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Coconut Milk in Handmade Soap

A marriage made in soapmaking heaven.

If you look closely at the ingredients listed on bottles of body wash you might see ingredients that are synthetic detergents or anionic surfactants. The reason? They produce immediate and copious quantities of foam. Some common surfacants are labeled SLS (Sodium lauryl sulfate or Sodium Laureth Sulfate). 

These agents can be harsh and may be stripping the acidic hydro-lipid protective film that sits on your skin's surface. 

The advantages of handmade soap

To understand the role of coconut milk in soap, you first need to understand the basic chemistry of soap making. True soap is made by the hydrolysis of tryglycerides. a chemical reaction process known as saponification. 

Saponification produces glycerol and fatty acid salts that crystalize and become opaque. Hydrolisis sounds like something to so with water.  We all know oil and water don't mix on their own, so a strong alkali base such as sodium hydroxide is needed for the chemical reaction. 

Those are some very "chemistry sounding" terms described above, so lets examine their meaning.

  • Hydoliysis: A chemical reaction in which water is used to break down the bonds of a particular substance.
  • Triglycerides: High molecular mass fats and oils. (esters) which can be saponified (hydrolyzed) in a alkali solution.
  • Saponification: A process that involves conversion of fat, oil or lipid into soap and alcohol by the action of heat in the presence of aqueous alkali. 
  • Alkali: a chemical substance which reacts with an acid to neutralize it. The most common alkalis used in soapmaking are sodium hydroxide (NaOH), which is also known as caustic soda; and potassium hydroxide (KOH), also known as caustic potash.
  • Glycerol: Also known as glycerin, a thick, transparent and non-toxic liquid that is a natural by-product of the saponification process. It's a natural emollient, meaning it draws moisture to the skin. While handcrafted soap retains glycerin in each and every bar, some commodity soap manufacturers remove the glycerin to be used in their more profitable lotions and creams. 
  • Fatty Acid Salt: Soap!

So. when you combine fatty acids with an alakli and hydrolysis, you make a fatty acid salt. 

Island Thyme Soap Company's Main Recipe

The tryclycerides/oils.

All of our BIG 7 oz bars are made with seven triglycerides or fatty acids; olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, organic palm kernel oil, organic palm oil, mango butter and castor oil. Each fatty acid variety will make a soap that has its own unique characteristics. Soap making is a lot like baking; a chosen "recipe" combines fatty acid profiles mixed together in just the right amount for the desired final results, a long lasting bar of soap that makes abundant creamy, cleansing soap that's gentle on the skin!

Lets look at the fatty acid profiles used in Island Thyme Coconut Milk Soap Bars.

  • Olive oil is high in oleic acid. Oleic acid acts as a humectant, drawing external moisture to the skin but it's low on lathering. Olive oil's cleaning properties are very mild, and once cured, a bar of soap with a high amount of olive oil will be very hard and long lasting.
  • Coconut oil is high in lauric acid. It adds hardness, has excellent cleansing properties, and produces lots of fluffy lather. However too much can be drying to skin. 
  • Avocado oil is high in oleic acid, so it adds conditioning, moisturizing and silkiness properties in soap. It's mild in its cleansing properties but high in vitamin E and other vitamins and minerals.
  • Organic palm oil is high in oleic and palmitic acids. Palmitic acids contributes hardness and stable creamy lather.
  • Organic palm kernel oil is high in lauric acid and is similar to coconut oil in that it adds large fluffy bubbles, It's high in cleansing properties but a bit milder than coconut oil.
  • Mango Butter, sometimes called mango seed butter is high in oleic and stearic acids. It's similar in consistency to shea butter. Mango butter  helps with the hardness of the soap, but also luxurious conditioning and moisturizing values.
  • Castor oil is very high in ricinoleic acid. It is very thick and its viscosity helps to stabilize lather and assist oils high lauric fatty acids create more, bigger bubbles. It also makes soap more easily dissolved in water.

The alkali

We use food grade sodium hydroxide (NaOH) as the alkali. 

The hydrolisis

Some soap makers use distilled or purified water for the hydrolysis, some use goat milk, we use coconut milk!

We chose to use coconut milk for the hydrolysis process because it contains a good concentration of lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid, an extremely gentle natural surfactant. When saponified during the soap making process, coconut milk creates a natural foam attribute for the lather! Coconut milk is also high in sugar, and sugar is good for making bubbles!  

It truly is a marriage made is soap making heaven. 

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