How to Make Homemade Soaps with Herbs

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It's fun making herbal soaps. Gather the herbs needed for your soothing skin-care creations from the garden, the wild, or the apothecary or natural food store.
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Handmade soaps offer gentle therapy with herbal ingredients, shown here in antique saltcellars. Clockwise from upper right: calendula, lavender, pine, goldenseal, and a potpourri including ­cinnamon bark and bay leaves. At top, Lavender and Rosemary Soap.
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Since I first learned how to make homemade soap 17 years ago, I’ve come to discover that it contains many wonderful healing properties. By itself it draws infectious agents, along with other unwanted or irritating substances, away from the skin. Adding healing herbs increases soap’s power to cleanse, soothe and protect in a natural, healthful way.

Some of my favorite soaps begin with a smooth, gentle base of vegetable-derived glycerin soap, which is especially kind to troubled skin and easy to blend with herbs. These qualities, and the fact that it’s simple to use, are the reasons glycerin soap base is the foundation in each recipe offered above.

How to Make Homemade Soaps: 5 Recipes

Antiseptic Soap:
Common Plantain Soap
Tea Tree Antiseptic Soap

Soap for Blemishes:
Lavender and Rosemary Soap
Ylang Ylang and Frankincense Soap

Softening Soaps:
Fresh Aloe Vera and Nettle Leaf Soap 

A Word About Skin

The skin is a living, breathing part of the body, and its appearance and function will respond to the type of care given to the entire being. Adequate rest and exercise, proper nutrition, relief from emotional stress and proper external care all contribute to healthy skin, which operates more efficiently and looks beautiful.

As the largest organ of the human body—averaging 15 percent of body weight—the skin is composed of millions of cells and is responsible for many vital functions. It shields internal organs from ultraviolet (UV) rays and from invasion by bacteria and other foreign matter. It also helps eliminate waste and regulate temperature through perspiration. The skin is ultrasensitive to pleasure and pain and serves as a sensory receptor in times of possible danger or pleasure. It also signals others by blushing with embarrassment and paling with fear. Your skin appears to brighten when you are relaxed and happy. Conversely, it looks drawn and ashen when you feel sad.

The skin is composed of three layers: the epidermis, the dermis, and the fatty layer. Here, we are primarily concerned with the epidermis, for that is where healing soaps do their work. New skin cells form and rise from the bottom of the epidermis; at the top, old cells slough off. The life cycle of these cells is twenty-eight to thirty days, though the cycle can be hastened by adverse conditions such as sun- or windburn, abrasion, or lack of sleep.

With proper preventive and corrective care a troubled epidermis layer can be regenerated and virtu­ally made anew. Preventive measures include avoiding exposure to UV rays, harsh weather, and temperature extremes (overly hot showers, facials, or saunas, for example). Corrective skin care involves repairing aging or damaged skin through proper cleansing of the skin. The herbal soap recipes listed above offer ways to prevent and correct damage ranging from wounds to blemishes so that your skin can function efficiently and, through its improved looks, reflect the beauty within.

Step 1: The Tools You’ll Need

To complete the recipes you’ll need a one-quart double boiler, measuring spoons and cups, stirring spoons or sticks and cheesecloth. You will also need plastic soap molds, candy molds, or plastic food storage containers that can hold about two cups of material.

Aside from the potential dangers of working around a stove and hot liquids, the entire process is quite safe and can be recommended as a project for the whole family.

Step 2: A Simple Base

All of the following recipes start with a prepared glycerin soap base, one that has already been melted into a liquid and is ready for the herbal ingredients. You may purchase a good glycerin soap base or pure, unscented glycerin soap from a natural products store. The glycerin products already incorporate the essential ingredients of soap and require only the addition of herbs to become luxuriously complete in their healing powers. The glycerin base is colorless, clear, and solid; simply melt it in a double boiler over medium heat. Then, following the recipe instructions, add soothing botanicals and stir. Pour the thick liquid into molds and let cool.

From the molds comes soap that is lovely to see—translucent, almost glowing, and speckled or striped with healing herbs. The soap base is nearly impossible to ruin, and it’s affordable. Best of all, there’s very little waiting: Your creations will be complete and ready to use within an hour.

Step 3: Herbal Ingredients

You can gather the herbs needed for your soothing skin-care creations from the garden, the wild, or the apothecary or natural food store. If you gather herbs from the wild, please gather away from busy roadsides and only from well-established plots, leaving the healthiest plants for reproduction. Never harvest endangered plants or plants that you are unable to positively identify.

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