What can go wrong when using shea butter in your handmade soap recipe? 

Hello there, this might be a bumpy ride, so do make some tea or coffee first, and then sit down. I’ll wait.

While I’m letting my water to boil (I’m making chamomile tea), I can tell you that today we’re going to be talking about the issues you might have with using shea butter in a handmade soap recipe.


So, as I mentioned before – you can always substitute shea butter in any given recipe, but it is not always needed.

For example, if you have a melt-and-pour soap with a goat’s milk base – you don’t really need to add any shea butter because goat’s milk is soft by itself.

You also don’t need to use shea butter in castile soap because it has so much olive oil. However, it gets a bit trickier with harder soaps – like soaps made with coconut oil. 

These soaps usually need shea butter to soften up, but you can use any other ‘soft’ butter instead, such as coconut butter or mango butter.

1. Handmade Soap Recipe Disaster and Shea Butter

I once made a recipe with a melt-and-pour base, a bit of olive oil and shea butter. I thought it would make for some really light, creamy soap, and it did, but when it cured it got this ‘dust’ at the edges.

Now, I didn’t really mind when I washed myself with it because it was rinsed away under water anyway, but it got frustrating when I wanted to give it away as a gift – because it had dusty edges, it seemed like old soap.

And I didn’t want my friends to think that I’m giving them some of my soap leftovers, so I just gave them another soap instead.

So what exactly was wrong with this handmade soap recipe?

I've since learned you shouldn’t mix olive oil and shea butter. I guess it creates a chemical reaction which ends up showing as ‘dust’. Instead, I recommend using coconut butter. No more dusty edges!

2. Handmade Soap Recipe Disaster

Two other things that can happen are that it can just fall apart, or it can get an oily surface. Remember when we talked about that? 

The soap doesn’t cure properly, and a thick layer of fat stays at the top? 

Yeah, that can sometimes happen if the handmade soap recipe contains too much shea butter and essential oils. 

If you want to avoid the problem, you could just leave out the essential oils.

But if you’re a nut for lovely scented soaps, no pun intended, like me, and then my best advice for you is to heat up your essential oils before mixing them into the soap mixture. 

Don’t overheat them, just warm them up a bit, and they will react better with shea butter, combine with it, and contain all the fatty acids in the butter, thus there will be no oily surface on the soap.

3. Handmade Soap Recipe Disaster 

The ‘grainy’ thing – you may not know this if you’ve never held proper shea butter in your hands, but the butter is sort of grainy. And because of such consistency it sometimes doesn’t dissolve in the soap mixture. 

Instead, the bar of soap is not smooth, it’s grainy – which works for me, but I know some of you love smooth soap, so this is a fair warning. 

See, shea butter is so fatty that in the worst case scenario it actually doesn’t mix with the soap thoroughly but instead you might have small blotches of it left in the soap bar. 

The best advice I can give you here and this works for me - is to melt the butter, or at least to warm it up slightly before pouring it into the mixture. That way it will already be dissolved and it will blend with the rest of the mixture better.

Note: If you have nut allergies you may not be able to use coconut butter as shea butter substitute, so I recommend using mango butter instead. 

If there is no allergy, it's a matter of preference. I personally don’t use mango butter a lot because I don’t like the smell (and if I’m honest, the cream that I used when I got the allergy had mango butter inside, so I kind of stay away from it since then).

But if you have a nut or latex allergy it can provide a great substitute!

Remember, if you’re not sure about the allergy – use a very small amount of the ingredient on your skin, and then wait at least 24 hours to see if you have any kind of reaction. It truly is the safest way.

Happy Soapy to You......

› Handmade Soap Recipe and Shea Butter

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