Shikon and Bamboo Charcoal Soap

Sitting in a dark corner of my pantry, I had shikon roots macerating in olive oil since November. It was huddled together with my collection of various infusions: calendula, mugwort, chamomile, stinging nettle, guava leaf, papaya leaf, moringa, and turmeric.  A few of them have been there for over a year.  Not forgotten, mind you. 🙂  The shikon infusion, with its deep rose-burgundy hue, got me the most curious.

Shikon is Japanese for Lithospermum erythrorhizon, also known as red-root or purple gromwell.  It belongs to the same borage or Boraginaceae family as the alkanet – a popular natural blue/purple colorant for soaps.   But more than its pretty colour, shikon is known for its medicinal properties. According to Plants for a Future:

 “It is used internally in the treatment of irritant skin conditions, measles, chicken pox, boils, carbuncles, hepatitis and skin cancer. Externally it is used to treat nappy rash, burns, cuts, wounds, abscesses, eczema and haemorrhoids. The plant is an ingredient of commercial skin care creams.”

Whether any of its skin healing properties is retained after saponification is arguable.  Nonetheless, I wanted to create a luxurious soap with the shikon and bamboo charcoal powder from Maya. If you have been following my blog, you would know that Maya had generously given me a bunch of soaping ingredients to experiment with.  (One of them was  Japanese Indigo.)

It was my first time to soap with shikon and it was fascinating to see the colour change in every step of the process.  The infusion had 60 grams shikon root and 450 grams olive oil, which, after straining, formed part of a batch with a total oil weight of 1500 grams.  It consists of olive oil, coconut oil, macadamia oil, shea butter, fresh yogurt, goat’s milk, and and an essential oil blend of lavender, rosemary, cajeput and patchouli.

Shikon Color Changes

1. The colour of shikon-infused oil is a rich rose-burgundy. 2. Infused oil mixed with the other oils, yogurt and goat’s milk – before the lye was added. 3. As soon as the lye was mixed with the oils, the colour changed to a very dark purple. The white specks are from the milk, before it was properly mixed. 4. From purple, the soap batter turned into a very dark blue, nearly black.

Shikon Soap wet & dry

In the mold, the blue-black soap batter had morphed into blue and stayed that way even after it had dried. The black portion is coloured with bamboo charcoal.

Seeing how dark blue the soap batter was, I had serious doubts that it would turn to purple or that it would lighten up.  In fact, I was having second thoughts whether to continue with my plans of making bamboo charcoal swirls.

When I cut the soap, it was still blue and the inside was a muddy gray.  I was honestly disappointed with the colour.  But after a few minutes, I noticed that the outer edges were starting to turn purple. Half a day later, the colour had stabilised into a deep, dark purple-grey.

I have just started using a bar and I love the way it feels rich and creamy, with pretty good bubbles.  It is quite hard considering that it contains more than 50% olive oil.  There’s no salt but I added sodium lactate. The scent is soothing and fresh, and while it makes the bathroom smell wonderful, it does not linger on the skin.

Shikon 1

Shikon 2

The actual colour is a much darker and duller greyish purple than what the photos depict.

Inspired by Gordana’s body butter, I also whipped up a batch for myself, colouring it a baby pink from what I could squeeze out after straining the shikon infusion.  This recipe contains 70 g. raw shea butter, 10 g. guava leaf-infused coconut oil, 10 g. calendula-infused coconut oil, 10 g. shikon-infused olive oil, and a few drops of cajeput. The consistency is that of a rich buttercream!  l like using it on my legs and feet, just before going to bed.

Shikon Body Butter

Naturally pink body butter with shikon infusion.

If you are interested to see the different shades of purple one can achieve with shikon, here are some links:


15 thoughts on “Shikon and Bamboo Charcoal Soap

  1. Natalia

    I have heard obout shikon first when I received some soaps from Japan thanks to a soap swap, and for me this was in some points the equivalent of our alkanet. The color you achieved, Silvia, is lovely, I just adore these natural colors!
    And the constast with the charcoal is gorgeous! Very beautiful soaps and the top looks so good!!!

  2. Yvonne Bækgaard Pedersen

    Silvia, your soap is so beautiful – I love the natural colors you used.
    It’s always a bit exciting to unmold…but you did well. Also a great choice of fragrance. Congrats 😊
    I have tryed Alkanet root and the color turned out light purple, and it still is. I did infuse over night.

    Have a nice week-end!


  3. Maja

    What a dramatic look! And then,some say you can get only pale, pastel colour with natural colorants! Maybe, if you don’t count these gorgeous and powerful colouring plants!
    Gorgeous soap,Silvia!

    1. soapjam Post author

      Thank you, Maja! I was actually expecting a lighter color, but I am also happy with the way it came out. I think the darker color makes it look more sophisticated . 😉

  4. Jenny

    Wow, those soaps are gorgeous, Silvia, and the body butter looks so luxurious. It’s so cool how the infused oil went from red to black like that. Those swirls are beautiful, and I love the purple and black together.

    1. soapjam Post author

      Thank you, Jenny. I am currently using both the soap and the body butter and I really like them. I especially love the soap for my face. 🙂

  5. Monica Glaboff

    Gorgeous colours Silvia! It must’ve been watching it change colours and not knowing exactly how the final product would turn out.

    And your body butter! Oh it looks so wonderful and creamy.

    1. soapjam Post author

      Thank you, Monica! I have been using a bar in the shower and I like the colour even better now. It has become a bit lighter and more obviously purple. 🙂

  6. Pingback: Rice Water Fil-Castile | SoapJam

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