A lot of times I have actually heard people say they don't know what kind of soap to buy when looking at handmade soap. There are so many different kinds, so many different ingredients and additives, so many scents, so many colors!
So I always tell them, look at the ingredients. The ingredients tell all!! The first thing you need to think about is if you have any allergies. If you are allergic to nuts, stay away from soaps with nut oils. If you are allergic to latex, stay away from shea butter. If you are allergic to lavender, stay away from soap with lavender essential oil. Look at the ingredients and use your common sense when it comes to your allergies.
If you feel you have sensitive skin, stay away from fragranced soap, at least to start out with. Look for soaps with plenty of olive oil. Olive oil makes a very mild soap, good for most skin types. Look for additives like goat milk, or honey which are natural and good to your skin. Once you have found an unscented soap that your skin likes, THEN look at the same soap with some fragrance added.
Fragrance Free Goat Milk Soap
Now think about what you want your soap to do. Do you need a real scrub-a-dub soap that will clean dirty hands that have been out in the garden? Or do you need a soap for your face? If you need a scrub-a-dub soap, look for soap with additives like dried herbs, seeds, or some other kind of exfoliating property. If you need a soap for your face, you need a mild, unabrasive soap. Do you need a soap that is conditioning, or a soap that is for oily skin? My soaps are all formulated for conditioning. So I start with olive oil, add coconut oil for lathering, then add other oils and butters such as grapeseed oil, canola oil, wheat germ oil, avocado oil, sweet almond oil, cocoa butter, or shea butter .. all mild, all conditioning.
Herbal Rosemary Soap
If you are interested in scented soap, again look at the ingredients. Soaps will be scented with either natural essential oils, or synthetic fragrance oils. If you want natural, stick to the essential oils. But don't be afraid of fragrance oils! Even though they are synthetic, most soapmakers go out of their way to find high quality, skin safe fragrance oils. I myself always buy my fragrance oils from reputable suppliers, and I always make sure they are phthalate free.
Asian Lily & Musk Melon Soap
If you want a pretty soap, again look at the ingredients to see what is used for a colorant. There are many natural and skin safe colorants, such as clays, herbs, oxides, micas. I have used cocoa for dark brown swirls, carrots for a wonderful yellow, ground rosemary for a brown/green swirl. Fragrance oils with vanilla will give a soap a tan to a deep brown color, depending on how much vanilla there is in the fragrance oil.
Black Raspberry Vanilla Swirl Soap
Never hesitate to ask a soapmaker a question about their soaps. I have never met a soapmaker that didn't like talking about their soaps and what goodness lies within them! :)