Soap Story

Text by Lauren Suit• Photographs by Doyle Dowdell / Spring 2015

Spring cleaning is all about making the time to refresh and rejuvenate after a long winter. But while most people focus on the home, don’t forget the body. It’s time to clear out the old bath products and look into a few of these handmade varieties from local artisans.

When customers step into Bath Time, located on the Washington Street Mall, owner Bonnie Mullock wants them to feel like they’re entering a luxurious, relaxing atmosphere with just the right amount of fun and fantasy.

It’s a feeling that Mullock experienced when she first had the inspiration for opening the shop.

“It all started with a Christmas present,” said Mullock. “The package was beautifully wrapped, and inside were the most luxurious soaps I’ve ever used. Everything from the scent to the texture was exquisite.”

Mullock said she knew then that she wanted to build a business where she could create a luxurious moment for her customers, and Bath Time was born.

“For the cost of a bar of soap, people can have a beautifully packaged product that is an affordable luxury.”

Now with Bath Time about to enter its 21st season, Mullock said she has created something that’s “more than a store, it’s an experience.”

Mullock compared the makers of the soaps and body products to artists, each with their own unique style.

One of her favorites happens to be the Baronessa Cali line of skin and body products. Described as nourishing and fragrant, Baronessa Cali combines ancient handmade recipes with high-quality beauty formulas. Each product contains the primary ingredient, olive oil, along with moisturizing and skin-renewing antioxidants, vitamin A, E, and beta carotene.

Mullock said that she’s dedicated to carrying product lines made by small companies, such as Cape May Soap Company. The local soap-making studio turns natural ingredients into fine artisan-quality bath and body products. Their Jersey Fresh soap line has products like the Jersey Tomato Soap, and the beach line carries products called Bay Run Lime, Citrus Sun and Sea Salt.

Since bath and body products are so personal to every customer’s likes and dislikes, Mullock decided to incorporate a fragrance blending bar into the shopping experience. Customers work with Bath Time’s fragrance mixologists to tap into their inner mad scientist and create their own signature fragrance that they can use to infuse bath and body products.

The blending bar has over 80 fragrances, ranging in scents that are light and airy, like white tea and summer rain, or floral like sweet pea and freesia, fruits like acai berry and fig, food like chocolate and sugar cookie, woodsy scents such as black tie and amber, or herbal scents like aloe vera and eucalyptus. Those fragrances are used on their own or blended together to create something unique in body wash, skin moisturizer, shea butter lotion, massage lotion, shaving gel, body mist and much more.

Laurie Johnson, who works as a fragrance mixologist, said that scents have a strong link to memory.

“It brings people back to a family vacation or their grandmother’s backyard or the smell of the bay,” she said. “It is an amazing thing to be able to bring someone back to that moment in time with a scent in a bottle.”

Johnson has created seasonal scents for customers who want to connect with the time of year, one named Breath of Fresh Air and another called Into the Wood, as well as sweet-smelling dessert fragrances for many of their younger guests.

But when guests come in with a truly original request, that’s when Mullock turns to fragrance mixologist Tommy Raniszewski.

“I’ve nicknamed him ‘Tommy The Nose,’” Mullock said with a laugh.

Raniszewski said that he has had customers ask for a fragrance that smelled like old books, another wanted something to remind her of a concert hall. One particular customer specifically requested the scent of an Italian man’s garage the day after Christmas.

One customer wanted to surprise her boyfriend with a scent that reminded her of his profession. With movements that are reminiscent of a scientist combined with a cocktail mixologist, Raniszewski combines a few drops of various fragrances and produces a scent that smells just like a bakery.

She dubbed the fragrance the “sexy baker” and has since been back with her boyfriend to get a refill of the favorite scent.

When it comes to bottling the smell of the ocean on a misty morning, Raniszewski found the secret in a few drops of white tea, sea grass and abalone sea.

Some of the recipes are an exact science and are written on a rolodex of recipe cards for customers and employees to keep on file for reorders.

Despite some of the peculiar requests, Raniszewski does his best to accommodate everyone.

“That’s the beauty of the blending bar,” he said. “You can work with customers to create something that comes from their memory or their imagination. Wherever the inspiration comes from, the result is a product that is truly your own, that you helped make, and that doesn’t exist anywhere else.”

When life gets difficult and the stressors of every day seem overwhelming for Caroline Ranoia, she turns to soap for a cleansing of the soul. Caroline is the owner of Blue Eden, a boutique where she sells her signature line of Sea Foam Soap Company products.

“It may seem silly, but so many life lessons can be learned through soap making,” Ranoia said. “It’s about mixing two opposites, oil and water, and creating the right chemical reaction that allows them to solidify together.”

Ranoia learned her soap-making skills from her grandmother, Anna, who left Switzerland and her grandparents in 1917 and made the journey alone to the United States when she was seven years old to reconnect with her parents.

“I always admired her and her way of looking at life. She was tough when she needed to be, always there for her family and quick with a piece of advice,” said Ranoia. “Her soaps were always a standard in our home growing up.”

Anna learned how to make soaps from her grandmother when she was around five or six years old, noted Ranoia. Creating soaps from simple ingredients such as olive oil, water and lye stayed within the family, and when Ranoia’s mother didn’t show much interest in soap making, Ranoia got involved.

“For me, even as a kid, it always felt like a way to connect on something deeper than just soap,” she said. “Maybe it was because of that influence that I was drawn to the bath and body industry.”

After what Ranoia describes as a particularly nasty divorce, she sought her grandmother’s advice, and over a bonding and soap-making session, Ranoia decided to make her hobby her profession.

In 1995, Ranoia created the Sea Foam Soap Company. Her first product was a plain olive oil soap that she was inspired to make for a good friend, who couldn’t use any other bath products because of psoriasis.

In 2011, Ranoia took her soap making to a whole new level, through her boutique, Blue Eden, and online at With both a digital and physical storefront for her products, her customer base started to grow. Her big hit at the time: organic sugar scrubs that could restore rough feet to their soft skin even after a bad day in flip flops.

Now the store has two locations, in Ocean City and Stone Harbor, and her fans don’t just come in for a hand washing demonstration and massage at the scent bar.

New for 2015, Ranoia has been working with white tea extract, which is used as an anti-inflammatory agent that can reduce puffiness, fine lines and wrinkles, to create soap, moisturizing facial cream and lotions.

Another addition to her line has been beard and mustache care. The beard and mustache shampoo is made with goat’s milk, honey, vitamin E, and glycerin and scented with black amber musk. It pairs perfectly with the beard oil and mustache wax. It’s become a hit, especially with the Atlantic City Beard and Mustache Club, who’ve made it the feature grooming product of their club.

“It still amazes me that something I make, something so simple as soap, is popular,” Ranoia said.

Even if you suffer from skin allergies, Ranoia said, handmade bath and body products made with organic and pure ingredients can work miracles.

“Over-the-counter soaps have a number of ingredients such as petroleum oils that are harsh on our skin,” she said.

Among her long-time customers is a couple that purchases her goat’s milk, honey and tea tree soap and lotions to send to their granddaughter, who has a number of allergies. Tea tree oil, said Ranoia, has medicinal benefits toward healing damaged skin and has been used in burn care and to kill bacteria and fungi.

All of Ranoia’s soaps are made at her home in a space that she converted into a soap kitchen. When she starts developing something, her first step is inspiration, then it’s research, development, and lots of testing.

The popular beach scent, which is available in soap, lotion, bath gel, perfume and sugar scrub, was created during a gray, windy and wet winter day.

“It was one of those days where I was really missing the summer,” she said. “So I started to play around in the soap kitchen and came up with this scent that can bring you back to a sunny day in the sand.”

Ranoia can make about 120 bars of soap in a day, but then she has to wait about six weeks for her creations to cure and the pH balance to be right. On the kitchen and bathroom counters in her own home are all the products she’s testing.

“I’m my own guinea pig,” she said with a laugh.

Corinne Rietheimer was born and raised in Cape May, but she had to move to Philadelphia to find her passion for making soap.

Rietheimer said that while she was living in the city and working as a restaurant manager, she started developing skin issues.

“I had never encountered problems like these with my skin,” she said. “Maybe it was the stress or what was in the environment, but whatever it was my skin didn’t agree with it.”

Rietheimer started doing research on natural remedies for her skin and discovered the benefits of homemade soap making in January 2013.

“I’m self-taught, so in the beginning it was a lot of trial and error. And in those early days when I was figuring out different methods, there was a lot of errors,” she laughed.

Rietheimer finally settled on the cold process method of soap making. She explained that all soaps are the result of combining an acid with a base. In cold process soap, oils are the acid and sodium hydroxide or lye is the base. When combined, a chemical reaction called saponification occurs, resulting in soap.
“Cold process is one of the oldest methods of soap making, but it takes patience to get a finished product,” she said. “It can take four to six weeks for soap to cure, so it’s a labor of love.”

She also was committed to making products that are 100 percent vegan and all natural. Her products include essential oils, not fragrance oils, and all colorants are plant based.

Rietheimer said she is fond of using a base of olive oil, coconut oil (which she nicknamed a miracle oil), and sustainable palm. A finished product typically contains less than eight ingredients.

What started as an attempt to find a natural product for her skin gradually turned into a full-time business.

“It really did take over my living space before,” she said. “Now that I’m back in the area, I have a small studio where I do all my production. It is easily quadruple the size of what I had before.”

Rietheimer sells her soaps at a few locations, such as Green Street Market and Cape May Organic Market, and she’s a frequent vendor at local markets, like the West Cape May Farmer’s market. She also sells her products throughout the year out of her Etsy store, ShoreSoaps.

Since Rietheimer started her business, she’s frequently heard from customers who have suffered from allergies and are so happy to have finally found a bath product they can use. A skin detox bar with activated charcoal is a favorite for a number of her customers with sensitive skin, she said. It is made with extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, organic shea butter, cocoa butter and aloe butter. The soap pulls impurities out of the skin and leaves it feeling soft and moisturized, she said. Activated charcoal powder is used medicinally as a detoxifier and absorbs most organic toxins, chemicals and poisons before they can harm the body.

For sun-burned skin, Rietheimer created an aloe sun soother bar. It’s made primarily from extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, sustainable palm oil, organic shea butter and aloe butter. It is scented with peppermint oil to cool the burn and citronella oil to protect it from pesky mosquitos on summer nights.
The lavender vanilla spearmint soap is one of the first soaps that she successfully made, and it has become one of Shore Soap’s best sellers. It is loaded with organic lavender buds to scrub away dirt and organic shea butter added to soothe the skin. It’s scented with a blend of lavender, vanilla and spearmint essential oils.

Her line of products have grown to include lip balms with subtle tints of flattering colors like coral and berry. The lip balms are flavor- and fragrance-free and are made with soy wax, shea butter, coconut oil, natural minerals and micas.

Rietheimer has also branched out into lotions and sugar scrubs. One of the most popular is a key lime pie sugar scrub that gently exfoliates and removes dead skin cells to reveal fresh, healthier skin. It goes well with a summer key lime pie soap that Rietheimer loves to make as one of her favorite summer soaps. For hair care, Rietheimer created a sea salt spray.

Rietheimer said her process is part chemistry, part mathematics and part experimenting with creative impulses.  She joked that as her one-time hobby has grown into a full time business, she spends more and more time dressing like a mad scientist and creating her handmade bath products. One of the new products she’s more excited about is perfecting the men’s line of beard butters and oils.

The number of people who are becoming aware what they put on their skin and into their bodies is growing, Rietheimer said.

“People are catching on and reading more about the type of ingredients that are being used and researching companies before they purchase products. It started with food and is now growing in the bath and body industry.”