Archive for the ‘Featured Ingredient’ Category

A Word on Palm Oil and Why Our Sources Matter

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

Palm Oil and Responsibility – The Rain Forest Alliance

Here at Soap Alchemy, we are very conscious of how our ingredients will affect both your skin and our planet.  Some materials, such as the Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil present in many of our products, are relatively easy to procure from environmentally-friendly sources.  Others, though equally important, are a bit more contentious and require additional consideration.  Among the latter group are Palm Oil and Palm Kernel Oil.

Though both are produced from oil palm trees (namely Elaeis guineensis,  Elaeis oleifera, and Attalea maripa), Palm Oil is made specifically from the fleshy part of the tree’s fruit, while Palm Kernel Oil is made from the kernel (or seed) within the fruit.  Along with the increasingly-popular Coconut Oil, they are among the few highly-saturated vegetable fats.  As such, Palm Oil and Palm Kernel Oil are solid at room temperature, which is a unique property for plant-based oils.  This has made them important for use in both cooking and personal care products.

The problem we are faced with is that Palm Oil production practices have, in many cases, led to the clear-cutting of primary forests (where biodiversity and protected species must be maintained) and the mistreatment of indigenous people who may not have been consulted over the use of their land.  While the knee-jerk reaction may be to simply avoid products that contain any type of Palm Oil, it is not so simple.

Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil

According to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), “palm trees produce 4-10 times more oil than other crops per unit of cultivated land.”  Conservation International concurs, stating “palm oil represents about 38% of the world’s supply of edible oil, but it’s grown on only 5% of the land dedicated to oilseed crops globally.”  Therefore, replacing Palm Oil with other plant-based oils would actually require more land (and therefore, more deforestation).  The RSPO also points out that, from a humanitarian perspective, oil palm cultivation is a large part of the economy in poverty-stricken areas of the world, which have become dependent on it for their sustenance.  Additionally, Palm Oil is a unique product and replacement materials may not be satisfactory.

Fortunately, there is a solution: sustainable palm oil production.  According to the RSPO website:

In 2008, the RSPO developed a set of environmental and social criteria which companies must comply with in order to produce Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO). When they are properly applied, these criteria can help to minimize negative impacts.

One of the most important RSPO criteria states no primary forests or areas which contain significant concentrations of biodiversity (e.g. endangered species) or fragile ecosystems, or areas which are fundamental to meeting basic or traditional cultural needs of local communities (high conservation value areas), can be cleared.

Other RSPO principles stipulate a significantly reduced use of pesticides and fires; fair treatment of workers according to local and international labour rights standards, and the need to inform and consult with local communities before the development of new plantations on their land. You can learn more about RSPO’s Principles and Criteria here.

Only by being RSPO-certified by an independent auditor approved by the RSPO can producers claim that they produce, use and/or sell sustainable palm oil.

Palm Oil Innovation Group

A second Organization, the Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG) was founded in 2013 and is building on the progress RSPO has made.  POIG’s vision (according to their official website) is to create:

 A responsible supply chain that has broken the link between palm oil production and the destruction of forests and peatlands, the exploitation of communities and workers, and climate change.

Toward this end, they are focusing on “environmental responsibility, partnerships with communities, and corporate and product integrity” by supporting and expanding on the work that RSPO has already done.  Some have argued that RSPO standards are not stringent enough and that they don’t have enough authority to make the changes they seek.  POIG is trying to amend this by creating recognition and market space for RSPO’s front-runners, simplifying their guidelines and verification process, and working toward more transparency in the supply chain.  Doing so will help corporations and their customers make better choices, which will leverage market forces and make up for their lack of political and legal authority.

Another important facet of their plan is to create and promote innovation within the palm oil industry.  Helping farmers attain these higher standards will require ingenuity and a good communication network for sharing new innovations with the small farms that make up most of the palm oil industry.  By making it easier for farmers to improve their methods and rewarding them for doing so with greater demand for their crops, POIG hopes to make the public, corporations, and the farmers partners in rainforest preservation rather than adversaries.

Though POIG oils have not yet made it all the way through the distribution channels (remember, they were only funded in 2013), we at Soap Alchemy are doing our part by keeping pressure on our suppliers and ensuring that they will make them available to us as soon as possible.

Rainforest Alliance

A third important group that audits palm oil plantations for sustainability is the Rainforest Alliance (whose “frog” certification seal you are probably familiar with).  Established in 1987 to help regulate the banana industry, the Rainforest Alliance has a much wider scope than the RSPO and the POIG, which work exclusively on palm oil sustainability.  As you may already know, the Rainforest Alliance, works with farms, forests, and businesses associated with coffee, bananas, coconuts, tea, and other tropical crops in addition to palm oil.  You see, palm oil is not the only agricultural product that threatens the rainforests, nor is it the worst (that dubious honor, arguably, goes to cattle ranches).  Though palm oil has gotten a lot of bad press in recent years, that may be because it’s easier to demonize something that is typically seen only on ingredient lists than it is to attack a person’s precious morning coffee or their beloved coconut oil.  That is not to say that the palm oil industry is innocent… just that others are every bit as (if not more) guilty of clear cutting forests and other practices that are hazardous to the environment.

Rainforest Alliance’s early work lead to the establishment of the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) in 1998.  The SAN is a coalition of conservation groups that manages Rainforest Alliance farm certification system and sets the worldwide standard for sustainable agricultural certification.  In order to be certified, farms must meet all critical criteria, work toward improving non-critical criteria, and undergo regular audits (both scheduled and surprise) to prove that they continue to be compliant.  According to the Rainforest Alliance:

The SAN standard is comprehensive, covering environmental protection, social responsibility, and economic viability. To earn Rainforest Alliance certification, farms must meet criteria in all three areas. This means farmers work to:

  • Maintain or increase tree cover
  • Prevent erosion and nurture the quality of their soil
  • Eliminate the use of critically dangerous agrochemicals, reduce the use of other chemicals, and safeguard local water supplies
  • Monitor and protect the animals that live on or pass through their properties
  • Facilitate access for workers to clean water, housing, and healthcare, and education for their children
  • Prevent children under age 15 from working, except for the purpose of maintaining local culture and family tradition, and help ensure safe working conditions for all employees
  • Operate their farms efficiently and profitably and pay their workers at least the legal minimum wage

These stringent requirements help the farmers and their communities as well as the global environment we all share.  We encourage you to browse the Rainforest Alliance website for more information about their work and stories about how they have improved the lives of those they work with.

With the help of these organizations, companies now have access to raw ingredients that have been produced with greater environmental and economic responsibility and their customers can hold them accountable for their decisions.  Because we are dedicated to ensuring that all of our products (and, therefore, the ingredients we use) are sustainable, environmentally-friendly, and humanitarian, Soap Alchemy exclusively uses Palm Oil and Palm Kernel oil that has been certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and the Rainforest Alliance.  Because only about 21% of the world’s Palm Oil is RSPO-certified, this greatly limits our options.  However, it is this very attention to detail that makes Soap Alchemy’s products so effective and delightful.  We want you to feel as good about using our goods as we do about creating them, and we sincerely hope that providing this information has brought us nearer to this goal.   

Activated Charcoal: the basics

Monday, March 27th, 2017
Detoxifying Activated Charcoal Skincare Products

Soap Alchemy’s Shea Butter Black Soap and Detoxifying Charcoal Facial Scrub pictured along with the essential ingredient: finely powdered United States Pharmacopoeia Grade Activated Charcoal


What is activated charcoal and why should you choose to add it to your skincare regime?

The Short and Sweet Version:

What is is?  
Activated charcoal is charcoal that has been specially treated to become extremely porous and adsorbant.  Ad-sorbant materials have a charge that actually attracts and binds other molecules to itself (as opposed to ab-sorbant materials, which draw particles in but do not bind them).  This means that activated charcoal attracts impurities away from your skin and binds them within its pores so, when the charcoal is washed away, skin-damaging particles go down the drain along with it.  What does activated charcoal adsorb from your skin?  Excess oil, bacteria, toxins, and more!

Who is it good for?
Anyone!  Activated charcoal is one of few “active” ingredients that is truly good for all skin types.  It can help calm acne-prone skin by adsorbing excess oil and blemish-causing bacteria.  However, it leaves no residue and will not irritate nor alter the pH of dry, sensitive skin (unlike many other cleansers).  Also, activated charcoal powder is a gentle exfoliant, which helps remove and wash away dead skin cells to reveal your naturally radiant, glowing skin!

What makes Soap Alchemy’s activated charcoal products special?
Each ingredient in Soap Alchemy’s products has been hand-selected by our Alchemist for both maximum benefit to the skin and minimum impact on our environment.  This commitment to quality and ethical production extends to our activated charcoal.  Soap Alchemy uses only USP (United States Pharmacopoeia) grade (medical grade) activated charcoal.  This means that one could actually ingest the charcoal without harm, as it is free of the heavy metals and other toxic materials found in lower grades of activated charcoal.  It is vegan-friendly (contains no animal products, such as the bone char used in some activated charcoal) and is sustainable because it is made from coconut shells that would otherwise be considered waste.  Additionally, our Alchemist has chosen to use a very finely powdered form of medical grade activated charcoal, which has a greater surface area (so it adsorbs the more debris from your skin more quickly) and is smooth to the touch as compared with larger grains.

Read on to learn more about Activated Charcoal or click on one of the following products to see how easily activated charcoal can be added to your skincare regime:
Detoxifying Shea Butter Black Soap, Detoxifying Facial Scrub

The Nitty Gritty Details:

Piqued your curiosity?  Great!  Let’s take a closer look at activated charcoal, what it is, how it’s used, and why it could help your skin.

What is Activated Charcoal?

First stop, a quick peek in the Encyclopædia Britannica for a bit of background:

Charcoal [is an] impure form of graphitic carbon, obtained as a residue when carbonaceous material is partially burned, or heated with limited access of air. […] The use of special manufacturing techniques results in highly porous charcoals that have surface areas of 300–2,000 square metres per gram. These so-called active, or activated, charcoals are widely used to adsorb odorous or coloured substances from gases or liquids, as in the purification of drinking water, sugar, and many other products, in the recovery of solvents and other volatile materials, and in gas masks for the removal of toxic compounds from the air.

Haycarb (a leading manufacturer and marketer of coconut shell activated carbon), provides additional details:

Activated carbon is a carbonaceous, highly porous adsorptive medium that has a complex structure composed primarily of carbon atoms. The networks of pores in activated carbons are channels created within a rigid skeleton of disordered layers of carbon atoms, linked together by chemical bonds, stacked unevenly, creating a highly porous structure of nooks, crannies, cracks and crevices between the carbon layers.

Since we just learned that activated charcoal is a form of the atomic element, carbon, let’s take a moment to consider what that means:

Carbon’s atomic number is 6.  Its symbol is C, and its atomic weight is 12.01.  It is also one of the most abundant elements in the universe and is a primary building block for life on Earth.  Carbon is an extraordinarily versatile element:  arrange the atoms one way, and you have the soft graphite used in writing pencils; arrange them in another, and you have the hardest known natural material: a diamond.  You may even recall lessons on the Carbon Cycle from high school science classes. Briefly, carbon is constantly being recycled among various lifeforms. Carbon (in the form of carbon dioxide or CO2) is released by animals during respiration and by the burning of fossil fuels. In turn, it is converted back into organic matter by plants and trees during photosynthesis.

At this point, you may be asking yourself what on earth any of this has to do with skincare… but being aware of carbon’s versatility is key to understanding how our Alchemist is able to turn a dirty-looking black powder into a wonderfully effective cleansing and purifying agent!

How does it work?

As mentioned above, Activated Charcoal is a highly porous and adsorbent material that is commonly used in various applications to remove odors, toxins, chemicals, and other impurities.  For instance your home water filter may contain activated charcoal (carbon) granules, which trap unpleasant odors, chlorine, VOC’s (volatile organic compounds), and sediment, effectively removing them from your drinking water. Hospitals, on the other hand, use a very high grade of activated charcoal in pill, capsule, or slurry form, to treat poisoning and overdoses. Again, the carbon draws the toxins into itself so that they can pass through the body without causing harm.

To understand how (and why) this works, you must know the difference between an absorbent and an adsorbent substance. An absorbent material, like a towel or a clay flower pot, draws moisture into itself but then later expels it, whether manually (by wringing out the towel) or simply through evaporation.

On the other hand, an adsorbent material, such as activated charcoal, has a charge that attracts and binds other molecules to itself. These tiny particles remain attached to the carbon and are removed (as from a water filter or from the body) along with the charcoal.

Haycarb offers a more technical explanation:

Adsorption is the attachment or adhesion of atoms, ions and molecules (adsorbates) from a gaseous, liquid or solution medium onto the surface of an adsorbent – activated carbon. The porosity of activated carbons offers a vast surface on which this adsorption can take place. […]  These molecules are then trapped within the carbon’s internal pore structure by Van Der Waals Forces or other bonds of attraction and accumulate onto a solid surface.

How great of a surface area are we talking?  Haycarb explains, “The surface area of activated carbon is impressive, 500 to 1500 m2/g or even more; a spoonful of activated carbon easily equates the surface area of a soccer field.”  Just imagine how effectively an adsorbent material with such a considerable surface area could remove impurities from your skin!

You should be aware that there are various grades and types of activated charcoal, which affects how it can be used. For example, some activated charcoal (such as that used to process white sugar) is commonly made from animal bone and is called bone char. Also, lower grades of activated charcoal may contain toxins such as lead and mercury… which may be acceptable for some applications, but not for others.  Soap Alchemy uses only vegan-friendly USP (United States Pharmacopoeia) grade (medical grade) activated charcoal which is made from coconut shells.  This means that one could, in fact, ingest the charcoal without harm, as it is free from the heavy metals and other toxic materials found in lower grades of activated charcoal.

Finely Powdered USP Grade Activated Charcoal

Soap Alchemy’s USP grade activated charcoal is so finely powdered that even just gently dabbing your fingers into it will leave them completely coated. Though it will clean up with soap and water, the raw material is extremely messy to work with!

Even activated charcoal made from plant matter can vary in porosity, composition, and effectiveness depending on how it is created (through heat, steam, chemical processes, or a combination thereof), what it is made from, and the size of the granule being used.  Smaller granules have more exposed surface area, and therefore, adsorb impurities more quickly.  Haycarb explains:

Finer sizes accelerate diffusion rate of the adsorbates into the pores, hence improves kinetics, but wettability/filtration on powders, pressure drop or screening problems with granules, are limiting factors. Therefore particle size range and distribution selection is a compromise.

Fortunately for us, the disadvantages of powered activated carbon don’t apply to our purposes, as we intend for it to be massaged onto and then washed off of the skin rather than contained within a filter.  Because our Alchemist has chosen a finely powdered form of activated charcoal, we get the kinetic advantage of quicker adsorption speeds without any real downside.  In fact, we also gain the advantage of its gentle exfoliant properties.

In Summary:
Soap Alchemy uses only USP (United States Pharmacopoeia) grade (medical grade) activated charcoal.  This means that one could ingest the charcoal without harm, as it is free of heavy metals and other toxic materials found in lower grades of activated charcoal.  It is vegan-friendly (contains no animal products, such as bone char) and is sustainable because it is made from coconut shells that would otherwise be considered waste.  Additionally, our Alchemist has chosen to use a finely powdered form of medical grade activated charcoal, which has a greater surface area (so it adsorbs debris from your skin more quickly) and is smooth to the touch as compared with larger grains.  This USP grade activated charcoal powder is a primary ingredient in Soap Alchemy’s Shea Butter Black Soap, Facial Detox Scrub, and our upcoming Activated Charcoal Mask.

In our next article, we will discuss how the addition of activated charcoal can enhance the cleansing properties of a soap and describe the best techniques for using products that contain activated charcoal effectively.

Until then, we invite you to take a look at our Shea Butter Black Soap, Facial Detox Scrub, and Activated Charcoal Mask (coming soon) for more information and a full list of ingredients:

Detoxifying Shea Butter Black Soap, Detoxifying Facial Scrub

Rich, Soft, Moisturizing Lather in Soap Alchemy Natural Goat Milk Soaps

Monday, March 24th, 2008

Moisturizing Goatmilk Natural Soap

Natural Goat Milk Soap from Soap Alchemy is made moisturizing Goatmilk, rich Cocoa Butter with and other oils.  The base is Soybean, Coconut and Palm Oils as well as Cocoa Seed Butter, Jojoba and Goat Milk, of course! What else can be said about Goat Milk that isn’t already know? Our Soap Alchemist has created a line of Goats Milk Soap with a creamy, rich soft lather.  Treat your entire body, hands, face and hair. We use a special process to enrich our Goatsmilk soap with the highest Goat Milk content. Great of sensitive, dry skin as well as normal.  Once you try our Goatsmilk soaps you will know what the difference is.

Goat Milk Soap – Unscented, Lavender, Rosewood, Pink Grapefruit and More

The Soap Alchemist at Soap Alchemy uses only the best vegetable oils and essential oils when formulating his soaps and currently offers the Goat Milk Line in the following great varieties like Unscented, Rose Geranium, Unscented with Crushed Pineapple and Shredded Coconut, Unscented with Green Tea, Pink Grapefruit and Chamomile and Rosewood Scented with Green Tea and Chamomile.

Why Goat Milk?

Goats Milk has been used for years to superfat Hand Crafted Soap. Super fatting is a Soap term, used to describe extra oil in the soap. That extra oil is not converted into soap. This results in a moisturizing soap. Goat Milk is higher in calcium, vitamin B-6, vitamin A, potassium niacin and selenium than cow milk. Goat milk is also higher in chloride, copper, and manganese. Think of Soap Alchemy Goat Milk soap as a cleansing moisturizing cream for your skin!

Sensitive Skin, Moisturizing, Rich in Lather, Goatmilk Soap

Many people believe that the nutrients in the goat milk transfer to your skin as you bathe.  While we can’t claim that this is true of not, we can tell you that we love to wash with it! Besides, how often do you get to use the word “superfat” in a good way?

Why is Glycerin Important?

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

Glycerin is a humectant.  One molecule of glycerin is created for every three molecules of soap. Commercial soap makers remove the glycerin from their soap and sell it to the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. With Soap Alchemy’s Natural, Hand Crafted Soap however, all of the naturally occurring glycerin remains in the soap.

Our Soap Alchemy Soap is naturally softer as well.  You may be able to “dent” the soap with your finger.  You will notice that when our soap is freh it will draw moisture from the air into small beads that will make the soap bar’s surface wet.  Both of these traits indicate that the soap has a high glycerin content.

What does Glycerin do for your skin, well it helps keep more moisture on your skin and that’s a good thing!