Pure & Simple

Local artisans proudly craft and sell natural soaps as well as a variety of other natural products.
The Hiltons use a manual soap cutter. Displayed are their packaged soaps and other natural products.

“Simplicity. Simplicity. Simplicity.” According to Henry David Thoreau, it’s the secret to a fulfilling life. According to three local soapmakers, it’s also the key to their increasingly popular products.

From the earliest days, soapmaking was a pretty simple process that required only a few basic, natural ingredients. As early as 2800 B.C., ancient Babylonians had already figured out that all they had to do was boil fat and mix it with ashes and a little water to make soap for wool-washing and skin disease treatment. People gradually discovered that soap had aesthetic and hygienic benefits for their bodies, too. Still, for centuries, soap’s simple recipe remained pretty much unchanged.

Fast forward nearly 5,000 years and read the ingredients listed on commercial soap or body wash. You’ll likely find a lot more than fat, lye and water. Today’s commercial soap recipes often include a host of chemicals to increase lather, reduce water surface tension to promote easy rinsing, distinguish the scent and look of the product from others, or function as filler. For some consumers, as the list of ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate, triclosan, dioxane, parabens, sodium isethionate, diethanolamine, formaldehyde and PEG-6 grows longer, so does their list of concerns about the potentially toxic effects of chemicals.

Has simplicity in soap-making gone down the proverbial drain? Not if Mary Ann and Bill Hilton, Lauren Leonard, and Lee Cloward have anything to say about it. They all make pure and natural soaps that harken back to soap’s humble beginnings.

Mary Ann Hilton, president and co-owner of Blue Dolphin Soap LLC, started hand-making her natural soap 25 years ago. Although she and her husband, Bill, both grew up in Florida, they were living in California when she and a friend first signed up for a soapmaking class. One class led to another; and before they knew it, Mary Ann and her friend were devoting so much time, energy and space to making their soaps for family and friends that their husbands issued an ultimatum, “Back off or start selling this stuff!” They chose the second option and began carting their soaps off to Bay Area green markets and craft fairs. 

Categories: Features