Instructions on making gentle shea butter face soap from scratch using pure oils and natural ingredients. Cold-process soapmaking instructions included.
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 to not 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 use an extremely sensitive and creamy shea butter soap that I make myself.
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 20s I used to cleanse it morning and night and the shine never seemed to disappear. This is because my skin was overcompensating for the natural oils that it was losing twice a day. I also suffered from acne and I’m convinced it was because I was over-cleansing.
Soap for cleansing all skin types
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, make sure that your main oils, water, and lye are pre-measured. Wear an apron, gloves, 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 to not 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.
Gentle Shea Butter Face Soap Recipe
- Stainless steel pan for melting the solid oils
- A large bowl for measuring the liquid oils into
- 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.