The Sellwood Soap facial soap is the product that I receive the most positive feedback about – typically in the form of “Every other product dries out my skin, yours leaves my skin soft and never tight or dry!”  Many  customers have also struggled with acne and/or eczema until finding our products.  Their improvements seem to contradict the common recommendation from dermatologitsts to avoid soap altogether and opt for liquid cleansers, claiming that naturally alkaline soap will disrupt the “acid mantle” (a term referring to the thin, mildly acidic protective layer of sebum on the face) more than a facial cleanser will. From my experience and the experience of my customers, I have to argue against this belief.

For review, here is a pH scale.  Low pH is acidic, high pH is alkaline/basic.

pH scale for testing soap

Liquid Facial cleansers are typically emulsions of water, synthetic petroleum-based detergents (made by combining lye, sulfuric acid, petroleum-based oil and other chemicals) and stabilizers.  In addition to being filled with synthetic chemicals, their high water content and mildly acidic nature create an ideal habitat for bacteria and mold, so anti-microbial preservatives are also added.

cetaphilFor example, here is the ingredient list for Cetaphil, a well-known “mild” cleanser:

Water (Purified), Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate, Acrylates/Steareth 20 Methacrylate Crosspolymer, Glycerin, PEG 200, Hydrogenated Glyceryl Palmate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Butylene Glycol, PEG 7 Glyceryl Cocoate, Phenoxyethanol, Masking Fragrance (Parfum), Panthenol, PEG 60, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Disodium EDTA, Methylparaben

This cleanser is known for being one of the gentlest available, yet there are many ingredients known to cause skin irritation and/or have other detrimental health and environmental effects.  The pH of a facial cleanser is mildly acidic, which I can’t deny is closer to the pH of the acid mantle.  However, I feel strongly that this one data point, “pH,” is given far too much credit and that a well-formulated facial soap is actually gentler on delicate skin.  I’m not alone in believing that the term “pH balanced” is mostly a marketing ploy to attract customers.

Also note that mildness is not an indicator of safety.  Johnson & Johnson’s baby wash is tear-free  and thus “mild,” but filled with controversial chemicals.

A facial soap is made specifically for the face by combining non-comodegenic vegetable and seed oils  and lye (note that detergent-based facial cleansers are also made with lye, it is not in either final product).   All handmade soap (including facial soap) is mildly alkaline by nature and resists bacterial growth without preservatives.Facial soap small

Facial soaps are also made using nutritious vegetable and seed oils that contain natural anti-inflammatory, antioxidant , anti-aging and skin-softening compounds.  Castile (olive-based) soaps are renowned for their mildness and other oils such as jojoba are chemically very similar to the skin’s natural sebum.  Handmade soap is also “super-fatted” with these oils, meaning that extra oil is added to the soap and remains in the final bars to enhance mildness, leaving a thin protective layer of natural fatty acids on our skin…acting much like the acid mantle does.

Whether you use a facial wash or a facial soap, they’re both going to remove oil from your skin – that is the nature of any cleansing agent.  I recommend choosing simple, natural products over lab-created chemical mixtures.  Try as we may, whenever we try to outsmart nature with new and innovative chemistry, it often seems to backfire.  Whether you are choosing what to cook for dinner or what to put on your face, keeping it natural tends to be the best option.


facial oil web picClick here for the Sellwood Soap Facial Oil.

Facial Oil? Haven’t we been warned that putting oil on our face will clog pores, cause break-outs and otherwise wreak havoc on our complexion?  So I am suggesting what?

Actually, applying natural oils on the face has been done for thousands of years – many are not only non-comodegenic, but also oils are incredibly healing, anti-inflammatory and nutritious.  Many are more likely to treat acne than cause it.

Also, choosing pure oil (water-free) products eliminates the need for preservatives, emulsifiers, stabilizers and other chemicals that can clog pores, irritate skin and pollute the environment.

The vast majority of chemicals added to your typical white lotion are there because of the water and don’t support skin health at all.  Don’t get me wrong, lotion is an incredibly convenient, lovely product.  It can also be made using very gentle and non-toxic preservatives plus any number of ingredients that are beneficial to your skin…it can be done right.  It isn’t always, though, and it is difficult for the average person to decipher which ingredients are safe or even beneficial and which are controversial and potentially toxic.  As a chemist, even I can’t remember every cosmetic chemical out there or how safe it is.

Lotions are emulsions, typically of water and oil….very little oil and very much water.  Water grows bacteria, especially at room temperature and oil feeds bacteria.  Emulsions of water & oil are therefore preserved using any number of (often strong, broad-spectrum) chemicals, some of which work by releasing formaldehyde (carcinogen) and others that are suspected or even known hormone disruptors (parabens).  In addition, water and oil don’t Slide1just magically come together to make a beautiful, creamy product –  chemical emulsfiers are required to bring them together and additional chemicals are added to keep them together and give them a long shelf-life.  This is all done for your safety and to give you a perfectly smooth product…but it is arguably a lot of work, cost and amounts to excess chemical exposure.

It is also arguably a long, awkward route to softer skin without the health benefits of simple, tried and true natural oils.  Sure, you can add additional chemical skin-softeners, anti-oxidants, vitamins and anti-aging compounds…but have you looked up the benefits of rose hip seed oil or argan oil for adult acne or aging skin?  How about rice bran’s ability to fade scars and even skin tone?  Pretty miraculous, powerful and beautiful stuff, if you ask me…not to mention simple.  On a personal note, I have never had more even, brighter skin and am so glad to be completely free of creams.

What’s the catch, you ask?  I’m not really sure, I’m still asking myself this.  Or perhaps the catch is just for the manufacturer (me); there is certainly less mark-up than selling you a jar of mostly water.  A body oil or face oil is in a small container (it is much more concentrated) so tends to be a tougher sell than it’s big bottle of lotion neighbor.  You need much less of a facial oil than a typical cream, so it may be a slight adjustment to dial in the right application for your skin…other than it being a bit “different,” I can’t think of any other catch.

To use a face or body oil, gently rub a few drops on clean, damp skin (it absorbs most quickly when applied to moist or wet skin).  The oils used are  non-comodegenic, they will not clog pores and each oil has been chosen based on its benefits to the skin.   Even acne users should try it – acne can be caused and/or exacerbated by chemicals in conventional face creams and from excess oil production.  Adding oil to your face can actually help calm your skin and reduce oil production.

Below is a list of oils that I believe in and have chosen to include in my face oil; below that is a list of ingredients in conventional creams… you’ve seen some of the chemicals before if you read my original blog on preservatives in lotions.

If you’re still not convinced after all of this, try using olive oil first.  A facial oil will feel a bit lighter but very similar.  The advantage of a blended oil is that it will contain multiple oils with loads of benefits, but olive oil alone is fantastic (and less expensive, many of these oils used are expensive).

These are the oils that I’ve chosen to include in the Sellwood Soap Face Oil.

Rosehip Seed Oil:  High in vitamins A & E.  Used as a natural alternative to prescription acne medication because of its high vitamin A content (Reduces adult-onset acne!).  A lightweight, gentle oil.   Used to treat eczema and gentle enough to use on psoriasis.  Assists with skin renewal.  Anti-aging compounds.

Rice Bran Oil:  Long used as a moisturizer in Japan.  Rich in phytosterols, which reduce skin inflammation.  Evens skin tone.  Fades scares.  Protects skin from sun damage.

Sunflower Seed Oil:  Lightweight feel.  Naturally anti-bacterial.  A good oil for acne sufferers.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil:  Very high in omega fatty acids and vitamin E.  Has a long history of use as a moisturizer.

Chia Seed Oil:  Chia seeds are a “superfood” with even more omega-3 than flax.  Rich in proteins, fats and vitamins, chia seed oil is known for being one of the best oils for relieving itchy, dry skin and preventing trans-dermal water loss.

Argan Oil: A rare and wonderful oil, a thicker oil so added sparingly.  One of the best oils at filling fine lines and reducing stretch marks.  Very high in vitamin E.

Avocado Oil:  Strong anti-bacterial properties in addition to being a very moisturizing and nutritious oil.  Penetrates deeply into skin, bringing with it anti-inflammatory properties.  A great oil for relieving itchy skin.

Cranberry Seed Oil:  Contains one of the highest levels of anti-oxidants of any of the vegetable oils.  Powerful anti-aging oil.  Protects skin from sun damage.

Cranberry seed oil

Amyris Sandalwood:  A calming, earthy smell, known for reducing stress.  A thick essential oil, also very moisturizing.

Rosemary:  One of the best essential oils for your face, rosemary essential oil improves circulation and is a natural antiseptic.

Common ingredients in facial creams (Note that most of these chemicals are simply copied and pasted from ONE commercial face cream):

C12 15 Alkyl Benzoate:  Thickener, emulsifier.

Butylene Glycol:  Used to thin creams, and as an emollient.  Petroleum based.

Glyceryl Stearate:  Emulsifier, skin softener.

PEG 100 Stearate:  A “polyethylene glycol” compound.  May be vegetable-based or synthetic.  Synthetic versions may have carcinogenic impurities (1,4-Dioxane, lead, iron, or arsenic).  Should not be used on broken skin.

DMDM Hydantoin:  Broad-spectrum, anti-microbial preservative that works by releasing formaldehyde (carcinogen).

Dimethicone:  Silicone-based skin softener.  Traps moisture, prevents skin from breathing.  Is listed as non-comodogenic but there is some controversy about it trapping bacteria on skin.

Isopropyl Myristate:  A solvent used to give lotion a slick feel.  Dries skin, can cause cracking and fissures in skin.preservative bottle

C18 36 Acid Glycol Ester:  Wax emulsion stabilizer.

Petrolatum:  Petroleum jelly.  Added to prevent trans-dermal water loss.

Propylene Glycol: Used to thin creams, and as an emollient.  Petroleum based.  Also used as antifreeze.

Phenoxyethanol:  Broad-spectrum anti-microbial agent.  Generally regarded as safe, though not recommended for use by nursing mothers.

Mineral oil:  Petroleum based.  Clogs pores.

Sodium Stearyl Lactylate:  Emulsifier.

Sodium Benzoate:  Preservative.  Creates benzene (carcinogen) in the presence of citric or ascorbic acid (vitamin C).

Methylparaben, Butylparaben, Ethylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Propylparaben (“the parabens”):  Broad-spectrum anti-microbial agents. Suspected hormone disruptors.

BHT:  Synthetic preservative.   Linked to cancer, behavioral problems, and organ toxicity.

Tetrasodium EDTA:  A stabilizer.  A persistent environmental toxin linked to cancer and organ toxicity.

I hope that this information is helpful to you and encourage you to learn more!  If you think “that wouldn’t work for me,” I challenge you to give it a try.  Look up (at the University of Google, of course) “olive oil benefits for face” or “rosehip oil benefits for face” or “cranberry seed, argan, etc.”

Lately I have been hearing a lot about dry shampoos.   As a producer of solid shampoo and other “unusual” low-waste products, I felt it only fair that I try this out for myself.  To my surprise, using dry shampoo every other day (and my normal bar shampoo and conditioner on the other days) works really well for me, I will continue to use it in this way.  My hair is too oily to go 2 days without washing, but not oily enough to wash every day, so it’s a perfect every-other-day tool for me. It absorbs and removes oil and leaves my hair feeling and looking healthy.

Though not the end-all in hair care for me, it could be particularly useful for people with chemical sensitivities.  It could also be helpful for those who are bedridden or can’t get comfortably in and out of a shower, and even just on camping trips where there are no showers.  The cost is another bonus – the ingredients are very inexpensive.


This is the recipe I’ve been using, found from a link from Five Seed’s Facebook page (

2 parts corn starch

1 part corn meal

1 part baking soda

A pinch of cocoa powder to darken the mixture (optional)

How to use:

Mix the ingredients well (I put in a container and shake).  Pour about 1-2 tbsp into your hands and apply liberally to dry hair.  I apply it on my scalp and use my fingertips to disperse it well. I usually do this over the bath tub.

Leave in hair ~5 minutes.

Brush or comb hair well (over the tub works well).  I use a wide-toothed comb.

For me, once the shampoo is made, the actual shampooing process is much faster than washing, conditioning, drying and styling my hair.  It is also free of any harmful chemicals – on you or down the drain.

To purchase laundry soap bars online, visit

Looking for an inexpensive and easy way to make homemade laundry soap?  This process takes about 10 minutes and you don’t have to grate soap!  Homemade laundry soap is also very inexpensive to make and won’t fade your clothes like detergents can.

What you’ll need:  1 Bar soap, 1 cup borax and 1 cup washing soda.

When choosing a bar soap, look for one formulated for laundry.  It should be high in coconut oil as coconut oil soap rinses very well.  Our laundry bar will melt, though not all soap bar recipes will.  Some laundry bars like Fels Naptha have very strong synthetic fragrances, so beware if you have sensitive skin.

Step 1:  Put bar soap in a large bowl (it gets fluffy and can rise out of a small bowl) and microwave for about 4 minutes at 50% power.

Step 2:  Stir the melted “fluffy mush” with a fork and let dry but not harden completely.  It will dry into brittle crumbles that can be put in a blender or food processor.

Step 3:  Combine soap crumbles, washing soda and borax in a food processor.  If your food food processor is small, just process the soap crumbles and combine them all afterwards and shake well.

Step 4:  Store in air-tight container (yogurt containers and mason jars make great laundry soap containers).

Use 2-4 tablespoons per load, added directly to the load. To soften clothes, use vinegar in the rinse cycle.

Solid Shampoo

Value:  One shampoo bar is equivalent to as many as three bottles of liquid shampoo. Shampoo bars are spill-proof and easy to travel with.

Low Environmental Impact:  Shampoo bars have no water, so don’t require preservatives.  This means fewer chemicals on you and fewer chemicals washed down the drain and into our streams.  Shampoo bars require minimal packaging so no more plastic waste!

Improved Hair Health:  Solid shampoo is made with natural vegetable oils that leave your hair soft and shiny without drying.


Lotion Bars and Pure Oil Moisturizers

Value:  Water-based lotion is typically more than 70% water (which just evaporates). Using pure vegetable oils as moisturizers, only 1-2 drops per application is needed so a small bottle will last a long time!  When applying lotion bars, a little also goes a long ways so they last and last!

Low Environmental Impact:  Again, no water means fewer (or no) chemicals on you or down the drain.  Just store the lotion bar on a pretty plate – no plastic waste.

Skin Health: Pure vegetable oils are less likely to cause skin irritation or clogged pores than the waxes, alcohols and preservatives found in many water-based lotions.  Vegetable oils are also packed with nutrients, anti-oxidants and natural anti-inflammatory compounds.

ImageNote:  This blog is meant to inform about the benefits of solid products, not to warn against the use of preservative-containing lotions.  There are safe preservatives out there, for a review of preservatives see our blog at

Visit for a class schedule.

Here is a pictorial review soap making, both cold and hot processes.

It is best to first make soap under the supervision of an experienced soap-maker since you are working with lye!

This is intended as an after-class review.

Feel free to print, forward or post as you wish! Enjoy!