Product inventor and Lush co-founder Mo Constantine, Gorilla perfumer and head Lush buyer Simon Constantine, product developer Wesley Burrage and cosmetic scientist Daniel Campbell have been working throughout the years towards not only producing in-house soap bases, but at doing so on a commercial scale. The road to gourmet soaps has been a long and challenging one, but definitely worth the wait and as Wesley explains ‘It is a dream come true, it’s taken years to get to this point’.
Aside from the definite sense of pride that the team are feeling, there is also an awareness that being able to create bespoke soap bases in-house will change what kind of soap that they are able to make both now and in the future dramatically.
Catch up with Daniel Campbell, cosmetic scientist and keeper of soap secrets here, for all the gossip on the up and coming gourmet soap range and what makes them so special.
What is a gourmet soap?
Gourmet soap is a melt and pour soap that is made using a soap base we’ve made created in-house. It allows us to choose the oils that we make the base out of in order to get a specific effect and texture. Depending on which oil you use and what other ingredients there are in the formula, the combination will give you a very different experience from a regular soap. When you buy one standard base you are essentially giving over a large proportion of your formula to something that you can’t change, but creating our own bases allows us to be completely flexible with the way we formulate soaps.
How does the soap base that you use determine what kind of soap you get at the end?
The amount of fatty acid in different oils determines what kind of product you get in the end. Argan oil and olive oil would create a different lather density to a regular soap base, one which is incredibly conditioning and cleansing. The Movis base is a blend of oils, because it is a facial soap and we want to be able to get different effects out of it. Once we have the base we can add oils and other ingredients and use our formulation skills to manipulate the benefits of the soap even further.
What makes these soaps extra luxurious and how do they differ from other soaps?
The oils used to make the soap base are better quality; they are fully traceable, so from an ethical and environmental point of view this is an advantage. We know the people who we are getting the oil from and making the soap bases ourselves means we know there are no additives that have been added in or anything to improve the efficiency of them.
Gourmet soaps tend to be creamier and more conditioning which makes more of an experience of the product. It enables us to expand from the restrictions of a normal soap into other areas and create a lot of different lathers which will have beautiful benefits for the skin.
Where did the inspiration for gourmet soaps come from?
Simon had wanted for a long time to buy a range of oils, particularly from regenerative projects or co-operatives and turn them into a soap base, allowing us to buy more from those projects and support them in what they’re doing. The concept was essentially to be able to use these lovely materials in order to improve people’s lives whilst also making a really luxurious soap. That was the challenge that was presented to me and I went digging to try and find a way to formulate the soap base in-house.
After being given a list of oils Simon wanted to use and a range of loose concepts he wanted to work on, I formulated all the bases, produced the bases on a lab scale and then we started making the initial products for the Oxford Street launch in April 2015. We found that we could make soap bases on a lab scale but taking the lab method and moving it into production wasn’t working and we weren’t able to make consistent soap bases. Because we weren’t used to making our own bases on an industrial scale it was creating massive inconsistencies in the finished products.
Normally it takes up to three months for a soap base to cure before it is safe to use but we managed to work out a quicker way by creating a machine to formulate a safe soap base in just 45 minutes. This was a big innovation, and standardising the process meant we were then able to get the same result every single time and we could create bespoke soap bases for the range on a bigger scale.
We then redesigned the original Oxford Street soaps. They are mostly the same formulas but we have made sure that Olive Tree, Ro’s Argan and Drop of Hope are all consistent when manufactured and really exciting, appealing and beautiful to use.
What was the first gourmet soap?
Movis was our first gourmet soap. Mo Constantine wanted to make a facial soap using the oils found in the grains of her signature homemade bread. The soap has a sunflower oil base and actually contains bread so it is really absorbent and is packed with loads of vitamin E to make it really nourishing for the skin. Now we have standardised a way of making the base for Movis so the soap is a lot firmer, creamier and milder on the skin. It’s a really lovely product.
Can you tell us more about the three newest gourmet soaps available?
Customers kept asking if we had a ‘pure olive oil soap’, so the idea for Olive Tree evolved. We wanted to make an olive oil soap which not only had olive oil in the soap base, but also in the product, as well as olives and olive leaves. Olive Tree has a light lather but is amazingly cleansing. Because it is a pure olive soap we can easily explain the source of the oil and the benefits of the product. [The olive oil in Olive Tree comes from the Marda Permaculture Farm in Palestine, a regenerative project promoting cultural, ecological and economic vigilance within occupied territories].
When we first made Ro’s Argan it was a really pale, creamy colour and then the fragrance oxidised by complete accident to give this really lovely rose colour. Considering this was an accident it worked out brilliantly! The idea was to put as much rose in as possible and so the soap is scented with a wonderful rose infusion and full of rich argan oil. It’s very cleansing and puts moisture back into the skin.
Drop of Hope came from wanting to use Japanese rapeseed oil sourced from Fukushima, the nuclear disaster area in Japan. Rapeseed has an amazing ability to soak up irradiated caesium from the soil, however, when the oil is extracted, the caesium stays in the plant, meaning it is safe to use whilst also cleaning up the soil through bioremediation. The result is regeneration of the land through nature.
I made the formula for Drop Of Hope by looking at other materials which have a bioremediation effect. Simon has a real interest in mushrooms and mycelium and the pioppino mushrooms that we use in there can also remove caesium from the soil which is why I wanted to include them. They are also full of carbohydrates and vitamins to care for the skin. Drop Of Hope contains tofu as I wanted to make something creamy that was ubiquitous in Japan and agave syrup as it is a humectant, helping the skin to retain moisture. It is a really nice gentle soap and can be used to shave with as it has a light, creamy lather with little drag and is really nourishing on the skin.
Do you have a personal favourite out of the gourmet soaps? If so why?
I’m proud of all the soaps and I think they’re all lovely but I would have to say Drop Of Hope. I really like how surprised people are when they use this product. For a humble and quite simple looking soap, it is so beautiful when you use it, proving that it's what’s on the inside that counts. Aside from this, the soap makes a massive difference to people’s lives.
Rapeseed farmers have sent me messages about how the production of rapeseed is literally giving people a lifeline they can be proud of that isn’t just through charity. Having visited Japan, seen the soap in our Japanese factory and spoken to our Japanese colleagues about what they have achieved, I think it is amazing. You just think you are making a soap but actually you are making a difference to a community. There is a huge amount of self respect from everyone involved, so I’m really proud of Drop Of Hope.