Making Milk Thistle Soap: Getting Clean in Costa Rica

Welcome to Community Voices! With these special blog posts, we’re very excited to welcome a handful of health enthusiasts from the Activation Family to share their experiences and some of the discoveries they’ve made on their own personal journeys to better health. We hope you’ll be able to connect, relate and grow alongside our community writers.

Shuffling through my email on my way to Peace Retreat in Playa Negra, Costa Rica, I came upon a recipe for soap made with milk thistle oil from Activation Products.

I had just returned to Washington, D.C. from a trip to Costa Rica on the Panamanian Border and had been prescribed a lotion, permethrin, for a case of skin mites I had picked up on my travels. I wondered about the possibility of creating a soap that could soothe and maybe even prevent this condition.

On my return to Costa Rica three weeks later I had plenty of time to think as I flew into San Jose and caught the Tralapa Bus to Santa Cruz where a taxi took me to Peace Retreat.

Peace Retreat is a place where people go to relax, recharge, surf and practice yoga. It was low season and Peace Retreat was closed so the staff could recharge too! I had agreed to volunteer for a month at Peace Retreat and planned to practice yoga, write, take photos and work on my private label yoga wear.

Goat milk, aka inspiration

On a Saturday visit to the Feria (Farmers Market) in Tamarindo, I picked up some fresh feta and goat cheese. It got me thinking about soap again — goat milk soap. Thus began my quest to make Bar Uno soap from milk thistle oil and goat milk.

My experiences traveling with hitchhiking pests might just have a silver lining if I could figure out a formula to send the pesky mites to a new galaxy with a bar of surfer soap!

First I found someone local to supply me with plenty of goat milk. I decided to start with 4 liters and see what volume of soap I could produce.

My Spanish, while improving, is still quebrado — quite broken in places — humbling for an English instructor. Finding the ingredients I  would need to thicken my soap was no easy task in a foreign language.

After a few wrong turns, I found myself seeking a veterinarian who could help me. Good fortune led me to a young woman named Karina who turned out to be a vet. She would graciously guide me to Calle Akala for a night’s stay and to her offices the following day for the pastille I needed to thicken the milk. She also sourced a vendor for lye which was harder to find with my broken Spanish than either the milk or the pastille, even with the help of the Internet.

Once I had my pastille and milk safely stored, I took a trip to San Jose for the lye. My mission to gather the ingredients needed for my first batch of Bar Uno was complete!

A tough job

Trekking around in flip flops all this time had been quite the ordeal. Anyone who has walked down an unpaved lane in a pair of flip-flops in the rain understands the practical dance of avoiding muddy calves in the rainy season.

I replaced my flip-flops with rain boots and now I felt as bold as Sofia Vergara! All that walking gave me an idea, though, since it was an obstacle course and I was looking at my feet.

I headed for the Saturday Feria and a pedicure at Leti & Fedy’s. I took a bar of goat milk soap with mint that I had bought at the health food store in Santa Cruz with me.

This would be relaxation and research, rolled into one!

I asked Martine at the spa to massage my feet with the soap for the pedicure. Ooooh, la, la! It had just the right softness and density to stand up to my calloused feet and it didn’t melt in Martine’s hands.

Suave!” she said when finished with my feet. “Muy suave!

It felt unlike any pedicure I had had before. My feet were so soft! With shiny red toenails, I tipped her and tip-toed out into the rain with my umbrella, circumventing the muddy puddles in my flip-flops. I walked back to the Feria to buy the coconut oil I would need for my soap experiments.

Not all soaps are created equal. Some are fatty and leave a film on the skin. Others are thin and slide off with no residue. There are soaps for hands. There are soaps for feet. There are soaps for places in between and for different health benefits, depending on which essential oils are used.

Making Bar Uno

I climbed back up the Calle Cuesto (Steep Hill) to my kitchen overlooking San Jose in the town of Escazu. They call the view and road where I live the Vista D’Oro or Golden view because at night the valley lights glitter below.

From my kitchen terrace high in the clouds, roosters crowed as I boiled the water to make the first batch of soap with oatmeal, shea butter and goat milk.

As the sun turned the blue morning light of dawn to gold, I added bits of oatmeal shea butter to the double boiler for the first batch. Slowly the shea butter melted; using a wooden chopstick, I stirred the creamy mixture. Once it was all liquefied, I added essential oils and avocado, moringa and milk thistle oils and peppermint essential oil.  

My last addition was coconut oil, which hardened the mixture rather quickly in the molds once poured. Once the coconut oil was added, the soap mixture had to be poured quickly into molds. The soap cakes hardened within a half hour at room temperature. Plastic cupcake molds work best because you can just turn out the bars and shave the tops flat.  They leave a clean miniature cupcake form of soap with crisp edges.

Muy rico” is what everyone who has tried my soap says. “Very rich!

I gave some to a bartender friend. His hands are dry and cracked from the acid from cutting limes all day…

“This soap doesn’t lather like a traditional glycerine soap,” he commented, “but it moisturizers fingers and toes!”

In Costa Rica, Bar Uno has been keeping surfers’ skin, exposed daily to salt and sand on the beaches, moist and clean.

Soap making is all about the right ingredients. “Peppermint Bar Uno soap smells good enough to eat and is ideal for the holidays!”

If you want to get the Perfect Press® Milk Thistle Oil used in this soap recipe, good news! You don’t have to travel to Costa Rica to find it.

Just click here to discover more about Perfect Press® Milk Thistle Oil!

Bar Uno: Shea butter oatmeal soap with moringa, coconut oil, avocado oil, milk thistle oil and peppermint.

Guest Blogger: Patricia Gavin

Patricia Gavin is a writer and Bikram certified yoga instructor with a BA in Aerospace Science and an MBA in Hospitality and eCommerce. Currently she is writing and researching soap production in Playa Negra, Guanacaste, Costa Rica. She divides her time between Escazu,, Costa Rica and Washington, D.C.

Peace Retreat

The mission at Peace Retreat is to preserve peace and well-being and to provide new opportunities for self-expression.
As the premiere Yoga & Ayurveda Educational Centre in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, their focus is on practices that support being dynamically present in relationships.

Through a unique and integrated set of values, practical approaches and aims, they support, guide and inspire. Engaging this way, in an inherently nourishing environment, fosters connection with like-minded people, and encourages personal growth.




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