The Saponification of Madame X

Gina Grey

I’ll admit it – I learned about soap making in 1999 while watching fight club. I have been an artist my whole life but always turned away from making practical things. Excellent idea – lets drag out this starving artist thing as LONG as possible…but soap…something intrigued me about this process…

Zoom forward 17 years…into my abrupt retirement from academia – I thought it was time to pick up where I left off with soap. I had been making home and skincare products for myself for 8 years but maintained a fear of lye specifically connected to a cinematic kiss…now I understand that interacting with lye can be perfectly safe if you take all of the necessary precautions. Read A LOT about what not to do. Someone knowing how to make soap in no way guarantees that they know how to do it safely.

I love the chemistry of it all! I studied ceramics and photography as an undergrad and photography in graduate school and have always been drawn to the chemical centric arts. With soap, like photography and ceramics, I want to know more.

Saponification can occur in oil paintings! If the pigments contain heavy metals they may react with free fatty acids in the oil medium that bind the pigments together causing soap to form in a paint layer that can migrate to the surface.

Detail of Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau)
John Singer Sargent, 1884
Showing saponification in the black dress.

Dear hubby works in the fire suppression industry and it was exciting to tell him something he didn’t know. Type K extinguishers rapidly convert burning oil to a non-combustible soap!

I started to investigate properties of different oils and additives and looked at what was in the world. Now, at OOliva, we cater to the sensitive folks. Our essential oil blends are mild but not just for those with hyper olfactory perception but because they are NEUROTOXINS! Essential oils should always be diluted for daily use and never at a quantity greater than 2%. Some need to be diluted much more than 2% but that is a subject for another article…so after learning about what happens to oil during saponification and the volume of essential oil needed to scent soaps and the short shelf life of these precious delicate oils and the fact that soap is meant to cleanse your skin not scent it…I decided not to include them in our soaps. We instead have created a line of soaps with blends of skin loving oils, flowers, spices, teas, clays and salts.

During an artist residency in Calabria, Italy we had the great pleasure of using a locally made olive oil soap. What a lovely, lathery, skin conditioning treat! This was two years before starting to research and develop OOliva but I recalled on this when I decided to add soap to the line. I knew pure olive oil was the way to go…but there is SO much drama in the olive oil industry! So many brands in the grocery store have been pegged as impure. Further much of the olive oil used in soap making is solvent extracted (called pomace olive oil – which sounds so very benign). In all of our products we work to turn away from any unnecessary chemicals that wind up without mention in the final product. It is mind boggling to think of what is used to extract raw materials that does not end up on the ingredient label. Full disclosure is of utmost importance at OOliva as well as clean ingredients! So we searched and searched and searched for the perfect olive oil (it’s our namesake after all) and found a beautiful oil from a family farm with the highest production standards I’d seen. I feel so good about using this amazing oil to produce soap for you! Our OLIVE OIL SOAP has a delicate lather and creamy nourishing finish that is perfect for even the most fragile skin. It is made with our organic, biodynamic Sicilian olive oil which is manually harvested on a farm that is over a century old and immediately carried to the family mill. It is pesticide and chemical free, and produced with no harm to the environment.

Oh dear coconut oil…how I have favored you from our first convergence! (Well not when I met your hydrogenated self on movie theater popcorn…but honestly I had NO idea that was you!) Coconut oil has been with OOliva from day one… noce di cocco was a contender for our company name! I thought the wonders of coconut oil would never cease until I ventured to make a single oil soap. Our COCONUT OIL SOAP has a rich luscious lather! This bar is both cleansing and hydrating and is made with our raw, organic, cold pressed, virgin, fair trade coconut oil. It is has not been deodorized or bleached and is chemical free, unrefined and only made from fresh coconuts. We went to great pains to find this beautiful, clean oil because we want our soaps to be as pure as possible. Hubby says it ruined him for all other soap. At OOliva we keep things simple…but we also keep things luxurious! Try one of our gorgeous soaps today!

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