Interview with Malta's soap maker - Charlene Mercieca
Young, energetic and full of knowledge, Charlene Mercieca takes us through her journey and the love for soap making, now with her own outlet she produces products free from Mineral oils or other BI products,Parabens, SLS and Animal fat. NONE OF THE PRODUCTS ARE TESTED ON ANIMALS!!!
Interview by “WED in MALTA”
Tell us a little bit about how you got started making soap, and what your big break was.
I first got into natural remedies before soap making ever crossed my mind. I got my diploma as a beauty specialist, then as a herbalist..then shifted interest for a while and graduated in product design… I started working with a design company as a creative manager by the age of 24 whilst also studying psychology and arts at university. I was under loads of stress, my skin looked crap (I m an extremely sensitive type) and started referring back to natural alternatives. It was then that the idea of combining all that I know in a simple yet effective everyday product… A healthy bar of soap! I even started doing this for the company I was working with… Then my big break… Traveling in Asia for a while…got more into natural alternatives, came back with only one thing in mind… “Gotta make soap”
Can you remember the first time you made a soap/skin care item? Was it a success? Tell us about it.
As I mentioned earlier, I had already been trained in ‘conventional’ methods on herbs, blends, making my own tinctures and extracts… I was always very ‘comfortable’ around chemicals and blends , so I had pretty decent results for a newbie …of course, I came a long way since then..
What kind of studies does soap making involve
There are different levels of soapmaking. Contrary to what most people know, not all soap is the same. There is ‘crafter’ soap making which I usually teach to kids as it is a safer method. then there’s advanced soap making. Basic knowledge of chemistry it vital as the actual process can be dangerous if handled carelessly and not in an appropriate environment. most people just assume that being natural is safe, and it’s not the case; Example eucalyptus oil can be fatal if ingested, cinnamon can irritate the skin badly and other oils and some herbs can cause miscarriage.
My training as a herbalist and skin care specialist helped me achieve great quality , skin friendly and safe products
Has there been a soap making mess up, if so would you enjoy sharing it with us?
Volcano soap eruptions, exploding microwaves, and melting pots…. Do I need to say more!? :p
What about the product/invention that you are most proud of?
There are 2 of my absolute favorites… It my green clay and geranium face soap which helped so many with problematic and blemished skin including my own skin, and the baby booty balm which is basically can be used from pregnancy to avoid stretch marks,rashes, irritations, eczema, excessive dry, itching skin to obviously babies bums to prevent nappy rash.
What supplies would you recommend a newbie have on hand before thinking about making soap?
First and most importantly is safety. always have soap making equipment separate from kitchen equipment. Have a space dedicated for such a hobby only and make sure u never keep items and solutions unlabeled. Never work in an environment where there s children or pets, and if there are, always keep under lock and key all supplies and equipment. Before thinking about soap making, make sure you are confident with your raw materials. Never completely rely on recipes and methods from the net. Make sure all your info is coming from published articles, books and professionals in the field.
Nowadays everyone can post on the Internet, have a website or blog, but that doesn’t mean they are knowledgeable enough. Always second guess a theory or a method for accurate results.
Is there really that big of a difference between homemade soaps and store-bought soaps?
First and foremost it depends by what you mean by ‘ home made’ .. If someone know how to cook for his family that doesn’t mean s/he is a chef , no? Make sure that when u buy handmade soaps, that they are from a reputable source. Professionally hand made soaps are still registered and tested for your safety.
Having distinguished that part… Yes, there’s a REALLY BIG difference between handmade NATURAL soaps and commercial ones… First and foremost , the actual process and ingredients; commercial soaps are not ‘soaps’ in the first place, they are actually detergents. Try finding the word ‘soap’ on the packaging… U might find moisturizing bar or beauty bar… But no soap! ..that s because its illegal to call them as such.
Real soap goes trough a soaponification process whilst forming a natural bi product which is glycerin (not all glycerin is the same,this is good stuff… but that s another science lesson ;p) In commercial products this is taking out to make moisturizers. The bar becomes brittle and whilst using it forms cracks, sign of a very dry bar =dry skin. And that s nothing yet… Natural soap can take up to 6weeks to be ready and ‘cured’ … No commercial company will wait so much for a bar to be ready… So just like everything nowadays, it all about mass production and no quality products.
And of course, the major difference boils down to the core:the raw materials. Most commercial soaps are made with bi products of petroleum (mineral oil … in simple English ; refined fossil fuel oil) … Others made with carcasses of animal remains, apart from stabilizing agents, preservative, artificial colors and perfumes which are barely biodegradable causing great imbalances in our seas destroying delicate sea species (remember that when we wash, everything pass through drains and even after treated, non biodegradable components is flushed into our seas)
Did you really think soaps was so innocent?
Although an intriguing product category I am sure this can be used for what I specialize in and that is weddings? How can soap be incorporated into weddings?
Ok, so I might have sounded a bit scary earlier on… But that doesn’t mean natural soap gotta be ‘boring’ to be safe! The idea behind my company is actually the fact that natural can be beautiful and pretty…it can be given as a gift or as souvenir… Natural soap can still be transformed in unique custom made product for your special day, which not only pampers you but also your guests and the environment … I love win win situations , don’t you ? :)
How can this be stored in order to have it intact avoiding a soap meltdown!?
This is a very common misconception …soap is NOT wax /candle . therefore Soap DOESN’T melt. You’d still have to make sure to leave it in a cool dry place simply to avoid discoloration. Apart from that, soap is not meant for storing in drawers but to be used. Natural soap have a shelf life of 6months to a year max(depending on ingredients the client might require) . The time where souvenirs gather up dust on a shelf has long been gone… It’s about time that souvenirs,are used and not stored!