All About Our Soaps


SHOW OF HANDS...who has really taken the time to understand what soap is??  We all (hopefully) have used soap our entire lives.  But if you're like me, it's just one of those things that has always been around and never given much thought.  Soap is...soap, right?!  Yes and no.  Soap can vary a lot depending on the ingredients used, but there are a few main ingredients that all soaps need.


All soap requires fat.  For a long time, animals were the primary source of fat for soap making.  Although some soap makers still prefer to use animal fat, many have transitioned to using plant-based oils.  At Grow Green Roots, we choose to use plant-based oils and butters.


Just hearing that word gives me flashbacks of chemistry class struggles! So, for the sake of simplicity, let's just say that the base reacts with the fat during the chemical process of soap making (saponification).

Traditionally, ashes from burned hardwoods were collected and used.  These ashes contained lye, which is an alkaline substance still used as a base in soap making today.  The DIY part of my spirit is inspired to source my own lye someday, but for now it's not feasible.  Luckily, lye is commercially available, and can be purchased pretty easily.

There are two main bases used in modern soap making- sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide.  Sodium hydroxide is used to make hard bars of soap, where potassium hydroxide is used to make soft/liquid soaps. Sodium hydroxide is used for all of our soaps at Grow Green Roots.

Sodium hydroxide is a dangerous substance that needs to be used with a lot of caution.  So, you are probably wondering why the heck we would use something so scary in our soaps?!  

Well, the thing's impossible to make soap without a base substance like sodium hydroxide.  But, after saponification takes place, there is no sodium hydroxide left over in the final bar of soap.  It's all science....and math (which also gives me flashbacks).

We take safety seriously at Grow Green Roots.  So, we always ensure our soaps are safe by adjusting our recipe to include a 5% safety net of extra oil.  This is called "superfatting", and is common practice in the soap making world.  


The simplest liquid to use in a soap recipe is water.  It's used to dissolve lye, creating a lye solution.  This solution gets added to the fat to start saponification. 

But, it's fun to get creative! So, you can substitute water for a lot of other liquids to get different results.  My favorite is to use a freshly made herbal tea.  Coffee or milk are other fun options.


From the oils we use in the base of our soaps, to our choices for fragrance- Grow Green Roots has made it a top priority to never use ingredients that pose potential harm to our bodies, or our planet.

It's not always a simple process to choose which ingredients we want to use for our soaps.  It's a constant learning process, and takes a lot of work and evolution to make sure we are doing our best to reach our goal of providing a truly eco-friendly product.


So we mentioned that we use plant-based fats in our soaps.  But, being "plant-based" doesn't automatically make something a desirable ingredient. 

PALM OIL, for example.  It is found in A. LOT. OF. SOAP.   It's pretty cheap, adds nice lather to the soap, and also creates a hard bar that will last a while in the shower.  Without really looking into it, palm oil may seem like the perfect ingredient.  But, the production and sourcing of palm oil has devastating consequences on our planet.  For this reason, we will never use palm oil in any product at Grow Green Roots.  Go here to read more about palm oil from the World Wildlife Fund.

Another example is COCONUT OIL.  We LOOOOOVVVVEEEE coconut oil!  It's an awesome ingredient, but it also takes some understanding to use it responsibly.  We choose to use cold-pressed, organic coconut oil for our soaps.  If you're someone who uses coconut oil in your skincare routine, or even cooking- you should really check out our post that breaks down the good and bad of coconut oil.  Click here to read it!


Ugh, where to even start with this one...
Basically, the term "fragrance" is used to describe a blend of chemicals and ingredients that combine to form a specific scent.  Unfortunately, this blend of ingredients never has to be disclosed because it is considered "proprietary" information.  This leads to millions of products being used without the buyer really knowing what they contain.

Does soap need to have a scent? No.  But, does it make it a more enjoyable experience? Heck yeah!  So, what are the options for creating soap with a scent?


Soapmakers have access to "fragrance oils" that can be used to create a scent in their soap.  The fragrance oils are just like what I've described above.  A blend of chemicals and other ingredients that produce a certain scent...synthetically.  This is something we do not support at Grow Green Roots.


Essential oils are literally everywhere these days, almost to their own detriment.  But, they really do have a lot of applications.  They contain not only fragrant compounds, but all kinds of other little goodies that come along for the ride when they are extracted from their plant source.

There are different methods of extracting essential oils from plants.  These methods include cold-pressing, CO2 extraction, steam distillation, and solvent extraction.  

We choose to use essential oils as the main source of scent for our soaps at Grow Green Roots, and we always make sure to note which extraction method was used before purchasing them.  None of our soaps will ever contain essential oils that have been obtained through solvent extraction.   

Solvent extraction involves the use of chemicals to retrieve the essential oils.  Unfortunately, the chemicals used are known to remain in the final product after the extraction process is finished.  Hexane is one chemical that is commonly used in the solvent extraction process.  You can find more information about Hexane here, where it is listed as having toxic effects not only to humans, but the environment as well.


When you think of handmade soap, do you picture a bar full of swirls, twirls, and vivid colors?  Me too.  And they are BEAUTIFUL!  Unfortunately, the substances used to create these colors aren't so pretty.  


Mica refers to a group of naturally occurring minerals that are ground into a powder before being used in the cosmetic industry.  In a natural state, mica comes in shades of earth tones.  But, it can be dyed to create pretty much any color imaginable!  

There are a few major problems with using mica:

    1. Naturally-mined mica is associated with extremely harsh conditions, unfair treatment of workers, and forced child labor.  It is a huge ethical concern.
    2. Naturally-mined mica is known to contain trace amounts of heavy metals.
    3. Both natural and synthetic mica are colored with petroleum-derived dyes, which presents major environmental concerns.


We have decided to let our soaps showcase the natural colors achieved through using plants!  Although they may not be as vivid and bright as synthetically-colored soaps, we just can't justify using those substances in our products.

And, we have realized that it's kind of refreshing and magical to accept the natural beauty that these plants provide to our products.  The subtle, muted colors are achieved by creating herbal teas, infusing oil with plants to transfer their color, or using plant-based colorants (ex: activated coconut charcoal).

In addition to these methods, we also decorate our soaps with colorful herbs and flowers to showcase their natural beauty, and give a nod to their appearance in our soaps.  


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