Craft Snippets: Natural skincare

Sally reports back from the last Craft Snippets event at Upper Riccarton Library. The next event on Wednesday 27 March will feature Rie Natalenko, editor of Yarn Magazine.

It was lovely to start 2024 off in style with our January speaker, Leisa Falconer, creator of Elixir Jayne Natural Skincare.

What started as a hobby has turned into a business, with Leisa selling her beautiful soaps and skincare at the Little River Farmers Market on a Sunday and Amberley Farmers Market on a Saturday.

Back to basics

Leisa decided to start making soap after spending a lot of money buying soap. Leisa wanted to make cold process soaps the way our great grandmothers made them, using natural products and knowing what went into the soap.

Leisa makes both soaps and skin care but says that soap is the much harder product to make. You must be very scientific and measure everything. It is not as easy as people think. The main reason for this is the use of caustic soda to make soap. It is very reactive, which is why it is used to clean drains. By the time the soap is cured for 6 weeks the caustic soda is no longer present and the soap PH is fine to use on skin.

Equipment and ingredients

All the products you need to make soap are very easy to find, for example at the supermarket and Mitre 10. The caustic soda (sometimes called sodium hydroxide or lye) Leisa uses is the White Tulip brand. It needs to be pure caustic soda with nothing added to it. You will need a temperature gauge, also available at Mitre 10 and at PURE fX in Kaiapoi. The mold must have reinforced sides due to the weight of the soap pushing out the sides. You can use a standard loaf tin but be sure to line it with baking paper. You need an old pot and stainless-steel bowl. You can’t use aluminium or plastic because the caustic chemical will react with it. A stick blender is needed. You can use the one you have at home but if you are making a lot of soap, Leisa recommends you get one just for soap. Don’t try mixing it by hand as it can take a long time. A set of accurate scales are essential as you do a lot of measuring. A soap cutter is nice to have but not necessary - you can cut your loaf with a knife. A soap planer is useful for fancy edges but also not needed. The oils you add to the soap don’t have to be expensive. Check out what you can get at the supermarket, this is your cheapest option.

Tips for beginners

Leisa said she has learned much by trial and error. For example, if you would like to make a soap with a fancy pattern or a swirl, you need to use slow moving oils. Oils that don’t heat up quickly. Also, the minute you put water and caustic soda together there are toxic fumes so make sure you follow the instructions carefully and wear rubber gloves and safety glasses, but once you get hang of it, it will be ok. Vinegar is useful for neutralizing a caustic soda burn, should it occur.

You can blend oils together and different oils will react differently. Some will even change the colour of the soap. Fragrance oil is a good cheap option to use rather than essential oil. Always look on the website selling the oil and read the reviews about it before buying and check it can be used for soap making. A great place to buy oil is Aurora in Kaiapoi. A great oil to start with is lavender - it is easy to use and doesn’t ‘speed up’ when heated. Some are very expensive like sandalwood and rose. Some such as olive oil and avocado oil are lovely products to use, and you can eat them. You don’t have to buy fancy oil, cheap olive oil at the supermarket will work just fine. Cosmetic versions of oils will always be cheaper and if you are using the real McCoy (essential oils) be savvy about what you are using. Citrus oils tend to be cheaper, fragrance can be very personal, and some people prefer no scent. The lovely thing about making your own soap is that you can tailor the fragrance to what you like.

You can use natural clays to colour your soap. The clay comes in many different colours.

Sourcing ingredients

Other places that Leisa recommends in terms of finding what you need for making your own soap and skin care products, include Go Native, Pure Nature, Pure FX, The Sourcery, and Aurora (as mentioned before).

Go Native and Pure Nature are great places to start with recipes and instructions. Leisa warned us thought that if want to change something in the recipe, you can’t just replace it with something else, this won’t work. You need to use a lye calculator to calculate the amount of caustic soda and water needed to make soap from one or more oils. Leisa uses the lye calculator on the Go Native website. Leisa recommends you check this and don’t waste oil and have a recipe fail.

Skincare products

Leisa told us making skincare products is much easier than soap making. You don’t have to be a scientist. She got in to making her own skincare products when some of her favourite bought products were no longer produced. The beauty of making your own is that you know exactly what is in the product and she feels homemade products are better than ones you buy. Also, if you have issues with your skin, you can be careful about what you put into the products, so they are tailor made for your skin type. 

Leisa suggests for a first time that you follow a recipe and recommends the ones on the Go Native website. Also start with a basic body butter using shea butter or beeswax. For making these products, Leisa said it is very important that you are careful with your hygiene. Use a preservative as the recipes suggest when there is a water component, it’s essential to prevent bacteria growing. Spray your surfaces with isopropyl alcohol as well as the jars you use to mix and blend. Let everything dry before you start. It is a very easy process, and you will make 4-5 pots of product. Leisa said to make sure you do a swatch test with the oil on your skin to check you don’t have a reaction. When you get a little knowledge of what oils and products do, you can tweak the recipe to suit you.

Leisa’s takeaway - 'you can get fancy but when starting out keep it simple’.

An interesting article in one of our Library magazines, Wellbeing, sums up what Leisa was talking about, “Avoid the Beauty Hype”.

Do check out Creative Bug on the Christchurch City Libraries website. There are several videos on how to make soap and skincare products. All you need is your library card and password. If you are unsure what these are, please get in touch.

New crafting titles: Jan 2024

Angela chatted about some of the amazing books and mags new to the library. 

Items shared at our January 2024 gathering.

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Craft events

Sally did a roundup of what is happening around and about Christchurch including:

Our next Craft Snippets is on Wednesday 27 March and will feature Rie Natalenko, editor of Yarn Magazine.