, the aftershave would still be refreshing and tightening with no sticky feeling. I had hoped to be able to use something like cetyl alcohol, as it’s a fatty alcohol with great moisturizing properties, but it’s also thickening and emulsifying-and that’s bad-and only dissolves in oils, not in water or alcohol. There are other fatty alcohols and esters out there that probably would work, but I’m still learning about them. For now, glycerin and silk are great natural ingredients that will do the job and do it well. 

Still working on the perfect liquid shampoo…

So about a month ago I made myself shampoo bars especially formulated for MY hair, with extra cleansing power and less moisturizing oils since my hair gets so oily so fast. I even added bentonite clay and scented them so that J would love them with patchouli and cinnamon. They smell awesome even if they are ugly, but they need about two more weeks to cure completely.

 In the interim, I’m back to trying to create the perfect liquid shampoo out of my liquid soap paste. I could use a different shampoo bar; we have several around the house, but I hate to start one when mine will be done in such a short time. I think making a small bottle of liquid shampoo to last two weeks makes more sense. 
As always, because this is real soap, I’ll be following my washes with an acidic rinse of either 25% apple cider vinegar and water, 5% citric acid (about a tsp in 8 oz of water), or 50% lemon juice and water. I believe you can actually go down to 25% Lemon juice but I’ve never tried it, I’m just repeating recommendations other soap users have given. I’ve tried the ACV and citric acid and can tell you for sure not to get it too strong; you’ll dry out your hair and make it brittle. You can make the water part out of anything, so feel free to brew up a great tea of whatever you like. I use bamboo, horsetail, and marshmallow root to have natural silica and other goodies that impart strength and shine to your hair. I have vinegar infusing with these herbs so I can just use that, but it won’t be ready for at least a month. So sad and depressing. I think for now I’ll use a herbal tea with citric acid and some great essential oils- whatever I put in the shampoo, I’ll put in the rinse. For fragrance lately, I’ve been relying on a sample bottle of “Green Smoothie” that Brambleberry sent me. It smells like fresh cut grass and other green things and is light and refreshing. I really like it and wish I could make it into a soap, but it’s labeled to behave badly in cold process soap so I’ll just keep using it as a hair rinse until my shampoo bars are cured.  I have some leave in conditioner I need to use up so I’ll be using that if I need anything to detangle and smooth my hair. Probably not, since it’s so short now but you never know. The detangler also has bamboo extract and keratin in it, and silk proteins, so it’s great for adding healthy stuff back into your hair. I’ll post the recipe for that soon. 

 As for liquid soap, 
here is what I’ve come up with: 

100g liquid soap paste.    For now, I’m using the lovely babassu oil soap paste I made recently but any liquid soap paste would work. If you dilute your soap out all at once, you’ll need between 175-200g of liquid soap, total, and skip the step about “softening” the soap paste (obviously). For the record, you could totally sub in a good liquid soap like Dr. Bronners here if you wanted, and leave the essential oils out later (or use unscented and have fun dressing it up). Just please don’t try using liquid “hand soap” from the grocery store. That’s not soap, it’s mostly detergent, and it’s really bad for your skin and especially your hair.

1 tsp silk powder (other types of silk will work!)

1 tsp hydrolyzed oat protein (or wheat, etc)

5 g glycerine 

5 g grapeseed oil or coconut oil-grapeseed oil is awesome and light but coconut oil actually penetrates your hair shaft so decide what you need for your hair

1/2 tsp aloe Vera powder

2 tbsp aloe vera liquid

2 tsp bamboo (I use tea bags) but you can also use 5g bamboo extract (Making Cosmetics) 

2 tsp horsetail (also called shave grass)

2 tsp marshmallow root 

0.5% Liquid Germall Plus (I can’t give you exact amounts because I don’t know how much shampoo you’re going to end up with. Just multiply it out then add the preservative! There are too many botanicals in here not to be safe and have a touch of preservative!)

Start by soaking the soap paste until it’s the right consistency. I’ve found that pouring very hot or boiling water over it and then leaving it for a day or two usually takes care of things; you come back and you’ve got liquid soap. Start with about 70-100g hot or boiling water over the soap paste in a container that can take the heat- I use a canning jar. Cap it off and leave it. If you come back and it’s too thick, add about 30g boiling water, stir (mash) gently and leave it for another 48 hours. Yes, this is time consuming, but it’s down time so get other projects done! If you don’t have add powdered aloe vera, you can sub liquid aloe vera for half the water to soften the soap. Yes, heat up the aloe too! You can find big jugs of aloe vera juice in the aisle with the laxatives at Walmart and Target. Remember to store it in the fridge after it’s opened. 

While you are waiting on your soap to soften, blitz the herbs in a spice or coffee bean grinder- preferably one you only use for DIY stuff- until it’s turned into a fine powder. Sift that through a sieve to catch any big bit and reserve the powder. 

In a small container, mix everything else except essential oils and preservative, and mix well. You may need to use a fork and a slim rubber spatula to break up lumps and incorporate them into the small amount of liquid that will be present. If necessary, add 1-2 tbsp more water. Let this sit overnight so the herbs can soak up moisture and release silica and other goodies. 
Once your shampoo is ready, add the contents of the small container and whatever essential oils you are using, and stir gently until completely incorporated. Tada! You have shampoo! Almost! 

 Weigh your shampoo, deducting the weight of your container, and add the appropriate amount of preservative that you’ve chosen.

I’ve been using Liquid Germall Plus (Lotioncrafters) for just about everything. I’ve only occasionally felt like I need Optiphen ND for items that are almost pure water (think hair spray, bug spray, etc.) and I am really pleased with the Liquid Germall Plus. It’s a fool proof preservative, works well in lotions and has a broad pH which is why I’m able to use it in this shampoo.

Once everything is blended, decent into the bottle of your choice. Not glass! We don’t take glass into the shower! A pump bottle would work well here, but I’m going to use a repurposed pop top bottle that used to hold a children’s drink (think bug juice). It holds exactly the right amount when all is said and done. I’ll use more of them for travel; I have one with citric acid solution, one with a similar liquid shampoo, and one we use for “baby” liquid soap (liquid soap with jojoba oil in it) already in my travel bag. I guess it’s a good thing my granddaughter really likes bug juice when we go on road trips! 

Because of all the botanical material in this shampoo you DO have to use the preservative that will stand up to that pH. Please don’t assume the very basic pH of liquid soap will keep you safe the way bars of soap are safe. This recipe added WATER to the soap concentrate and then PLANT MATTER which is notorious for spoiling. You MUST use a preservative. I didn’t one time and had to toss half the bottle because it turned into a foamy fermented mess. Don’t do what I did; it was pretty gross. 

Besides using the Brambleberry fragrance, here are some Essential Oil Ideas:

Tea tree 10 drops

Lavender 10 drops 

Rosemary 5 drops

Peppermint 5 drops

All of these essential oils have been touted as being good for your hair and they smell great together. 


Fir Balsam 



I like this combination because the bergamot is just citrus like enough to brighten it but the cedar is a little dark and smokey. The fir balsam rounds it all out. I would start with 7 drops Fir balsam, 4 drops cedar, and 5 drops bergamot then adjust according to your nose one drop at a time. 


Orange 10 drops 

Allspice 5 drops 

Juniper  5 drops

You could also use Frankincense instead of juniper. If you want it to have a decidedly masculine feel, try adding spruce or vetiver but just a drop at a time. 


Lemon 5 drops

Grapefruit 5 drops

Orange 5 drops 

Lime 5 drops

Rosemary 3 drops

Bergamot 3 drops

This is my favorite citrus blend. The Bergamot and Rosemary really accentuate all the citrus


Litsea Cubeba 10 drops

Clove 10 drops 

You can also use just lemon or grapefruit instead of litsea Cubeba 


If you like florals, try michelia alba, honeysuckle, jasmine, neroli, or maybe either geranium or rose geranium. You can also check out something like the company Piping Rock and their fragrance oils which I’ve found to be high quality. 

Shaving Oil

J has decided to try shaving oil as an alternative to using shaving soap and a brush. This is partially out of curiosity, but mostly out of a need for a portable shaving system as he’s leaving for a month long work trip very soon and doesn’t want to pack his mug and brush. Much easier to pack a small bottle of oil. 

Naturally, he turned to me for a solution, and I came up with this recipe after researching fatty acid profiles of different oils and butters. 

Beard Shaving Oil

26g castor oil 

6g sunflower seed oil 

6g hemp oil

6g grapeseed oil

6 g melted tallow (you can use olive oil or jojoba oil if you’re morally opposed to tallow but tallow is really closer to natural human skin sebum). 

8 drops dark patchouli essential oil, 8 drops sandalwood essential oil, 3 drops geranium essential oil. 

Blend all ingredients together, pour into 2 ounce squeeze bottle or dropper bottle. To use, apply a very small amount to face, massaging into facial hair and skin. Allow to sit for several minutes before shaving with hot water and clean razor. Reapply as needed. Follow up after shave with more oil or a good toner or after shave. 

I also am making Bay Rum after shave, but I’m not going to post that recipe until J has used it a few times and I know exactly how much of each essential oil to put into it. For now, I have a good idea on paper but I haven’t had any victims give it a try yet. My recipe also differs from the one I found online in that I’m using both a solubilizer for the essential oils and a bit of preservative since it’s got a water component. Sometimes I think I’m being a bit of a kill joy with my rules about heating and holding water at a boil for 20 minutes and using preservative, but I haven’t had any more trouble with mold since I started using these protocols and that makes me happy.
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So far J is liking the shaving oil. We did decide the essential oil blend, while nice, is missing something. We would both prefer a more spicy, earthy, scent. I think I will try some cedar and maybe cassia and leave out the geranium and sandalwood in the next bottle. In addition, the tallow has appeared to have separated out of the rest of the oils somewhat and will only mix back in with vigorous shaking. He also complains the oil feels a little too “dry”. I think I will try jojoba or olive oil next time for both the tallow and the grapeseed oils and see if that is sufficient to make a rich oil and see how he does with that. 

Dancing Funnel Soap Challenge

Wow! What a challenge! This soap challenge, my second, proved much more difficult than my first and tested my patience and sanity.

First of all, I originally decided to do an all natural soap. This meant I had to learn about infusions and make some in my crock pot, and that was fun. I ended up with several made to use at a later date and a really pretty alkanet infusion that I thought should color my soap a nice rich color.

Alkanet in olive oil

I made my soap batter and then I made my fatal mistake: I added 4 tbsp kaolin clay. I always add clay to my soap batter, as I think it improves the soap. Unfortunately, this time, the added clay did two things that ruined this batch for me. It dramatically increased how fast the soap was setting up, and it clogged the nozzles of the bottles and made it impossible to do the technique. I ended up doing a quick ITPS with my colors and pouring the batch in a log mold as not to waste it.

In  a way, I’m glad it happened this way as the alkanet color morphed into this light blue gray, and I wanted bolder colors.

So the next morning I got started into round two, using some treats I just got from Brambleberry and have been itching to play with. I decided on Crisp Apple Rose fragrance oil, as it was marked to behave well in cold process soap.

I also decided to use some fun colors that I thought would contrast well.

Hot pink, mixing titanium dioxide and an old favorite shine red mica for one color, Sunset Orange from Brambleberry for my second color, and hydrated green oxide as my base color. I debated lime green and in the end kind of wished I had gone that route as the hydrated green oxide came out darker after being put in the oven than it does in regular cp soap.

I got to work, and I’m afraid I didn’t get many pics after I got going because I had to move fast. My soap went from emulsified to medium trace lickety split. I can only think it was the fragrance oil because while it didn’t turn to mud, it sure thickened up! Since I was working at such a water discount, I added some water to each color to thin the soap batter and give me more time to work. It helped a little bit but I never had the liquid soap to work with as shown in the tutorials. I would try this a third time but I have orders for my Etsy shop to fill for this week and I’m simply out of time to play with it anymore!

Here is the soap going into the oven.

I wish the soap was a little thicker but overall I’m pretty happy that I was able to accomplish the technique despite all the trouble. I had just purchased the Brambleberry 9 bar slab mold, and a lot of the reviews recommended 1000g of oils which seemed perfect for this soap. Unfortunately, I think to get a decent size bar of soap  you need twice that in oils, which most definitely wouldn’t work for this technique. I have some wood left from building my awesome log mold; maybe I need to make a very small slab mold for times like these, as rare as they are. A soap challenge mold 😉

Thanks for soaping with me!


 Addendum and update! 

I just was not happy with leaving things like this, so I decided to try it one last time. Having estimated from my last bars that I would need to double my oils, I decided to split the batch and literally make two batches of soap. One right away, one when I ran out and the pan would be, theoretically, half full. So I made two pans of oils and set them to cool, and two things of lye water. I soap at room temperature so this was not a big deal. I also had tweaked my recipe to be extra slow tracing after the last two batches. 

Well, I think I learned a few new things. You can actually have something trace too slow. As in, it doesn’t even want to emulsify. And when you think you’ve got it done and in squeeze bottles, all it does is run all over your mold and make you cry in anguish. 

I finally threw in the towel as a conquered woman. This challenge beat me. However, I also learned that part of why my second batch thickened so quickly and produced such small thin bars is because I MUST have left out an ingredient. I doubled this batch and it should fit in the mold but only half of it does. I screwed up last time, which oddly makes me feel better. Doing everything right and getting bad results is disturbing. Figuring out where you went wrong is satisfying so you don’t do that again! 

Half my soap I made today, colored with indigo extract and using the brown from my circles, is in the slab mold, and will be cut and beveled for fun. I put the other half, which I colored with cochineal extract, into round silicone molds and sprinkled sparkly edible glitter on top. The pretty berry color is something I happy held through saponification! 

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