Let’s talk about essential oils and safety

by Veronica on May 22, 2019

in Life

As a soap maker, I work with essential oils a lot. Part of my job is to handle hazardous chemicals in a safe manner, and use them (SAFELY) to make amazing products with correct dilution rates.

Fragrances, Essential Oils, and Caustic Soda are all part of my job, and all are hazardous to human health in their raw states. This goes with the territory of bath and body products, so we have a lot of personal protective equipment, and we try not to injure ourselves.

Last week I was bringing freshly washed utensils back to the studio (we don’t have running water out there yet, so I wash up inside the house and spend a lot of time carrying buckets of things backwards and forwards.) Anyway, I noticed one of my spatulas was damp around its join, so I dried it with a paper towel, before pulling the spatula head off to dry it properly.

Big mistake.

It wasn’t filled with cold soapy water, it was filled with lye water, which I flicked up the back of my hand and all over my work space. You see, Betty Crocker spatulas, which are usually amazing for soap making, have removable heads, which is frankly a shitty design, and this one had previously been used to stir lye, not soap.

I was not expecting lye water to flick everywhere, obviously. I was not expecting my spatula to be full of caustic liquid still – not when it had been washed twice, and I was sure I’d taken the head off it and rinsed it. Obviously not.

I washed my hands and arms well with lots of cold water, cleaned up my work space, and was all good. No burns, because I knew what I was doing to clean up the mistake. I will not be using those spatulas to stir lye again.

Essential oils are frequently touted as “totally safe, made by nature, omg amazeballs!” But they can be just as dangerous as unexpected caustic soda flicking everywhere, although MLM resellers will frequently not mention that bit. I use gloves when I work with essential oils and fragrances, which is both best manufacturing practise, and a sign of respect for my lovely unburned skin.

I made bath salts today – all essential oils. My joints are playing up, so I elected to mix the salts in my stand mixer, rather than mixing by hand. Why have good tools if you don’t use them?

Bath salts are amazing. We don’t use more than 1% fragrance load in a batch of salts, which makes them safe and gorgeous smelling. When diluted in a bath they smell wonderful, and carry close to zero risk of injury because they dilute into the water. I say close to zero risk, because life is not a zero risk game and someone is always going to be allergic to something.

I have made a lot of bath salts, and know that I frequently end up with a fragrance headache at the end of making, so I had two doors open – one at either end of the shed. I was wearing gloves. I was well ventilated, I was geared up. I was careful.

What I did not count on was how the stand mixer would be much more effective at dispersing the initial load of essential oil within the salts mix, which in turn, managed to send microscopic bits of essential oil coated salt into the air around me, which I breathed in. Do. Not. Recommend.
Salts are safe, once they’re mixed, but the initial minute of mixing, when the essential oil is clumping still, and nothing is uniform? That’s where my problem was.

I was working with tiny amounts of essential oil, well diluted, safely measured. And I still managed to fill my mouth and nose with tiny bits of oil, which made me sneeze and itch and have now given me a sore throat.

THIS is why anyone with an ounce of sense asks you to not drink essential oils. THIS is why we practise good safety when making lotions, or creams, or scenting soap. This is also why I will be buying myself a very nice breathing mask at the hardware store, because it turns out, even all the sensible safety precautions may not be enough.

Now I was working with fairly human safe essential oils in the scheme of things. I’m pretty sure it was the lemon myrtle I breathed in, but the lavender has also given me a headache. Once I realised what was happening I irrigated my eyes and nose, and rinsed my throat with coconut oil to dilute the oils.

I am still going to have to wear the consequences of basically poisoning myself for the next few days, and I will not be making salts without a breathing mask again.

This is why we bang on about essential oils and safety. Just because essential oils come from nature, it does not make them perfectly safe. They are highly concentrated volatile chemicals and I urge you to be safe about using them. Research your oils – and listen to experts who do not work for MLM companies. Lots of things are safe at tiny doses, and toxic in slightly higher doses.

Learn from my mistake, because honestly, what’s the use of making mistakes if we can’t all learn from them?

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Spinning in circles

by Veronica on May 7, 2019

in Life

Today I am spinning. Every job I’ve tried to do has thrown me up three other things which need doing first – and look, need is subjective, which is why I feel like all I’ve done is spun in one spot, feeling increasingly frustrated.

I started making soap, only to discover I am completely out of tea tree oil, which I needed for the batch I’d started. Somewhere in my subconscious I must have known I was out of tea tree, because when I placed an order for 1L of orange essential oil (which is yesterday’s spinny discovery), I also, on a whim, bought 500ml of tea tree oil.

Lucky really. Probably.

So. I was half way through a batch of Tea Tree and Mineral Mud soap, when I realised I was out of tea tree oil. And somehow, if your soap is called “TEA TREE and mineral mud”, you cannot substitute, say, eucalyptus oil on the fly, and then rename the entire batch. Especially not if the wholesale order you’re working to right now specifies TEA TREE SOAP.

Luckily (again), I had not yet added any of the ingredients specific to this soap, and I was able to turn the entire batch into plain Lavender on the fly.

I say on the fly, but what I mean was, I had to come inside, away from the studio, run my soapmaking program, check and find out why I was out of tea tree oil (no one knows, my stock keeping program thinks I have 37ml left. But it also thinks I have 300ml of orange oil and hahahah I DO NOT), then change the proportions of oils in my current lavender soap recipe to match the oils I had already poured, and the lye in water which was already mixed and cooling. Basically making the paperwork match what was brewing in the studio.

Again, not a problem, considering I’m changing all of my recipes over to my new base recipe (WHICH I ADORE, THANK YOU) and New Lavender was already going to be A Thing.

But because I am spinning, I found I absolutely could not tweak anything without music, and then there was an album which needed downloading, and my music player wasn’t seeing my folders and OH MY GOD FFS. FOCUS.

I just needed a new lavender soap recipe to print. A two minute job, maximum. Even when you count the time it took me to work out where the fuck the tea tree oil I have went. (Somewhere into magical Specific Gravity Land I suspect, which is where all my ingredients hide when I’ve got their SP set wrong whoops)

In any case, my music player now has all my assorted random folders of music, which is probably a good thing in the long run. Less great for today’s spoons, and definitely not great for my “feeling productive and getting shit done” headspace.

Mum has breast cancer. Most of you know this, because the only people still reading here are coming over from Facebook, where I share everything anyway. But I’m wondering if the ridiculous spinny today is linked, or related. The weather has cooled down, my body desperately wants to hibernate, June is still a rough month for me even now almost ten years after Nan died, and now Mum has breast cancer.

Surgery is later this month, all going well. Then more waiting for pathology, but they’re happy it’s been caught early, happy with the plan, happy happy happy.

I do not have breast cancer as well, which is nice. Another lump, another ultrasound, another sigh of relief. I’m not sure my mother would have coped well being Cancer Buddies with me. God knows I would not have.

Maybe I need to write more. Maybe it might help with reordering my brain back into some semblance of normality.

Maybe.

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Planning for Autumn + Studio Opening

by Veronica on February 22, 2019

in Life

We’re in the process of preparing to open the studio for Studio Door Sales.

This is both wonderful and a little bit terrifying. My to-do list is ever-growing, and my computer was out of commission for over a week after a catastrophic hard drive failure, which made things a bit tricky. We replaced its hard drive, but it’s meant I spent the last 24 hours updating all of the soapmaking software which didn’t properly save to Dropbox (thank god for paper records) and reinstalling everything on my computer.

I’m thankful I had backed everything up onto my external hard drive recently, so I lost very little data. But still. Headache.

Custom made wedding favour soaps.

My health has been progressively deteriorating, which is to be expected with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, but it’s also frustrating. I enjoy markets, but they are so exhausting and leave me in bed recovering for a week. So we’ve made the decision to drop nearly all of our markets. We will still be attending Hobart Handmade Market regularly, and I’m booked in at the Derwent Valley Autumn Festival in April, but after that, I’m playing it by ear.

Which brings me to Opening The Studio. I enjoy customers, and I love selling my soap. It stands to reason that both of these things would be more fun if I could also make regular cups of tea and sit down comfortably between sales.

We’re hoping to be open very soon. The goal is to open Sundays between 10am – 2pm, and possibly also Mondays, but please let me know if you have a preference. I still have to sort out a few things, like some privacy screens (so you don’t have to see my children laying on the shed couches watching netflix), and how exactly to keep my dogs who ADORE PEOPLE OMG MUM IT’S PEOPLE away from customers who probably do not want to leave my space covered in Heidi’s perpetually shedding fur.

Avocado Mint Goat Milk Soap

So. That’s what we’re up to. I will be at Hobart Handmade Market on the 9th of March (Lindisfarne North Primary School, 271 East Derwent Highway, Geilston Bay – the old Geilston Bay High) between 10am-2pm.

After that, things are up in the air a little bit. We will see how everything goes.

As always, the online shop is available for all your soapy purchases.

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A Discussion of Ingredients

by Veronica on December 7, 2018

in Life

Black Raspberry Vanilla Goat Milk Soap

I run a soap making business. This means I spend a lot of time talking about, thinking about, and researching ingredients.

What they do, what properties they add to a soap, how they perform during saponification (the chemical reaction which turns oils into soap), how they’re going to blend seamlessly into the final product, or whether they’re going to stand out on purpose.

Then after all of this, I get to sell the ideas, the final products, to you, the consumer.

Most of what I do to make my business run, is marketing. Telling customers why they should buy my soap, why it’s good, why the ingredients I have chosen are the best ones for the purpose of the final product.

And I have to do all of this without making health claims I don’t have the money to back up with studies and TGA testing.

(Lots of larger companies skip this step – they can afford to pay the fines if the TGA finds out they’ve been making health claims, and selling the products fast is better marketing strategy than running effective studies to prove the claims they’re making. Smaller companies don’t have the luxury of this, and the TGA will have Serious Problems with us if we’re caught in contempt of their rules.)

I love ingredients. Love them to bits. I love how adding milk changes the chemical structure of my end result – not much, but enough I can tell. I love how different herbs and infusions change the smell, change the feel, change the lather in a bar of soap.

I love how honey and sugars add bubbles. I love the creaminess of a good beer soap, because beer is mostly sugars. I love how eggs contribute to strong stable lather and how it feels on your skin.

I love it all.

Cardamom Sandalwood Buttermilk Soap

Marketing falls into two camps:

You Have A Problem And I Have A Product To Fix This

OR

You Want To Feel Good And Let Me Show You How I Can Help

Even though the first camp is the most common, there’s more money in the second camp – people will pay to feel good. It’s why scents often end up mattering more than ingredients, and why the soap lather feeling silky and amazing counts for more than the actual  ingredients I chose to make it that way.

Shampoo companies know this, and it’s why brands like Herbal Essences sell better to a certain demographic than brands like Head and Shoulders. They both have a place on our shelves, but they’re very different products, and marketed very differently.

This said, it’s really REALLY hard to sell a soap online without talking about ingredients, because we don’t have the ability for customers to smell the actual soap.

I have an amazing soap right now – it’s Patchouli and Orange. It’s gorgeous. It smells divine (provided you like patchouli and orange essential oils). It’s also the creamiest soap, made with eggs from our hens, chamomile powder, activated charcoal, marshmallow powder, AND goat milk.

Awesome, right?

You’d think so, but the moment customers read about it having eggs in it, they carefully put it back down, looking a little grossed out, and move on. Or, they smell the soap, and without reading ingredients, decide they absolutely have to own a bar.

Patchouli and Orange Soap, with Goat Milk

Now, part of my job means making sure the soaps feel as amazing as they look and smell – and this is why we have repeat customers. It doesn’t matter if a customer doesn’t know, or understand my ingredient choices, as long as I do.

They buy a soap at a market because they love the smell and want to feel good, and then the soap feels amazing, and so they come back to me and buy again.

But sometimes, getting people over the first ingredients hurdle – that sucks. They see “sodium hydroxide” (the necessary catalyst for making soap – all soapmaking uses it, whether it’s listed or not, and none remains in the final product anyway) and their nose crinkles, they put the bar down, and they walk away.

Ingredients can make or break a sale.

I love my ingredients. It’s really hard not to rave about why I chose tallow over olive oil in a particular soap (turns out, tallow is a much nicer oil for sensitive skin and eczema prone family members like mine), or why I used goat milk, buttermilk, coconut milk. They’re all slightly different, but they all have PURPOSE, and there is a reason for all of them.

Sure, sometimes the reason is “I wanted the soap to have a grey swirl, and activated charcoal is great for this, other benefits aside”, and other times it’s “I pureed a bunch of figs, because the sugars have AMAZING LATHER once the chemistry is done, and also tiny little fig seeds are excellent at exfoliating gently”.

Or there is dead sea mud (gently exfoliating, lovely and creamy, good for vegan soaps) and beer (amazing creamy lather, no beer scent in the final product I promise), or goat milk (has the best PR team out there, and also yes, it’s a gorgeous ingredient for lovely creamy bubbly soap).

We have a lovely salve. I infuse olive oil with herbs (lavender, chamomile, calendula) and when mixed with beeswax and cocoa butter, it makes an excellent skin saving barrier cream. We use it on everything here – scratches, cuts, dry skin. But I can’t make any claims about it during sales, because TGA laws. I can tell people how I use it. I can skirt around the edges of the law by talking about what the herbs are “thought to be” good for “historically”.

But I can’t tell you it will increase healing time, or help with infection, or work as a good substitute for bandaids when your smallest child has scraped their knee again, and there’s no blood but they keep crying anyway. (Okay I can tell you that last one)

I can just make a bloody good salve I love, hope people buy it, and tell their friends.

Small businesses, it turns out, have a lot more rules to follow than larger businesses who have the money to pay fines or fight battles in court.

Ingredients are a tricksy multilayered thing, and I spend a lot of time contemplating them.

I love each and every one of mine to bits. Even if I cannot always pronounce the INCI name of a bunch of them. (Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter) anyone?)

Vegan Lemon Myrtle Soap, with Oat Milk


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We’re all sick of winter now, thanks

by Veronica on July 20, 2018

in Blogging

It’s been A Month. You know one of those months when you’re just holding on by your fingernails, and you’re already borrowing your springtime spoons in order to get through winter.

A Month.

A number of frustrating things – post-school term exhaustion led to health crashing during the holidays, because I just needed to be able to sleep past 6am for a few weeks straight. One of the children caught headlice. Everyone else was clear, but a metric ton of work is still a metric ton of work, even if you don’t need to triple it. It’s cold and grey and awful and we’re all suffering deeply from SAD.

Our build is progressing slowly, in an “insert maniacal laughter here” kind of way. Turns out, the support feet should have been concreted into the ground LIKE I SAID and they were not, so now we’re waiting for new parts to arrive from the mainland. In the meantime, there is a lovely mud pit for the dogs to bathe in (regularly) and I cannot wait for everything to be finished with a water tank collecting the rain instead of it pooling on the ground.

——

I saw the pain management clinic again, which has left me exhausted. Not in a bad way – to be honest, it was the most successful specialist appointment I’ve had in a number of years, but I’m still processing and it has been hard. Lots of mental work.

The last time I saw pain management, I had two very small children, I was mired in a quicksand of grief and exhaustion, and my diagnosis was still fairly new. The physiotherapist didn’t understand Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and got very angry with my inability to attend regular tai chi classes, and it all went to hell fairly fast.

This time, we were all on the same page. My local (amazing) physiotherapist and I had already worked out an exercise plan prior to seeing the pain management team, so I didn’t have to see their physio and risk having them misunderstand how the injury/dislocation/pain/recovery cycle works for me.

However I have been diagnosed with Central Sensitising Syndrome, which makes a lot of sense, and we will be working on managing my pain better and not “toughing things out” in order to try and reduce some of the sensory overload being caused by pain/dislocations/exhaustion.

So. There’s that.

It’s day four of Gabapentin now, which I seem to be tolerating much better than my disastrous trial of Lyrica. It’s helping with sleep, and I’m reminding myself that any side effects will ease as I adjust. On the up side, it doesn’t make me immediately sleepy, so a dose at 7pm sets me up fairly well for a normal bedtime.

—–

We’ve got a few days of school holidays left, and while I am very much looking forward to some free hours again, I am dreading the early mornings. I am a much nicer person when I get to sleep until 7.30am every morning, rather than being woken by my alarm at 6.15 every day. Blech.

Everyone is desperate for springtime, and the easing of the cold dark. It hasn’t been as dreadfully icy as last year, but it’s just so bleak here in the middle of winter when it feels like it’s dark all the time. Applying indoor plants to all living spaces is only successful to a point.

But we’re almost a month past the solstice now, I have two hens laying eggs (and nine slacking), and my indoor plants are thriving. I will have fruit trees to plant next week, which always helps with mental health, and it’s almost time for Markets to begin again, which is nice for my financial health.

In the meantime, soap is still available online, and I really need to be making more stock ready for the lead-in to Christmas instead of hiding under a blanket reading books.

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