Oct 12

HSMG Member Spotlight: Alabu Skin Care

This feature was originally published at the Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild, right here.

Recently, we caught up with Alabu Skin Care founder Maryclaire Mayes.  Alabu, a soapmaking and natural products company based in Mechanicville, NY, has been an HSMG member since 2001. Says Maryclaire, “I wanted to be part of a professional group that supported handcrafted soapmakers”.

Alabu company logo

Making soap fits so well into Maryclaire’s lifestyle that it’s hard to believe it took a homegrown chemistry lesson to spark her initial interest.

You can thank a ten year old’s wish for a horse (fulfilled with two goats instead) for the initial supply of goat milk and goat buttermilk that make up every bar of Alabu soap.  Now, a friend’s five-goat crew supplies the necessary fresh milk for each and every batch of Alabu soap.

“My first batch size was 9 bars, ” relates Maryclaire, “and I soon doubled that and then I went to 36 bars and then 85. I couldn’t lift a larger batch and I thought  that was it. Then my husband and my son figured out how to scale the batch size to 320 bars and they typically do 4 batches at a time.”  From those early days of 9-bar batches, Alabu now produces nearly 20,000 pounds of soap a year and can be found at hundreds of retail locations across the US.

On the scent end of spectrum, the business has taken the opposite tack.  After ballooning to over 50 different scents based on requests, Alabu has decided fewer scents make for better business.  “We have 20 now and are still paring down”.  Another surprise is just how little production space has been required as the business grows.

And that signature oval bar?  It not only felt nice, but was functional, too.  Oval bars lent themselves nicely to being made into logs, which, as Maryclaire explains, “helped keep the goat milk from over-heating and simplified cutting”.

A recurring theme at Alabu is productivity and continuous improvement and indeed, says Maryclaire of her husband Dean, “I think he was an efficiency expert in another life.”  Dean has developed many time-saving gadgets for the company, including devices to extract soap from molds, cut full logs of soaps, press manufacturing “seconds” into bars, tip and hoist pots, and make molds mobile.  You can see a few of these innovative tools in action here.

Thank you, Alabu, for sharing a behind the scenes look at your company with our readers.  Here’s to your continued success!

Feb 12

Stay Well this Flu Season

Hand-washing is one of the easiest and most effective ways to cut your risk of getting sick and spreading illness. Here are the do’s and don’t of hand washing to keep you healthy this winter:

One of the most important reasons for hand washing is all the germs our hands come in contact with when we touch surfaces around us. Studies show that the average adult touches their face with their hands about 16 times per hour and 80% of infectious diseases are spread by touch. Frequent hand washing can cut your risk of colds by up to 50%.

Here are the latest tips from the Mayo Clinic:

Always wash your hands before:

  • Preparing food or eating
  • Treating wounds, giving medicine, or caring for a sick or injured person
  • Inserting or removing contact lenses

Always wash your hands after:

  • Preparing food, especially raw meat or poultry
  • Using the toilet or changing a diaper
  • Touching an animal or animal toys, leashes, or waste
  • Blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing into your hands
  • Treating wounds or caring for a sick or injured person
  • Handling garbage, household or garden chemicals, or anything that could be contaminated — such as a cleaning cloth or soiled shoes

In addition, wash your hands whenever they look dirty (of course!).

How to wash your hands

It’s generally best to wash your hands with soap and water. Follow these simple steps:

  • Wet your hands with running water.
  • Apply liquid, bar or powder soap. ( Here at Alabu we prefer bar soap which is the most gentle for your skin)
  • Lather well.
  • Rub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Remember to scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails.
  • Rinse well.
  • Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel or air dryer.
  • If possible, use your towel to turn off the faucet.

How to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer

It is always better to wash the contaminant off your hands than trying to kill them. Flu viruses seem to be more resistant to hand sanitizers than bacteria. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers, which don’t require water, are an acceptable alternative when soap and water aren’t available. If you choose to use a hand sanitizer, make sure the product contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Then follow these simple steps:

  • Apply enough of the product to the palm of your hand to wet your hands completely.
  • Rub your hands together, covering all surfaces, until your hands are dry.

Antimicrobial wipes or towelettes are another effective option. Again, look for a product that contains a high percentage of alcohol. If your hands are visibly dirty, wash with soap and water.

Keep in mind that antibacterial soap is no more effective at killing germs than is regular soap. Using antibacterial soap may even lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the product’s antimicrobial agents — making it harder to kill these germs in the future.

Help children stay healthy by encouraging them to wash their hands properly and frequently. Wash your hands with your child to show him or her how it’s done. To prevent rushing, suggest washing hands for as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. You might place hand-washing reminders at your child’s eye level, such as a chart by the bathroom sink that can be marked every time your child washes his or her hands. If your child can’t reach the sink on his or her own, keep a step stool handy.

Hand-washing is especially important for children in child care settings. Young children cared for in groups outside the home are at greater risk of respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases, which can easily spread to family members and other contacts. Be sure your child care provider promotes frequent hand-washing or use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Ask whether the children are required to wash their hands several times a day — not just before meals. Note, too, whether diapering areas are cleaned after each use and whether eating and diapering areas are well separated.

A simple way to stay healthy

Hand-washing doesn’t take much time or effort, but it offers great rewards in terms of preventing illness. Adopting this simple habit can play a major role in protecting your health.


Jul 11

Discuss SCA 2011!

The wonderful people over at Personal Care Truth have started a Facebook page dedicated to discussion of the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011. You can check it out right here: http://www.facebook.com/HR2359. Go ahead, get involved!

Jul 11

Ten Reasons Why You Should Not Support SCA 2011

Robert Tisserand at Personal Care Truth

The Environmental Working Group, who have given birth to this legislation, is an incompetent organization that does not understand the science of toxicology, does not understand natural products, and that takes a biased, negative view of safety, often seeing dangers that do not exist.

This is about the best summary I’ve heard of the Environmental Working Group. For those of you who don’t know, Robert Tisserand is considered by most people in our industry to be the world’s foremost expert on essential oils, and an expert aromatherapist. Generally when he speaks, I listen.

You can read the rest of his article right here.

Jul 11

Made-up Cosmetics Concerns

(Via Personal Care Truth or Scare)

A frustrated ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross wonders why such needless regulations are being written by a chemophobic activist group whose only expertise lies in scaring the public and manipulating consumer fears about chemicals. “They even have the temerity to actually take ‘credit’ for calling cosmetics harmful and laced with such ‘toxic contaminants’ as phthalates, formaldehyde, and metals,” he says. “These products have been in widespread — indeed, universal — use for decades, and now, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (a creature of the Environmental Working Group) and its lackeys in Congress, they have suddenly become a health hazard?

Additionally, many of these “toxic” chemicals occur naturally in low doses in the foods we eat every day. Apples, for example, contain small amounts of formaldehyde—not from any human action, but they actually produce them as they grow. It’s small facts like this that can be used to make wild claims like “this lipstick contains cancer-causing formaldehyde”, when it could just be that it contains an apple extract. Groups like the Environmental Working Group aren’t generally interested in the truth, though. Just how they can present information in a way that fits their agenda.

Remember, any time a discussion about toxicity comes up, you can’t determine if something is toxic until you find out what kind of dosage you’re talking about. It’s the dose that makes the poison.