Labelling Explained….. and How We Got from There to Here

Over the last couple of years our soap making endeavours have begun to push the boundaries of what constitutes a hobby. We have continuously received excellent feedback for our soaps and have seen a growing demand for more. Some of the people we deal with now are actually people we’ve not even met (yet). Selling to people you don’t even know surely constitutes a business? The feedback and demand makes us very happy. Your pals will always tell you they like your stuff, but when strangers give us positive feedback it can only be genuine. Although it’s still far from a living, we are now actively seeking to sell and promote our products and not just looking for an outlet for all these piles of soap we have lying around!

In light of all of this we decided to use some of the extra time afforded to us by the Covid crisis to set things up on a more business-like foundation. We decided that the first thing to do would be to comply with the existing legislation for selling cosmetics in the UK which requires our recipes, processes and ingredients to be formally assessed and certified. Talk about jumping in at the deep end! The bureaucracy was every bit as tedious and labyrinthine as you might expect.

Consumer legislation is there to protect us all and we’re all the better for it. It is in everyone’s interest that I can’t just mix up any old lard and drain cleaner and sell it to you as soap. On the other hand, having to work to our approved recipes sometimes stifles creativity. Previously I would add items (a fennel seed crust here or some chopped herbs there) as and when I saw fit. Now it’s strictly by the book.

Another thing that bothered us was the new labelling regime. My lovely plain English ingredients lists have been superseded by a nomenclature that seems foreign and inaccessible. However, I’ve learnt something about it all that I would like to share with you here.

I always included Lye on my labelling. Lye is the one ingredient used in soap making that tends to bother people. Lye is a harsh and caustic alkali that is also used as a heavy-duty cleaning product. It is a fundamental requirement in all traditional soap making processes. It would normally be featured on my original labelling as this:

Nettle Infused Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, Shea Butter, Nettle Tea, Lye

Despite me being as honest as I can with this labelling format, the problem with it is that it is a list of all the ingredients that have been put in. Soap making is a chemical process (saponification), so the list of what went into it isn’t necessarily the same as what’s in it once it’s cured and ready to use.

During the process of saponification the lye reacts with triglycerides in the oils, creating glycerol and fatty acid salts (soap). The lye is all used up in the reaction and is no longer an ingredient in the finished soap. The oils are now technically salts and so are labelled as such. The olive oil used in the recipe has become a salt, hence Sodium Olivate.

So now the label will read:

Sodium Olivate, Sodium Cocoate, Sodium Shea Butterate, Aqua, Glycerin, Urtica Dioica Leaf Extract

Translated this is the salts of olive oil, coconut oil, and shea butter. Aqua is water. Glycerin is glycerin, it’s not been added but has been created by the process. Urtica dioica is simply the Latin name for common nettles.

This is the limit of my technical knowledge, but the whole internet is out there for those who wish to learn further.

I don’t think the new labels sound half as nice as the old ones, but I understand that labelling legislation is there for public protection and am happy to comply.

You can rest assured that the recipes and ingredients I use for my soaps haven’t changed in any way.

The most obvious outcome of all of this for those of you who normally like to use our soaps is that, initially, the range will be shrinking considerably. We have had 8 recipes approved and will be only selling those on this website. These are:

Bog Myrtle
Nettle (unscented)
Rosehip (unscented)
Fennel Seed
Dandelion (unscented)

We are planning to have another 8 assessed in the near future and will add those here once all the paperwork is done.

In the meantime, we may occasionally offer some “guest” soaps as the season or mood takes us. Why not check out our Facebook page for up to date information and availability.