Most soap makers take such great care in their creations that understanding how our ingredients are sourced, researched and affected before they arrive adds to our pool of knowledge.
Last month I had the opportunity to interview Carrie Thornsbury from Nurture Soap Supply. Nurture Soap Supply supplies almost everything. This interview took a month to complete, not just because Carrie has a business to run, but also because she gave measured, but still enthusiastic responses. (Read the entire interview to receive your sorcery coupon for Nurture Soap.)
What prompted you to look into how micas and fragrance oils were made?
I’m more concerned with how they perform in certain mediums – particularly soap. I had started testing micas for soaps many years ago, when there were no bright mica colors available for them. I carefully sourced suppliers around the world and tested hundreds of colors. This was the way I learned about different color additives and how they performed in high pH. There were no other companies to follow and no one to guide me, so I learned through trial and error. I am still convinced that this is the best way to learn, even though it can be very frustrating at times!
I started get interested in fragrances about 2 years ago; At first my interest was out of necessity. Many other companies were starting to sell colorful micas, and I knew that to remain a viable competitor in the marketplace I would have to diversify my offerings. At that time our business was dependent on micas and molds, but we needed to offer something more so our dependence on these products was lessened. When I first started buying fragrances I was more concerned about the smell than performance. This was a huge mistake!
Some of the fragrances didn’t perform well in soap at all, and I had to get myself together and start researching and testing more. I started sourcing from several different companies and testing the fragrances very thoroughly in soaps.
Fragrances at that time bored me and didn’t look forward to testing them like I did colors. It wasn’t until a customer sent me a sample of 25:43 (Lush Dupe fragrance) that I really started to love fragrance. It was the perfume that changed my life! Before I received the sample of 25:43. 25:43 was like a concerto for my nose! There were so many notes and once the perfume was on the skin it developed into something more wonderful than out of the bottle. It had depth and richness and it was beautiful. This fragrance sang to me! It wasn’t until then that I developed a deep appreciation for scents.
What do you look for when researching a micas and/or fragrance oils?
There’s so many things to look for! The first thing I look for now is stability in soaps. I test everything very thoroughly and make sure it will perform in a way that is satisfying for other soap makers. I also verify the integrity of the suppliers. If I start seeing rapid changes in ingredients on the MSDS sheets I am alarmed. One supplier even accidentally sent me an MSDS with animal testing results, even though they have a no-testing claim on the front page of their website. For Nurture Soap Supply, it’s not just about how the colors perform but how they are sourced and the stability and trustworthiness of the manufacturer. We are very choosy about who we work with.
Fragrances are the same. We have a very close relationship with the fragrance lab and we help each other as much as we can. To build trusting supplier/client relationships is so important to Nurture Soap Supply. When this kind of relationship is strong the communication is also strong and this is important to product stability and development.
What are some things to be aware of when purchasing a new mica?
This is a great question! Depending on the product application, you should be aware of how the mica will perform. If your bright blue mica contains ferric ferrocyanide as the coloring agent, your beautiful blue soap you planned will go tan or fade completely almost immediately. The same is true for carmine. Carmine makes a beautiful pink color in micas, but will fade to nothing in soaps. We don’t carry carmine-containing micas because it is not vegan or cruelty free. Many people believe that reds used in soap might contain carmine. This is just not true. If you have a mica with carmine as the coloring agent, it will fade in soap in about 5 minutes. Reds that stay bright in soap don’t contain carmine or they would fade.
There is also a lot of misconception about mica being natural. 99% of the micas used for coloring soaps are naturally mined. For some reason there are many that believe that micas are lab-created. If a mica is synthetic, the label information will contain ‘synthetic mica’ or ‘fluorphlogopite mica’ or other common synthetic mineral compounds. However, just because a mica is naturally mined does not make it natural. The color additives used to color micas are lab-created such as ultramarine blue and several colors of oxides. This, in my opinion, makes them not natural. As we all know, the term ‘natural’ is up to interpretation, since there is no regulated use of the term.
In purchasing micas for soaps, it is important to read the description to see if the mica is soap stable. There is nothing worse than make a masterpiece in soap and having it fade to an unwanted color. Also, be sure to verify the mica is approved for the use that you are intending. For example, if you are making lip balms be sure that the mica is approved for use on lips. The best resource to use if you’re unsure is the FDA color tables located here: https://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/Labeling/IngredientNames/ucm109084.htm
How do you choose a fragrance oil?
It completely depends. First, I will smell the fragrance and see how I like it. Then I pass the bottles around to the employees and see how they like it. It’s good to get impressions from other people, because smell is so subjective. There are times that I don’t like a fragrance, but will carry it anyway because I know other people will. A great example of this is fragrances containing indole an ingredient in Jasmine fragrance. I can’t explain how I much I abhor indole, but other people love it. Some people think it’s the greatest thing in the world.
The second thing I do is test the fragrance in soap. I use our 25 cube mold for testing and had my husband build a wooden surround with a clear lid for me. I love this mold. It makes 25 testers at a time weighing about 3 ounces each. I take notes on discoloration, acceleration, etc. and when I un-mold the soaps I place them in a special spot to let them cure. If the fragrance passes the cure test and still smells great they eventually make it on to our site. With that said, however, I do choose to carry a few fragrances that accelerate or might act wonky because they are that good.
These fragrances should be used in melt and pour or bath bombs. These are the scents that have many layers and depth just like 25:43 I mentioned before. They are magic in a bottle. I love, love, love them! If a fragrance is like this, I note it on the site and on the label of the bottle as well.
Can a fragrance oil or mica or oxide go bad?
Yes they can. If wet ingredients are added to a mica it can grow bacteria just as anything else would. It is important to keep micas dry to prevent any nasties from growing in them. As long as they are sealed and stored properly there will be no issues. Fragrance oils are a different story. Oils can go rancid, including fragrance oils. It’s important to keep them in dark containers and in a cool place. Good places to store fragrances are in a cabinet that remains closed unless you are taking something out. The darker the space and the cooler the place the better. My fragrance oils for personal use are stored in my basement in a cabinet. This kind of place is ideal. If a fragrance is getting more than a year old, you will want to check it often to ensure it’s not rancid. It’s also important to buy only the amount that you will use within one year to prevent any issues.
Why are some fragrance oils not body safe?
Oils that are not body safe have a high level of aromatic compounds that are irritating to the skin. The IFRA rates will often be low on these fragrances, even for soap. Often these fragrances have spicy elements such as cinnamon or clove. These types of fragrances are best suited for products that don’t come into contact with skin, such as air fresheners or candles.
What is your favorite part of soap making?
Everything! When I was young and other girls were asking for dolls, I was asking for chemistry sets. I would stand in the kitchen and mix different ingredients together just see what would happen. I’m probably lucky I haven’t blown myself up by now.
Soaping incorporates all the things I love dearly: nature, chemistry, and creativity. When I first started making soap I was in a miserable spot in my life. Making soap was incredibly healing for me. It gave me something to look forward to and I would get so excited.
There is something spiritual for me about making soap and that’s the thing I love most about it. It’s the aspect of creation and making something beautiful from seemingly random ingredients. To me, soap will always be amazing. It’s something I will never grow tired of, because it’s always different.
What do you want the readers to know about you or Nurture Soap Supply?
Nurture Soap is my life, my heart, and my everything. It encompasses everything dear to me – Family, close relationships, giving back to the soaping community – Everything! Nurture was started out of a 10 x 10 room, and was started because I need a good mold and wanted pretty colors for soaps. Upland Soap Molds had recently gone out of business, and there was no place to buy a mold at a reasonable price. I had a little 2.5” x 9” mold from Upland. I wanted another one and couldn’t get it! When Nurture very first started, this was the first product we offered- Our 2.5 pound soap mold.
At the same time, I started testing colors. I was using neons at the time for bright soaps, but I didn’t really like them. I wanted bright micas because they performed better. I started sourcing micas from all over the world and testing to see what worked and what didn’t. The first colors we offered were the Rainbow Mica Set – 7 colors for soaps.
Soon more companies were seeing that we were selling a lot of our colors, and others started selling them as well. We saw the need to expand our product line and started offering more micas for soaps. My little 10 x 10 room wasn’t cutting it, and I expanded into a 13 x 13 room! Yay Nurture! We also started offering our 5 pound mold.
Soon after this I realized I needed to hire an employee or two. I also needed a bigger commercial location. Nurture was growing at an exponential rate and had become a force of its own. “I” wasn’t Nurture anymore. Nurture was something that we cared for and became like a child to me. I was watching my baby grow up! I still equate Nurture to a child. I cherish it and nurture it and watch it grow into something more beautiful than I ever imagined.
Our company is completely grassroots. It was built from the ground up with innovative ideas born out of necessity. There were no other companies selling similar products at the time and countless hours of research and dedication went into sourcing what we had to offer. Many other companies followed in our footsteps, but we were the original. This does give me a sense of pride, and having to test so diligently also gave me a depth of knowledge (of colors especially) that many don’t possess. When you have to work hard for something it tends to be more and mean more. Perhaps that’s why Nurture means so much to me!
Behind the scenes, Nurture is run much like a cooperative. My husband and I don’t get paid more than our highest-paid hourly employees, and we get paid for 40 hours when we often work 60-70 hours per week! We know happy employees means more productive employees, and this trickles down to customers and translates into better customer satisfaction. It’s very important to me to keep Nurture Soap a happy company. In my eyes, a happy company corporate culture with a family-like atmosphere equates to success.
Nurture is my dream come true!