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When your friends come over, you want to impress, even in the powder room. Fragrant artisan soaps keep your bathroom sweet-smelling, and designer bars please the eyes and skin along with the nose. These special soaps look pretty and contain moisturizing ingredients to leave your guests' skin soft and fragrant. Soaps created by hard milling, also known as French milling, use a time-honored soap-making technique. These aren't mass-marketed bath soaps -- they're the distinctive soaps sold in bath and body stores and are often made by hand.
Makers of hard-milled soap use an old-fashioned technique to create custom beauty bars. The actual milling process is done after the soap base has already been made. The base contains only a small amount of glycerin, the ingredient used to make many commercial soaps, or none at all. Once the soap base has hardened, it's shaved, melted, and mixed thoroughly with water and other ingredients. These can be herbs, oils, fragrances and additional moisturizers. The mixture is then forced into molds and left to harden and cure. The minimal glycerin ensures a very hard, long-lasting soap.
Some hard-milled soaps use oil as part of the soap base, and others have oils and other moisturizing ingredients mixed in during the milling process. The oils and extracts leave your skin soft so you can moisturize as long as your soap lasts. There are 30 steps involved in the process used to make Crabtree & Evelyn's triple-milled specialty soaps, according to the company website. Companies like Crabtree, Caswell-Massey and Thymes infuse their moisturizing designer soaps with hydrating ingredients like beeswax, oatmeal and wheat germ extracts, shea butter, cocoa butter, evening primrose oil, honey and yogurt.
A strong, long-lasting aroma is one of the goals of artisan soap makers. They may experiment and go through trial and error with their soap milling mixtures to get the exact fragrance and quality they desire. Sweet Grass Farms, makers of Farmhouse Triple-Milled Soaps, uses pure essential oils like lavender and lilac to achieve the right scent. Casswell-Massey uses the fragrant scent of gardenia in one of its triple-milled soaps. Crabtree & Evelyn claims that the fragrance of its Crabapple & Mulberry Triple-Milled Soap "remains to the final sliver."
As you can guess, hard-milled soaps don't come cheaply. For 3.5- to 5.6-ounce bars, Thymes hand-milled bar soaps sell for about $13, and the deliciously scented Crabtree & Evelyn French-milled soaps cost between $15 and $24 at the time of publication. Casswell-Massey's triple-milled soaps go for a bit less; three 3.25-ounce bars sell for $20 at the time of publication. You can buy hard-milled specialty soaps at your local beauty retailer, and they're also a hot-selling craft show item. The prices at these venues are likely to be similar or slightly higher than those of the big beauty retailers.