SHERIDAN— “I started making soap to solve a problem,” Alex Johnson said. “From there, it turned into gifts, a business and a creative process. It’s a funny combination.”
Johnson has struggled with eczema all of her life. Approximately six years ago, she started mixing her own lotions to use as an alternative to conventionally-available hygiene products.
“I didn’t want to pay a fortune for products that would make my skin break out and I got sick of only being able to use things that were really bland,” she said. “So, I started Googling things and trying to figure it out on my own.”
A few months later, Johnson began making body scrubs, and eventually, her creativity expanded to include a comprehensive non-irritating get clean arsenal of bath bombs, shampoo bars and soap.
Johnson said her primitive lotions consisted of using coconut oil as a base. From there, she expanded into using many mediums like shea butter, goat milk or beeswax. Then, she adds different scents via essential oil infusions or other plant ingredients like lavender or rosemary.
Susie Dudley has known Johnson since her childhood. Johnson was friends with Dudley’s daughter and they grew up together. She saw the beginnings of Johnson’s venture.
“She started calling me and asking questions about essential oils,” said Dudley, who advocates for essential oils because of her personal beneficial experiences. “I would look stuff up and read her the information.”
Along with her knowledge of infusions, Johnson’s soapmaking went through a learning evolution.
“I tried doing a ‘melt and pour’ soaps first, which is where the soap is already made. You just have to melt it and add whatever other ingredients you have,” she said, adding that using a ready-made soap base didn’t give her any control over the underlying composition of the final product.
To fully harness command over the finer details of her creations, Johnson had to bring out her bravery. Starting soap from raw ingredients means working with a base that consists of fats, water and lye.
“Whenever you read about making soap, the first thing you come up with is all these warnings about the dangers of using lye, and that really scared me,” she said. “I finally took the leap and decided I was just going to make my own soap from scratch. Once I decided to do that, I started having so much fun. I don’t know why I wasted my time trying to do melt and pour soaps. It leaves a lot more room for creativity. You can play with the ingredients a lot more.”
The ratio of fat to lye is called the superfat content. Adjusting this ratio can cause a soap to have properties that are considered to be more moisturizing versus deeper cleaning. The superfat ratio is also responsible for what kind of later the soap produces and other properties that manifest the fundamental qualities of a specific type of soap.
Johnson has become known among her circle as someone that can troubleshoot her product and tailor properties to be appropriate for an individual person’s sensitivities or be seasonally festive.
Dudley said Johnson is continually working to fine-tune her products to suit the needs of herself, her friends and her growing clientele, especially because more people are becoming aware of environment and sustainability issues. She used a shampoo bar as an example.
“I tried using a shampoo bar and it made my hair dry and frizzy,” Dudley said. “I told her, and she said to me, ‘Let me tweak it a little bit and see what I can come up with for you’.”
Johnson said it has been fun to develop her craft and watch her products evolve.
“I like going through the process, even if it’s messy and it takes a while,” Johnson said. “My biggest thing is I want to make things that does what it’s supposed to do, but it’s also not stripping your skin or having harmful chemicals in it. That’s my biggest thing about my products.”
Johnson’s products often appear at farmers markets and vendor events in Sheridan and Gillette. She also has an online Etsy store and a social media presence.
By Tracee Davis
Freelancer for The Sheridan Press