Gentle Shea Butter Face Soap Recipe for Beautiful Skin
Make a gentle shea butter face soap recipe from scratch using pure oils and natural ingredients. It’s suitable for sensitive skin and loaded with conditioning shea butter. Cold-process soapmaking instructions are included.
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Many facial cleansers can strip the skin of natural oils, leaving your skin either too dry or too oily. This is because your face can respond to over-cleansing and over-exfoliation with even more acne, blackheads, oiliness, or skin irritation. Knowing this, I tend not to cleanse my face with anything other than water on days I’m not wearing make-up or a natural cleanser on days that I am. When I’m not using my copycat version of Lush’s Angels on Bare Skin, I also make an extremely sensitive and creamy shea butter face soap recipe. It’s gentle, easy to make, and great for times when my skin needs extra cleansing.
I have naturally oily skin, but I’ve found that the secret to managing it is to allow my skin to find its own balance. When I was a teenager and in my twenties, I cleaned it morning and night, and the shine never seemed to disappear. This is because my skin was overcompensating for the natural oils it lost twice daily. I also suffered from acne, and I’m convinced it was because I was over-cleansing.
Shea Butter Face Soap Recipe
The recipe below creates quite delicate bars of soap that are perfect for cleansing all skin types, including sensitive skin. It’s made with natural ingredients, including shea butter and cocoa butter, and has no artificial preservatives or additives. The lather is rich and creamy, and the addition of rich shea butter gives the bars a soothing creaminess.
You can make this recipe without any fragrance at all, but if you’d like a scented bar, add the optional rose geranium essential oil. Extracted from rose geranium leaves Pelargonium graveolens, it smells lovely and uplifting and could also help with treating bacterial acne and tightening the skin.
Natural Soap Making for Beginners
If you’re new to making handmade soap, you might also want to check out my four-part series on natural soap making. It gives a good introduction to what to expect from ingredients, equipment, recipes, and how to combine everything together to make soap.
For this recipe, ensure that your main oils, water, and lye are pre-measured. Wear an apron, gloves, and eye protection, and work in an orderly space free from distractions. Any tools, pans, or bowls that come into contact with the lye should be soap-dedicated. It’s best not to use the same items that you’d prepare food with. Make sure that the jugs that you measure the lye and water into are heat resistant.
- Natural Soap Ingredients
- Soapmaking Equipment & Safety
- Easy Soap Recipes
- Step-by-Step Cold Process Soap Making
More Gentle Skincare Recipes
- Simple Skin Cream Recipe
- Rose Petal Facial Mist Recipe
- How to Make Herbal Lip Balm
- Cocoa Mint Cracked Heel Balm
Gentle Shea Butter Face Soap Recipe
- Stainless steel pan for melting the solid oils
- A large bowl for measuring the liquid oils into
- 61 g Sodium hydroxide 2.15 oz
- 110 g Distilled water 3.87 oz
- 1 tsp Sodium lactate Optional / See notes below on powder vs liquid*
- 95 g Coconut oil (refined) 3.36 oz / 21%
- 23 g Cocoa butter 0.8 oz / 5%
- 222 g Olive oil 7.85 oz / 49% (for lighter-colored soap use light colored olive oil
- 41 g Rice bran oil 1.44 oz / 9%
- 32 g Castor oil 1.12 oz / 7%
Add at Trace
- 41 g Shea butter 1.44 oz / Melted / 9%
- 3 tsp Rose geranium essential oil 3 tsp (optional ingredient)
- Prepare your workstation with your tools and equipment. Put on rubber gloves, eye protection, and an apron. Carefully pre-measure the ingredients. The solid oils into the pan, the liquid oils into a jug, the shea butter in a small saucepan or microwaveable dish, the water into a heat-proof jug, and the lye in another container.
Mix the Lye Solution
- In an airy place, outdoors is best, pour the lye crystals into the distilled water and stir well. There will be a lot of heat and steam so be careful. Try not to breathe it in. Leave outside in a safe place, or in a shallow basin of water to cool.
- Add the sodium lactate to the lye solution after it's cooled below 130°F / 54°C. You're aiming for the final temperature of the lye solution to be bout 95-100°F / 35-38°C.
Melt the Solid Oils
- Melt the solid oils in a stainless steel pan on very low heat. When melted, remove from the heat and set on a potholder. Stir the liquid oils together in the jug and pour into the pan of melted oils. Castor oil is pretty sticky and it's easier to pour when mixed with a lighter oil.
- Measure the temperatures of the lye-water and the oils. You should aim to cool them both to be about 95-100°F / 35-38°C.
- While the oils and lye solution are cooling, you need to melt the shea butter to a fully liquid consistency. You can do this easily by microwaving for short bursts and stirring. My preferred method is to put it into a small saucepan, then float this saucepan in another pan of hot water. It's a gentler way to melt the shea butter.
- Make sure the shea butter is fully melted before moving to the next step. The temperature of this melted oil is best kept as low as possible — just above shea butter's melting point of about 104°F/40°C. It doesn't have to be bang on, it just needs to be fully melted and not sputtering hot.
Make the Face Soap
- Now it's time to make the face soap. You begin by pouring the lye solution into the pan of oils. I recommend pouring the liquid through a sieve to catch any potential undissolved lye.
- Dip your immersion blender into the pan and with it turned off, stir the mixture. Next, bring it to the center of the pan, and with both your hands, hold it on the bottom of the pan and blitz it for just a couple of seconds. Turn it off and stir the soap batter, using the blender as a spoon. Repeat until the mixture thickens up to 'Trace'. This is when the batter leaves a distinguishable trail on the surface. The consistency will be like thin custard.
- Next, pour the melted shea butter and optional essential oil into the soap. Stir it quickly but gently.
Molding and Curing
- Working quickly, pour the soap into the mold. Give it a jiggle to settle it in the cavities.
- For a light-colored soap, cover the exposed soap in the mold with cling film and place the soap in the refrigerator overnight. You don't have to do this step though. You can leave the mold on a kitchen countertop to cool and harden, and depending on the room temperature, it may turn out a slightly creamier color.
- The next day, take the soap out of the fridge and set someplace to rest for another day. Once 48 hours have passed, you can take the soap out of the molds.
- Cure it for 28 days. Curing means leaving the bars spaced out on a protected surface out of direct sunlight and in an airy place. This allows the extra water content to fully evaporate out. Here are full instructions on how to cure soap.
- Once made, your soap will have a shelf-life of the closest best-by date of the specific ingredients you used.
Is the melted Shea butter for superfatting calculated in the total amount of oils and that is how you get a 61g total sodium hydroxide even though we are adding it after we have reached trace.
A little scared that I might have a bit more lye.
Hi Cheryl, the amounts listed are all that you need to make the recipe. Superfatting (or the superfat) simply means the amount of excess oil in the recipe that won’t be converted into soap. You don’t have to add the superfat at a specific moment, but some recipes have you add it at trace. As you can see in the recipe description, this recipe has a built-in 7% superfat.
Hi! New soap maker here…..I just made this using your recipe because when I tried to run it through soapcalc my water number was off by almost 100g. All of the other calulations where spot on. I put in my water as % of oils number as 35.7% just as you noted on the instructions. I doubled your recipe which called for 220g distilled water but my soapcalc calculation was 324g. Any idea why the water number was so different? What could I have done wrong?
The water amount in soap recipes is variable, though most beginners are not aware that it is. When you use less water, called ‘water discounting’, it helps reduce the chance of soda ash forming and helps soap trace and firm up quicker. I water discount my recipes so that beginners have a better chance at a good result!
its my second time to do this recipe and I love the results but this time, I made my soap one week ago, and by now it has a layer of something white on it, could it be too much moisture? should I throw it away? or recycle it?? Im not sure if I can use them after curing, thank you
Hi Mariela, if it’s a dry white powder, it’s called soda ash and is completely harmless. It washes off, or you could steam the soaps if you wish if you want to present them as gifts. If they’re for yourself, you might not want to bother. If the layer is moist or starts beading up, it’s glycerin dew. If cold process soap is curing in a humid environment, it can pull moisture from the air, which causes the layer and eventual beads of moisture on the soap. If you think it might be this, just relocate the bars to a drier and cooler place out of direct sunlight. The moisture will evaporate off and the soap will be fine :)
This is a beautiful soap to use. We love the creamy lather which is a nice change from our usual Castile bars. Even my husband uses the rose geranium version as a body bar. Next batch will be either lavender or his favorite rosemary mint. Thank you for all of the inspiration and wonderful recipes
So great to hear, Brandi! Thanks for the positive feedback :)
I made this soap and it seized up on me immediately. I used the soap calc to convert it to 42 oz since I have 4 of the same molds. I want to try another batch but I am afraid of the seizing. Is it because I used Chamomile EO? It was all perfect until I added the shea and EO.
Could you please tell me what may have caused it to seize? I may have waited too long, I tried to pour immediately but I needed to add to mica and the shea and EO. Maybe leave the color out? I really want to add this luxurious soap to my line and need to get this right. I bought Rice bran oil just for this soap.
Hi Kitty, some essential oils can cause soap to trace quicker than others but seizing is mainly caused by fragrance oils. Some retailers are unscrupulous so first make sure that what you’re using is true chamomile essential oil. It’s a very expensive type of EO so the price would be the first indicator. If you don’t have them already, ask the manufacturer for an MSDS sheet and IFRA documentation?
Hello, I read through the comments and didn’t see a question about hot process so I’m asking. Can this recipe be made with the hot process method. I only make hot process soap because I’m impatient ?
Hi Janie, and yes, you can make this using the hot process method. However, despite what you may have heard, hot process soap requires the same curing time as CP — here’s why.
I made this as directed but omitting that fragrance. This was so easy to make. Getting the lye/water mix & oils at your specified temperatures was a little tricky but I managed to get it with a little ice and/or hot water bath. This is my first time making soap using that cold process method. I always do hot process goat milk soap which I love. Thanks for the recipe.
Hi , this recipe looks amazing and can’t wait to try it , I have read that charcoal is good in soap bar for the face and wonder if you would recommend to add some ? In case yes would it be possible also clay with it or just one of them will be good
You could add one or both, depending on what you’d like. I’d advise no more than 2 tsp total though, since too much may affect the lather.
Hi, I was just wondering if you were able to add any clays to this recipe? and would that change all the other amounts of the ingredients?
Yes, you could add clay to the recipe — I tend to use 1 tsp clay per 1-lb (454 g) recipe. No, you do not need to alter anything else in the recipe, but I’d reserve 1 TBSP of the water used for the lye solution for mixing the clay.
This soap sounds wonderful. Though I don’t seem to be able to find rice bran oil near me. Is there another oil that I can substitute for it and still have a good face soap?
I have made a bunch of your soaps and I love them!
Hi Leena, I’ve written a piece on how to change and customize a soap recipe. Have a look to see how you could do that, or you can also order rice bran oil online :)
Hi Tanya, was looking for face soap recipe. Glad I found this. Planning to make it. Will the 7% superfat make the soap go rancid fast.
No Katheline, don’t worry :) It’s becoming very common for soapmakers to use higher superfats and 7% is becoming a standard amount that people use. Just ensure that all of your oils and butters are well within their shelf-life and to always use distilled water when soapmaking.
I have made this beautiful soap and added a large pinch of Tussah Silk (ordered on Amazon) –words cannot describe the luxurious (slip) feel of this facial soap! One of the very best soaps I have ever made!
Thank you so much for sharing this recipe with us.
Hello! I have made this recipe several times and it always turns out beautifully. I am wondering if it would be possible to use frozen cubes of milk from my grass-fed dairy cow in place of the distilled water.
Yes, of course, Jacqueline :) Feel free to use other liquids such as dairy milk to create the lye solution. If you want to ensure your bars stay white, I suggest you follow the method I describe in this goat’s milk soap recipe.
This recipe is a keeper! Thank you for sharing it. I really love this soap. It’s beautifully soft and moisturising and one that I will continue to make. I scented mine with rose geranium. I will try Lavender next ?
I made this soap they turn out Nice but they have two colors white and beige what went wrong? Is it safe to use thème?
I suspect that you made this soap as a loaf and cut it into bars after? And that the centers are beige? If so, it’s completely aesthetic and the color difference is called a ‘partial gel.’
Hii!!! I’ve made your eco-friendly soap recipe and I love it and reading this I cannot understand what is the difference between the superfat adding oil after trace like in this recipe and the superfat like in the eco-friendly soap recipe where you add nothing after trace. Could you explain me this, please?
Hi Areli, all a superfat means is that the soap recipe has more oil in it than the lye can convert into soap. A 7% superfat means there’s 7% extra oil in the recipe, no matter how you make it. In the eco-friendly soap recipe, I don’t add an extra superfatting step to keep the soapmaking process as simple as possible. After the lye works on all of the oils in the recipe, the extra oil leftover (the superfat) will be a combination of all the oils used. If instead, you bring your soap to trace, then add part of your recipe’s oils after that point, then the superfat will primarily be of that oil. It’s because the lye has been working on all of the oils in the pan up until that point. I hope that this makes sense.
I normally use a wooden mold with parchment paper and a wooden cover. Can I do that and will it be handleable to cut the next day? Also, curious what the superfat percentage is?
The wooden cover is used to ensure that the soap gels — meaning to consistently deepen the color throughout your soap. Placing the soap in the fridge makes the soap stay a matte white shade. You can choose to do either, or, and only the color will be affected.
Hi thanks for your recipe can I use avocado oil instead of rice bran oil?
Not for this recipe, no. Soap making from scratch is chemistry and if you change the oils, then the amount of lye will need to change too. Different oils can also impact the end product and if you change them without understanding what they’ll do, your soap could end up too soft, too harsh, or have decreased lather or conditioning.
Hi Halyna, you can leave the zinc oxide out if you wish, or add a teaspoon of clay (such as dead sea mud) to your lye solution.
Hi Vigdis, human error is a funny thing. You think you’ve done everything to the T but sometimes haven’t. It happens to us all :) I’d suggest you make the recipe again, measuring everything twice, checking that you’re using the right ingredients, and leave the soap to cool on a countertop in the house. Good luck :)
Hello: A few days ago I discovered your website and I can not stop reading your post, especially those of soap. I see that in this advise put it in the refrigerator, and in many of the ones I have seen indicate that it is plugged so that it does not get cold suddenly. Just do it in this soap or it is advisable to put the soaps in the refrigerator to cool quickly. Sorry English, I live in Spain and I do not write well.
If it’s a small batch just pop it in the refrigerator overnight. If you’re afraid about it warming up the interior of small fridges, or if it’s a larger batch, put the soap in the freezer for 15 minutes then into the fridge.
Thank you for the tutorial!
Can I omit the essential oil? I can’t find it here.
Yes you may — the best place to find it though is online. I’ve included a link in the recipe on this article.
I’m not sure why. I didn’t get any notification about your reply in my email.
Hi there :) Just leave the Vitamin E out of the recipe if you can’t find the right stuff. It’s not entirely necessary to make the soap.
Generally, yes. It depends on how weak/strong the IU is though. For this you want as high an IU as possible 70,000+
I am planing on making this recipe next week :) If the recipe results in 25 oz. does the batch fit exactly into one silicone (6 rose) mold or two?
Hi Lacy :) If you have the same mould and I do then yes, it fills the six cavities with a little extra.
Hi Tanya, I made this soap 6 weeks ago as the first one in my life following you receipe and instructions. The soap is perfect and I love it in spite of the” dreaded orange spots” that appeared! And I’m also hooked up on soap making, I have already made 2 different batches and planning to make another one soon. Thank you sooooo much! Greetings from Hungary.
Oh poo in regards to the DOS. To avoid, use oils that are well within their best-by date. Thanks for your message Varga and happy soaping! I’d love to visit Hungary one day btw. It looks so beautiful.
I have read your recipes & I think I am ready to make some soap. Is there any way to measure the ingredients without a scale? And, do you have any recipes with less ingredients?
I have lye, unrefined Shea Butter, glycerin, extra virgin sunflower oil, unrefined coconut oil and butter, many essential oils, soap molds. Please help me start my journey of soap making.
Hi Lori, you absolutely need a kitchen scale. They’re inexpensive and available on Amazon (there is a link in the post I believe). As for a recipe that uses ingredients that you have, I recommend that you try my simple Castile soap recipe
Can you help convert this recipe to a 48 oz. batch that i will pit in a loaf mold. do you really just add the shea butter after the oils and lyes have been mixed together. As above, what did you super fat at? Would really love the answers to these questions so I can make this!
Use the SoapCalc (google it) to convert this and any other recipe. It will also give you other answers to this and other recipes on superfatting as well as tons of other information. As for adding the shea — adding at trace is best.
I am planning on trying this recipe soon and was wondering if you could tell me what percentage you superfatted this? I was thinking 6% since I wouldn’t want it to be too drying.
I always enjoy your articles, recipes and videos. Thank you so much for sharing!
Hi Bridget, the recipe contains a 7% superfat, and by adding the melted shea butter at trace, the majority of the superfat should be shea :)
Hi Tanya. I made this soap last year for Christmas presents and it was so delicious! It’s time for another batch and I want to challenge myself and have a go at some swirling. I was thinking a pink and white swirl using rose clay. Now I’m not sure whether to gel or not. I’d like to to get the best colour from the clay (and to challenge myself further to make a gelled soap!), but what will it do to the white portion? Will it go all yellowed and weird? Thanks :)
Hi Meg! It shouldn’t turn yellow but may be a light cream colour. Try a small batch, write down the temperature you mixed at and how you insulated it and then see how it turns out. If you like the effect, make it again :)
Firstly thank you for this recipe. I made it and it is truly awesome.
My daughter suffers from acne and i’ve read (a lot) that activated charcoal is quite beneficial.
Being very new to soaping I thought I would ask:
Is this soap recipe suitable for adding activated charcoal?
How much charcoal would you recommend?
Would any other ingredients need adjusting?
Again thanks, for your help and your wonderful ideas, recipies and blog.