The Art and Market of Castile Soap

The Art and Market of Castile Soap

Olive oil is a staple in many nations, but especially in Mediterranean cultures. From cooking to soapmaking, olive oil is one of the most versatile natural ingredients found on the market today. The ingredient is so important in traditional soapmaking, that one traditional recipe of soap, Castile soap, named after its origin city in Spain, is made solely with 100% olive oil as the lipid.

The history isn’t completely clear, but it’s believed that Castile soap originated in the early 1500s-1600s as a derivation of Aleppo soap. Aleppo soap is a combination of olive oil and laurel berry oil originating in the Middle-East. It’s believed that the Crusaders brought it back to Europe around the middle 16th century, but because laurel berry oil was native to the Middle East, it was dropped from the recipe when soapmakers in Castile, Spain started crafting it themselves. (Wikipedia.)

Castile soap is a test of fortitude and patience. Soapmaking is already a time-consuming art, as the cold-process method requires soapmakers to wait between four and six weeks of “curing” before the soap is ready to be used. Castile soap takes between six months and one year!

We crafted our first version of Castile soap, With Grace, on April 2, 2017, using a steep water discount and adding sodium lactate.  In soapmaking, a water discount means we cut down on the amount of water used in the recipe. This helps to create a harder bar of soap a little faster. Adding sodium lactate, which is a liquid salt derived from the natural fermentation of sugars found in corn and beets (read more on our blog post about sodium in soap), also creates a harder bar of soap. Because Castile soap is 100% olive oil, it can be very mushy and difficult to unmold – the combination of the water discount and sodium lactate make it possible to maintain its shape and still be usable after a nearly six-month curing time.

What makes Castile soap so coveted is the moisturizing properties of olive oil. In cold-process soap, olive oil is often a key ingredient because it is rich in oleic and linoleic acids. These fatty compounds produce conditioning effects when saponified, making a soft, gentle, and stable lather in soap. Therefore, Castile soap is effective for sensitive skin and for babies because of its gentle properties.

Unfortunately, have you noticed the price of olive oil going up in grocery stores? According to USA Today, “The combination of bad weather and pests hit the harvest in Southern Europe, most of all in Italy, where production [of olive oil] is halved from last fall. That’s pushing up Italian wholesale prices by 64% as of mid-February compared with a year earlier, which translates to shelf price increases of 15 to 20% in Italy.” Since the overwhelming majority of olive oil is imported from Italy and Greece to the United States, the prices have significantly jumped, making Castile soap an even more coveted luxury item.

Even with olive oil prices rising, the demand for Castile soap remains high. With such nourishing, moisturizing, skin-loving properties, it’s easy to see why the love for this soap remains 500 years later.

Kristen Fusaro-PizzoPresident

 

A Brief History of Wax and Candles

A Brief History of Wax and Candles

I teach a high school senior English course entitled “Gods, Monsters, and the Apocalypse,” which is incredibly fun for me. I am always looking for new lessons to integrate into my curriculum. It’s the beginning of the school year and I always start with Greek Mythology, and I was researching new information, I started thinking about candles and wondered if there was any connection with Ancient Greece (since so much of the humanities and sciences are derived from Ancient Greece).

Interestingly, there is not much reference to candles in Greek mythology. There is man’s first fire, which was given to humanity by Prometheus, the Titan, during the great war between the gods and titans.  The second reference is to Daedalus, the inventor who was also a revered intellect. He used wax to create the wings he made for his son, Icarus, to help them escape the labyrinth that King Minos trapped them in (side note – Daedalus actually created the labyrinth, but it was so complicated, the sky was the only way out).

According to the National Candle Association: “The Egyptians were using wicked candles in 3,000 B.C., but the ancient Romans are generally credited with developing the wicked candle before that time by dipping rolled papyrus repeatedly in melted tallow or beeswax. The resulting candles were used to light their homes, to aid travelers at night, and in religious ceremonies.”

Tallow, or rendered animal fat (most commonly cow today, but could be any game), is actually still used in modern soap-making (not by us, we’re vegan makers), but offered numerous uses throughout time as no part of an animal was wasted. The tallow was used in candles, but probably had an awful smell while being burned, so upon the discovery of beeswax in the Middle Ages, beeswax was immediately preferred. Though, like today, beeswax was expensive and reserved only for those who were affluent enough to afford it.

The late 18th century brought the whaling industry, especially to the Americas, which carried through to the early 20th century. “The sperm whale was also used for its spermaceti—the wax taken from the oil of this huge mammal. This wax was used extensively as the fishing industry began to expand. The spermaceti candle was popular because it had no acrid odor, did not soften in summer temperatures, and burned evenly” (Encylcopedia.com). Whale blubber was popular not only for making candles but was the base of many original cosmetics, especially lipstick. The blubber was so incredibly versatile that whales nearly became extinct until the whaling ban. From blubber came the extraction of stearin acids combined with petroleum to create paraffin waxes, which are still popular today. In the late 19th century

The late 19th century’s discovery of electricity brought a decline of candle-making for light, but the early 20th century saw a boost for candles again when people wanted candles for decoration. Bayberry wax was soon discovered and became quite popular, especially around Christmas-time, for its unique earthy-scent. While bayberry wax did gain in popularity, especially as awareness for natural and plant-based goods grew in demand, the difficult rendering of the wax made it extremely expensive.

It wasn’t until 1993 that Michael Richards of Cedar Rapids, Iowa (USA)  invented the use of soy wax candles. He sought to find a natural, sustainable resource for candle-making that was cheaper than bayberry wax or beeswax. Burning much cleaner than paraffin candles, much cheaper than bayberry or beeswax candles, along with being a sustainable source, soy wax candles soon became the consumer favorite and exactly why we create our candles with soy wax.

kristen-fusaro-pizzopresident-2

Seasonal Dry Skin Solutions

Seasonal Dry Skin Solutions

The air suddenly got much chillier in New York the last few days. Along with the sweeping cold-front, I noticed that my skin was drier and itchier. This is not new for me, and usually the first indicator of fall and winter for my body.

To check to see if your skin is too dry, there is a simple test. Take your fingernail and run it down your arm, if the lines remain on your skin, or you see some peeling, your skin is too dry.

Sometimes people don’t realize that your skin care needs change with the seasons. Our skin directly responds to two major factors: 1) What we put inside of our bodies, 2) The environment.

When the weather starts to become cooler, the humidity in the environment drops. While this is generally more comfortable for most people (who likes to just stand and drip with sweat?), our skin is responding to the lack of moisture in the air by also drying out.

Speaking with Pamela Maes, skin-care expert and esthetician with over 6 years of experience, she offers this skin advice:

“Consider changing your skin-care routine to suit the winter weather by changing to a richer moisturizer. Between the dry indoor air and the cold outdoor temperatures, the moisture in your skin can quickly get zapped. Also, try doing a scrub one day and a mask the next to maximize skin-care benefits.  Another tip: Add a humidifier to your room to combat the dry air inside.”

As the winter months approach, we recommend exfoliating two-to-three times per week for your body and twice-per-week for your face. The outer layers of your epidermis will get dry and flaky, and exfoliating polishes the dead skin away to reveal the new, fresh skin.  Not every exfoliator is made alike, and it’s important to discern between a facial exfoliator and a body exfoliator. Generally, it’s fine to use a facial exfoliator on your body, but not the other way around; body polishes may be a bit too rough for facial skin. Body exfoliators should be rich to help replenish lost oils, and facial exfoliators should use oils, like jojoba, which mimic the properties of human sebum.

Pro Facial Tip: For an at-home spa treatment, light a candle, run a bath, and soak a washcloth in hot water (as hot as you can take without feeling any discomfort), and place the hot washcloth over your face. Allow it to sit there for 5-7 minutes. The heat will encourage your face to sweat, helping to push out any facial impurities. Rinse with cold water and follow with a clay facial mask.   Finally, rinse the mask and finish with a facial serum.

Pro Body Tip: After exfoliating, then shave (if you need to); this will make the hair easier to come off. Rinse with cool-to-cold water and follow with a rich moisturizer – either a body cream or body butter will be great. This is amazing for hands, knees, and elbows, as well!

How You Wash Matters: It’s probably incredibly tempting to take a super-hot shower, especially as the weather gets cooler; however, this is detrimental to the health of your skin. According to Newsweek.com, long, hot showers actually strip your skin of its natural moisture, making you feel drier and itchier. It’s best to reduce the length of time you spend in the shower along with lowering the temperature.

If you tend to get itchy, dry skin, opt for natural soap free of parabens, surfactants, and phthalates. Natural soaps scented with essential oils might be most beneficial for you, but if you have severely dry skin, opt for fragrance-free soap.

Remember to Nourish from the Inside Out: During the summer and spring, we take more caution to stay hydrated. Plus, with all the seasonal fruits and vegetables available, it’s a little easier to ensure we’re getting our 5-servings a day. While the winter and fall are so tempting with delicious coffees and desserts, it’s imperative to continue to hydrate your body with pure water and nourish your body with fruits and veggies. The natural nutrition keeps your skin glowing and more resilient to the harsher environment.  If you’re not a fan of drinking plain water, add cucumber, mint, lemon, and/or lime to add a burst of nutritional flavor.

Dry skin is not fun, but there’s plenty that can be done to prevent and improve so your skin will feel youthful and look glowing again.

kristen-fusaro-pizzopresident-2