Soap Secrets with Kari Bower of Emelmahae Soap Company

"If you don't have lye, you don't have soap." This is the soap gospel according to Kari Bower, creator of Emelmahae Soap Company, who makes all-natural, eco-friendly body products including soaps and lip balms.

Bower says unlike many "detergents" and "beauty bars" on the market, hers is real, safe soap that is made with lye. Some people are afraid of the idea of lye in their soap, she says, but explains that the lye is transformed into another chemical completely during the soap-making process. 

Bower started her company in 2002, after she tried soap making as a hobby and developed a real passion for the process. Ever since, she's created her products in her lemongrass- and lavender-scented home studio in Phoenix and makes appearances at the Downtown Phoenix Public Market.

We took a visit to see how she does it. Check out more after the jump...

photo by Jessica VanZalen
​ Bower makes an assortment of scents such as peppermint rosemary and orange pomander that are created by recipes from scratch. She often tests out different techniques and is currently working on creating a liquid soap to add to her line.

She warns those interested in making their own soaps to be aware of the safety rules. (She puts emphasis on the "no aluminum" rule because it will react with the lye... in a very bad way.) And always remember to wear an apron because the oils can stain everything.

Soap-making products are easy to find in small quantities and, with the proper research, can easily be mastered, she says. "It's really fun to watch the oils you mix and put in scents that you like and see it turn into something you can actually use," she says.

Here is a look into her process:

A tea is mixed into the lye and oils to create the lemon with chamomile tea soap (above). Bower blends them together to generate a thicker consistency.

Once the mixture has "traces" (little crackled lines) on the surface, it is poured into a mold to harden.

​ Bower puts plastic wrap and weights over the soap, then wraps it in towels to keep the sides warm. This is called "putting the soap to bed," she says.

​Once the soap sits wrapped for about a day, it is taken out of the mold in a giant block, which is then cut into long blocks and cut into bars to be sold.

All Emelmahae products are earth-friendly, Bower says. "I'm as green as I possibly can be. My boxes are all recycled and I try to keep all of my packaging to things that can be recycled," she says.

And in case you were wondering, the name "Emelmahae" is the middle name of her dog who, as it turns out, also uses her products.

Emelmahae Soap Company products can be purchased online and at the Downtown Phoenix Public Market. Check out the market's hours, as well as other public and farmers markets in a rundown by our foodie sister blog, Chow Bella.

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Jessica VanZalen