Friday, July 22, 2011

The Vanilla Monster....

If you're new to the Bath & Body game, you might be interested to know some things about vanilla content.  You may have made some gorgeous bath bombs that smelled like the gooiest chocolate cake on the planet, or maybe you spent hours planning a beautiful cold process soap, with that high priced fragrance oil, that included tons of carefully executed, colored swirls. Then the next day you run, excitedly, to your curing rack and (aghast) you notice ugly brown specks all over your masterpiece that you have all that time and energy invested in! Been there? Don't lie to me, you know you have. A few days more, and your beautiful creation is roughly the color of something Fido left for you in that shady corner of the yard.

Oh, the humanity.

What the heck is the deal?  I'll tell ya what the deal is - vanilla.  Vanilla, vanillin, and ethyl vanillin, to be more precise. Yep.  Oh, it may sound innocuous enough, like a fluffy bunny or a favorite childhood treat, perhaps - but it's a soapmaker's nemesis unless you learn some skills to deal with it.

See...all those sugary, confectionary, sweet scented fragrance oils that everyone loves so much, contain high percentages of vanilla.  There is a chemical component to vanilla that when exposed to sodium hydroxide, and then ultimately, to air; discolors soap and bath and body products.  Sometimes you'll see it right away.  Sometimes, weeks later.  Sometimes it's slight, other times significant. 

EVERY time, annoying.

As soapmakers, we learn to deal with it, and many times outwit the monster with technique and tools.  Let me show you an example:

If you remember my post from yesterday, you'll remember I made a high vanilla content soap called "Spiced Mocha Dolce".  Tons of vanilla in the FO.  The base containing the fragrance oil was left uncolored because I knew the color change would happen, and manipulated it to suit my design.  I left the portion of the batter to be used for the top "frothy" part of the soap, unscented, eliminating any worry of the fragrance oil wreaking havoc on my white layer.  Just one example of a trick you can use.  You can see by these two photos, that in just a few hours, the fragranced portion of my soap (the bottom layer) has taken the color from a light tan to a very dark brown. 

Now, had I added color to that layer and did some fancy shmancy swirl, they'd have completely disappeared in the dark brown color, I'd ultimately have had here.  Similarly, had I added the fragrance to the top layer of the soap, the white would be non-existent by now.  Show of hands - who's sh*tcanned or rebatched entire loaves of soap for just this reason?  Okay, hands down - I can't count that high.  :P  We all have.  And if you're new to soaping, you will too.  It's part of the learning curve.

Now, all is not lost if you just simply can't live without all those fragrances with vanilla in them.  Aside from crafting your designs around it, you can also implement a product into your recipes called "vanilla stabilizer".  Only a select few work in cold process, so read your labels.  What may work in melt & pour or bath treats, may be useless for your soap from scratch.

Vanilla Stabilizer is a product that, when added to your recipe, will mostly prevent browning in your goods.  I say "mostly" because even then, it can be a crapshoot.  The higher the vanilla content, the sketchier the potential outcome.  It also won't prevent it forever, but the product will generally keep the color change at bay long enough to have been used and enjoyed.

There are other techniques such as blind swirls that can add visual interest to your creations, and yet work with your vanilla monster too.  It's best to just make peace with it.  Life's too short to lose your mind over every soap batch that has a plan of it's own.  With a little research, lots of planning, good technique, and good information from supply companies - we can all continue to create artisan product.

Brown soap isn't so bad sometimes anyway. :)

Until my next post - have a great day!


  1. I love this post! So true! My White Chocolate & Honey soap is starting to turn already with TD and VS! Anyway, I love the darker color. It's so pretty!

  2. I don't mind them browning up when you expect it .. when the fragrance has obviously got vanilla in it. That's ok. It's the sneaky ones that brown anyway even though you don't have a clue they had vanilla in there!! That's why suppliers should really test all of their fragrances and make it clear which discolour and which don't... at least we have a chance then!!! Still loving that soap!

  3. Excellent post and so informative for new soapers, thanks L! :)

  4. I think your Vanilla Monster is absolutely beautiful!