Updated: Aug 31, 2019
Featuring Real Stories from soap makers in Singapore. Li Ting shares how a change in lifestyle can turn into an unexpected start in her soap making journey.
AN UNEXPECTED START
I’ve never bought a single bar soap for myself. My closest encounters with bar soaps were the hand soaps I use in hotel bathrooms during business trips or vacations.
So years back, I would never have imagined myself to ever make my own soap. My interest in soaps piqued on my journey towards a low waste lifestyle. After seeing pictures after pictures of children swimming in plastic-laden rivers, whales dying of starvation with a stomach full of plastic waste and realizing that plastic almost doesn’t ever go away, I started reviewing every aspects of my home to see how I can minimize my own contribution to plastics.
In the process of swapping to everything reusables, the notion of hand/body/hair wash bottles being single-use items hit me. Even though we might use the same bottle for a month or more, each bottle is used once and thrown into the trash or recycling bin, unless we reuse it for other purposes. But there is a limit to how many we can reuse.
On the contrary, after we use up a bar of soap, nothing is left behind! I started watching every video I could find on soap making, reading up on the benefits. I was taken aback to find out that all the body wash that my family and I have been using our entire lives are really detergents and not soaps. When I looked closely at the ingredients, I realize that even the brands touted to be most gentle to our skin contain synthetic ingredients that potentially can do more harm than good.
Looking at the number of people around me, young and old who suffer from eczema and other skin conditions, it occurred to me that soaps with all-natural ingredients, without synthetic additives to make more lather or give a better smell may be a gentler option for them. But the irony - it is difficult to find options that contain less.
Majority of soap makers started off wanting to make a better soap for health considerations. I, on the other hand, started my journey to save our planet. But the health benefits gave me a strong conviction that making my own soap IS the way to go.
YOU CAN’T MAKE SOAP IN YOUR KITCHEN IN SINGAPORE
I was really excited to design my own soap so that I have full control over what goes in, but to my dismay, I could not buy the one key ingredient to make soap in Singapore! I’ve watched soap makers all over the world making soaps in their kitchen on Youtube, but I didn’t realise that sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is a controlled material in Singapore. Lye, as soap makers more commonly call it, are only sold in limited places that obtained NEA’s license/permit and even so, lye cannot be taken out of those facilities. Not giving up, I searched further and chanced upon Sugar & Spice.
At Sugar and Spice, soap makers can buy lye and rent the facilities to DIY our own soaps. That was my glimmer of hope. I remembered texting to request for a recce of the location so I could decide what equipment and ingredients I needed to bring. I wasn’t sure a recce would be welcomed so I was really glad when my request was readily accepted. That was when I met Nora for the first time, where she super patiently answered my endless list of questions.
SUGAR & SPICE – A HEAVEN FOR SOAP MAKERS
How would I describe Sugar and Spice? It’s a heaven for Soap Makers! I saw the pictures of Sugar & Spice studio when I browsed their website, and the actual place looks every inch as welcoming. It’s pretty, it’s cosy, nothing like a laboratory that I was initially prepared for. And the best part of it all, everything you need to make your first bar of soap – equipment and ingredients are available. There was no need for me to buy my own blender, soap mould or soap cutter. For anyone starting out to make soap, there’s literally zero fixed cost. And if you choose to, you can use your own carrier and essential oil, there’s no questions asked.
There’s also an instructor around during our DIY workshops, so help is always at hand should we need it during the process. Sugar & Spice is open 7 days a week, so as long as you can secure a vacant slot, you can make soap!
MY FIRST TIME
I will never forget my first-time making soap. Even though I had gone through proper training and watched countless videos, I couldn’t stop running the whole process through my head to make sure nothing goes wrong. Checking every equipment is ready before getting started, accurately measuring out the oils, and getting the temperatures of my lye solution and oils to be within close proximity before getting them to saponify was nerve wrecking yet exhilarating.
Even when my batter had already reached thin trace, I wasn’t confident and added the essential oils a tad too late, ending up with a trace thicker than I desired. I’m sure many soap makers would be able to identify with these experiences. No matter how many times we make soaps, there’s still something to learn every time, especially when we alter our recipes. And that’s what keeps it interesting!
I was very lucky that there was an experienced soap maker during my first DIY workshop. She was very kind to watch over my process and jump in when I needed help. I was inspired by how composed she was, packing away equipment that she finished using all throughout the process. That motivated me to master clean-as-I-go in my future soap making sessions.
WHERE MY JOURNEY IS HEADING
Staying true to the reason I started making soap, I made my first batches of soaps for families and friends, to have them consider swapping from bottled body/hand wash to a good old bar of natural soap. With the hope to promote this swap further, I started my.naked.bar to make soaps bare of packaging and bare of synthetic additives. Nothing fancy, just cold process soap with all the goodness of a rich blend of oil and natural additives. Soaps that could be even bare of essential oils for those who have allergy concerns.
Video from: The Straits Times
In 2017, Singapore produced 8,443 tonnes of solid waste daily. Our landfills at Semakau is projected to fill up in 2035, just 16 years from now. There’s only so much recycling we can do. The way to go is to REDUCE our consumption and personal contribution to all waste alike.
Li Ting is a regular soap maker at Sugar & Spice and a strong advocate towards a low-waste lifestyle. Join her in I am an Earth Defender to do a little more for our planet every day. For our planet, for our children.
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