Here’s my entry for the October Soap Challenge:
This soap is made with rooibos tea, vegetable oils and butters (olive, coconut, rice bran and sunflower oils plus shea butter) and lye – that’s it! No colourants, additives or essential oils, just plain rooibos soap.
Making of rooibos soap ….
When I read about Clara Lindberg’s “ghost swirl” in her blog a few weeks ago, I knew that I had to try it (if you don’t already follow Clara’s blog, you really should check it out!). And the opportunity to try it as part of the Soap Challenge Club’s all natural water substitute theme this month was irresistible. Although I suspect that several other people may have had a similar idea – so I realized that I’d need to try to make the swirl impressive too! Hence my decision to go with a combination of a ghost swirl and the secret feather swirl, which was developed by Vinvela Ebony (SeiFee) at Dandelion Soaps.
There are 2 reasons why I would have never tried this technique if I hadn’t read Clara’s post:
- I generally do everything in my power to avoid gelling my soap – especially partial gel; and
- I have never made soap using CPOP.
The 2 reasons are actually both related to my overarching soaping philosphy, which is about minimizing the exposure of the essential oils and the soaping oils and butters to heat. There is no good scientific evidence to support this approach, but I think that there might be something in the school of thought that says that exposure to heat alters the chemical structure of oils and might even have negative effects on the unsaponifiables in the oils. It’s never been in the commercial soap industry’s interests to explore whether the beneficial properties of soaping oils are affected by heat, because most soap producers “cook” their soap …….. So in spite of my many searches for information on the effects of heat on the unsaponifiable components of shea or cocoa butter for example, I’ve never managed to find any decent articles. Which is why my soaping philosophy is to treat my ingredients with the greatest respect, and minimize heat exposure – just in case!
However, the opportunity to make a swirled rooibos tea soap with no added colourants was a temptation I couldn’t resist!
Soap made with rooibos tea usually turns out a pale beige colour, which may sound boring but is actually lovely: it’s beautifully creamy and natural-looking. So my goal with this soap was to try to use different lye concentrations in the tea to get similar effects to Clara’s ghost swirled soap, albeit in the slightly darker beige colours of the rooibos.
I followed her methodology pretty closely, with the exception of making multiple lye solutions like she did. Rather than measure out small amounts of lye (which increases the possibility of errors in measurement), I decided to make a single “low tea” lye solution with 44% lye and 56% tea. Then I split out a quarter of the soap at emulsion, and added some additional rooibos tea to the smaller portion of soap to dilute the lye to 30% – I’ll call this my “high tea” (!!!) soap.
I wasn’t 100% sure it would work, but the slightly lighter colour of the “high tea” soap when I poured into the mold was reassuring. The “high tea” soap did have some extra stick blending to ensure that the additional tea was well mixed in, which led to it thickening up a little more than planned for the pour. So the secret feather swirl I was going for proved a little challenging on this occasion – and I expected that the lines of “colour” resulting from differential gelling of the “high tea” soap, would be a little thicker and less wispy than I’d hoped.
Putting newly-made soap into the oven was a whole new experience for me, because it usually goes straight into the fridge or even the freezer if it’s a milk soap, or if I feel it starting to heat up! But 60 degrees C for an hour it was ….. After a half hour I checked, but couldn’t see any major changes in the soap so I was a little nervous that it wouldn’t work. But I decided to go with the experiment and trust in Clara’s experience on this, and left it in the oven for another 30 minutes – and that’s when the magic happened! The “low tea” soap was suddenly lighter in colour, and the “high tea” soap was in gel and darker. Amazing – a direct switch in the colours in 30 minutes!
Waiting to cut the soap was really hard, and I couldn’t wait to get it out of the mold this morning to see what surprises lay inside. And it was definitely worth the wait! Wow! I LOVE LOVE LOVE this technique! The darker, gelled parts of the soap have an almost translucent, caramel appearance, and the difference in colours is incredible.
Turns out that the thickening of my “high tea” soap may have been a blessing in disguise too! The patterns in the soap are indeed less wispy than what I set out to achieve. But I think that having larger pockets of gelled soap has created a greater halo effect in the “low tea” soap, making the areas between the darker coloured soap lighter – almost white, in fact. So the definition of the feathery pattern in the bars is MUCH better than I imagined it would be. And in spite of my worries about the impact of the thicker soap on the secret feather swirl, the patterns are stunning.
All of the bars have an “organic” appearance – and I can see autumn leaves (appropriate for the season!), flowers and even some that looks like the thick fronds of the weeds that move with the water in rivers or the sea.
Some more bars:
Why I selected rooibos tea to make my soap ….
As a South African, I grew up in a place where the benefits of rooibos tea are just known and accepted by everyone. So it was amazing to move to Europe 15 years ago, and find that few people were aware of rooibos at all, and even fewer had any idea about how great it is – particularly for the skin.
So I’ll take this opportunity to promote rooibos!
Rooibos (which literally translates as “red bush”) is a herbal tea which grows only in the western Cape in South Africa. It makes up a part of the unique flora in the region which is called the fynbos. The fynbos consists of thousands of plant species found only in this part of the world, and grows in a coastal belt stretching from Clanwilliam on the west coast to Port Elizabeth on the southeast coast – but is most rich in plant species in the western parts of the region. In fact, Table Mountain alone supports 2’200 plant species, which is more than the whole of the UK according to Wikipedia! But don’t let me get side-tracked by the beautiful fynbos …….
Rooibos or Aspalathus linearis is grown mainly in the Cederberg, a small mountainous region in the Western Cape province. When the leaves are oxidised (or fermented, as it’s called in tea producing circles), in a process similar to production of black tea, the characteristic reddish colour of the rooibos comes through. (You can also buy “green rooibos” which is processed in a similar way to green tea, but it’s less widely available – and a little more expensive.)
Part of the interest in rooibos is that it’s a caffeine-free tea with a low tannin content, which is probably a lot better for you than drinking regular black tea. This makes it a suitable and healthy alternative for children, and even babies in SA get weak rooibos tea in their bottles instead of water on a hot summer’s day!
But our love affair with rooibos goes way beyond this – and in fact, the importance of rooibos production to SA is so high, that The Rooibos Council was established in April 2005 as a non-profit company to promote the interests of the South African Rooibos industry locally and internationally. There’s a lot of information on the nutritional and health benefits on their web site, including some of the research that has demonstrated benefits in fighting cancer, protecting the liver, boosting the immune system, as well as relieving allergies and treating digestive disorders. And research is ongoing in other areas too, like stress relief, weight loss and cancer prevention – you can read about some of it here.
So why use rooibos in cosmetics?
While most of the claims about the benefits of consuming rooibos tea are supported with data from animal trials, there is also data from human clinical trials – some of which was published in Science Direct demonstrating the potent antioxidant effects of both regular rooibos tea and “green” (or unfermented) rooibos. And the antioxidant properties of the tea, which is linked with improvements in acne and eczema as well as having anti-aging effects, are the primary reason that rooibos cosmetics are so popular.
Dr Tandeka Magcwebeba conducted a study on an ointment containing rooibos extract as part of her doctorate in Biochemistry at Stellenbosch University. She found that even “lower concentrations of rooibos extracts may be able to prevent the development of skin cancer by stopping the multiplication of cancerous cells and removing these cells by prompting them to commit ‘suicide’.” This is called cell apoptosis for the more medically or scientifically minded amongst you. You can read more about her and her research in this article on the University of Stellenbosch web site.
While a wash off product like soap probably doesn’t make the most of the benefits of rooibos, the evidence that it has skin benefits at all is enough for me! I hope that you’ll agree ……