Cosmetic-grade soap scents can transform the experience of using handmade soap. There’s nothing like the simple luxuriousness of a good, gentle bar of natural handmade soap. Except, perhaps, for handmade bars with soap scents of a beautiful fragrance of your choice. In this article, we explore the world of cosmetic-grade fragrance oils designed for soap scenting purposes.
It is important to always use a designated soap scenting fragrance oil, as scents for soap making are specially designed to behave well in the caustic soap environment. Scents for soap making are less likely to get too hot, accelerate trace, seize, rice, or otherwise misbehave. This does not mean that all scents for soap making always behave perfectly. As with essential oils, soap scents tend to have unique characteristics. Florals and spices can sometimes accelerate trace, and spices also tend to get hot and cause gel. When in doubt, soap at room temperature, and place fresh soap in the refrigerator or freezer to prevent gel if you wish. Scents for soap making that contain the fragrance ingredient vanillin will also have a dramatic effect on your finished soap – it will slowly change in color from light tan to dark brown, depending on how much vanillin is in the soap scent formula.
There are many benefits to using fragrance oils for soap scent. Fragrance oils are much more economical than essential oils because, in general, you will be using smaller amounts. The blends are, in many cases, already complete and ready to use, possessing a top note, heart note and base note to anchor the scent in the soap. For this reason, “single note” fragrance oils, which are actually full-bodied blends by themselves, may be preferable in your next original blend, as well. These days, soap scent producers are creating phthalate-free scents, which are very safe and gentle to the skin. In general terms, the usage rates for soap scent oils are much more consistent than for essential oils, averaging around .5 to 1.5 ounces of soap scent to each pound of base oils in the soap making recipe. When rebatching soap, the usage rate is even lower – start out with .5 ounces of soap scent per pound of finished soap.
No matter what soap making techniques you are using, when you are testing a new soap scent for the first time, research the fragrance at the source to see if there are notes or user comments about the soap scents’ behavior in soap making. If there is no information available, start out with room temperature soap batter. This will help to keep things moving slowly while you assess how the soap scent is going to act. Be sure to have your molds ready to use before you add your lye to your base oils. Add the fragrance at the lowest recommended rate – for most suppliers, this will be about .5 ounce of fragrance per pound of base oils in your recipe. Stir in slowly and thoroughly by hand, without a stick blender, in case the oil begins to accelerate trace. Once you see how the fragrance reacts, you can decide whether or not to use the stick blender to further emulsify and thicken the batter. After a minute or two, feel the side of the bowl to observe the temperature. Is it rising? If you wish to prevent gel, you will need to place in the freezer as soon as it is poured. If you see signs of seizing or ricing, be prepared to pour the soap quickly into the mold at the first sign of trouble.
A strong, long-lasting, single note peppermint soap is possible through the use of fragrance oils, for instance. A peppermint fragrance oil is composed of several scent components, which makes it a ready-made blend with top, heart and base notes included. A single note peppermint soap can be more convincing, then, if you use fragrance oil for your soap scent. Using only pure peppermint essential oil to scent the soap will result in a quickly faded scent.
With essential oils used for soap scenting, each oil’s unique characteristics matter. Peppermint oil is strong and can overwhelm a blend, but without a blend, the peppermint scent will quickly fade away no matter how much you use. It’s important to understand how to combine top, middle and base notes when you use essential oils to prevent fading. With fragrance oils, each scent is ready to use alone or in combination with other scents. You can mix an original blend if you want to, but you don’t need to study perfumery to make a nice smelling soap with fragrance oils. The best essential oils for soap making are mixtures of top, middle and base notes. Try creating a strongly scented lavender essential oil soap by adding patchouli, sandalwood or cedarwood essential oil as a base note, and a touch of lemon or peppermint for the top note. There are also combined essential oils made for soap making, such as lavender 40/42 or five fold orange essential oils. These oils will still need a base note added for best results.
Whether you choose to use all essential oils, all fragrances oils, or a combination of both, I hope you will enjoy the fun exploration that is soap scenting.
Have you used fragrance oils to scent your own handmade soap? How did you like the results? What soap scents are your favorites?
Photos by Melanie Teegarden