We all have one of those friends. You know the one I'm referring to...the one that obsessively tries their hardest to live a healthful lifestyle. They exercise regularly and implore their family to do the same. They watch what they eat, perhaps cutting calories, cleansing with raw juices, shopping for only the highest quality, local, and organic produce. Perhaps they meditate, attend weekly yoga sessions, journal their emotions while forcing down that morning lemon juice and cayenne. Maybe they attend regular outings with friends or spend time on social media boasting about the amazingly healthful meal they just prepared in less than an hour. No matter what, they find the time to make themselves feel whole. And don't misread me here, these are all amazing things that one can incorporate into their lifestyle. I praise these folks highly! However, there may be a dirty little secret hiding quietly in there somewhere....
One morning your friend hops into the shower after that five a.m. spin class, only to slather themselves with bright pink shower gel or big brand bar soap (which isn't really soap, but more on that later...). They step out of the steaming shower to pile on the products. Perhaps some heavily perfumed body lotion from a chain store that can be found in any suburban mall. Or maybe they douse their locks with chemically-concentrated goop meant to control the frizz. Running late? Maybe some spray-on shampoo out of an aerosol can will do the trick!
But here's the thing, your friend may be living a double life. While they eat all of the right things and nourish their body from the inside, they may be doing catastrophic damage to the outside (which ultimately impacts the inside as well.) Our bodies really weren't meant to process so much toxicity. Ancestrally speaking, our fore-mothers never used anything with sulfates (found in body wash AND industrial cleaners), parabens (found in shampoos and conditioners), pthlalates (found in nail polish, hairspray, and plastic), or petroleum (found in lip balm). It has only been in recent times (1920's and later) that Americans have adopted this love affair with hygiene and chemically-enhanced personal care products. (Ever hear the old DuPont tagline, "Better living through chemistry?") Prior to this time, folks only bathed as necessary. But over time, irregular bathing became associated with lower-socioeconomic classes and poor morals. Thus it became essential for Americans to not only remain clean, but to erase many of the characteristics that make us mammalian (hair removal, etc). And of course in perfect timing, the big brand corporations (such as Colgate and Johnson and Johnson) swept in with mass advertising campaigns and discounted products, constantly reminding citizens of what it meant to be a good, clean, American. Unfortunately as time has progressed forward, we really haven't altered our thinking that drastically. Many people still believe that scrubbing down once or even twice a day using the most toxic and harsh chemicals is the best way to keep healthy. (Which has been proven unhealthy in itself.) They wash their clothes in nasty detergents that smell of artificial rain storms and grassy meadows. They brush their teeth with blue toothpaste (blue!), and paint their nails with formaldehyde.
So what about all of those products? The stuff we drench ourselves with daily because we are paranoid of smelling funny, or looking too natural, or even to fight off germs? Just know that we aren't doing anyone any favors save for the giant conglomerate we are helping to keep in business.
Our skin is amazing! It really doesn't need any of that extra stuff! Plain soap made the old fashioned way, with real ingredients can work magic and wonders. If we truly do advocate for a healthy lifestyle, politely enlighten that friend...Their body will thank you for it!
Written by Meghan Wright, owner of Figs and Feathers Farm
Being a self-made soapmaker, I've learned a tremendous amount from my 10 years of kitchen experimentation. I've learned to use proper safety equipment (not ahem, shorts and flip flops), I've learned to always expect a mess (that sometimes takes days to clean up), and most importantly, I've learned the value of products made from scratch. It takes a lot of hard work, determination, and will, just like so many other things in life. And let's be real for a few minutes: it is not cheap either. For those of you who assume you throw a few oils in a bowl and mix 'em up, eventually slapping a hefty price tag on a bar of soap...you're wrong. You're wrong in so many ways. But, that's okay! My objective is not to berrate anyone; I simply want to tell you a bit about what really goes on.
It all begins with an inspiring idea, maybe it's a scent wafting through the air on a breezy summer day or perhaps another crafter's amazing work. You decide that today is a soapmaking day (part of you cheers, while the other half dreads the clean up to come later). You go home, spend a good portion of time figuring out your recipe using math. Yes, math! Many folks use new technologies and soap calculators to get the job done nowadays. I do this from time to time myself; however, many of my soaps came from recipes that I developed on my own using some tried and true mathematical formulas. This is all step one, mind you. Step two is making sure you have all of the necessary equipment and ingredients (just as in baking). This will include safety equipment (for dealing with lye), carrier oils and essential oils, scales, pots and pans that have been designated "SOAP ONLY," molds, and of course, time. Then begins the soapmaking journey; knowing in the end you will have succeeded greatly or miserably failed. Though we all know failure, is an unfortunate side effect of any DIYer...
But again, let me reiterate...it is not cheap. Especially for those of us who choose to use primarily organic oils, or more locally sourced ingredients. Sure, I can get coconut oil from a big box store for a relatively inexpensive price; however, our organic, virgin coconut oil comes from a smaller distributor local to us. The quality surely surpasses anything else I might be able to find. We also only scent our products with essential oils. This is another hefty price-point in comparison to synthetic fragrances. We often choose small essential oil distillers; some located here in our amazing state of California. Supporting local businesses is one of our proudest virtues. We want our products to contain only the highest quality ingredients, and be almost completely plant-based (save for the local beeswax and honey we use). We use only food-grade vegetable oils, and our coloring always comes from mother nature's bounty. It is because of these ideals, we are able to craft wonderful products that are safe, non-toxic, and absolutely all natural.
As a last little note...there is magic in soapmaking--it's the perfect balance between art and chemistry. It allows us to make something beautiful (or on occasion, catastrophic). It can reflect our mood, our style, our passions. It tells a story of creativity and joy. It can be an outlet for sadness, grief, or an aide as we trudge through life's hardships. Please know, it is not a simple bar of soap you are buying; it is a piece of someone's heart and soul, perhaps even their livelihood. It really is a wonder.
You might consider this the next time you pass over a lovely little bar at your local farmer's market because the price seems too steep. What is a piece of your heart worth?
Written by Meghan Wright, owner of Figs and Feathers Farm