As it sounds, handcrafted soap is usually made by hand. It's a process that is done with care using specifically chosen ingredients. The recipes abound. Different oils and butters will impart various conditioning, emollient and cleansing properties with varying levels of gentleness. The soaps may be enhanced with added essential oils, fragrances, herbs, flowers, coloring and more.
Handcrafted soaps are done through the hot process or cold process methods. The cold process method allows for a higher degree of flexibility when it comes to thickness of the soap base being poured into a mold. This is because the cold process method usually involves mixing the lye water solution with the oils which is then blended to the desired consistency. The mix is poured into a mold and left to sit for several weeks to allow the soap to cure. Meaning, the excess lye will fully react with the mixture and the excess water will evaporate. The cold process method will usually give a smoother looking soap all around. It also allows for higher flexibility when it comes to coloring and decorating. Finally, the cold process method allows for a smoother consistency throughout the soap. The hot process method is not as forgiving.
The hot process method also involves mixing the lye water solution with the oils, but instead of blending and pouring into a mold, the mixture is blended then cooked. This can be very advantageous because when the mixture is cooked, it simultaneously reacts all of the excess lye and evaporates the excess water making the product readily available for use. However, this leaves a much thicker base resembling more of a paste. This method can also produce various textures throughout the soap as different parts of the mix come in contact with cooler air or the hotter surface of the heated apparatus while cooking. There are several soaping tricks can be used to make the hot process soap base thinner and therefore easier to mold and decorate, however, these methods could involve adding extra water or other liquid substances that may add drying time to the final product.
Natural soap can experience color changes, scent changes, texture or weight changes over a period of time. For the most part, the soap is still very much usable. The important thing to remember is that handmade soap is natural and dynamic. Unlike detergent soaps, it is not made to last years on a shelf. Handmade soap is not supposed to look or feel like commercial soaps. Natural soaps can be smooth or lumpy, they can have an even consistency or they can be textured. There may be color variations. Bars cut from the same log may not look exactly the same, they may not have the same exact weight. These things do not take away from the product but instead, testify to its handmade origin and lends to its all natural nature. Handmade soap is made to be used, enjoyed and relished knowing that someone's hands made that bar of soap for you.