Chase woman finds healing properties in handmade soap
CHASE — A weekend outing helped Pamela Forstner find a hobby, eventually start a small business and find relief for her skin problems.
Forstner has psoriasis and when she used soap purchased from the store it would cause her painful skin rashes.
“Each time I used store-bought soap I would get red, patchy, scaly skin that would crack and sometimes bleed,” Forstner said.
For many years Forstner would dealt with the outbreaks by using prescribed creams and lotions, but she continued to search for an alternative.
“I thought there had to be a better, more natural approach to this than putting steroid medications on my skin,” Forstner said.
It was 1994 when Forstner found her solution. She was at a gun show with her now-husband, Steve. The couple were browsing around when Forstner came across a country vendor who was selling handmade soaps. The soap caught her attention because she was looking for something to help her and her mother with their dry skin problems. The vendor informed her the soap would not irritate her skin, so she decided to try it.
“I was taking care of her mother at the time and I wanted to find something that would help,” Forstner said. “I picked up a couple of bars and took them home. When I used the soap, I was amazed. It was like night and day. The handmade soap I bought worked so good. It was obvious I had to learn how to make soap myself.”
Making soap can be a hazardous process. Lye, one of the ingredients used in making soap, is caustic and if it gets on your skin it can scar or burn the skin.
“It is very dangerous to make soap,” Forstner said. “You need to be careful and know what you are doing before starting the process. Anyone considering making soap should research and understand the dangers that come with it.”
She studied for two and half years because the process of making soap worried her.
“I just started reading lots of books out of my own curiosity,” she said. “I wanted to make soap for myself, but before I would start I needed to understand everything about it.”
At one point in her studies she came across a photo of a lady who looked like she had been badly burned in a fire.
“Before anyone starts making soap they should look at the photo,” Forstner said. “That image of what lye can do to a person’s skin can never be erased from my mind.”
When Forstner finally attempted her first batch of soap she realized she was in a learning process. As a self-taught soap maker Forstner spent many days perfecting her recipe.
“You can’t imagine the amount of dollars that went out the door with each batch I tried,” Forstner said. “It is not easy coming up with a soap that will work.”
After a lot of trial and error Forstner created her own soap recipe and she can now bathe without pain. Her soaps are made of natural essential oils, goats milk, coconut milk and other natural products to give her soaps the variety of colors.
“Goat milk soap is very soothing for the skin and is good for people who have eczema,” Forstner said. “Coconut milk soap also is really good for the skin, but is more of luxury soap and I use real Shea butter. I don’t go cheap when I make my soap.”
Commercially made soap is different from homemade soap because companies use petroleum based oils. When making soap the traditional way people are more likely to use natural essential oils, said Karen Brookshear, an employee of Hometown Health Food in Remus.
“Some people who suffer from dry, red skin should look at how much they are washing and what soaps they are using because sometimes what we do to clean ourselves causes the irritation,” Brookshear said.
Brookshear said most standard soaps and lotions also do a poor job of moisturizing skin.
“Using those products that claim they are designed to help with dry skin can actually lead to more skin issues over time,” Brookshear said. “They rob your body of its natural oils.”
There are two processes used in making soap. The hot process begins by adding lye to water.
“This simple step is actually slightly dangerous, since people who accidentally add water to lye will inadvertently cause a minor explosion,” Forstner said. “The lye must be added to the water, not the other way around.”
Next, the lye mixture is added to heated fat and the mixture is stirred for a while before adding any desired extras, such as oatmeal, micas, orange peel, etcetera. The mixture is then stirred a little more to make sure everything is evenly distributed before being poured into molds.
Forstner prefers the cold process because it allows her to add the designs and have a smoother product.
“The cold process is very similar to the hot process, except that the mixture is not heated throughout the entire stirring process,” Fosrtner said. “I mix everything at room temperature.”
Forstner then uses the oven to finish her product.
“People who do not oven process the soap would then wrap towels around the soap mold to insulate their mold,” Forstner said. “Using the oven I set the temperature at 170 degrees Fahrenheit and leave my soap for an hour before I turn the oven off. I let the soap sit in the oven over night and the next day I slice the soap into bars to let cure for another two weeks.”
orstner prefers to have all her ingredients measured out and tools set up before starting to make soap. She avoids distractions when she prepares soap and she makes sure she has her safety gear on.
“I use a full-face shield, rubber gloves and wear long sleeve garments,” Forstner said. “I always pre-mix my essential oils so I have a batch ready to go when I need it. I weigh everything. You want to give your full attention when making soap.”
Forstner was pleased with the soap she was making she started giving bars as gifts to friends and family. Soon, requests came from friends for more soap.
“I quickly became obsessed with making soap and just decided to sell a few bars at home. That was the beginning,” Forstner said.
Forstner and Steve began to attend some local festivals to sell her soap.
“I just help with carrying and transportation of the product,” Steve said. “Pamela handles the business. It’s her soap creations that sell.”
Forstner started her small hobby business Stone Heart Farm in 2002, after her mother passed. Each soap bar she makes is imprinted with a heart to mark her unique product. Her soaps can be purchased at the Shrine of The Pines and online at stoneheartfarm.com.
“I’m not trying to be something I’m not,” Forstner said. “I know I’m not some big corporate entity. I just want my soap to stand out as an accessible alternative to large corporate endeavors. My soap will continue to be artisan-made, each bar a little different in appearance, but uniform in quality.”