This homemade soap recipe is for anyone struggling with dry or sensitive skin who wants a gentle, soothing soap, free from fragrances and preservatives. I’ll also walk you through the basic soapmaking process so you can see if this will be your new hobby.
If you are interested in more DIY projects with natural materials, the same beeswax used in soaps can be used to make reusable beeswax food wraps with these instructions.
All About Soapmaking
Perfect for Dry Skin
If you are looking for a good, plain, scent-free homemade soap recipe for sensitive skin, this is for you. While a nice, basic soap like this works for anyone, those of us who cannot handle any added fragrance, colours, or preservatives in our skin care products will particularly appreciate this.
I started making soap many years ago because at that time I could not find any commercial soaps that did not hurt my skin. I am one of those lucky people who was born with that magical combination of dry skin, eczema, and psoriasis—such an overachiever, I am-lol—and it means simple things like washing or bathing requires the right soap and moisturizers to avoid hours of discomfort afterwards.
The recipe I use was one of my first soap making experiments. It turned out so nicely that I have made this my main soap recipe. There is no reason why you couldn’t use it as a basic soap recipe to embellish with other things like botanicals and essential oils, but, it’s also lovely as it is.
Dry Skin is Managed—Not Cured
If you have truly dry skin, you notice all the false promises out there, telling us one product or another will give us soft, supple skin and ‘heal’ the problem.
In reality, dry skin, and other conditions like eczema and psoriasis are managed, not cured. You gradually learn what helps and hurts your skin and act accordingly.
Many of us shower in chlorinated tap water and that alone is very drying. Using a soap with fatty oils present helps combat this. From there, a good, after-shower moisturizer can prevent further discomfort.
I’ll share my soap recipe and walk you through the basic soap making steps to see if this is something you would like to do. Once I made a batch, I had to keep trying new ideas.
How Soap is Made
Very simply, soap is made by combining lye—sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is used for bar soap) with fats and oils. When combined as liquids in the right proportions and temperature range, they come together to create soap. The ingredients are carefully measured by weight, and the magic happens when blended together at just the right time, as you’ll see.
I had no interest in soap making—since a bar of soap is cheap and easy to buy—until I made my first batch. It’s very cool! I see why people get into soap making and open an online soap shop: once you try it, you want to experiment with more and more recipes. And, if you don’t have the environmental sensitivities like I do, the option to add botanicals, natural fragrances and colorants, and essential oils offers endless possibilities.
There are tons of soap makers online these days and just as many opinions about the best way to make soap. My suggestion is to find resources you like and can relate to and follow them. Like any hobby, there are endless battles about the finer details but the good news is, there are lots of different ways to make good soap.
My Favorite Soap Recipe for Dry Skin
NOTE: This recipe was derived from another recipe developed years before online soap calculators were available. In this calculator at TheSage.com it rates in the 5 to 8% excess fat range which I like. Another popular calculator is soapcalc.net. I get emails asking if this is the correct recipe and yes, it is. It’s the only one I’ve used for years. You can see the calculator results here.
This makes enough to fill one loaf pan (8×4″ – 3″ deep) | 10-20 bars of soap (depending on how you cut them).
- 85g Almond oil
- 85g Cocoa butter
- 85g Coconut oil
- 125g Olive oil
- 400g Rice bran oil | extracted from the outer layer of rice
- 75g Shea butter | produced from the nuts of shea trees
- 113g Lye crystals
- 325g or ml Distilled water
I’ll walk you through the soapmaking steps to give you an idea of what is involved.
Basic Soap Making Supplies
Many soap making supplies can be found in your kitchen cabinets or at thrift shops. Keep in mind that once you use them for soap making, they should never again be used for food.
- Lye crystals (sodium hydroxide | NaOH) | see it on Amazon.com
- Fats and oils
There are a lot of possibilities including olive, almond, rice bran, coconut, jojoba, caster oils; shea butter, coconut butter, beeswax, lard, vegetable shortening…
You can use existing recipes or, once you know the process, create your own with an online calculator (see Resources below).
- Distilled water (for the lye)
- Digital kitchen scale | everything is measured by weight | Make sure you get a scale that does tare weight, letting you measure and deduct the weight of any container placed on the scale.
- Digital thermometer | you can use a kitchen or candy thermometer. I like the newer non-contact thermometers like this one on Amazon.
- Pyrex measuring cup (2 or 4-cup size) for mixing lye.
- Stainless steel cooking pot (2-3 quart) for heating fats and oils and blending soap.
- Silicone spatula
- Stick blender | for combining and blending the lye and fats and oils.
- Get one with the open slots around the hood: this will help prevent air pockets while you blend.
- Silicone loaf pan or muffin plans or other container and freezer paper (to line it) | These act as non-stick molds to shape your soap mixture as it dries.
- Metal cooling racks | After the soap is formed and set for a day, it is cut into bars and placed on racks to cure for 4-6 weeks.
- Safety equipment: eye protection, protective gloves, etc. When water is added to lye, it off-gases and heats up. This must be done in a well-ventilated area, away from children, pets, distractions, etc. I do it outside with protective gear on.
Let’s Make Soap
Before you start, read the safety instructions on the lye container and have a plan in place in case you accidentally spill or splatter it.
Here’s an overview of how I make soap. There’s some timing involved.
We need to mix the lye with water, and melt the fats and oils. Then we’re going to combine the two groups when they are both approximately 110°F / 43°C. You will notice that the recommended temperature varies between soap makers and recipes but it’s general between 110°f and 120°F (43°C-49°C).
110°f – 120°F (43°C – 49°C)
is the temperature sweet spot for soap making
Some say you must have the two items at precisely the same temperature, others say there can be up to a 10-degree variation. I’ve experimented with this and found up to a 10-degree variation between the lye and fats/oils seems work just fine.
The first step is to set up all of your equipment, and measure the ingredients. Soap making is fun and nearly stress-free if you have everything ready and where you need it ahead of time. And that includes ensuring pets and other distractions are not going to interrupt you.
Safety Tip: Always add lye crystals to water—do not add water to lye or it may splash.
When lye is combined with water, a reaction occurs that produces heat. The lye/water temperature can go as high as 200°F /93°C and then the temperature gradually drops down. How fast the temperature drops depends on your environment but in general it could take from 30-45 minutes unless you put the container in a cool bath.
When the lye/water mixture and fats/oils mixture are both around
110°F / 43°C (or close to it), it’s time to combine everything.
During the time it takes the lye mixture to cool down, you are going to gently warm and melt the fats and oils and have them ready. When the lye/water mixture and fats/oils mixture are both around 110°F / 43°C (or close to it), it’s time to combine everything.
As a beginner, the tricky part is getting the timing right. Because I know how long the lye mixture generally takes to drop to 110°F / 43°C, I know to melt the fats on low heat around 110°F / 43°C or a bit warmer, and then remove them from the heat and combine them with the liquid oils.
This way, they will be ready when the lye temperature is right. In a pinch, I sometimes have to either put the melted fats/oil pot in the freezer for a few minutes if the temperature is too high, or, put the lye/water Pyrex cup in an ice bath if I’m impatient for the temperature to come down.
Once you have made a few batches of soap, you’ll find your mojo and this will not seem so harrowing. And you do have that 10-degree range to play with, so anything around 110°F / 43°C is fine.
Soap Making Steps
The fats and oils are measured on the kitchen scale. It’s important to be precise.
In the recipe I shared here, all of the solid fats used have fairly low melting temperatures (between 90-100°F) so I just place everything in a pot and heat them on a low setting.
If you have a recipe that includes something like beeswax, which has a much higher melting point, it’s worthwhile to use a separate double-boiler or crock pot, melt it at the proper temperature, and then add the other fats and oils. Once melted, simmer at approximately 110°F / 43°C.
2Heat and Blend Ingredients
I do not have photos of the blending process, as I have not found a way to get good images in my dark kitchen but you can see the magic happen in the videos (below).
- With the melted fats/oils and lye/water both at 110°F / 43°C, I pour the lye/water into the fats/oils and immediately see a reaction. The whole thing goes from clear to opaque.
- The stick blender is pressed against the bottom of the pot and used to stir everything first and then I start blending.
- The mixture quickly becomes thicker and pudding-like. When it’s quite thick but still liquid enough to pour, I stop. Officially, soap makers call this ‘medium trace’. You can test by dripping some of the soap mixture on the surface. If it sinks, it’s not thick enough yet. If it sits on top, it’s ready.
3Pour Into Molds
That’s it for mixing. The mixture is then poured into a soap mold. I often use a loaf pan lined with freezer paper or a silicone loaf or muffin pan. I wrap and cover the whole thing in a towel so it will cool gradually. If it cools too rapidly, the soap can get strange (but harmless) discolored sections.
Silicone Loaf Pan | Amazon
4Let Soap Cure
It takes about 24 hours for the soap to set. It is then removed from the pan and cut into bars. You can make them as thick or thin as you like.
5Slice and Stamp Soap
About a day later, the soap has a consistency that allows me to stamp it. You still need to wear gloves at this point because the pH will not be neutral until the soap has fully cured.
Here I used the alphabet letters from my wood burning set (not with heat, just at room temperature) and some old batik fabric stamps.
You could also use a stamp kit like this:
It takes some practice to figure out the exact right time in the curing process to get good stamp results. I just use supplies on hand and accept my charming, rustic results. You could also leave it plain-jane, which is quite lovely too.
6Finishing Curing Soap
The curing process takes 4-6 weeks while the lye finishes bonding with the fats and oils, the water gradually evaporates, and the soap hardens. At that point, the pH level has neutralized and you’ve got lovely, soothing bars of soap.
Watch Soap Making TV
Soap Making Resources
- First Aid for Chemical Burns | Read this before handling lye
- Handy calculator for creating your own soap recipes | TheSage Lye Calculator
- Soap Making Tips and Recipes | Lovely Greens
- Smart Soapmaking: The Simple Guide to Making Traditional Handmade Soap | Anne L. Watson
I hope you’ll give this a try. A plain recipe like this one is good starting point. Then, if you like the idea of adding natural colors, fragrances, or essential oils, there’s a whole world of possibilities awaiting you.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛