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16 July 2024

Raising the bar: Soap gets a refresh (no bottle needed)


 Wyllow Elizabeth started making bars of soap when she found that her skin was sensitive to many store-bought ones. She made soaps for her own use, and only ventured into her local farmers’ markets, in Nova Scotia, Canada, to sell the extras.
Demand there was so strong, however, that she switched approaches, and now just keeps the “extras” and undersize bars for herself.
Elizabeth uses oils like olive, coconut, castor and hemp, as well as shea butter. “The hemp oil makes a lovely lather, and doesn’t build up on hair,” she says.
Hers are among many new bars that look, feel and smell different than traditional, mass-produced soaps. In supermarkets, beauty stores or at farmer’s markets, you’ll see an array of bar soaps that are, or have the look and feel of, the handmade, with natural and unusual ingredients.
They might be infused with bits of tangy orange. Sea kelp. Lilac. Or even volcanic ash. Everything from carrots to coffee to clay are used to color the bars, and added scents are derived from plants, herbs and essential oils.
Although bar soap lost a lot of shelf space in recent decades to liquid soap, many people are rediscovering its virtues.
For one thing, it doesn’t come in a plastic bottle. When a bar of soap is used up, it’s well and truly GONE. It’s often wrapped in paper, and takes less energy to ship than liquids. Compared to its liquid counterpart, it travels through airport security without a fuss.
“Fortunately, hotels never fell out of love with the bar soap,” says Andrew Goetz, who together with partner Matthew Malin founded the personal-care brand Malin and Goetz in New York. Their soaps can now be found in restaurants, hotels, salons and fitness centers around the world; Goetz says their Dark Rum and Lime bars are especially popular.
John and Linda Meyer, founders of Wary Meyers, are married interior designers in Maine who created their own line of glycerin soaps, candles and modernist jewelry to echo their aesthetic.
“We thought the bar of soap was something that could use a refresh – colored stripes, gradients, speckles – so we treated it like a little design object,” says Linda Meyer.
One of their playful soaps is the “Virgo Cluster.”
“We were inspired by those clear rubber balls with glitter inside that everybody had as kids. But instead of glitter, we embed the bars with pieces of multicolored striped soap.” she says.
If you’ve ever rubbed the leaf of a tomato plant, you’ll know how fresh the scent is. That was the inspiration for Wary Meyers’ Italian Tomato Leaf bar. The red, green and white colors were “inspired by Gucci, the Italian flag, and of course tomatoes,” Meyer says.
They have a Pink Champagne soap bar made to look like the fizzy drink sitting in a flute, and some combos that sound good enough to eat: cucumber and cilantro, or grapefruit and clementine.
Icelandic company Kalastyle’s Hallo bars are derived from unusual ingredients like Arctic birch, moss and volcanic ash. The creamy-hued, round bars are smoky and herbaceous.
Popular bars in Wyllow Elizabeth’s lineup include Mint Ripple, with cocoa powder and peppermint essential oil.
And when a friend found his grandfather’s old shaving cup, Elizabeth started experimenting until she found a formula for a toast-colored shaving bar that smells like bay spice.
She has her trusted playbook of ingredients now, but there’s still room for surprises.
“For instance, I use yellow dock plants in my Lemongrass Summer soap for their soothing properties. I thought they’d make yellow soap, but they came out rosy pink!,” she says. “Another surprise was when I used lemon peel powder in my Under the Sun soap – it starts out bright yellow, but as it cures it becomes a beautiful creamy color.”
Along with the pleasure she gets from soap crafting, Elizabeth loves naming the finished products, and engages her customers at markets in the process.
“I share the scents and colors, and they enter a contest to name the soap,” she says.
“My favorite winner was a girl about 9 years old. She named the Lime Squeeze soap, and was so excited to win her very own bar of it; a simple prize.”
Lime Squeeze became the signature scent for Elizabeth’s line of “toy surprise” soaps. As each bar is used, a small treasure is revealed — a wee farm animal, a marble, a tiny Pegasus.
There’s a version for grownups too. Elizabeth’s Gems soaps might hold a carnelian, an amethyst or a piece of rose quartz. Good clean fun, in bar form.