In 1990, the Hills moved from San Jose to Sparks. Despite loving the area, the couple hated the dry air.
“Our skins are so sensitive and we used a lot of creams,” said owner Jo Anne Hill. “We would always re-apply because the creams would just leave our skin dry.”
Then in 2001, while in Hawaii, the Hills visited a soap shop that made its own products. Watching the soap simmer in a large vat, Randy told his wife that they could make their own soaps at home. The couple went back to Sparks and began taking soap-making classes and researching ingredients that would be ideal in soaps. After making samples for friends, the couple created Hill’s Handcrafted Soap Company in 2011.
“We worked hard, trying to find the right recipe for the area,” said Jo Anne. “Nevada is so dry and we wanted to try to relieve our dry, itchy skin.”
Offering soaps of green clover and aloe, to ones made with lavender buds, to a doggie shampoo bar and men’s menthol shaving soap, Hill’s handcrafted Soaps makes a product for the entire family. It introduced lotions made from goat’s milk to the company in 2011.
“We make specialities soaps during different times of the year — peppermint soaps for the holiday, an apple spice for autumn, an oatmeal brand that helps nourish drying winter skin,” said Jo Anne.
The couple tries to use as many local products as possible, as well as natural products, thus resulting in the best care for one’s skin.
“Soaps from the market have a lot filler in them, things that are bad for your skin like detergents,” said Jo Anne. “These detergents dry out your skin and don’t make your skin soft.”
The saponification, or the chemical reaction process of mixing together the fat, water and lye, resulting in the glycerin soap product can be a complicated process. The soaps are made in small batches. The lye first mixed with the oils. When the mixture gets to a certain temperature and a pudding-like consistency, the fragrance, color and other add-ins, such as oatmeal, are added to the blend. The mix is poured into a wooden model and the soap is “put to bed,” letting it rest from 24 to 48 hours. Randy waits for a few days before cutting the soap into smaller, hand-held sizes with wire blades. The soap then sits for about month. curing, letting the water evaporate from the individual bars. The less water in the soap, the harder it stays and a harder bar lasts longer.
“We use coconut oil to create lather, palm oil for the hardness of the soap, olive oil as the cleansing agent and castor oil to make the fluffy and light bubbles,” said Jo Anne. “Try our soaps and you’ll notice the difference in your skin. Our soaps will make your itchy, tight skin feel amazing. It also works in other great ways. I had a woman tell me that it got rid of her stretch marks and another tell me that because of the soap, the rash on her hands went away.”
The area has been receptive of the Hill’s company, leaving great reviews on its website, with one review saying the products are “absolutely luscious.”
“We donate a lot to the community, to a lot of non-profits,” said Jo Anne. “We have a heart for giving and serving. We try to give as much as possible. We’ve been well-accepted in the community and are thankful for them.”
The soaps are sold all over the Truckee Meadows, including at Sparks’s Tranquility Salon and Spa. Hill’s Handcrafted Soaps is also a member of Made in Nevada Products.
“It’s so important to buy local. We work with a local apothecary shop when getting fragrances,” said Jo Anne. “When I buy local, I can associate what I buy with people I bump into the street. It gives a great sense of community.”
The Hills have been married for 30 years. Jo Anne retired from the Sparks fire department as an administrative analyst and now owns and runs Bookmark Events, a company that plans and promotes public safety trade and conference shows. Randy works as a production manager and teaches a soap-making class once or twice a year.
“In five years or so, I’d like to have our own shop, maybe 300 square feet where we can make the soaps; have it be a hands-on experience for people who stop by,” said Jo Anne. “People should have great, soft skin and I’m happy to help them with that.”
For more information about Hill’s Handcrafted Soaps, visit www.hillshandcraftedsoaps.com.