Monday, June 27, 2011

Atop a Homemade Soapbox

I can identify the exact catalyst for my recent foray into mad science. 

Labor Day two years ago we took a family camping trip.  Just an overnight-er for the fun of it.  But we came back from that trip with Jonas experiencing a horrible flare-up of exzema.  It was really the first time he had had any trouble with exzema--but it was bad. 

It's hard to say what triggered it.  Initially people suggested things as simple as: he was having a reaction to the grass he'd played and sat in while camping.  I wondered about the bug spray we had used--though it was the same brand we'd used before.  We had recently quit nursing (at 18 months) so we later even started to wonder about things like a milk allergy since his cow milk intake probably increased around that time as well.   

For almost a year we treated Jonas with the two recommended products: steroids and a white petroleum-based skin protecting ointment.  It worked out pretty well until our family reunion to the beach.  Even though we bought an expensive name-brand "natural" baby sunscreen Jonas had a horrible skin flare-up as a reaction to it --and I got fed up.     

I reasoned that the current treatment wasn't preventing it was only managing the eczema, and I was starting to feel uncomfortable with the uncertainty of the long-term effects of the treatment.  So I wanted to try my own management.  A more natural management.  I dropped the steroids and swapped the white petroleum skin protectant for olive oil and coconut oil (I've recently upgraded to something a little fancier but that's a topic for another day). 

I started to realize how hard it is to control what's in the products we use when they are all made outside our home.  I need a basic gentle unscented product, for all the products we use in the home.  Any product scent or coloring could aggravate Jonas' skin.   But companies are always adding random things in their products for one reason or another--usually to decrease manufacturing costs or increase "perceived value" (Gee, this is sounding a lot like the food industry as well)--And so I started studying practical home chemistry and the useful chemical reaction of saponification. I checked out some books from the library, bought some supplies and made some homemade soap.

I made these bars with three types of fat:  olive oil which makes a very moisturizing bar, coconut oil which make nice big soap bubbles, and lard which makes a nice firm white bar.  We're almost at the end of our one month cure period which means that the chemical reaction is complete, and so even though the soap is made with lye it no longer contains lye.  It contains a little extra oil from "superfatting" the recipe, a lot of soap (obviously right?) and glycerol (glycerin).  I was interested to learn that commercial soap-makers remove the glycerol to sell it or use it in other products.  My glycerol is still in my soap to moisturize freely.  

I'm excited to have a product for my family to use that is exactly what I want--with nothing that I don't want.  I might try getting into interesting scented bars for myself or friends, but for now I'm satisfied with a creamy white bar of soap that won't turn my baby into a scaly itchy red monster.

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