Want to feel like you just walked in a field of lavender? Or went for a hike in a pine forest? How about a feeling of spiritual sandalwood to bring a sense of calm? Want to take the ordinary task of bathing and turn it into something extraordinary? Try using artisanal soaps in the shower. These hand made all-natural soaps will transform any shower into a spa-like experience.
I have to be honest; I only recently started appreciating the value of these artisanal soaps. To me soap is soap, we use it to get clean in the shower and it’s more of a functional necessity rather than a thoughtful purchase. If anything, the luxury soaps you find in the department stores are what I would pick up if I wanted something more special. I never bothered with artisanal soaps; it just never came to my mind. The person who got me interested and even made me notice these taken for granted soaps is Anjali.
For years whenever we would go to art fairs or check out little boutiques when we visit downtowns, her eye would invariably gravitate towards these artisanal soaps. I used to get frustrated with her as these soaps were always off in some corner, and I would have to follow her there, as she wanted to show them to me. These soaps were not given any prominence in any store or fair. They were relegated to an orphan table off in a dark corner, or a basket in some hard to reach shelf, or on a table at the fair that was not on a main isle. But somehow Anjali would always find them, and she would beg me to get one for her. She would spend a long time deciding which fragrance to pick, as they all smelt so good. And then she would carefully bring that soap home and keep it in her room to use later.
That was her thing – artisanal soaps, Anjali loved them. She would save them and use them one at a time as each one got done. Whenever she came out of the shower after using one of these artisinal soaps she would have a calm restful smile. Anjali always looked serene and happy after using these soaps.
One day, I ran out of my usual bar soap and asked Anjali for one from her collection. She gave me a lemon verbena soap. I used it and I have to say, I felt invigorated. I had just come back from the gym and this soap just transported me into a garden with lemon groves and verbena flowers. In a warm shower with the lovely smell of lemon verbena, I felt like I had just stepped into a spa. I felt great in the shower and smelt great out of the shower. I just felt relaxed. I loved it. It was like aromatherapy in the shower. I have been hooked ever since.
We have bought artisanal soaps from places far and near. From towns and cities like Nevada City, California; San Francisco’s Renegade Fair; Napa Valley; from Williamsburg, Virginia; from Chatham in Cape Cod; from Boston; and Covent Garden in London. I even received a present once of artisanal soaps from Venice, Italy.
What is special about artisanal soaps? Most if not all are made by hand at home, or at small studios. They have little bits of flowers and leaves embedded in the soap, and some have oatmeal and salt to provide a natural scrub on the skin.
The common theme among these soaps is that they are always made with natural ingredients, and they smell like wonderful flowers and fields. These soaps are made with natural oils such as olive oil, palm oil, and coconut oil, and the fragrances are what you find in nature – lemon verbena, lavender, rose, sage, sandalwood, pine, the list of natural fragrances is long.
Both Anjali and I love the packaging of these artisanal soaps too. The wrapping on the soaps tend to be very raw in design. Anjali likes the farmhouse look, and I think that’s why these soaps caught her eye in the first place. She loves anything bohemian, and anything that looks unrefined and hand made. With raw paper and jute twine, the packaging is very minimal and always beautifully organic looking.
My friend Rose. M who is a potter and an artisanal soap maker herself shared some interesting information on how she and her friend make their goats milk soaps. Folks, I was so surprised at how complicated it is to make these all-natural soaps. When I read her instructions, I couldn’t believe how long and precise they were! For some reason I thought you just mix a bunch of natural ingredients together and make them into a soap. Goes to show you how clueless I was.
Artisanal soaps are not cheap. The men and women who make these soaps by hand spend a lot on purchasing all natural oils and ingredients, and foraging for the right flowers and herbs that go into these soaps. But if you are willing to indulge yourself in getting a couple of these artisanal soaps, you will see their value. Taking a shower in one of the wonderful smelling nature oriented soaps is a feeling onto it’s own.
One company that has been able to capitalize on the value of all-natural artisanal soaps is L’Occitane based out of France. They have been successful at this for over 40 years. I buy their soaps sometimes when I am in the mall; they smell like lavender farms and beautiful gardens. However, because they do spend a lot on their gorgeous packaging it is on the higher price range of the artisanal soap spectrum, but worth it. Other international companies that are similar to L’Occitane are Lush, 100% Pure and Crabtree and Evelyn to name a few.
Next time you are at a fair or a boutique, don’t overlook these artisanal functional gems. Try an artisanal soap and decide for yourself the value of these beautiful suds.