Here you will find lots of information about soap! Things like how it works, why it's so good for you and the environment, what it's made from, how best to store soap, what is glycerine, what a good soap shouldn't contain, how are soaps different from detergents... and any other interesting bits and pieces I get asked! Feel free to email me if you have other questions that are not answered here.
First of all - my top three tips for using olive oil soap!
Now onto some other commonly asked questions...
What is so good about your bar soap anyway?
Here are some of the reasons…
- it contains no palm oil, no sulphates, no foaming agents, no firming agents, no artificial fragrances, no artificial colours, no detergents - this means it is actually safe for our waterways, and of course so much better for your skin! (believe it or not, many soaps contain many of these nasties, this includes those you can find at the supermarket, market stalls, as well as more high-end brands)
- it is gentle enough to use everyday;
- it is versatile enough to use on your hands, body and face, even for shaving
- it contains only locally produced ingredients of the highest quality (such as my hero ingredient, extra virgin olive oil from Victoria’s amazing Mount Zero Olives) which means reduced environmental impact from transport, production and processing stages, and it means you are supporting Australian made (a lot of soap out there is made from imported oils)
- it is moisturising because it retains the natural glycerine produced during the soap-making process (many who use real soap no longer use a moisturiser! another plastic bottle gone yay!)
- it feels beautiful on your skin
- all my packaging is earth-friendly - 100% Australian post-consumer recycled paper for labels and wrapping, no plastic, everything even the sticky tape I use is home compostable
- and… I disclose all my ingredients - because I believe in transparency and helping people become informed consumers
Why the name?
Wanting to make a positive contribution to the natural world around us is what lead me to soap making. So it only seemed fitting to link my business name to Icy Creek, the beautiful part of the world where we are lucky enough to have our farm. It is the place that best enables me to immerse myself in, take notice of and learn from what is happening in the natural environment around, below and above us. Even now that I make my soaps both at our farm and our home in Melbourne, Icy Creek is the place that reminds me daily how important to me a connection to the environment that sustains us is.
What is in your soap?
The hero ingredient in all my soaps (excluding my dish and laundry range - see below for the hero ingredient in these!) is extra virgin olive oil, and only the highest quality. Why olive oil? First, because it is one of the most sustainable oils to produce - because olive trees require little water and can be grown and sustained without the use of chemical fertilisers or other synthetic inputs, and the trees can be harvested year after year without affecting the tree’s life. And because the climate in Victoria is perfect for olive trees, there is little transportation required, adding to their being the most sustainable choice for a Victorian soapmaker. The second reason I choose olive oil as my main ingredient is because olive oil soaps are one of the gentlest soaps you can use and wonderful for your skin, as olive oil is rich in antioxidants and vitamin E, both of which help keep skin feeling and looking healthy.
I source my extra virgin olive oil from Mount Zero Olives, founded with their grove at the foot of Victoria's Gariwerd/Grampians National Park. I choose Mount Zero Olives as I like to source and support locally, and I want the best - in terms of quality as well as environmental and ethical production standards. I know that Mount Zero Olives care very deeply about their trees and the environment that sustains them, as well as the people involved in their production, so I am very proud to exclusively use their oil.
The hero ingredient in my dish soap and laundry powder is coconut oil. Coconut oil is the main ingredient in my cleaning soaps because it's great at pulling oils out for a deep clean, and because it is one of the most sustainable oils to produce and for me to source in Victoria.
Sourced exclusively from Australia's Niulife, it is certified organic and fair trade, and absolutely top quality. Niulife was founded by Canberra couple Maureen and Dan Etherington, a champion of sustainable agriculture and Member of the Order of Australia for his work helping South Pacific Islander communities to become economically empowered. As with Mount Zero Olives, Niulife is a producer that deeply respects the earth and the people involved in their production.
What is the best way to store olive oil soap?
The main thing is to keep it as dry as possible in between uses. I love using Block Docks in my basins, sinks and showers - they keep my soap nice and handy and let it drain really well without sticking to the holder. When the pieces get very small and tricky to handle, I pop them in biodegradable soap pouches so I can use every last lovely bit - in the shower these pouches double as a loofah for that wonderfully soapy scrubby sensation!
In the spirit of sharing and caring - because I really believe that if more of us regularly chose to use things like all natural bar soaps over liquid hand and body wash products, we would have a huge positive environmental impact, and I want to see that happen! - I have a few spare Block Docks that I loan out to (local) customers who are keen to try one before they purchase one. If you are within my free local delivery area, just pop a note in with your next order that you would like to try one, and I will arrange to get it to you to try for up to a month. (In the case that it is not available at the time your order is delivered, I will still deliver it free to you as soon as it is available.)
What are the ‘harmful’ ingredients commonly found in soaps? (Or why genuine handmade soap is much better for your skin than commercial soap!)
There are four ingredients very commonly found in soaps - whether commercial or small batch - that in my opinion a good quality, genuinely 'natural' handmade soap shouldn't include. These are: 1. palm oil, 2. sodium laurel sulphates, 3. synthetic fragrances, and 4. glycerine as an added ingredient.
These four types of ingredients - and many other synthetic additives - are very commonly found in all sorts of skin and body products, even in premium products. Hence my approach which is to tread lightly and always check the ingredients! Below is a little more info on each of the four types of ingredients I've mentioned. I hope you find it useful.
1. Palm oil
As we pretty much all now know, sourcing palm oil is hugely problematic environmentally and ethically because of the deforestation, specifically of rainforests, involved in establishing and expanding palm plantations - with impacts obviously on rainforest wildlife, local communities and the forest ecosystem more generally, with all its flow-on effects. There are some certified sustainable palm oil options which is a great step forward, although some say these are not always reliable, and in any case, for a Victorian soapmaker concerned with environmental impact broadly - including transportation emissions - the other issue is that palm oil is not available as locally as other alternatives. The benefits palm oil brings to soap can be provided with other ingredients - for example, palm oil is often used to increased the longevity and lather of bar soaps. Coconut oil can be sourced from far closer to Victoria and in a way that involves far less environmental impact, and can be used to achieve similar benefits as palm oil, the main differences being cost and that it can take longer to cure to achieve the same results.
2. Sodium laurel sulphate (SLS)
Sodium laurel sulphates are another unfortunate staple in most commercial soaps. This synthetic surfactant is used for its cleansing as well as lathering properties. However, again these benefits can be achieved using other, natural ingredients - of course, SLS is much cheaper (but that’s only from a short-term financial perspective remember…) hence it’s ubiquity.
SLS is not just any old innocuous synthetic chemical either - it is produced using, amongst other things: palm oil (see issues above!) as well as sulphuric acid, derived from petroleum products. Not something most people would intentionally choose to apply to their bodies I'm pretty sure. SLS is also widely acknowledged to be irritating to skin. For most people, irritation tends to occur only when products containing SLS are left on the skin, but for people with sensitive skin it can occur even through the use of rinse-off products. Even for those who don't have particularly sensitive skin, SLS can have a drying effect on skin, which is why it is so common for people who use commercial soaps to also then use a moisturiser. Handmade soaps generally do not contain SLS, and mine certainly don't.
3. Synthetic fragrances
The third kind of ingredient a good quality, 'natural' soap should not contain is synthetic fragrances. These can be irritating to lots of different skin types, even for those who don’t otherwise have particularly sensitive skin. Of course the other main issue with them is that they are synthetic, meaning there is usually a resource-intensive process required to produce them. The alternative is pure essential oils which are derived from something as natural as plants! The distillation process is a relatively simple process so essential oils can be produced - albeit more expensively - far more sustainably than synthetic fragrances.
Glycerine (sometimes spelt glycerin), which is naturally produced during the soapmaking process, is a humectant which means it attracts water, working effectively like a sponge to pull moisture from the air and onto your skin. It is routinely chemically removed from commercial soaps, as it is more valuable to sell it as a separate ingredient which is then added to manufacture other products such as moisturisers (which you actually don't really need to use if you use real soap in the first place!! I know, so crazy!!!). This is a key reason that commercial soaps so often leave your skin feeling dry or itchy - because the natural glycerine has been removed!
Using a real soap that has its natural glycerine intact means you are getting all the moisturising benefits (as well as the cleansing) and therefore reduces the need for a separate production process and all the packaging involved in a separate product such as moisturiser.
So you want to look for soaps that don't have glycerine listed as an ingredient. If your soap does list glycerine as an ingredient, the soap has either been chemically treated to remove its natural glycerine then lower quality reconstituted glycerine added, or it is actually not a soap at all but a detergent (which means made from synthetic surfactants not natural oils).
Another problem with seeing glycerine as an ingredient in your 'soap', is that you don't know where that glycerine has come from. Unfortunately labelling laws don't require the source of glycerine to be included in ingredients lists. It may have been sourced through chemical extraction from a real soap - although this is not very common as this glycerine is usually utilised in higher end products such as moisturisers and lotions. More likely, the added glycerine in your 'soap' has been manufactured from palm oil or animal fats*, or it is actually synthetic glycerine made from petroleum.
(*Animal fats, or tallow, are of course a natural product, a byproduct of meat production. However, most tallow (often listed as sodium tallowate) used in commercial soaps is sourced from massive animal farms that use practices vastly different from what you would probably expect of a small, ethically- and sustainably-run family farm.)
So if you are trying to avoid using palm oil, animal products of unknown origin, or petroleum derivatives (at least on your body!), my tip is to choose handmade soap wherever possible, as it has its natural glycerine intact and therefore doesn't need any added!
How does soap work?
Have you ever wondered how soap actually works?? It's really quite interesting - and simple! Soap is made up of molecules which at one end are ‘water-loving’ and the other end are ‘water-repelling’.
The ‘water-repelling’ end of the soap molecules is also attracted to dirt and grease and even germs.
With a bit of agitation, the soap molecules arrange themselves around a particle of dirt/grease/germ, forming a kind of enclosed ‘ball’ around it.
When you wash your hands or body with soap and water, the ‘balls’ form around any dirt/grease/germs on your skin, then the water-loving tails of the soap molecules - which are on the outside of the ‘balls’ - are attracted to the water you are rinsing with, and so easily float off down the drain.
This is why for soap to work effectively, it needs agitation (eg rubbing your hands together) as well as rinsing off.
When it comes to germs, soap even goes a step further and actually destroys the germs. This is how…. Most germs (bacteria and viruses) are made up of molecules which have ‘lipid membranes’ around them. It is these membranes which enable the germ to infect cells and keep itself alive. Remember those water-repelling/dirt&germ-loving ends of soap molecules? Not only are they attracted to the germ and enclose it, but they actually chemically break apart the lipid membrane. This renders the germ impotent. Cool huh!?! (see below pic)
(For a fuller explanation of how soap works against germs, see this article from NY Times, March 2020.)
Why the different types of oil/soap for cleaning?
All soaps are surfactants, which are compounds that lower the surface tension between two liquids or between a liquid and a solid (eg what enables water to spread evenly on your skin rather than just beading into water droplets). There are four types of surfactants which each function a little differently. Different ingredients will create a different type and strength of surfactant. Coconut oil soaps and olive oil soaps are both anionic surfactants, but coconut oil soaps are stronger surfactants, making them great for a deep clean. Olive oil soaps have slightly weaker surfactant properties, hence being a much milder, gentler soap - which is why they are great for skin but not as good for dishes or laundry.
Can I use this soap on my baby?
If using soap at all for a baby (until approx 2 years old), it should only be the mildest soap, and with no scents even essential oils, as their skin is just so sensitive. For these little ones, as well as older children whose skin is also still so delicate, my Naked bars are ideal as they contain all the gentle goodness of pure olive oil soaps but have no essential oils added for scent. These bars, like the rest of my face/hand/body soap range, are more than 80% olive oil. I also custom make 100% olive oil soap (called Castille soap) which is the mildest soap you can get, it just doesn't have quite as much of a lovely lather. Feel free to contact me if you would like to order some.
A little about exfoliants…
Did you know that most exfoliating soaps that you can buy use microplastics, which cause all sorts of environmental impact. From the resource-intensive, entirely synthetic production process, to the transportation of these ingredients, and then of course the (literal) flow-on damage to our waterways and all the creatures they support, from when the microplastics - which do not breakdown - are washed down the drain…. The only exfoliants I use in my soaps are completely natural. In fact beyond being natural, they are actually repurposed ‘waste' from other parts of my life... like orange and grapefruit peels from eating or juicing our homegrown oranges and grapefruits, and coffee grounds from the multiple (usually just 2… ok maybe sometimes 3!) coffees I may consume daily.
Why do you wrap your giftboxes with cellophane if you are all about zero-waste and plastic-free living?
The cellophane I use is made from wood cellulose and is fully home compostable! It can also go into your council green waste kerbside collection or your council compost. While it will take a bit longer to break down in your home compost (or worm farm) than in commercial compost facility, it will work and composting at home means you avoid the environmental costs of transporting green waste.
True cellophane is plant-based (you can tell as it rips easily - if your ‘cellophane’ doesn’t tear then it is most likely a petrochemical-derived plastic). The one I use is also not coated with nitrocellulose, wax or polyethylene as some types of cellophane are (generally for use in applications requiring water impermeability or heat sealability).
While my goal is to use minimal packaging, and I do that with my bars, giftboxes need to be fully enclosed so I feel using a home compostable and uncoated cellophane is an acceptable compromise.
You can read more about my packaging on the About page.
What is "soap sweat"?
“Soap sweat” or “soap dew” is a natural phenomena of real soaps when beads of moisture appear on the surface of the soap. It occurs because these types of soaps naturally contain glycerine which, being a humectant, attracts moisture from the air (which is why natural soaps are so moisturising). Any soap that contains glycerine can sweat under certain conditions, such as humidity, insufficient airflow, or if it is rainy and cold. Certain ingredients in soap however can increase the likelihood of this happening, for example salt with high mineral content, or honey (which is another natural humectant). My Farmer’s soaps contain significant amounts of salt which has a variable mineral content - so some batches may be more prone to sweating than other batches.
In terms of what to do about it, the first thing to do is know that soap dew/sweat does not affect the soap at all! The soap is still fine to use, it is completely intact, just effectively has some water (drawn from the surrounding air) on it. The only negative of this is that having your soap touching water can soften it more than you would like, so the best thing to do is simply wipe the moisture off the soap with an absorbent towel, then try to store it somewhere dry and with not too much temperature variation.
Wrapping soap in an impermeable layer avoids sweating as it prevents the moisture from reaching the soap. Hence you will find a lot of soaps wrapped in a thin plastic or other impermeable material at point of sale. Given my commitment to minimising resource use, I don’t wrap my soaps like this as I believe there is no critical need as soap sweat is only a minor risk and inconvenience.
Do you custom make soaps?
Yes! I can make different sizes, shapes or scents to order. Due to the curing time required I just need eight weeks to get it to you from date of order. Feel free to contact me to discuss.
Do you make lip balm?
Yes! Made from certified organic coconut oil and locally sourced beeswax, it is perfect for keeping lips luscious and soft, in a way that is perfectly safe for you and the environment! Just supply me with a little container to put it in and I will get it back to you pronto. Custom price depending on container size. Simply contact me to order.
See my Current Offers page for details of my free lip balm offer.
Thanks for visiting,