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Boys and Their B.L.A.D.E.S. (Follow-Up on Fatty Acid Profiles)

Posted on 03 July 2015

by Carrie

I've shared on this blog recently about the presentation we gave at the Alabama Soap & Candle Association meeting on the topic of wetshaving (if you missed those posts, check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5).  The final part of the talk, Synthesis (blog post Part 5), focused on how to formulate your own shaving soap recipe and touched on fatty acid profiles and properties of typical shaving soap ingredients.  I didn't think many readers would be interested in the information, so I was surprised when I had requests for this follow-up blog post.  So without further ado, let's dig into shaving soap formulating!

**Quick Reminder:  You'll need access to a trustworthy lye calculator when creating soap recipes and SoapCalc (shown above) is one of the best.  Play around with the program a bit to see its capabilities and have some fun.  There are many other links on the page that will help you learn more about soapmaking, the related ingredients, and their properties. 

Soap is, technically, a salt of a fatty acid.  So it makes sense to look into what different types of fatty acids "bring to the table" regarding shaving soap.  The following is just a generalized overview, as I'm not a chemist (nor do I have a background in chemistry):

  • STEARIC: dense, thick, creamy, stable lather
  • PALMITIC: stable, creamy lather
  • LAURIC/MYRISTIC: fluffy lather (volume); cleansing
  • OLEIC/LINOLEIC/LINOLENIC: conditioning (but also is a lather killer)
  • RICINOLEIC: moisturizing, fluffy/stable lather (too much can weigh down the lather)

So what does this information have to do with formulating a recipe?  Each fat/oil/butter you choose for your shaving soap has a fatty acid profile (The Soap Dish has a great chart for this) with distinctive characteristics/qualities.  You'll want to consider what properties you want to showcase in your soap and which ones you want to minimize.  For example, the reason that most well-regarded shaving soaps have little to no olive oil is because it is high in oleic acid. While olive oil is great for conditioning for the skin, the high percent of oleic means that it's a big time lather killer.  Conversely, you do want to have a formula that is high in stearic and/or palmitic (your recipe on SoapCalc should yield a combined stearic & palmitic of at least 50).  You can achieve this by utilizing stearic acid as an ingredient or by choosing fats/oils (like animal fats) that are high in stearic content.  

You can familiarize yourself with these fatty acid profiles by picking up a container of one of your favorite shaving soaps (or going to their website) and reading the ingredient list.  For each fat/oil that they use, check out the fatty acid percentages and try to determine why the artisan/manufacturer used that particular ingredient.  What does it contribute to the recipe?  Is it high or low on the ingredient list?  Why?  

You can also explore this concept on the SoapCalc website in one of two ways:

  1. On the Lye Calculator page, click on an ingredient in the section that is titled "Oils, Fats, and Waxes" and then look to the left, under Section 5, where is lists Lauric, Myristic, etc.  You'll see the percentages of each fatty acid for that particular oil or fat.  
  2. You can sort the oils according to their percentages of a particular fatty acid on this page.  So if you want to find which oils are high in stearic, click on that button and you'll have an organized listing right at your fingertips.

Of course there's no one "right" recipe or list of ingredients, and the possible combinations are practically endless.  If you're serious about formulating your own shaving soap, it's worth the investment of your time to study and analyze the ingredients you want to use.  And even if you never decide to make your own shaving soap recipe, you'll end up being a better informed consumer. Win-win.  

 Is there a particular ingredient that you look for in your shaving soaps?  If so, what qualities does it provide that really make it shine?


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