Harrisonburg Daily News Record

Cleaning Up  Soap-Making Business Bubbles Over As Shoppers Seek Natural Alternatives

By Rachel Bowman

Soaps, lotions, lip balms: for many people, these items are necessary luxuries for everyday living. Their soothing softness and delicious scents have the ability to transport even the most tired and irritable person to a place of relaxation and serenity.

For others, though, these simple luxuries may cause misery. Allergies to scents and chemical compounds turn what should be a cleansing calm into an ordeal of itchy, cracked skin, clogged sinuses and watery eyes.

Brenda Ritchie faced skin dilemmas that commercial soap and lotion products could not soothe. She turned to soapmaking for a solution to her problems. Now, she cleans up in a business that shares those scentsational solutions with customers who flock to craft shows, local boutiques and Web sites to achieve their own version of personal hygiene nirvana.

Ritchie of New Market started her business, Total Bliss Gourmet Soap, LLC  in 2003 to help her husband find relief.  Painful skin problems sent him to the dermatologist every three or so months, she said, and no medication or soap product seemed to work. Desperate for a comforting solution, she said she searched for homemade soap recipes.

Ritchie found the recipes, and much more. Most commercial soaps aren’t even technically soap, she explained, they contain detergents, petroleum products, preservatives and other chemicals that leave a skin-irritating residue. These products also rely heavily on inexpensive and low-grade scents, which often irritate sinuses and eyes, she added. 

Brenda Ritchie of New Market gets ready for a craft show where she’ll sell her homemade soaps. Ritchie owns Total Bliss Gourmet Soap, which she started in 2003.

Photo by Nikki Fox
That’s why Ritchie says she uses only natural products, including essential oils and herbal extracts, olive and palm kernel oils, cocoa butter, natural preservatives and cosmetic-grade scents in her soaps, lotions and lip balms. These ingredients, Ritchie says, lather richly, rinse easily and leave only a light, fresh scent on skin. 

By making her own soaps, Ritchie says she was able to solve their skin dilemmas. But the process isn’t as easy as baking a cake.

Ritchie said her husband hasn’t been back to the dermatologist since she began making soap. Interest piqued and she began creating different soap formulas and combinations of scented oils. Some worked, some didn’t, she said. 

Along the way,  Ritchie tested her products on family and friends, and delved into lotion, lotion bars and lip balm. The soaps were a hit, and Ritchie began marketing her creations. 

Ritchie’s soapmaking has turned into a full-time job which has taken her from the kitchen to a studio in the back of her house. She said she enjoys coming up with new scent combinations; she’s up to 60 or more, including Baby Powder and Apple Jack. She’s also developed a lotion bar for problem dry skin areas, soaps to treat acne, wrinkles and dry facial skin and lip balms. She sells her products at craft shows and in Rocktown Gift Shoppe as well as the Shoppes at Mauzy, Strasburg Emporium, the Luray Antique Mall and A Basket Case in New Market. A Web site,, gives her a venue for national sales.

As long as people want a healthy clean that makes them feel good, Ritchie says her soaps will continue to sell well.

People are getting wise to ingredients that irritate or cause disease, Ritchie said. People want pure, natural ingredients that make the skin feel better.

And never underestimate the power of scent, Scents make you feel happy, she said.