"The secret of my health is applying honey inside and oil outside," is a quotation credited to Greek philosopher and physician who lived to be 109 during the years 460-370 BC. It sounds like Democritus would have gotten along well with soap makers—though he could have used some convincing him that honey was good to use on the inside and the outside.
The Romantic History of Honey
Honey has a long and romantic history—it is one of the oldest "ingredients" known to man. Women—and a few savvy men—through the ages have bathed in and used honey to keep their skin and hair radiant:
- Madame du Barry, the infamous last mistress of Louis XV, used honey as a form of a facial mask, lying down for a rest while the honey did its work.
- Cleopatra of Egypt regularly took honey and milk baths to maintain her youthful appearance.
- It was said that Queen Anne of England used a honey and oil concoction to keep her long hair lustrous, thick and shiny.
- It was claimed that another famous Englishwoman, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, used her own secret recipe for honey water to keep her hair beautiful.
- Chinese women have a tradition of using a blend of honey and ground orange seeds to keep their skin blemish-free.
Honey's Humectant and Antimicrobial Qualities
But history aside, honey is actually a pretty remarkable liquid. Honey is primarily known for its humectant—a compound that attracts moisture to itself and helps retain the moisture—and antimicrobial qualities. Naturally, humectants are wonderful oil additives to lotions, scrubs, and other skincare products.
Honey's unique chemical composition also makes it an effective antimicrobial agent. People have used it to treat minor burns and scrapes, and for aiding the treatment of sore throats and other bacterial infections for centuries. If you just want to use it in some tea or on a muffin, honey contains antioxidants, trace amounts of vitamins, so it’s better for you than just plain sugar.
Honey in Soap Making
Honey is also a wonderful additive to soaps, and you don't have to be a beekeeper to use it. It imparts a light, warm, sweet scent, the added sugar content helps increase the lather, and acts as a humectant. We generally use about 1 tbs. per pound of oils and add it at a very light trace.
You want to make sure it gets completely incorporated into the soap before your trace gets too thick. Honey will turn your soap a light tan color. This, similar to what occurs when you use milk in soap, is from the chemical reaction with the extra sugars in the soap.
A Favorite Recipe
- 34% Olive
- 28% Coconut
- 19% Palm
- 5% Castor
- 9% Sunflower
- 5% Cocoa Butter
To make a 3 lb. batch of soap (2 lbs. of oils):
- 11 oz. olive oil
- 9 oz. coconut oil
- 6 oz. palm oil
- 1.5 oz. castor oil
- 3 oz. sunflower oil
- 1.5 oz. cocoa butter
- 4.6 oz. of lye
- 10 oz of water
- 2 generous tbsp. of honey added at very light trace
- Fragrance and/or color as desired