A Wash in Beer

Ah, beer. Who hasn’t heard of this bubbly brew or watched the Superbowl specifically to be entertained by the brewery industry’s commercials. While appealing to a broad spectrum of people, beer is a versatile beverage with a broad range of uses. It makes a tasty marinade, a moist and light bread and, fantastic soap! Yes, soap. Once the alcohol and its drying effects are removed, beer makes a near perfect skin care addition to soap. Since beer is primarily hops, many of this herb’s properties and benefits become a skin cleansing asset when added to soap. The diverse array of beers from micro breweries and distinct contributions from craft breweries add a new dimension to soap crafting options with beer.

Belgian lambic ales bring the richness and nutritional value of fruit to the beer market and when used in soap, these ales transfer these attributes to skin care. Oats, barley and wheat are mineral-rich grains that contribute an array of health promoting benefits to everything they touch, including soap. By adding lambic ales and whole grain beers to soaps, we bypass an otherwise risky bacterial potential and avoid the need for preservatives. Because of the fermentation process used in making beer coupled with the preservative and antibacterial benefits of hops, beer grants our skin the opportunity to directly benefit from these botanical ingredients when it would otherwise be problematic to the soap making process or require preservatives. If an ingredient requires a synthetic preservative to maintain purity, the reason for using “natural soap” is defeated.

In addition to adding flavor to beer, hops makes a relaxing tea. Traditional uses for hops include anti-stress or sedative blends along with sleeping formulas. Beer soap brings some of hops’ relaxing effects to the bathing experience making beer soap a great cleansing choice after a strenuous workout, whether in the gym or the yard. Hops have a slightly sweet fragrance and soaps made with beer initially display a sweet under note because of this. Over time, this fragrance tends to diminish and aroma notes contributed by other ingredients tend to be more dominant. For example, with their fruit additions, lambic ales add a beautiful, rich fruit scent to soaps made with these luscious beers. Fruit beers broaden the soap coloring palette as well so that a framboise or raspberry lambic ale grants a garnet tone to soap. Raspberries are packed with vitamins and minerals and contain ellagic acid, a compound found to have anti-carcinogenic activity on skin cancer cells as well as other cancers. Black currant or cassis lambic ale lends a rich note to bar soap acting as both a distinct coloring agent and fragrance additive. As a healthy skin addition, black currants are packed with anti-oxidants along with Vitamin E and Vitamin C among other nutrients. A robust brown color, oatmeal stout combines the skin soothing benefits of oats with hops’ anti-inflammatory, skin-softening attributes for a gentle, skin-loving wash.

I remember as a teen it was all the rage to wash your hair in beer. Personally, I didn’t much care for the idea since I disliked the smell of Coors, the only beer I was familiar with at the time. When I began exploring beer soap, however, I decided a beer shampoo bar was definitely in order. Once an appropriate ale was selected, it was time to formulate the soap recipe. For its moisturizing and small, tight bubble attributes, an abundance of castor oil figures prominently along with jojoba & wheat germ oils for their hair & skin care attributes. Since hair is made of protein, silk fibers are a nutrient additive and lend a helping hand to lather. Finally the bar is enriched with kukui nut oil, rich in essential fatty acids and noted for its hair care benefits. The resulting beer-based shampoo is a great scalp conditioning, dense-lathering bar soap that works equally well whenever a thick lather is desired, such as with shaving. Skin also benefits from this soap with its silky lather and skin-loving ingredients.

None of these skin care applications are possible without first removing the alcohol content from the beer. Not only does alcohol inhibit the chemical reaction necessary to the soap making process, it also dries the skin. This necessary extra step makes beer soap more labor intensive. While most soap makers simply substitute beer for the water portion of a soap formula and add lye to the beer, I found this method to be risky for the very reasons I wanted beer as an ingredient — the nutrients, fragrance and color. After a bit of research, I developed my own modified technique for making beer soap. Since the soap from my test batch made with a framboise lambic ale carried a noticeable fruit note and retained tones distinct to its beer base, the technique was deemed successful. This technique is now employed in all my beer soap making.

While nearly any beer can be mixed into soap, I prefer working with beers that have either ingredients beneficial to skin care or strong, unique fragrances I don’t otherwise have access to in a natural form — I never use synthetic fragrance oils in my soap. Rich colors and strong scented beers assure these treasured elements have a high probability of withstanding the soap making process. Beer soap is a wonderful cleansing and moisturizing experience…and a beer lover’s dream come true. What an inconspicuous, unique way to add health supporting characteristics to your skin care regimen — or celebrate a special occasion with someone’s favorite beer in a bar soap.

Cheers!