Marla Bosworth is the founder and owner of Back Porch Soap Company. She teaches classes, corporate events and experiences including candle making, soap making, organic skincare and perfumery.

March 11, 2010

Top Five Essential Oils for Soap Making

One of the most frequent questions I am asked during soap class is "Which essential oils should I buy to have on hand for soapmaking at home?" It's a very good question for several reasons.

First, essential oils are one of the most expensive ingredients in soapmaking. It's wise to be selective as you won't want to buy 12 or 15 essential oils as you ease into your new craft. Remember, you are adding 0.5 oz of essential oil per pound of oils in your recipe. So if you are creating a batch of soap that requires four pounds of oil, you will be adding 2 oz. of essential oil. It can be one essential oil or a blend of oils, but right around 2 oz. Some soapers use a bit more, and others use a bit less. As you become experienced, you get a feel for your particular oils and their staying power.

Second, if you narrow down your oils to the top five, you can purchase in larger quanitities (I recommend 16 oz. of each) for best pricing. Most suppliers charge more per ounce on 2 oz. or 4 oz. than they do on a 16 oz. or pound of essential oil. So you're spending your money wisely up front.

Lastly, if you choose your top five wisely, you'll end up with blending options. This means besides making a one-scent batch, you can also make a two or three-scent batch.

In the natural skincare and soap classes I teach, students use only essential oils. These are derived from nature - from herbs, flowers, fruits and more. They provide physiological and psychological benefits. For example, two of lavender essential oil's many physiological benefits is that it aids in relief of psoriasis and skin wounds. One of its psychological benefits is that it is calming. You'll want to choose essential oils based on their essence as well as for the healing properties they provide.

Note for new soapmakers: Fragrance oils are synthetic and man made. They do not have physical, emotional or other healing properties. If you are using fragrance oils just confirm that they are intended for use in soap making and ask your supplier if they perform well or if there are any known problems.

Here are my Top Five Essential Oils for Soapmaking:

Properties: Calming, soothing and relaxing, which helps those with stress and nervous tension, headaches and migraines. It is a natural choice for healing many skin conditions such as acne, bruises, burns, dermititis, eczema, inflammation, psoriasis, sunburn and wounds to name a few.
Blending: It blends well with many oils, from citrus to florals.

Properties: Rosemary immediately alters my mood. If I'm feeling a bit down, just a little sniff will help restore and balance my mental state. In addition, it is wonderful to use to aid in dermatitis, acne, eczema, and your boosting immune system.
Blending: Try blending with lavender, peppermint, cedarwood, basil, and lemongrass.Note: Rosemary should not be used by individuals who are pregnant or who suffer from epilepsy.

Properties: Refreshing, restorative and a wonderful stimulant. It aids in circulation, muscular pain, can relieve asthma, and boosts the immune system.
Blending: Works well with rosemary, lemon, eucalyptus and of course lavender just to name a few.

Properties: Calming in small amounts, and uplifting in larger amounts. A known anti-inflammatory and useful in relieving dry skin.
Blending: Patchouli is one of several essential oils known to "anchor" scents. Use in small amounts, even when blending, as it can easily become overpowering. Blends well with lavender, lemongrass, rosemary, bergamot, clary sage and many more.

Properties: Uplifting and refreshing (one of my favorites for a kitchen soap). Aids in healing of acne and improves muscle tone.
Blending: Works well with citrus oils, lavender, geranium and bergamot. I love it with peppermint or eucalyptus. It is exceptional with a bit of patchouli.

Suggested Blends based on 4 oz. oil:

Lavender (2.5 oz.), Rosemary (1 oz.) and Patchouli (o.5 oz.)
Lemongrass (3 oz.) and Peppermint (1 oz.)
Lemongrass (3.5 oz.) and Patchouli (0.5 oz.)
Lavender (3.5 oz.) and Patchouli (0.5 oz.)

Rosemary (2 oz.) and Lemongrass (2 oz.)
Lavender (3 oz.) and Peppermint (1 oz.)
Peppermint (3 oz.) Patchouli (1 oz.)

It was challenging to pick just five, as Eucalyptus and Spearmint would have both been next on my list along with Vetiver, Geranium, Bergamot and Tea Tree.

Feel free to post your comments and let me know which oils you love or if you have any questions. You can check out my soap classes and natural skincare classes on my website.

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Heather@twinbirch said...

thanks for the great post, Marla! Lemongrass & patchouli caught my eye. Never did that combo before... off to try it! :)

T.A. Helton said...

I have 4 essential oils that I love to use.

Lavender, Orange, Patchouli, and Peppermint

Patchouli is the one that I love to play with the most. I can mix almost anything with it and it smells awesome. But, it's one of those scents where you either love it or hate it. There's not really any in-between.

backporchsoap said...

You're welcome, Heather! T.A., Orange is a fav of mine too. I agree, Patchouli is a love or hate EO. I tend to blend only with it. Although my 83 year old dad loves a straight ol' patchouli bar!

Jennifer Young said...

Hello Marla, Thank you for the recommendations on Essential Oils and blends. Of your recommendations, I use Lemongrass, Lavender & Peppermint a lot.... because I love them, but also because of their blending capabilities and lasting scent in my soaps. They stay strong right throughout the process. I have just begun trying Rosemary and Patchouli... I have issues with the citrus scents. I love them, but they just fade - lemon, orange, lime. Do you have any tips that may help? Also, when the soaps are finished, what helps hold the scent? My packaging leaves the soaps exposed. Should they be completely wrapped? Thank you for all the wonderful tips on your site. Gives me hope. Loved the Pangea Interview. Gave me even more hope. Soaping starting with creams and lip balms) is a hobby... need the money from my day job... but my fantasy would be to convert to full time one day. xo Jen

Bath Oil said...

Thanks for this! Great tips. I'm a huge fan of lavender

Semi Permanent said...

Thank you very much for distributing the information about different kinds of oil forming soap.Their selection is really essential for improving the skin of us.

Anonymous said...

I have been making soap for several years, and have had two batches of soap seize. Once when using a fragrance, and once when using oregano essential oil. It happened when using the amount recommended, and normally only add by the drop. I am curious about which essential oils are the most likely to cause seizing.

backporchsoap said...

The biggest essential oil culprits are cinnamon, clove and other spice-types. I've had some run-ins with floral oils. In addition, citrus oils can quickly accelerate trace.

Unknown said...

How about lavender, chamomile and lemongrass?

backporchsoap said...

Chamomile is very expensive, although I love it. I'm more apt to save it for use in a leave-on product like body cream. Have you tried that blend?

Tara said...

Thank you so much for posting this very helpful advice. We're experimenting with different essential oil blends and it's very expensive! I'm learning that some EOs overpower others.

WelcomeHomeFarm said...

Thanks Marla for this post! You answered a question that I needed a refresher on. I hope you had a great time in Tn! Missy

backporchsoap said...

Glad you found the post helpful, Missy and Tara! I really enjoyed my time in TN, Missy. Hope to get back to the AL conference next year and would love to see you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the great information on specific blends. I was wondering what you like to blend with Eucalyptus EO and what ratios? I have made Frankinsence/lavender, lavender, lemongrass, lavender/rosemary/mint, rosewood, patchouli/mint and unscented Castille CP soap. I want to make more soon but I want to do something different.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge!


Brittany said...

That'a a wise recommendation for a newby. I have to admit, I have a bit of an essential oil fetish and have purchased over 50 differetn varieties of oils to use in my soap making. Even with all that variety, I find myself gravitating towards most of the 5 that you indicate. Don't make the mistake I have. Keep in mind, you not only have to put up the money to have all those oils, if you are soap making for retail, you now have to label and keep inventory of all those soaps as well.

Karisa said...

I am in the process to start making soap for the first time and I was wondering how many essential oils are to be used at one time when making soap. I love the smell of lavender, so my first attempt would be with lavender. Also, how do you get different colors of soap?

backporchsoap said...

Hi Karisa, you can use as many essential oils in a recipe as you'd like. I keep my blends to five maximum for cost reasons.
For coloring suggestions, try ground herbs to start if you like natural colorants. Then you can move into oxides, ultramarines and micas if you don't mind synthetic ingredients.

Anonymous said...

I keep seeing comments about rosemary not being good for people who are pregnant or have seizures. My question is... Is it the rosemary essential oil in its undiluted form that causes harm? For example, if just rubbing essential oil on your skin would cause issues as opposed to using a rosemary soap. When the essential oil is put in cold process soap, doesn't it become diluted through the process of curing? Should a person that is pregnant or have seizures stay away from rosemary soap all together?

backporchsoap said...

Good question about the rosemary essential oil. In a wash-off product like soap, rosemary essential oil becomes very diluted. It is more the exposure to undiluted rosemary essential oil or application of a leave-on product where the greatest risk occurs for those who are pregnant or are prone to seizures. Hope that helps!

Gary @ Saltaire House Cleaning said...

Excellent blog post! Thanks for the recipes. I've been making handmade, all-natural soap for quite a while and I find my biggest challenge is getting the aromas from the essential oils balanced. Do you have any suggestions on making the recipes? It takes me forever to do it, drop by drop until it smells ok...

EmilyC said...

Hi! I am new to soap making. I’m starting out with melt and pour. I am wanting to make an apple cinnamon or winter scents. I will be using a crystal white soap base. How can I achieve this? What oil combinations should I be using? Thanks

EmilyC said...

Hi! I am new to soap making. I will be using a crystal white melt and pour soap base. I want to achieve an apple cinnamon scent or a winter scent. What oil combinations can I use to achieve this? Thanks

backporchsoap said...

EmilyC, apple cinnamon is challenging using just essential oils. Cinnamon essential oil can be an irritant and I personally don't use it in my blends. Winter scents can be achieved by using Fir or Spruce essential oils and blending in some Cedarwood. Smells just like a winter forest!

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