A little more than three years ago Barbara Brewer was probably one of the busiest women in the Rim Country. She was mayor of Payson, had her own business, the Swiss Beauty Connection, was active in her church and had a variety of other commitments. For rest and relaxation she took up a hobby -- making soaps, lotions, bath salts and body scrubs.
She learned the processes and recipes from Payson's former Main Street Program Director Karen Greenspoon, who also gave Brewer much of the equipment and supplies to get started -- and the business name she had concocted, "Body Confections."
Brewer rarely does things by half-measure though. She was not content to make the soaps and lotions just as a hobby.
"My mind is always racing," she admits. Almost before she had her first batch of 28 bars of soap finished, she was thinking about the business potential of custom-made body products.
"I made enough to sell at the shop, Christmas, three years ago," she said. Each Christmas since, Brewer has featured Body Confections at her beauty shop, both individual bars, bottles and containers, as well as gift baskets. She also has made gift baskets for Easter in the past, but not this year. "There wasn't enough time."
She has launched a formal body products business yet.
"I'm still playing," she said, "Trying new fragrances to find what's compatible."
Brewer still thinks of her soap making as a hobby, that takes her away from the daily stuff. But she is also thinking about trying her hand at candle making and then developing a gift basket combination that includes both the body products and candles. She is studying Internet marketing as well.
Brewer likes making pure glycerin soaps, using fragrance and color. "Some soap recipes call for lye, but that is too drying. The glycerin soaps are moisturizing. My skin is so soft after I've made a batch."
She buys the glycerin in bulk cubes from suppliers such as Ye Olde Soap Shoppe (soapmaking.com) and acornsoapandcandlesupply.com. Brewer said the fragrances from Sweet Cakes® have the most staying power. She said starter supplies can be found at the Michaels craft stores and Jo-Ann stores.
The glycerin soap can also have powdered milk or canned goat's milk added to it to create a more opaque soap.
Brewer's favorite fragrances are gardenia, mistletoe kiss and lavender, but she has a large selection of fragrances and essential oils she can use.
To make a batch of soap takes about two hours of work, overnight "seasoning" and the time it takes to get the soap from the mold. She cuts up the block of glycerin into chunks and puts it in a deep metal pot on a burner (working at her shop she just uses a little single-coil burner) and lets it melt. To the melted glycerin she adds the color and fragrance she has chosen, lets it blend, then pours it all into a mold. She has a basic bar mold that can give her 28 pieces and also specially-shaped molds to make more customized soaps -- generally only four at a time.
The glycerin mixture sits in the mold overnight to set and then is heated to release the soaps. How long the release process takes varies, Brewer said.
To make liquid soap, she uses a ready-made, scentless glycerin liquid and just adds the fragrance and color.
"I don't make liquid soap very often, it's just mixing and shaking. Not much fun," Brewer said.
The process of making custom body lotions is similar. She uses a ready-made, scentless base and just adds the fragrance and color.
Bath salts and body scrubs are a different matter. Her bath salts are a combination of Epsom salts and sea salt, fragrance or essential oil and binding oil such as grape seed, jojoba, etc., and color if desired. She generally makes two, two-pint batches of the salts at a time.
Brewer tells her customers to use two tablespoons (she attaches little wooden measuring spoons to her jars) of the bath salt in a tub of water. She said it softens the water and is very moisturizing to the skin because of the amount of binding oil she uses.
She gave some of her bath salts to her physical therapist for Christmas and the therapist told her they were the best bath salts she had ever used. She liked them so much she ordered another batch for herself and some for her daughter as well.
The body scrubs Brewer makes include four different kinds of salt, including Dead Sea and special mineral salts, enough of the binding oil to keep the combination more liquid than solid, which makes the scrub moisturizing as well as exfoliating, plus fragrance.
It takes only 15 to 20 minutes to make batches of bath soaps and about the same amount of time to make the scrubs.
Brewer said anyone interested in trying their hand at making custom body products should start with a kit from Michaels or Jo-Ann or any of the Internet suppliers. She also suggests reading up on the hobby and said Git A Rope has a very good book on old-fashioned soap making.