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:


Japanese Indigo Soap

Last October, I had the pleasure of meeting Maya of Infusions (you can read about it here). She gave me some precious gifts and soaping ingredients, and one of them was Japanese indigo powder.

Indigo 4

Japanese Indigo: raw powder and in soap

I love the colour of indigo and have always been curious to try it in soap, but had never been in possession of it until I met Maya. Now that things have quieted down after the holiday rush, I have the time to experiment with new formulae and ingredients.

Other than Maya’s post on soaping with Japanese indigo, I could not find much material on the subject. She had explained to me how to use it, but just to make sure I’m using it correctly, I emailed her. I don’t want to miss anything, so I thought I’d share her exact instructions:

As for the indigo, I have used it after making water infusion and as powder, added directly to the soap batter and also to the lye.

I used 1/2 teaspoonful of indigo powder for 12 ml hot water, infused for a couple of hours. I used about 2/3 (8 ml) of the infusion but what looked to me like a medium color may be considered dark by others. I think it is best to see the color of your batter and decide when to stop adding indigo-infused water as the color of the soap does not change much after the soap hardens. You can enhance the color by letting the soap gel.

The second method, adding dry powder directly to the soap gives you a speckled look. I do not remember how much I used but you can decide the amount of powder on the go.

Two things to keep in mind:
1. The color morphs to a very dark bluish gray if the powder is added directly to lye. It is best to add the indigo (in whatever form) at medium trace, after the saponification has advanced and the NaOH molecules have bonded with the oil molecules and cannot react with the indigo.
2. If you use EV olive oil, you will get a deep greenish blue due to the color of the olive oil.

Generally speaking, the indigo color is relatively stable in CP soap but it still fades a little with time. You need to keep it in a dark place to help the retention of color.

I decided to go with the first method, i.e. make a water infusion, and to add colour as needed after reaching trace. I ended up using all of my preparation, including the sediment that collected at the bottom of the glass. As you can see, the resulting colour is a bluish grey.  Indigo 1

I used olive oil, coconut oil, almond oil and cocoa butter with 2 milks:  yogurt and goat’s milk. For the essential oil blend, I used cypress, petitgrain, lemon 5-fold, orange 5-fold, cajeput, and basil.   It was only after mixing the EOs that I realised how yellow it was and that it would certainly have an effect on the colour. I thus used more of the EO in the uncoloured portion containing kaolin clay.  Predictably, it turned yellow.

It is not very obvious in the photos, but the indigo-coloured portion bleeds into the uncoloured part. The next time I make this, I will make it a solid colour. But because of the EOs, it will probably turn a greenish blue – which I don’t mind, because seriously, it smells fantastic!

Indigo 2

Indigo 3


Thank you, Maya, for letting me have this opportunity to soap with Japanese indigo. 🙂

Coming up next is another Japanese ingredient from Maya. Thank you for reading and have a wonderful week ahead! 🙂



Moringa Infusion with Charcoal Swirl

I have been making Moringa Tea Tree soap regularly but I usually make it a plain solid green from infusing powdered moringa in oil. A lady who always orders it requested for something with design. Wanting to keep it all-natural, I chose charcoal for the contrasting color of the swirls.  I must say I really like the new look and I hope it pleases her, too. 🙂

I had 4 batches of moringa powder steeping in olive oil since November but I needed 5.  I thus ended up making one batch with a week-old infusion.  I was a bit worried that it would come out a lighter green, but at the same time I was curious if there would be any difference.  You know what, the lone batch made with the one-week infusion was just as green as the ones with the 2-month infusion! I could not detect any difference at all!

Moringa Charcoal 1W

Moringa Charcoal 2W

Moringa Charcoal 3W






Meeting Ecoviolet

One of the best things about blogging is getting to meet people one would normally not have the chance to meet in this life.  Last October, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Maya of Infusions in Tokyo (cross fingers, we may meet again this April!)  And just last Sunday, I met Janet of Ecoviolet Soap and her husband in Manila.

Janet already wrote me months ago about her plans for a first-time visit to the Philippines and Thailand – the birthplaces of her mother and father, respectively. When she had finally firmed up her schedule, I wasn’t sure if I could fly to Manila on those dates. But our meeting was meant to be;  just a few days beforehand, my husband said we were going to Manila to see an art fair and to visit his parents.  I was so excited when I realised the dates coincided with Janet’s visit!  Despite her tight schedule, we managed to meet, albeit it was just for two short hours – so not enough, as you can imagine!  Janet is a brilliant chemical engineer who is currently taking up her master’s in statistics.  With her background, making soap is almost second nature to her. I love learning about the scientific part of soap making, and talking with Janet felt like I was meeting Kevin M. Dunn himself!

We were so caught up chatting, we almost forgot to have our picture taken.  But we were able to have this shot at the hotel lobby, just before saying good-bye. Parting ways took a while since there was just so much to talk about! Hopefully we will have more time next time around. 🙂


Janet gifted me with an Orange Patchouli soap. Can I just say how incredible it smells?  I made a Blood Orange & Patchouli soap sometime ago, but I don’t remember it smelling as deep and aromatic as Janet’s.  Guess what I’m using tonight?  😉

Ecoviolet soap

I am so glad we met, Janet.  I hope you are having a great time in Bangkok. Safe travels! 🙂







Soap Photography

Compared to my soaping activities the last quarter, I have been slow since the start of the New Year.  This has given me time to finally learn the fundamentals of photography. I have been interested in photography for the longest time but my technical know-how has always been shaky.  I just wanted to compose and shoot. I mean, that’s the fun part, right? 🙂

Fortunately, and conveniently, hubby is intensely creative and a photography buff who really knows his stuff.  He has been casually giving me pointers but I can be a scatter brain when I don’t make an effort to focus.  When I annoyingly repeat the same question, that’s when he tells me to do my homework and read up.  But this time I am intent on learning.  I have been inspired by the gorgeous works of Clara Lindberg of Auntie Clara’s, and Zahida Map of Handmade in Florida.



Honey Yogurt

Honey Yogurt



Bamboo Yuzu 1

Bamboo Yuzu



Soap Rocks

I used to collect and save all the shavings and trimmings from bevelling my soaps with the intent of rebatching them or making them into confetti soaps.  More often than not, I lack the desire, or maybe it’s laziness, to repurpose them.  Knowing this about myself, I immediately make them into soap rocks – when they’re still fresh and soft, and easy to squeeze/compact and shape.  They’re all for personal use, and my mom, most especially, loves them. She keeps on emphasising that even when dropped, they don’t break.

The combination of different soaps is sometimes the basis of a new scent. If not for these soap rocks, I would have never thought to combine coffee, lavender, peppermint, sandalwood and vanilla.  Sounds weird, but smells divine!

Soap Rocks 1.1

Soap Rocks 2.2

Soap Rocks 3.3

Happy Sunday! 🙂


Patching Up Soap

I have been meaning to do a tutorial on how to patch up the inevitable holes that appear on soaps every now and then. To show you how overdue this post is, the pictures below were taken last August 6, 2014. The photos were hastily taken using my camera phone and not in the best possible light.  I will confess that I don’t like taking pictures of soaps that have not been cleaned up, and the only way to get through the chore was to do it quickly.

Holes are nothing but trapped air bubbles.  They usually appear in soaps with design, and especially when the soap batter starts to thicken before it can be poured into the mold.  Banging the mold helps release trapped air but doesn’t guarantee complete removal. Just like soda ash, holes are nothing but an aesthetic nuisance, and the ones most bothered by them are the soap makers.

Some soaps are simply beyond repair and are better off rebatched or chopped up as embeds. Most, however, simply need a little reconstructive patching up and they’re good as new.  It takes time, patience, and a light touch to leave as little “scarring” as possible.  Some can’t understand the work that goes into prettifying soap that’s just going to melt anyway, but soapmakers tend to be quite passionate and obsessive about their craft.

The other day I downloaded a free photo editing program called  PicMonkey . I learned about it sometime ago from another blogger.  I wish I could remember whose blog it was!  Anyway, I felt like a child that had just gotten a new toy.  As you can see, I am showing off the collage I made. (Ok, I got a little bit crazy and I also downloaded BeFunky for my iPhone. I arrived late to the photo editing party and I’m making up for the missed fun :p )

Patching Up Soap

1.  This was my first camo soap.  I made my own fragrance blend with woodsy notes of oak and fir, balanced out by honey, saffron, vanilla, and eucalyptus.  It smelled awesome and was popular with the boys, but it accelerated trace, hence the the holes.

2.  For this simple operation, we need an offset spatula, toothpicks, and soap trimming to fill up the holes. The triangular thing beside the spatula is some kind of pottery tool that I picked up when I went to Jingdezhen last year.  I don’t know what it’s called, but at that time I thought I could use it as a swirling tool.  Well, I never used it for swirling, but intuitively it was perfect for smoothening surfaces – soap or otherwise!  It’s great to have, but an offset spatula is perfectly sufficient.

3.  Like a dentist, I probe how deep and big the cavity is using a toothpick.  Some holes may appear deceptively small, but is actually a long tunnel under!

4.  Once you’ve assessed the size of the cavity, massage the required amount of soap trimming into a smooth and malleable ball or log – the consistency of play dough. Push the soap into the cavity using a toothpick.  Keep at it until you can’t push in any more.

5.  Flatten patched-up portion with the offset spatula. Wipe it clean. Tilt it at an angle and scrape off excess, in the same way that I did with the pottery tool in the photo.

6.  And there you have it!  After the soap fully cures, the colors will even out and the patches will hardly be noticeable.

woodland camo

Black Vetiver

Looking at my empty racks, I jumped right back to soaping on January 2.  But this time, it was at a leisurely pace. When I don’t soap for a couple of weeks, I feel rusty and my hands and arms seem heavier!  And it’s the same with blogging for me. Consider this my New Year blogging warm-up. 🙂

Here is Black Vetiver, a dupe of Jo Malone’s Black Vetyver Cafe, described as “a bitter coffee bean steeped in earthy notes of vetiver and temple incense.”  I have not smelled the original, but I mighty love the way this one came out in soap. I don’t smell coffee, but I detect woods, vanilla, and incense – making for a complex, sensual and mysterious scent.

I made 3 batches late last year, all using the hanger swirl technique, each with its own unique look. I had a hard time parting with them, but since my stock was running low, I eventually just kept 2 bars for myself.  I will definitely be making a new batch soon.

Black Vetiver 1


Black Vetiver 3


Black Vetiver 4

Black Vetiver