Welcome at Kusala Gifts! This shop only accepts orders from the Netherlands and Belgium. I have opened an Etsy shop for my international customers. Also, you can follow the developments on Instagram and Facebook where I post updates regularly.
Since the Etsy shop does not allow for adding info pages, I am referring you here for background information on the ingredients I use in my products, and for a soap making video and notes with the video.
As many soap makers, I started out by labeling my soaps as “natural soaps.” However, even if I use only natural liquids, oils, butters, coloring, and scents, this is not completely true. Without exception, soap is made with lye, sodium hydroxide (NaOH) for solid soap and potassium hydroxide (KOH) for liquid soap. This lye is mixed well with a liquid, like water or coconut milk, and then added to oils and butters through which the saponification process takes place. Lye in the form of potassium hydroxide can be made with ash from burned wood. This is how soap was discovered in the first place, thousands of years back – by combining the ash with remaining fats from pots and pans. Since this method is labor intensive en can only make liquid soap, the vast majority of soap makers use synthetically produced sodium hydroxide. Even though the lye transforms and disappears in its original state during the saponification process, it remains a synthetic ingredient and I can’t really call my soaps 100% natural. If I ever see the opportunity, I would love to experiment with ash and learn more about this method of soap making.
My other skin care products are completely natural. This is possible because I focus on products that are based on oils and don’t contain water, and thus don’t need synthetic preservatives. As soon as water or ingredients with a water-base are added to a product, there is a big chance that bacteria and fungi emerge. They can develop and grow very rapidly and can be dangerous to the health of the user. This isn’t applicable to soap because soap has a high pH value in which bacterie and fungi can’t survive, but creams and lotions with a water-base do always need a preservative. A lot of research is being done these days to develop natural preservatives and there are various options available on the market. However, these products are often not very user-friendly since they have to be used in combination with other preservatives, they can react poorly to specific ingredients in skin care products, and/or they don’t always work the way they should. Lots of certifications for natural and organic cosmetics actually allow for a percentage of synthetic preservatives and apply various rules and levels of strictness. Because of this, the consumer often doesn’t know exactly what is going on and feels misguided.
I want to add to this story that I am not per definition against synthetic ingredients, but for now I have chosen to limit myself to soap and natural products with oil-bases. At the same time, I want to be careful with the term “natural” vis-a-vis “synthetic,” since there is not always a black-and-white distinction. Natural products are often harvested and/or processed with the help of synthetic substances; the question when a product is no longer truly natural will be answered differently by different people. In addition, sometimes synthetic substances are demonized without sufficient information, like parabens as preservatives. A single study done in 2004 found parabens in twenty breast cancer monsters, but did not make a comparison with healthy breat tissue en did not provide clarity on the meaning of this finding. It is a huge jump to conclude that the parabens had caused the cancer, but this idea spread rapidly in the media and caused a lot of panic about the safety of cosmetics. Despite many objections and studies that indicated the safety of parabens (including studies by the European Commission, the US Food and Drug Administration, and the American Cancer Society), producers found themselves forced to respond to the panic. The “paraben-free” label is now often used as a marketing tool while the products concerned often contain other controversial synthetic ingredients. I also find it terrifying when I see a body butter with glycerin (an ingredient with water-base) for sale while no preservatives are added at all. These kinds of products do not comply with regulations and endanger the health of the users. Many people think and claim falsely that anti-oxidants like vitamin E or rosemary oil extract can function as preservatives. Anti-oxidants can lengthen the time before oils go rancid, but they can’t fight bacteria and fungi. And these creatures can cause a lot of damage long before a user can see them and recognize them.
Again, since Kusala Gifts’ skin care products are oil-based and contain no water, conservatives are not necessary. Do make sure that you avoid exposure to water, with exception of the soap of course (this is especially important for scrubs that are often used in the shower). And keep an eye on the best before date – though I hope that you enjoy the products so much that you won’t make it to this date even closely!
I have a preference for organic ingredients and most soaps are at least 50% organic. However, many organic versions of oils, butters, and essential oils are still immensely expensive. To keep my products affordable without having to alter the composition, I have made a compromise, but I will keep my eyes open for affordable organic alternatives. At the same time, I find it important to work with local producers, something that may well find priority over organic origin of an ingredient.
In any case, I don’t use palm oil in my soaps, which is a widely used alternative for animal fats. The production of palm oil has already caused incredible deforestation in Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia, as well as the endangerment of the orang utan. Also, the brown paper I use for labels is recycled. And if you use Kusala Gifts skin care products you know that you are not flushing damaging substances through the drains.
Soap is traditionally made with animal fats, but can easily be made with vegetable fats as well. As a vegetarian, I of course choose to use vegetable fats. Two of my soaps do contain goat milk (Honey Oatmeal Soap and Calendula Soap) and two soaps and one scrub contain honey (Honey Oatmeal Soap, Chamomile Scrub Soap, and Honey Oatmeal Sugar Scrub). I always note on the label whether a product is suitable for vegetarians or vegans.
Yes and no. I certainly have not carried out any tests with animals to study my products and think that many great alternatives are available to stop animal testing completely. However, in the history of the development and use of essential oils, animal testing was certainly carried out. In other words, I don’t consider it transparent to claim no animal testing while I use ingredients that were put on the market based on such tests and about which information was made available based on such tests which is still circulated and used.
As I have already explained in the About This Shop section, all my products comply with EU regulation for the production and sales of skin care products. This means, amongst other things, that they are made in a special work place and that the recipes were checked and approved with a safety certificate. As is indicated on the labels, it is possible that you could get an alleric reaction to certain oils, butters, or essential oils. It is always good to check a product on a small area of skin first and to immediately stop with use in case of any irritation.
In addition, the use of certain essential oils is sometimes discouraged during pregnancy and breastfeeding. This advice is often based on historical anecdotes where a pregnant woman drank high concentrations of such essential oils on purpose or by accident, leading to abortion (essential oils are, with a few exceptions, not suitable for oral intake). As with teh story about parabens, fear plays a big role in shaping the kind of information circulating and it is difficult to find clear guidelines about the possible dangers of specific essential oils, based on solid data. If you decide to do research on this topic yourself and find the many different and contradictory lists of essential oils that are and are not considered safe during pregnancy, ask yourself whether you can find out why this would be the case, based on which properties, studies, and findings. This then becomes very tricky. Aromatherapists take widely different positions. Some prefer avoiding taking any chances at all and advice no use of essential oils at all, while others see no problems at all as long as responsible concentrations are used. In addition, some essential oils can be very beneficial during pregnancy. Skin care products containing essential oils contain very low concentrations and soaps and scrubs are also washed away in the shower. But the decision whether or not and how to use which essential oils during pregnancy is a very personal one where research and common sense are very important.
Some people get scared when they hear soap is made with lye. Sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide are biting substances that can cause serious burns when they get in contact with the skin. We also sometimes use sodium hydroxide as a drain cleaner. But through the saponification process, the end product no longer containes any sodium hydroxide and actually becomes very nourishing to the skin. Soap recipes are created with the help of a special soap calculator to make sure the concentration of sodium hydroxide is just enough to saponify all oils. A percentage extra oils is always added to make sure no sodium hydroxide remains in the soap and to add some extra nourishment – this is called “superfatting.” Soap makers make sure that they inform new comers about the safety and dangers involving working with sodium hydroxide. When I make soap, I always use gloves and safety goggles and I follow strict safety procedures that I have established using different examples and tips. So don’t start making soap without first doing research and make sure kids and animals are not around. The use of liquids other than water, like goat milk, coconut milk, and beer asks for different techniques to avoid unexpected reactions. People who would like to make their own soap but fear working with sodium hydroxide can buy melt & pour bases and add their own unique combinations of ingredients.
The most important accessories in the shop currently are the ceramic soap dishes and the lavender eye pillows. For the soap dishes I use chamotte clay and non-toxic glaxes. For the eye pillows I use Indian silk or cotton. I have been looking for suitable organic cotton but unfortunately the choice of prints is still rather limited. But I will remain on the look-out and it is possible I’ll make an organic version some time. I do always fill the eye pillows with organic flax seed and organic lavender.
I hope you have enjoyed this video. For those of you who are soap makers or interested to learn how to make soap, I would like to share some thoughts and info. First of all, this is not a tutorial, but rather a snap shot of the soap making process. For beginners, I recommend starting with a basic recipe before trying out swirling techniques or experimenting with ingredients. Throughout this page, I will list some of the most useful online resources I have encountered in my own research that might also help you. Secondly, this is one method of soap making and there are probably as many methods as there are soap makers. As you make more and different types of soap, you’ll bump into challenges, learn about techniques, and find your own methods and tricks, which are often specifically adjusted to the ingredients you use and the climate/conditions in which you make your soap.
As I explain above under Ingredients and Materials, lye is an essential ingredient is soap and pretty much always of synthetic origin (yes, even all those “natural” bars of soaps are made with lye). Lye may not be listed or considered as a separate ingredient since it forms saponified oils and butters and glycerine when mixed with those oils and butters, and disappears in its original form. The only truly natural way to make soap would be with the use of wood ash. However, the soap will then be in liquid form, or soft bars with the use of animal fats. I still really would love to experiment with that and surely it will happen some day.
Regardless of whether lye was produced synthetically or naturally, it’s a dangerous substance and should be handled with care. It will burn into the skin when dissolved into a liquid (or activated by exposure to a liquid, including sweat). Before I made my first soap, I did extensive research online and was pretty frightened by the many warnings about lye. It took me a while before I felt confident enough to make my first soap in my home kitchen and it took me many months before I felt more comfortable working with lye (though still always incredibly careful to follow all safety measures, since mistakes tend to happen exactly as we get more comfortable). Here are two stories of accidents with lye that happened to soap makers, one where a child got covered in lye solution, and another one where a soap maker got lye solution in her eye. These two stories stuck with me ever since I read them and they are important reminders to always follow protocol.
Btw, there are debates whether to best flush a lye spill on the skin with water or vinegar. Many soap makers advocate vinegar because the acid would neutralize the high pH of lye. However, research has pointed out that the use of vinegar can actually worsen the burns while holding the affected skin under a running tap or a shower is much more effective and the response recommended in manufacturers’ safety sheets. See here for more details.
Some important safety precautions:
- Wear gloves and goggles to protect hands and eyes.
- Always add lye to liquid, NEVER liquid to lye (the snow falls on the lake).
- NEVER use aluminium in contact with lye since it could cause an explosion.
- Avoid inhaling the lye fumes that are formed when the mixture heats up.
- Don’t use lye in the presence of animals or young children.
- Remember that some ingredients react more strongly with lye and heat up the mixture very fast. For example, using beer as a liquid without boiling out the alcohol can cause a lye/soap volcano.
- ALWAYS check the exact weight of lye needed to saponify the oils and butters in a soap calculator, like this one, to avoid soap becoming lye heavy and possibly irritating to the skin.
Soap makers are incredibly generous sharing their knowledge and recipes online. There are many blogs and forums that can help you get started. However, to elaborate on the last point made in the previous section, always check a recipe in the soap calc before you use it yourself. Anyone can make a mistake or a typo. Also, if you decide to substitute an oil, again run it through soap calc. Different oils have different properties and require different quantities of lye for saponification. Soap calc can be a bit tricky to understand at first, but it’s important that you do, and the site provides detailed background info and links to other sites. Avoid recipes that use volume measurements and try to stick to weight measurements in grams, which is most precise.
When you start making your own recipes, there are some considerations: the percentage of hard oils vs soft oils, the use of palm oil, the use of animal vs vegetable fats, and the effect of the composition on the final properties of the soap. A common rule of thumb would be to use 60:40 hard:soft oils, with hard oils being solid at room temperature. However, olive oil tends to mess up this approach – it is a soft oil but with enough curing time makes for a very hard bar of soap. Palm oil used to be a very popular ingredient since it hardens and stabilizes the soap. However, with increasing awareness about the disastrous environmental damage done by the palm oil industry and scepticism about “sustainable” palm oil, soap makers have started looking for alternatives. Animal fat shares many similar properties, but then soap makers and/or their customers often prefer to avoid animal products. For useful discussion of these considerations, see the lovingsoap blog and the nerdyfarmwife. Some great resources on soap making oils here, here, and here.
Cold vs hot process soap
I make this soap, and most of my soaps, with the cold process method, which means I keep the temperature low throughout and avoid the influence of heat on consistency, color, and scent. I make a few other soaps with the hot process method, where I heat up the soap to speed up the saponification process, which is quite the opposite. Many soap makers use methods somewhere in between, where they make soap go through gel phase by insulating it in the mold or even putting it in the oven (cold process oven process soap). This soaping101 video provides a good discussion of the pros and cons of gelling. The choice between all these methods can be based on personal preference or technical reasons, but I would suggest anyone to try out different methods to find out what suits them best.
In my case, I often work with ingredients that tend to intensify the heating process, especially sugars in milk and honey. Also, heat can turn milk soaps brownish and can affect the strength and characteristics of essential oils. This is why I generally prefer the cold process method. For two soaps I selected the hot process method because these contain lemon and sweet orange essential oils which fade quickly in cold process soap; I can now add them to the soap after saponification and cooling down instead, which makes them last much longer.
Using the freezer & fridge
With regard to freezing liquids and finished soap in the cold process method, approaches also vary a lot. In the case of the aloe vera soap, freezing the juice is not as essential as freezing milk for milk soap since it doesn’t heat up quite as quickly. Still, I prefer to freeze at least part of it because I am impatient to wait for it to cool down if it heats up too much. The trick is to find the exact right balance in temperature – too hot and you’ll have to wait; too cold and the lye won’t dissolve well. IMPORTANT: always check for pieces of undissolved lye in your mixture! You can’t always see them through the liquid, so some people use a sieve to make sure nothing is left. Since the lye mixture is sometimes too thick for a sieve, I prefer to let it sit for a minute and then very slowly pour it into another basin. Any pieces of undissolved lye will sink and remain at the bottom. Break them up, dissolve them properly, and add this to the rest of the mixture.
As for keeping the soap cool, I have tried out many different variations of using the freezer and the fridge. Again, since I often work with ingredients that intensify the building up of internal heat during the saponifications process, and I want to prevent the soap going through gel phase, I have found one day in the freezer and two days in the fridge most effective. Defrosting slowly in the fridge avoids excessive condensation and sweating. For the aloe vera soap, the fridge would be sufficient, but I prefer the structure of the soap after freezing and slowly defrosting, which somehow makes it harder faster and easier to handle without leaving marks. Obviously it would be much easier to find ways to reduce cooling time and the need for freezer and fridge space, but so far I am not satisfied with alternative procedures.
The prevention of ash
One big downside of cold process soap that has bothered me for many months is the formation of ash, a thin layer of white powder that sticks to the soap and is hard to remove. It’s a cosmetic problem since it fades colors and just makes the soap look unappealing. Ash is formed when the fresh soap is exposed to oxygen. Only recently I have found the most satisfying solution, which is to carefully cover the top of soap with cling wrap after it comes out of the freezer and before it goes into the fridge. After the two days in the fridge, I unmold the soap and put it uncovered in the curing rack. I was afraid that covering it as it was defrosting would cause it to sweat and get mushy, but with this timing it works out perfectly. Other soap makers simply wash the ash off their soaps or use steamers, but it is tricky to dry the soap without leaving marks. For a more elaborate discussion of ash, check out this SoapQueen page.
Pouring essential oils: the best trick ever!
Pouring essential oils can be a bit of a nightmare. The droplet tops are usually way too slow, but taking them off can cause a big mess and spoilage of expensive ingredients as the oils drip along the sides of the bottle. This was a huge source of frustration until very recently I bumped into this amazing trick to use a skewer on the modernsoapmaking website. I usually hold the bottle with one hand and the skewer with the other and just touch the lower part of the bottle opening as I pour. This simple trick allows me to pour much more precisely and I no longer lose a drop!!
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