Would you consider washing your face and body with detergent? If you bought your soap from the supermarket, there's a good chance you're doing just that. Many store-bought soaps now contain synthetic detergents with chemical additives such as artificial fragrance, preservative and colorants that are often allergens.
These soaps can strip the skin of natural oil and moisture, leaving it dry and feeling tight. Even when commercial soaps are made with traditional ingredients, they have usually had the moisturising glycerine removed which is then sold as a separate product.
The earliest records of soapmaking date back to 2500 BC. Bathing also has a long history. Cleopatra bathed in asses milk and indeed milk is recognised to this day as a wonderful skin treatment. Not as aesthetically pleasing but maybe as effective was the olive oil and sand used by the Greeks and then the Romans. The oil and sand mixture, along with the daily grime, was scraped off and soothing oils and salves were then applied.
My favourite story is a myth that tells of a hill called Sapo near Rome. Here, the Romans sacrificed animals to their gods. Rain would wash the mixture of melted animal fats and wood ash down the hill to the Tiber River below, where the washerwomen worked. To their delight, they discovered that the soapy mixture was useful for washing clothes. The interesting thing about this myth is that the word used today for the chemical reaction for making soap is saponification in my opinion, that lends some authenticity to the myth!
Our great-grandmothers made soap using homemade lye from wood ashes and fat from the last animal to be slaughtered. Forget about great-grandma's lye soap, which is guaranteed to lift skin along with the dirt. The handcrafted soap you can make in your kitchen is a far cry from either great-grandma's version or indeed the synthetic soaps being mass-marketed today. It can be gentle and moisturising to the skin while still having a wonderful cleansing action.
These days there's a resurgence of interest in soapmaking as people prefer to use products containing real fruit, vegetable and seed oils rather than synthetic ingredients. You can make soap with ingredients found in the supermarket. There are even internet mailing lists devoted to the craft of soapmaking. A search engine trawl will reveal many lists to choose from.
The method below is suitable for novice soapmakers. Providing the cautions are observed, you'll have an enjoyable experience that will result in your first batch of handcrafted soap.
The quality of water used in soapmaking is very important as hard water contains minerals that can interfere with the action of the lye and your soap will be a failure. Distilled water is best and is available from the supermarket at very little cost.