When customers tell us that they have a favorite Sirona Springs soap, it’s usually the scent that sets it apart from all the others. This is not surprising, since the sense of smell is the one sense most closely connected to the limbic system, the part of the brain controlling emotion, memory and behavior. If you have ever caught a whiff of a perfume that reminded you of your long-lost grandma, you’ve experienced this close relationship.
Scents or smells are just a blend of chemical compounds that are released into the air and interact with the scent receptors in our noses. They bind to receptors in the lining of the nose causing the associated nerve cells to send a message to a part of the brain called the olfactory bulb. There the messages are sorted out and the brain is able to detect “lemon” or “buttercream icing” or “sweat”.
While the smell of plain soap is pleasant enough, adding a scent to soap really turns the practical job of getting clean into an enjoyable experience. Scents that we use to fragrance our soaps are the same chemicals that give fruit, flowers and plants their distinctive smells. Whether extracted from plants or blended in a laboratory, scents are just chemicals that smell!
Smells that come from Mother Nature
Essential oils are concentrated liquids that contain the volatile chemicals that give things odor. The liquid is extracted from its source by either distillation (using heat to separate out the essential oils), solvent extraction (using water and solvents to separate compounds) or expression (squeezing the source to remove the oil from it). Sources of essential oils include things like the peels of citrus fruits, the leaves of plants like peppermint, and the petals of flowers like jasmine. Some of our most popular soaps that are scented with essential oils are Morning Mojito and Provence.
Some scent molecules are so fragile that they are destroyed in the process of extraction and no longer smell like they did in their fresh version. That is why something like an essential oil of watermelon or cucumber does not exist. For that, we must turn to chemical engineering and what is called fragrance oils.
Smells that come from your friendly neighborhood chemist
Fragrance oils are a mixture of chemicals that are synthesized and blended to mimic the chemical composition of a certain scent. Chemists can analyze the individual chemicals that make up what we smell as “watermelon”, for example, and bring those chemicals together in a laboratory, basically copying what nature can do on her own. This is how soapmakers can make soap smell like cotton candy or banana pudding.
Another reason to use fragrance oils is as a substitute for an essential oil that is too expensive or rare. For example, the overharvesting of Indian sandalwood for its highly regarded essential oil has resulted in the species being threatened. A synthesized fragrance oil is a good alternative to help save Indian sandalwood trees.
Let the soap shine through!
Sometimes handmade soap is made with ingredients that lend a mild scent to the finished soap without needing any added fragrance. The goat milk and honey added to our Honeycomb soap not only makes for a mild soap, but also gives a delicate, creamy scent. Adding beer to cold process soap can, I hear, also result in a soap with a light, nutty scent. I haven’t tried it yet but it’s on my To-do list!
Whichever way you like your handmade soap scented, I hope that it brings you nothing but nice feelings and happy memories!
Do you have a favorite Sirona Springs bar? How does the scent make YOU feel?