While other people bake in their spare time, administrative executive Ellen Tan prefers to whip up a batch of something different: soap.
Her homemade soap includes rabbits, oranges (for Chinese New Year) and delicately moulded, multi-layered flowers. These are given away to family, friends and colleagues. Sometimes, she sells them for $5 to $20 a piece to raise funds for charity.
"I find making them very therapeutic," says Ms Tan, 49, who is single.
She started making soap in October last year, when she took a soap-making class at Soap Ministry, a shop which specialises in natural, hand-made soaps in Orchard Central. Since then, she has taken three more classes and made more than 500 bars of soap.
"I can be at Soap Ministry for five hours at a time, deciding what is going to go in the soap, what it will look like, who I will give it to," she says.
Ms Tan is among a growing breed of Singaporeans clued in on making their own body and beauty products, often with natural or organic ingredients.
At least three outfits here run workshops teaching such methods. And instructors say their classes are gaining in popularity.
Ms Nazli Anwari, 62, who has been teaching classes on the medicinal uses of plants and herbs since 1999, says her workshops now fill up in a week after they are announced through her website, www.medicinewoman.asia.
The monthly workshops on home- made skin-care and medicinal remedies, conducted at her Joo Chiat home, take 12 people at a time.
She says she has noted an increase in people interested in organic and natural beauty in the last year - many of whom are under 35.
"People are becoming more educated about toxins and chemicals and their effects on our bodies," she says.
"The skin is porous, and whatever you put on it goes into the blood stream. So if you can't eat what you put on your skin, you may as well not put it on your skin."
Soap Ministry's owner and director Diana Ong says its soap-making workshops have been a hit. Its four workshops every day attract anything from a couple of people to close to a hundred, says Ms Ong, 40.
From October through December, the workshops, which can have 20 participants each, are fully booked as hobbyists rush to make soaps for Christmas gifts or charity events, she says.
"The soaps are organic and easy to make. And everyone makes something different and personalised," she adds.
Customers can customise soap for their skin type, for example. Nursing mothers can even make soap out of their breast milk, a rich source of nutrients for both mother and baby, although the soap will take a few weeks to cure and prepare.
The store also sells its own line of handmade, all natural soap (about $18 a piece), as well as soap ingredients such as goat's milk and baobab bases ($30 a kg) and essential oils such as eucalyptus ($16 to $35 for 10ml).
Instructors say that the process to make these products, and the principles behind which herb or aromatic ingredient to use (bamboo charcoal is good for oily skin, for instance), can be applied widely.
"Once you understand the method, such as how to mix the natural ingredients and how to preserve them, you can make anything you want," says Ms Nazli.
Yoga instructor Alyssa Christudason, 26, took a class on the medicinal properties of plants with Ms Nazli last year. Since then, she has been making and drinking her own cleansing jamu juice made of turmeric, water, and honey, and making her own beauty products, such as lip scrubs from olive or coconut oil, brown sugar and vanilla essence, and face masks from yogurt, turmeric and sandalwood.
She spends an average of $10 a month to buy the ingredients for her products, compared to the $30 to $40 she used to spend every few months on face masks and beauty products from Clinique.
On making her own beauty products at home, she says: "It's easy, does not cost a lot, and I like that I'm not putting chemicals on my skin."
This story was originally published in the Straits Times on July 26, 2013
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