Today we’re squishing up a creamy off-white Gentle Clay Facial Cleansing Bar, starring velvety white kaolin clay and a gentle surfactant blend that kicks off dense, rich lather. You don’t need any heat or even a mould to make these—just a bowl, a dust mask, and a pair of gloves! We’ll smoosh and squish seven ingredients together, shape that dough as desired, and leave it to age. And that’s it! Gentle Clay Facial Cleansing Bar, here we come.
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The inspiration for this bar came from two places. The first was a sample formulation from Colonial Chemical that I came across while doing some research with a patron. I can’t share the formulation as it’s behind a log-in wall, but the general gist is that it contained nearly 25% corn starch, which wasn’t something I’d ever seen in a syndet bar before. The inclusion of that much cornstarch allowed the finished bar to have a far lower total active surfactant matter than solid syndet bars usually have. In order to be solid, they’re usually comprised of upwards of 80% solid surfactants, which makes for quite a concentrated end product. The corn starch functions a bit like water in a liquid syndet formulation: it dilutes the surfactant, making for a milder end product.
The inclusion of a large amount of corn starch led me to inspiration part 2: A request I’ve had quite a few times in the last year or two. That request was for a solid syndet bar that uses Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI) as the sole solid surfactant. Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI) has a maximum allowable usage rate of 49.87% in rinse-off products, so if we’re making a product that needs 80% or more solid surfactant in order to be solid, you can’t use just Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI) as you need another surfactant to bridge the gap between 49.87% and the 80%-ish mark. But in this bar, corn starch does that job, so we only need the one solid surfactant!
We’re using very finely powdered Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI) for this bar; if yours is chunky or in the little noodley-sticks, you can grind it up in your coffee grinder—just make sure you’re wearing a tight-fitting dust mask so you don’t inhale any surfactant powder as that is incredibly unpleasant (imagine that soap-in-your-eyes sensation, but in your airways 😬). Our powdered phase is rounded off with some white kaolin clay, which helps give this dough a really mouldable consistency and is just generally creamy and lovely in cleansers.
Once we’ve got our powdery base, we need to transform it into a mouldable dough with some wet things! Our wet phase is mostly two different liquid surfactants; non-ionic Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside, and amphoteric Cocamidopropyl Betaine. Not only do they help make our powdery base a dough, but they also make the overall product milder. If you don’t have either of them you could use a different surfactant with the same charge, like Decyl Glucoside instead of Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside, or Sodium Cocoamphoacetate instead of Cocamidopropyl Betaine.
Lastly, a small amount of jojoba oil adds some richness, and Liquid Germall™ Plus keeps things safe and stable. If you wanted to include an essential oil or fragrance oil you definitely could; I’d just knock ~0.3% off the Cocamidopropyl Betaine to make room for 0.3% essential oil or fragrance oil, adjusting as required for preference and safety.
Once you’ve mixed everything together and mashed it into submission you’ll have a stiff, workable dough. I’ve chosen to press mine, but if you don’t have a press you could absolutely hand shape or hand mould it—whatever works for you! You’ll want to leave the bar to age and dry out for at least three days before using. Enjoy!
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Gentle Clay Facial Cleansing Bar
Put on your dust mask and weigh the dry phase into a bowl. Stir until uniform.
Add the wet phase to the dry phase. Put on a pair of nitrile gloves and blend thoroughly with your hands. Once the mixture is uniform, you’ll be left with a stiff, easily-mouldable paste.
If your dough is too sticky, you’ll need to add more clay. This is likely to happen if you used a larger grain Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI) than I did, as it has less surface area to absorb moisture.
If your dough is too dry, you’ll need to add more Cocamidopropyl Betaine. This is likely to happen if you used a finer grain Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI) than I did, as it has more surface area and will absorb more moisture.
Now it’s time to press the bar! I used the cube mould, pressing the entire 70g batch at once. I highly recommend lining the top and bottom of the mould with cut-to-size pieces of parchment paper. I set the regulated pressure on my compressor to 55psi. Please watch the video to see this in action. If you don’t have a press you can use your hands to roll and smoosh it into the shape of your choosing.
Carefully un-mould the bar and leave it to dry for at least 3–4 days before using it.
Use this bar as you’d use any bar soap. Enjoy!
When made as written, the pH of this facial cleansing bar comes out to around 5.6, which is great.
Shelf Life & Storage
Because this facial cleansing bar will regularly come into contact with water, I recommend including a broad-spectrum preservative to ward off microbial growth.
As always, be aware that making substitutions will change the final product. While these swaps won’t break the recipe, you will get a different final product than I did.
- As I’ve provided this recipe in percentages as well as grams you can easily calculate it to any size using a simple spreadsheet as I’ve explained in this post. As written in grams this recipe will make 70g.
- To learn more about the ingredients used in this formulation, including why they’re included and what you can substitute them with, please visit the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia. It doesn’t have everything in it yet, but there’s lots of good information there! If I have not given a specific substitution suggestion in this list please look up the ingredient in the encyclopedia before asking.
- If you’d like to learn more about the surfactants used and compare them to ones you might already have so you can make substitutions, check out this page.
- You can use a different starch, like arrowroot, instead of corn starch.
- You can use a different light, fine clay instead of kaolin—French green or zeolite would be good choices. I do not recommend bentonite or rhassoul, or heavily pigmented clays like Australian pink.
- You can substitute another lightweight oil like sweet almond, grapeseed, or sunflower seed instead of jojoba oil.
- If you’re like to use a different preservative, please review this FAQ and this chart.
- If you’d like to incorporate an essential oil, please read this.