Heliotrope San Francisco

How are our Olive Oil Soaps made?

We use the cold process soap-making process. This means organic oils are saponified* at a (comparatively) low temperature. It also means that our soap bars can be stored unwrapped and exposed to air. 

Here's what happens:

1. extra virgin organic olive oil is blended with organic palm & coconut oils

2. a strong base (lye) is added to the oil mixture, which - through the magic of chemistry - creates three soap molecules plus one glycerin molecule

3. as this mixture is stirred and warmed to just above room temperature, soap begins to form

4. essential oils and other pure botanicals & natural additives are added for scent, texture, and efficacy

5. the new soap is poured into wooden molds and covered

6. after a few days, when the soap is still warm & not quite hard, the bars are cut and our logo is stamped into each bar

7. the soap then cures for four to six weeks


We absolutely adore our Organic Olive Oil soaps. Please check them out here. Also, note that we've discontinued the Orange Cinnamon soap in order to being in a fabulous new fragrance later this year. It'll be phenomenal, trust me.


* "saponification" - those of you who studied high school French will recognize le mot français <savon> which derives from the Latin <saponem> for "soap" SO... "saponify" = "to make into soap"

Written by Heliotrope San Francisco — October 28, 2014

We Salute You, Illinois


Illinois took a stand this month and banned the sale of skin care products containing plastic microbeads. These microbeads, found most commonly in scrubs (for body and face), do a thorough job of cleaning pores and scraping away dead skin, but it comes at the expense of also tearing and irritating the skin. As if that weren't bad enough, they're wreaking havoc on marine life, both saltwater and fresh.

report recently published by the U.N. Environment Programme says plastic waste causes $13 billion in damage every year to marine life. Since the beads are so small, fish and other marine life easily swallow them, causing DNA damage and even death. A 2008 study from UK researchers showed that the plastics remained inside mussels for 48 days. Last year, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Superior reported at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society that there were 1,500 to 1.7 million plastic particles per square mile in the Great Lakes.

As a native Michigander, that last bit breaks my heart. Those gigantic bodies of fresh water, which account for one-fifth of the world's fresh surface water, are of great import. We're killing off the wildlife that relies upon those Great Lakes because major skin care companies decided that increasing profit was more important than the health of a vital ecosystem.

There are numerous accessible and natural alternatives to plastic microbeads for exfoliation; ground fruit seeds, nuts, bamboo, sugar, oats, salt, coffee (glorious, delicious coffee), etc. We at Heliotrope favor oats and bamboo currently, but just about anything is better than plastic.

Illinois has made a breakthrough effort to get the ball rolling on this, and the movement is definitely picking up steam.

The Illinois ban is encouraging for other states pushing similar laws, and the fact that Illinois’ new ban had industry players on board means cooperation is possible in other regions, too. “This was a cooperative effort with the industry in order to address our and their concerns,” says Jennifer Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council. “In the end, we were trying to get something that would pass. Other states should try for more stringent standards.”

Walling says she’s happy with the results, though she wishes the timeline was shorter. Manufacturers have a phase out period between 2017-2019. Other states like New York, California and Ohio are trying to pass similar bans. California wants to allow biodegradable beads, and New York lawmakers, which worked with plastic-fighting group 5 Gyres, have so far received positive response to their legislation. Earlier this summer, New Jersey democrat U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. introduced a bill that would make a nationwide ban possible in 2018.

We agree with Walling; the timeline should be shorter. We've learned for a fact that these microbeads are killing marine life, so why the wait?

Written by Don Snider — June 27, 2014

Essential Oils

Oh Lavender, My Lavender


LAVENDER (Lavendula Angustifolia): it's native across the globe - from North and East Africa to Southern Europe and the Mediterranean, and as far as India. It's also grown throughout the western world in similar climates. The ancient Romans used lavender in their wash to smell great and act as a natural anti-bacterial - in fact, the latin name of the plant has the same root (no pun intended) as our word "laundry." (The Greeks called it "nard," but I guess that wasn't as catchy and didn't make it big in etymological circles). Its essential oil has been used to heal, to calm, and to keep pests away.
If I had my way, lavender would be in every product we make, since I love it above all other oils. It's a flower but doesn't smell too floral; it's got a certain 'green-ness' to its scent, and it blends so well with most other oils - kind of a universal essential oil to bring a sense of well-being and health to the whole of the universe.

Cardamom Boy

Cardamom keeps popping up - there must a reason. Pondering this earlier this week, I realized it was time to get this blog up and running again, and cardamom was the entry point. Years ago, when my BFF starting a baking business, she made cardamom shortbread, which was out of this world (I miss all those bags of baked goodies that used to come my way). Then I discovered cardamom ice cream at that great Indian place on Valencia St (the one that was just closed by the Health Dept, but we won't talk about that). Then the first time I visited my ex-boyfriend's apartment, there was a photo of an African boy in front of a cardamom plant. I figured this must all be fate.
It's also amazing that it pops up in regional cooking in such far-off places as Sweden and India - between which there hasn't been much historical cross-pollenation. It's been used over the centuries as an anti-bacterial, an anti-inflammatory, a digestive tonic, and even a snake serum antidote! But it smells spicy and clean, and goes well with other 'spicy' essential oils, such as pepper and bay laurel.

Written by Heliotrope San Francisco — February 26, 2014

The Words & the Bees: Beeswax & Propolis

Of course, we all know what beeswax is, but why is it used as an ingredient in skin care products? Bees create the wax to build their honeycombs, which is how their honey is stored. The wax starts out white, but ends up more yellow or brown as pollen oils and propolis is incorporated. Because of its inherent impurities, it needs to be purified before human use.

Beeswax acts as an emollient (softens skin) and an emulsifier (keeps solutions blended, to eliminate separation). It's a natural additive for skin care products, rather than synthetic chemicals, and imparts a subtle aroma. Propolis, meanwhile, is derived from the tree resins that bees collect. It moisturizes and acts as a natural anti-bacterial.

These natural powerhouses are combined in one of my favorite Heliotrope products, our Shea & Beeswax Hand & Cuticle Therapy. It feels great on hands, soaks in quickly, heals hands, nails & cuticles, and is naturally fragrance-free (or custom scent it with our large selection of essential oils). While you're at it, try our wonderful Sunflower & Shea Butter Foot Treatment, which also incorporates beeswax. This nourishing cream is especially rich - best slathered on feet & then covered up in socks to soak in and heal overnight (or anytime). I love it so much, I use it on my hands on especially dry days. It doesn't soak in as quickly as the Hand & Cuticle Therapy, but it feels great.

Written by Heliotrope San Francisco — February 26, 2014


It dawned on me that there are a lot of good things listed in our ingredients that, in fact, *sound* like bad things. (We've even discussed this in a previous blog entry). Did you ever look at the back of a label and wonder "What the heck is Pyridoxine?" Actually, you need pyridoxine to survive - it's the chemical name of the compound we call Vitamin B6. Vitamins are organic compounds that humans need to survive, yet cannot be synthesized by our bodies in sufficient amounts - therefore, they must be ingested.

Milk cartons tell us "Vitamins A + D added" - (much better sounding than "Retinyl Palmitate + Cholecalciferol added"). Vitamin D, in particular, is difficult to get in a regular American diet, and doctors believe that D is the one vitamin supplement that's really worthwhile. With all the sunscreen we're wearing, it's that much more difficult for our bodies to produce enough D.

New studies tell us that ingesting daily multi-vitamins may not be best for us after all - the smartest method is to eat a balanced diet. It's also smart to feed your skin with balanced nutrients - pure vegetable oils, botanical extracts, essential oils, and vitamins.

Written by Heliotrope San Francisco — February 26, 2014

Aromatherapy in the World

Here are two articles concerning the use of aromatherapy in unusual places: Got Peppermint? shows that even schools are experimenting with the benefits of aromatherapy. 

CPMC Gives Aromatherapy a Whiff: Having a positive attitude toward aromatherapy helps it work better: "You have to have the belief that aromatherapy is going to work. There's a lot of mental stuff going on." Of course, it's not just the "aroma" part of aromatherapy that's important - the essential value of each plant oil comes wrapped up in the same molecule that happens to contain the plant's scent - hence the root of the word "aromatherapy." So the word is not so much telling us that it's the smell that's affecting our mood - but rather the properties of what's affecting our mood happens to smell.

Written by Heliotrope San Francisco — February 26, 2014

Natural Bug Repellents

Walking through the lumber yard last week, getting ready for our new store construction - CEDAR all around us. Of course, people have been using cedar to line their closers & drawers for ages to keep moths away - an example of an everyday use of aromatherapy! Dog owners also know that cedar shavings in a dog's bed keeps fleas away - a natural bug repellent! As scientists come up with new ways to keep us comfortable and bug-free, they often arrive at nature's own answers.

Those pyrethrins that you see on the ingredient labels of garden products & bug sprays? Those are derived from chrysanthemums! Over the years, anecdotal evidence showed that bugs avoided these plants, and eventually, products were developed using the exact chemicals that were already present in plants.

We use this blend of essential oils in our Aromatherapy Dog Shampoo: chamomile, bergamot, lemongrass, cedar, lavender, rosemary & tea tree. Smells great & works like a charm! Add any or all of these oils to a water-based solution (like our Organic Spray Mist for Body & Home, use it in a spray bottle on Fido, and voilà!

Written by Heliotrope San Francisco — February 26, 2014

Herbs & Edibles

As I go about my daily life, I'm reminded of how much aromatherapy is a part of it.

You know how you keep hearing about growing herb gardens so you can have spices handy to cook with? Those same herbs can be steeped in hot water to make teas and/or aromatherapy facial mists/room sprays. What flavors your cooking are the essential oils in the herbs; the same essential oils are released by the hot water when making tea or other infusions.

We know that rosehips are great in the tea that we drink - it soothes, gives us essential vitamins (especially C), and are rich in antioxidants. So why not brew a "tea" as a facial steam bath? Aromatherapy in the home.

Other herbs (or full strength essential oils) work wonders, too - such as thyme (extremely anti-septic, great for acne care).

I was just at a party recently and was reminded of the lovely atmosphere of a spa. Our host had added cucumber slices to one of the water pitchers, and lemon slices to the other. One relaxing, the other stimulating. More aromatherapy in the home. Cucumber is cooling and astringent, and lemon offers us not just Vitamin C, but also lifts the spirit.

Where else can you find aromatherapy in your life? Any suggestions for others?

Written by Heliotrope San Francisco — February 18, 2014

Scary Words?

It's not as bad as it sounds. Those chemical ingredients? Like "methyl salicylate"? That's really Oil of Wintergreen. For some odd reason, manufacturers often choose the scary chemical names of everyday, aromatherapy ingredients. Some labels even list "Aqua" rather than water, so the most basic ingredient of all is called something that might worry the average consumer.

The most common mineral we all ingest every day is Sodium Chloride, AKA table salt. If you saw "Sodium Chloride" on your ingredient label, you'd worry, right? But "Salt"? (Well, you might still worry, but at least you know what it is). The dreaded Neroli? That's what botanists call Essential Oil of Orange Blossom (which has a much prettier ring to it, no?)

So while I'm not telling you *not* to worry about ingredients, I *am* suggesting that you educate yourself on ingredients, and understand what is truly worth worrying about! Watch this blog for more info on ingredients, essential oils, skin care, etc.

Written by Jonathan Plotzker — July 25, 2013

Essential Oils

Essential Oils are:

- any of a class of volatile oils obtained from plants, possessing the odor and other characteristic properties of the plant

- used chiefly in the manufacture of perfumes, flavors, and pharmaceuticals

- obtained from various parts of the plants (as flowers, leaves, or bark) by steam distillation, expression, or extraction

- usually mixtures of compounds, and are used often in the form of essences in perfumes, flavorings, and pharmaceutical preparations

Written by Jonathan Plotzker — July 24, 2013


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