Homemade soap infused with essential oils allows you to create natural, aromatic soaps tailored to your personal preferences. But with so many essential oils to choose from, how do you select the right oils for soapmaking? This guide covers everything you need to know about using essential oils for handmade soaps.

Why Use Essential Oils in Soap?

Essential oils not only provide wonderful scents for handmade soap, but many also offer therapeutic benefits. Common oils like lavender and eucalyptus have calming, stress-relieving properties, while citrus oils uplift moods with their bright, energizing scents.

The aromatic compounds in essential oils can provide mental and physical effects through absorption by skin contact as well as by inhalation while using the soap. For example, peppermint and rosemary oils help stimulate circulation and awaken the senses in the morning shower, while lavender and chamomile promote relaxation in an evening bath.

Unlike synthetic fragrances, essential oils come from natural plant sources, making them a great, healthy, and non-toxic choice. The extraction method maintains the “essence” of the plant, making essential oils highly concentrated plant extracts full of beneficial phytochemicals.

Just a few drops per pound of soap gives you a safe, natural fragrance without harsh chemicals touching your skin. Those with sensitive skin or allergies greatly benefit from using soaps scented only by pure, unadulterated essential oils instead of synthetic perfumes.

How are Essential Oils Extracted?

Essential oils derive from flowers, seeds, leaves, stems, bark, resin, roots, berries, or fruit peels of aromatic plants through methods like:

Distillation: using steam or water to extract the oils, which are then separated and collected. Common for leaves and stems like eucalyptus and peppermint.

Expression: physically pressing plants, often citrus peels, to rupture oil glands and collect the oil. Lemon, sweet orange, and grapefruit oils are often expressed.

Solvent Extraction: it’s a method often used in the production of delicate fragrance oils, such as rose or jasmine. Chemical solvents selectively dissolve and extract aromatic compounds from plant material. Used for delicate flowers like jasmine and tuberose.

CO2 Extraction: Carbon dioxide under high pressure becomes liquid-like to draw out and capture plant oils without heat or chemicals. Used for thicker resins or bars like frankincense.

No matter the method, the resulting essential oil concentrates hundreds of aromatic botanical compounds, giving each oil its own unique therapeutic qualities and fragrance signature.

How Much Essential Oil to Use in Cold Process Soap Recipes

When adding essential oils to cold-process soap recipes, a usage rate of 0.5 to 1 ounce of combined essential oils per pound of soap oils is typical. Using more than 1 ounce of essential oils per pound may result in skin irritation or an allergic reaction for some users.

The saponification process helps bind the essential oils so they don’t immediately release into the air while using the soap. But overdoing the essential oils can make it more likely for your skin to show sensitivity to their potent compounds.

Start conservatively with a total of 0.5 to 0.75 ounces of essential oils per pound of soap. Make test batches to find your own skin’s tolerance threshold before making large batches if ramping up to the 1 ounce per pound maximum rate.

How Much Essential Oil is Needed to Melt and Pour Soap?

For melt-and-pour soap bases, you can use a bit higher essential oil usage rate of 1 to 1.5 ounces of total oils per pound of soap base.

Since melt-and-pour soap does not undergo saponification, the essential oils remain freer in the soap and don’t get as tightly bound. Using more oils helps ensure sufficient aroma comes through the final soap product.

The main caution would be with extremely potent essential oils like cinnamon leaf, bark, or clove bud. Use very sparingly at first, and perform skin tests before wholesale product production.

The Best Essential Oils for Cold Process Soap

Great cold-process soap scents tend to have middle or base notes rather than very light top notes. Here are some of the most popular essential oils for handmade cold-process soap:

Lavender: floral, herbaceous, relaxing, often achieved with a combination of lavender essential oil and rosemary essential oil.

Sweet Orange: Bright, fruity citrus

Lemongrass: fresh, green, with a hint of lemon essential oil

Patchouli: earthy, slightly sweet

Tea Tree: medicinal, green, herbal

Eucalyptus: cool, minty, refreshing

Rosemary-herbaceous pine scent

These oils stick well through the cold-process soap-making method. Avoid delicate floral and citrus top notes like grapefruit, litsea cubeba, or neroli, which often fade too much during the 4-6 week curing process.

The Best Essential Oils for Melt and Pour Soap

The melt and pour process better retains those light, delicate essential oil aromatic top notes. Great options include:

Lemon: bright, fresh, and citrusy

Litsea cubeba: lemony, slightly herbal

Grapefruit: citrusy and a little sweet

Ylang Ylang: sweet, soft, floral

Bergamot: citrusy with a delicate floral tone, ideal for blends including lemon essential oil and lavender essential oil.

Clary Sage: Herbaceous, sweet, and a little spicy

Geranium: floral rosy with a minty undertone

Neroli: delicate citrusy floral

Melt-and-pour soap bars get used up more quickly than the cold process, so the shorter shelf life helps lighter fragrances retain their notes better without excessive fading. This method is particularly beneficial when using volatile oils like lemon essential oil.

What are Top, Middle, and Base Note Essential Oils?

We’ve mentioned top, middle, and base notes several times when discussing essential oils for soap. But what do these fragrance notes actually mean?

Top Notes: Very light, volatile compounds give first impressions of a scent (citrus, herbaceous).
Middle Notes: Rounded, mellow, and often floral tones emerge after the top notes fade.
Base Notes: Rich, deep notes giving a scent depth and grounding as the final stage, often achieved with the use of lavender essential oil or rosemary essential oil.

When you first sniff an essential oil straight from the bottle, the top notes dominate. But as those volatile compounds dissipate, the middle and base notes become more detectable.

Top notes lift the mood but fade quickly, making them better for melting and pouring soap. Cold-process soaps retain middle notes and base notes for a longer-lasting blend.

Balancing all three note categories creates the most intriguing, complex essential oil fragrance profiles. But for soap, often two out of three notes suffice for good scent anchoring.

Essential Oil Blends for Soap

Combining complementary essential oils allows you to create more complex scents with top, middle, and base notes.

For an uplifting yet grounding aroma, blend citrus top notes like sweet orange, grapefruit, or bergamot with base notes like cedarwood or sandalwood. The sweet, fruity top notes combined with subtle, earthy base notes give a well-rounded, inviting fragrance.

Or try pairing floral middle notes like geranium and ylang ylang with herbaceous oils like rosemary for a floral, herbal scent.

Get creative by mixing different scent families, like citrus, floral, herbal, earthy, minty, spicy, resinous, and more, to craft custom essential oil soap blends.

Categorizing Essential Oils into Fragrance Families

To help you wrap your head around essential oil blending basics, here’s a quick cheat sheet for categorizing oils into common fragrance families:

Floral: rose, neroli, ylang ylang, lavender

Citrus: lemon, orange, grapefruit, bergamot

Herbaceous: rosemary, clary sage, eucalyptus

Minty: peppermint, spearmint

Earthy: oakmoss, cedarwood, patchouli

Spicy: clove, cinnamon, black pepper

Resinous: frankincense, myrrh, and spruce

Oils within the same family (floral with floral) typically blend harmoniously, while contrasting families (floral with mint) create more unique fragrance experiences.

Labeling Soap with Essential Oils

Be sure to list the Latin botanical name for any essential oil used when labeling handmade soap. For example, list the oil from Citrus aurantium amara as “Bitter Orange (Citrus aurantium amara) Essential Oil.”.

This allows customers with botanical ingredient sensitivities to accurately identify potential allergens. While “orange essential oil” sounds innocuous, someone with a citrus allergy relies on the Latin name to clarify the oil’s citrus origins.

Providing transparency around specific essential oils used, rather than just calling it “fragrance,” gives consumers with skin sensitivities confidence in using your handmade soaps. Latin names also help differentiate between oils like sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) and bitter orange (Citrus aurantium).

And for selling purposes, displaying unique essential oil names on a label often intrigues shoppers more than generic “fragrance” descriptions.

Storing Essential Oils for Soapmaking

To maintain the freshness of essential oils for soapmaking:

  • Store oils tightly sealed in dark glass bottles out of direct light.
  • Keep away from heat sources like stoves or heating vents to preserve the integrity of the fragrance oil.
  • Refrigeration can help prolong shelf life for up to a year when properly stored.
  • Purchase oils in sizes you can use up in 6 months to 1 year.
  • Write the purchase date on the label so you can use older inventory first.

Exposure to light, oxygen, and heat all slowly degrade essential oil chemical components, leading to fading, discoloration, and loss of beneficial properties over time. Think of them like precious serums extracted from aromatic plant material; store and handle them carefully!

Soap Making Safety Tips When Using Essential Oils

While soap helps dilute essential oils before they touch your skin, it’s still important to use proper safety measures.

Skin Test: New Oils First

Apply a diluted drop to the inner elbow before using a new essential oil extensively in soap recipes. Monitor for 24 hours to confirm no adverse skin reactions before making large batches of soap containing that oil. Everyone’s sensitivity thresholds differ.

Limit Phototoxic Oils

Avoid overusing oils like bergamot, lemon, and lime in soaps meant for daytime use, as they can increase sun damage when exposed to UV rays. These contain chemical compounds like furocoumarins that absorb light energy and damage surrounding skin tissue. Use soaps with these oils in the evenings instead of during the day.

Don’t Exceed Usage Rates

As mentioned earlier, don’t go over the 1 oz per pound usage guideline for cold process soap or 1.5 oz/lb for melt and pour soap when blending multiple oils together. Using a single standout oil like peppermint allows slightly higher incorporation.

Use Caution with Cinnamon Leaves, Bark, and Clove Buds

These oils contain extremely potent phenols like eugenol that can cause severe skin reactions at higher concentrations. Usage rates in soap should not exceed 0.5% of the total batch weight for cinnamon leaf or bark or 0.2% for clove bud oil.

Note: Other Skin Sensitizers

While many essential oils suit most skin types, others, like lemongrass, citronella, and yarrow root, may cause sensitivity in some. Again, the skin patch test before fully launching a product with newcomer oils. Learn about the commonly reported sensitizers.

Making your own soap with essential oils allows you full control over the ingredients touching your skin. Follow basic safety precautions and thoughtfully develop your own custom aromatic soap blends.

Key Takeaways When Using Essential Oils for Soaps

  • Essential oils provide natural fragrance, and some offer benefits like calming or uplifting effects.
  • Use 0.5 to 1 oz. of essential oils per 1 pound of cold-process soap oils.
  • Use 1-1.5 oz. of essential oils per 1 pound of melt and pour soap base.
  • Choose middle and base notes for the best cold-process soap anchoring.
  • Light top notes work well for melting and pouring soap.
  • Blend complementary oils together for complex scents.
  • List the Latin names of oils for transparency on labels.
  • Store oils properly in cool, dark conditions to retain freshness.
  • Follow safety precautions like skin testing for new oils.

With the wide variety of essential oils available, you can create an endless array of scents for handmade soaps. Experiment with different oil combinations until you find your perfect custom blend.

The nourishing lather of a good handmade soap infused with your favorite essential oils makes a wonderful addition to any bathing routine. And formulating your own aromatic oil mixtures maximizes tailoring to your personal taste preferences.

Unlock further creativity by varying the visual styles of your handmade soaps in tandem with signature scents. Develop a product line of essential oil soaps as unique as you are!

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