Working in her 21st century kitchen in Mansfield, Pam Comeau whips up batches of soap using methods and ingredients that are hundreds of years old.“People tell me it changes the way their skin feels,” said Comeau, 45. “They like knowing what’s in it and who made it.”Comeau mixes lard, oil, lye and fragrances with a modern scale and the timer on her microwave to create thick, handmade bars for her Doliber Bay Soap Co.Flavors and names are as vivid as Comeau’s imagination -- rosemary mint, lavender, Cuppa Joe (smells like espresso), Southern Diva (floral), Debauchery (cinnamon and cloves), Drunken Goat (made with Shiner beer and goat’s milk), Bay Rum (smells like a barbershop), Tea Tree and Jesus Freek (made with patchouli, frankincense and bourbon vanilla).“Every batch has its own personality, every batch is different,” Comeau said. “I don’t have a soap making machine, so it’s never going to come out the same way twice.”People are noticing the difference from their store-bought brands. “I have really sensitive skin and it never breaks me out, never dries my skin and it’s natural,” said Kim Mullins, who admits to hoarding a half-dozen bars of Comeau’s Saltgrass soap.Missy Shumaker of West Virginia orders the Jesus Freek soap online.“In the winter, it’s very dry and cold,” she said. “My skin would crack and peel. Whatever magic ingredient she puts in, it doesn’t do that anymore. I am thrilled with it.”The difference is the glycerin, Comeau said.“Commercial brands squeeze it out to make it harder so it lasts longer,” she said. “Glycerin is what keeps the moisture in your skin. Regular soap is so bad for your skin. They have the same ingredients as your laundry soap.”The Salem, Mass., native didn’t intend to start a soap company, that was a byproduct of her desire to get back to nature while living in Newton, N.H.“I got into the idea of homesteading, making my own bread, butter, cheese and bread, knitting and growing herbs, onions and potatoes,” she said. “I was good with the container herbs, but I would not make it on the pioneer trail.”She didn’t give up on making beauty products.“I researched, looked in books and on the internet,” Comeau said. “I started with essential oils, putting them into lotion, then I looked into it and you can make your own lotions without alcohol and other goo you don’t need.“That didn’t go so well,” she admitted. “It sounds easy, but it takes a little more practice. If you don’t do it right, it blows apart and looks like curdled milk.”Comeau moved onto melt-and-pour soap with a base that has been treated with alcohol, available online or at retail stores like Michael’s.“That was awesome, but it wasn’t doing what I was hoping, making my skin feel awesome,” she said. “I looked up how you make soap from scratch.”She made soap occasionally while she and her family -- husband, Bob, and son, Jack, 17 -- lived in New Hampshire, but didn’t start making it consistently until they moved to Mansfield in 2005.“Once you get a hobby that creates 10 bars of soap at a time, you have to give it away,” Comeau admitted. “It made me feel good when people would use it and like it. It still does.”Her husband, Bob, convinced her to start selling her soap. “I told her to go to a couple of festivals,” he said. “She had some success and got some positive feedback. I think it has the potential to grow. I would like to see her in a retail store. I want to see how far she can take it.”Currently, Doliber Bay Soap Co. sells her soap for $5.50 a bar online, local festivals and at the Mansfield Farmers Market on Saturdays.
Amanda Rogers, 817-473-4451 Twitter: @AmandaRogersNM