Ruth Cartwright, owner and founder of natural soap business Ruth Romano, has always preferred a natural approach to skincare, and after she survived breast cancer, it became even more important to track down natural products that were free from harsh chemicals.
“It’s become a passion, an obsession and a way of life!” she laughs.
“When I finished my cancer treatment, I moved from a terraced townhouse to a rural cottage,” she explains. “The beauty of my new surroundings inspired my creative side, and I started making soap after reading Soap Making Self Sufficiency by Sarah Ade. I became so interested that I eventually went on a course with ‘soap making guru’ Melinda Coss, and picked up some great tips and advice as a result.
“My illness was a significant driver in wanting to create a greener way of living by creating natural products. It was also a huge factor in me taking the plunge to start my own business – something I had always wanted to do. I suppose the two things went hand in hand!
Ruth uses the cold-process method of making soap.
“It’s a combination of science and art which fascinates me with every new batch that I make. I find the process of creation extremely satisfying,” she explains.
“The process by which soap is produced from a solution of oils and lye (sodium hydroxide) is called saponification. When the fatty acids and lye are mixed at the right temperature, a chemical reaction occurs and the end product is soap. During the saponification process, the acidic oils cancel out the alkalinity of the lye, and after at least four weeks of curing time to complete the process, the soap is ready to use.
“A by-product of soap creation is glycerine, which is naturally moisturising. Commercial soap producers normally remove the glycerine, and sell it to the cosmetics industry.”
Here, Ruth talks us through the process step-by-step.
“The first step is to prepare my work area, making sure it’s clean and uncluttered. When I set up the business, my priority was to have a work space separate from my home, to minimise interruptions. As some of the soap-making process is very time-sensitive, any distractions, such as the phone ringing, could result in a ruined batch.
Next, I’ll assemble my soap moulds and line them with greaseproof paper.
Then, I’ll measure out my solid oils and butters into a stainless steel pot. I use coconut oil, which gives the soap a good lather, and shea butter for its moisturising and softening qualities. I’ve made the deliberate choice not to use palm oil, the demand for which is leading to the destruction of wildlife rich forests in Indonesia and Malaysia to make way for palm oil plantations.
In a separate pot I measure out my liquid oils. My all- time favourite oil for natural skincare is olive oil, and I also love castor oil which is a great humectant as it attracts and retains moisture on the skin.
I then melt the solid oils and butters over a very low heat on an induction hob. When they’re nearly melted, I remove the pot from the hob and let the residual heat melt the remaining chunks of oil completely.
I measure out my water into a plastic bucket. Then I put on my goggles and face protection to measure out the sodium hydroxide beads, which are added to the water in a well ventilated area to let the fumes escape – I always do this outside. All the beads need to be stirred into the water until completely dissolved and then I leave the solution to cool.
Then I prepare my essential oils which not only add a lovely natural fragrance to my soap but also make my workshop smell gorgeous. At this stage I also prepare any other natural ingredients that I might want to add to my soap, such as oatmeal for its skin conditioning qualities.
Next I add the liquid oils to the melted oils and check the temperature. The optimum temperature to combine the oils with the lye mixture is when both are between 90 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit. When both have reached the correct temperature I slowly pour the lye solution into the oil, stirring all the time.
Then I use a hand blender to bring the mixture to the ‘trace’ stage. As the mixture slowly thickens and starts to resemble custard, the blender will leave an impression on the surface of the soap mixture, and I know it’s ready.
I add my chosen essential oils at this point to allow their scents to be carried through to the finished soap.
I carefully pour the mixture into the previously prepared moulds, and tap each mould gently on the work surface to encourage any air bubbles to the surface.
I cover the moulds with a wooden lid, and then place towels over them for insulation.
Finally, I leave the soap for 36 to 48 hours to allow it time to harden and then it’s ready to cut into bars. Once I’ve cut the soap log into bars, it’s important to let them cure fully for at least four weeks to make sure they’re fully saponified. Then I wrap and label each one, and they’re ready for use.”
As well as her soap range, Ruth also makes a range of bath salts, lip balm and wedding favour soaps. For more information, or to buy products, please visit www.ruthromano.com.