Fats and oils are made up of fatty acids. Each oil possesses its own blend, called the fatty acid profile. Usually, we seek to make a bar with qualities that are well-balanced for everyday bathing; therefore, we mix several oils to take advantage of the dominant properties of each oil. We want a bar that is hard and long-lasting, but one that lathers well and cleans without drying. Certainly, not every bar must match this set of characteristics, but for the most part, it is the ideal.
The fatty acids we are concerned with for soap making are: lauric, myristic, palmitic, stearic, ricinoleic, oleic, linoleic and linolenic acids. Each brings properties to the process of soapmaking and the finished product. We will discuss each of them, one per post.
The first fatty acid is lauric acid. Lauric acid is a saturated fat and a medium-chain fatty acid, made up of a twelve atom carbon chain. What does this mean to you? Oils high in lauric acid will make soap that gets hard and offers mounds of fluffy bubbles for your bathing pleasure. It also creates a super cleansing bar. The flip side of this wonderful fatty acid is that it will not contribute to a long-lasting bar and its cleansing level is high enough to be unpleasantly drying for most bathers.
Which oils are high in lauric acid? Of the primary oils employed for soap, coconut, babassu and palm kernel oil (not palm oil) are highest. Of the lesser known, less available or expensive oils, cohune, tucuma and murumuru butter are also high in lauric acid. (http://soapcalc.net/calc/OilList.asp)
Hardness and good lather are important to most soapmakers and their customers, so oils high in lauric acid are typically used at 20 – 30% in the formula, whether the soapmaker chooses one of the high-oleic oils or a combination of oils.
Of course, no usage rate rule is actually a rule. Exceptions abound and for a number of reasons; therefore, consider them guidelines only. Let experience and purpose guide the actual formula.
Stay tuned! The next blog post is all about myristic acid.
May your days be filled with bubbles and wax.
Beth Byrne, for Making Soap, Cosmetics & Candles
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