Monday, June 25, 2012

Making Shea Butter Soap: Home Ec in Africa

This past week we had the opportunity to make a batch of Shea Butter Soap. We have a woman who comes here to the orphanage and makes large batches of soap which we use for our widow baskets, sponsorship distributions, for the needs at the orphanage and to sell to others.

Shea butter comes from the nuts of the Shea Tree and is know for its amazing moisturizing properties. You can find numerous skin products that contain Shea Butter. The Shea Tree grows naturally here is Burkina Faso where is called Buerre de Karité (because this is a french speaking country). The people here apply Shea Butter daily because it helps keep skin from drying and cracking. Our babies get a generous slathering after each bath.

We wanted to test a new recipe for our soap that uses more Shea Butter. We wanted less of the other oils used in our soapmaking and more of the good stuff. It is also more cost effective when we produce large quantities. We also wanted to try a different shape and have some fun by using soap stamps.

Welcome to the test kitchen!!

Step One-
Purchase all the ingredients. We went to the market to buy the Shea Butter. You can see in the picture that they form it into small balls and they continually keep it wet so that it won't dry out.

Step Two-
Carefully mix the water and the lye in a bucket. Lye can burn your skin so use extra caution when mixing.

Step Three-
Melt the Shea Butter over low heat. You do not want it to burn.

Step Four-
Mix in your oils and colorant if you are using one. We went natural.

Step Five-
After the ingredients are mixed well, take off the heat and pour contents into bucket. Again, be carefull as you are now working with lye again so you may want twear gloves. We don't have gloves, but we did have a ziplock bag handy.

Step 6-
Add the fragrance last, but stir in quickly because this stuff starts to harden fast.

Step 7-
Now you pour the soap into a mold. Typically our soap is poured into a rectangle made from wood that has been nailed together. This time we decided to try circular soap. We used PVC tubes and lined them with silicone oven liners. Cute shaped molds are not available to us here and not really practical when making a large quantity. We have to get creative with the resources we have.

Step 8-
When the soap goes into the mold you need to tap the mold several times to remove any air bubbles. Then you wait for the oap to harden. You don't want it to get completely hard because it will be difficult to cut and if you want to use a soap stamp it needs to be a little soft. The soap stamps were not bought here either, but brought by the lovely Dawn you see pouring the soap. Dawn stayed here in Yako for a week and brought with her wonderful ideas. Below you can see the finished product.

We still have some tweking to do, but we are happy with the product, how it lathers and leaves the skin soft and clean. 

Below is a recipe that you can try. Find more recipes at

Basic Shea Butter Soap

Base IngredientsGramsOunces
Coconut Oil270 gr.9.524 oz.30%
Palm Oil270 gr.9.524 oz.30%
Olive Oil270 gr.9.524 oz.30%
Shea Butter90 gr.3.175 oz.10%
Distilled Water326.07 gr.11.502 oz.
Lye124.451 gr.4.39 oz.

Fragrance and Colorant are optional

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