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Cold processed soap made with Galician camellia oil

Sister Paula Téllez González
Armenteira Monastery

Our community of Armenteira has been producing hand-made natural soap for ten years. We have two different lines of production: the transparent glycerine soap of vegetal origin and the vegetable oil soap. As regards the glycerine soap we make different types such as eucalyptus, lavender or rosemary soaps, among others: in relation to vegetable oils, we produce aloe vera, shea butter, chestnut, honey and lemon soaps.

We have been collaborating with the Estación Fitopatolóxica de Areeiro in Pontevedra (Spain) for four years, introducing a new line of soaps made from camellia oil, obtained from Camellia japonica trees growing in the Pazos and gardens of Galicia. Both institutions have signed an agreement to produce an oil of 100% purity that is used to enrich both the glycerine and the vegetable oil soaps.

The glycerine soap is especially suitable for oily skins. The glycerine that we use is of certified vegetable origin, enriched with camellia oil that provides moisture to the skin. The elaboration of this type of oils is easy, but several laboratory assays were necessary to determine the adequate dosage of camellia oil.

As regards the elaboration of soap using vegetable oils, suitable for dry skin, the process is more complex. We use the cold process in which temperatures range between 37 oC - 47oC, so as to preserve the properties of the oils and nutrients, but this process requires a long drying period. The hot process needs temperatures of 90 oC, but the active ingredients of the nutrients are destroyed: on the other hand it has the advantage that soaps can be produced in two days.
The saponification is the chemical reaction of a fat or oil with a base, so as to obtain the oil. The base most commonly used is sodium hydroxide (NaOH) dissolved in water, known as caustic soda. To obtain liquid soap we use a blend of saturated and unsaturated vegetable oils, so that the properties of the soap are more complete and balanced as regards hardness, cleaning ability, foam production and foam balance. Therefore, we combine oils of palm, coconut, castor and jojoba together with camellia oil.
The camellia oil is technically known as an oil overgreaser, since the amount of sodium hydroxide that would correspond to this oil is not measured, being the amount of oil higher than that of NaOH, thus obtaining a highly moisturizing oil.

The camellia oil has a low concentration of saturated fatty acids and it is rich in unsaturated oils such as oleic acid (monounsaturated) and also, although in smaller quantities, of linoleic and arachidonic acids, both polyunsaturated. The advantage of using camellia oil is that it is moisturizing and provides the soap with unique nutrients for skin care. The unsaturated fatty acids are highly susceptible to alteration, since they oxidize and settle earlier than the saturated oils and their saponification takes longer.

Apart from the oils and the caustic soda, the soap needs a pleasant fragrance and an attractive colour. We use food colouring that is officially approved by the EU, thus the colour range is not wide, but they provide a natural care for the skin. We also produce camellia soap without colorants for people with important skin conditions.

As regards the fragrance, synthetic perfumes or aromas are not used, but only the natural essential oils that preserve the active ingredients of the plants. The camellia soap has been made with a citric scent, since lemon, orange or mandarin trees grow beside camellias in the Galician gardens and pazos.

The cold process of soap making requires a long drying period that includes saponification. It means that in this way the soap will be softer. The therapeutic effects the camellia oil in the skin are guaranteed: a supply of vitamins A, B and E; antioxidants; it restores the elasticity and softness of the skin; it hardens the nails and the hair.

When we work with our own hands in making the handmade natural camellia oil we are in line with the monastic wisdom, a universal wisdom for the integral and natural healing of the people. Our daily routine perfectly balances work and prayer (ora et labora), following the monastic way of life founded by Saint Benedict, in Italy in the 6th century. With our therapeutic soap we feel part of the tradition of the Benedictine Christian monasteries in Europe, since they were welfare centres, with their hospitals and well-known pharmacies. In some way we are contributing to the healing of the people, in the same way Jesus of Nazareth did.

Camellia soap in the shape of a scallop shell


Camellia soap from the Monastery of Armenteira, made in the shape of a scallop shell,  one of the symbols of Saint James de Compostela






Miller Cavith, S. 2003. Guía práctica para hacer jabón. Paidotribo, Barcelon
Mansilla Salinero, P. & Salinero Corral, C. 2008. El aceite de camelia. Publicación de la Sociedad Española de la Camelia. 13:13-16


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