An ancient art
Lori Hoyt is a bit like a chemist, combining substances together to form the perfect combination of elements. Unlike a chemist, however, Hoyt makes soap, doing so without the use of synthetic materials.
“Just because a soap is homemade doesn’t mean it’s natural,” Hoyt said, noting that many handmade soaps still include synthetic fragrances, dyes, preservatives and filler ingredients that can be absorbed into a person’s skin.
It all started eight years ago when Hoyt was looking for ways to eliminate unnecessary chemicals from her life. She began making soaps because, as Hoyt said, “It was an easy place to start.” What started as a lifestyle change turned into a business called Soap if the Earth. Hoyt, who lives in Walworth County, Wis., sells her creations at the Woodstock Farmers Market and Burlington Farmers Market, as well as online at www.soap-of-the-earth.com.
Hoyt typically sells about 15 varieties of soap at the markets each day, though the varieties change often. She said lavender and patchouli scents seem to evoke the most response from customers.
“They either love or hate [those scents],” Hoyt said, but both are among her highest sellers.
The process of making soap involves heating essential oils and combining lye and water in a separate mixture. When the two reach the desired temperature, they can be combined. Different plants, herbs and nutrients can be added before the mixture is poured into a mold. The soap is sliced into bars once it has set.
Hoyt typically produces batches of 40 bars at a time. When she is trying a new recipe, she’ll usually make a half batch.
“I know right away [if a soap turned out well],” Hoyt said.
The most common worry during soapmaking is whether or not the scent will hold throughout the heating process.
“The scent can evaporate or turn the soap colors,” Hoyt said.
Sometimes creating a perfect soap can seem like an endless process of trial and error, Hoyt said. For example, she had been trying to make a soap using rock rose, a flower that grows wild in the Middle East and is commonly used as a scent in many toiletry products in the region. Having lived in the Middle East for five years, Hoyt had been trying to replicate the scent in her own products.
“It had never turned out before, but I finally got the scent to anchor [with the soap],” she said. “I was crying I was so excited.”
In addition to bar soaps, the business also offers aromatic candles, liquid soaps, muscle liniment, surface cleaners, insect repellent and — one of Hoyt’s favorites to make — aromatic waters. The waters are produced by the same process of steam distillation used to obtain essential oils and are 20 to 30 times more concentrated than a strong cup of herbal tea. Soap of the Earth sells chamomile, rose and lavender varieties of the aromatic water, each defined by Ancient Greeks as polyvalent plants known to treat many conditions. These plants are grown by Hoyt in her 4-acre plot in Whitewater, Wis.
“Cultures have been steam-distilling plants for medical purposes [for centuries],” Hoyt said. In addition to its calming effect, for example, lavender can be used to treat burns, bug bites and bee stings. “It’s really exciting distilling … It’s an ancient art.”