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Scent Off: Mystic Water Indian Summer

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Welcome to the first post for the 2013 “scent off!”  A few weeks ago Sharpologist invited shaving soap artisans to crate a “seasonal” (fall/winter) shaving soap scent.  Six artisans made the deadline and our judges have been busy shaving with the entries!  We will be showcasing one entry per week for the next six weeks.  This week: Mystic Water.

Mystic Water

Artisan Profile: Michelle Burns of Mystic Water Soap in Riverdale, Maryland: I’ve been a practitioner of natural living for a long time, and have lived and traveled in many parts of the world learning “old fashioned” skills. After twenty years in Italy, where I learned traditional methods of making soap, I returned to the U.S. and began selling my products at Maryland/D.C./No. VA farmers markets and festivals in 2007. My original formulas use food grade oils, organic herbs, essential oils and fragrances. I first became interested in making shaving soap after reading online about men experiencing irritation from some soaps, which led me to create a semi-soft soap using tallow, unrefined shea butter, glycerin and other ingredients that give an excellent after-shave skin feel and that even men with sensitive skin can enjoy. It was first sold online in the spring of 2012 and can be found at my farmers market booth and online at There’s a wide variety of Mystic Water Soap products to choose from for body, face and hair care, as well as shaving, all made by hand in small quality controlled batches.
Scent Off Entry Description: Mystic Water “Indian Summer” refers to the week or two of warm weather that often occurs in the Fall after the leaves have begun changing color. Autumn has always been my favorite season and one of my many memories is of a perfect “Indian summer”day in Indiana, buying pumpkins at a Brown County farm stand in October. For the competition, I wanted to combine the scent of freshly cut pumpkin with ginger root, cream and spices that, to me, evokes comfort and warmth as we go into the cooler season. I added Italian saffron for color and subtle fragrance. This is one of my new soaps for autumn made with tallow, lanolin and allantoin.

Judges Comments

Judges were asked to evaluate the soap base on Scent (up to 10 points), Performance (up to 10 points), and Presentation (up to five points).  Here are some of their comments along with the averaged score:


  • “Very pleasant fragrance, moderate strength throughout.”
  • “The scent is very much a Fall scent and definitely captured the spirit of the season. It lingered after the shave for a bit, which is good.”
  • “To my nose the scent is very artificial and reminiscent of fragrance oils used in scented candles, eg Yankee, Bath and Body Works, etc.”
  • “Nice pumpkin sent with a nice variety of spices. Smells and feels nice on the skin.”
  • “I thought it to be quite pleasant, although I’m not entirely sure I get all that much pumpkin from it. The strength was also quite good, starting off with what I’d say is just below a “strong”, with very little fading at all.”
  • “I did not get the scent at all. It smelled like a strong candy spice to me. I did not get the pumpkin or ginger root at all.”
  • “While the first time I used the soap I wasn’t very impressed about its scent , I must say that after 3 days testing it , the scent changed slightly and now I truly like it. It was kind of sweet at the beginning , but now is more spicy, with less sweet notes, and woody notes on the background. Its not like the “typical” sandalwood scent. This one is more complex, more evoking of India. The Saffron extract on the ingredient list makes it very different as I pointed to many sandalwood/patchouli scented creams.”

 Score: 7.7


  • “Unfortunately, this soap turned my head beet red and it stayed that way for a few hours. I don’t have allergies so I’m guessing the soap was not saponified properly and it’s a PH issue. On top of that, the soap produced a very sub-par lather that disappeared very fast and dried on the skin.”
  • “Easy to get good lather, very slick, helps the shave.”
  • “This is a good soap that provides adequate glide and protection. The lather is a bit thinner than I prefer but overall I get a decent shave with this product.”
  • “Semi soft soap makes lathering very easy and abundant. Lubrication and glide were outstanding.”
  • “But enough water and a bit of elbow grease and I got a great shave out of it; nice thick cream for a good cushion, plenty of glide, good stability and it left the face feeling great to boot.”
  • “It produced a decent lather, but was pretty thirsty.  The cushion was moderatewith both a straight razor and DE. The bad thing is that this soap really burned my face.”
  • “If you are looking to get thick lather out of this soap , be patient.  Its skin care properties during the shave are brilliant. I have very dry, sensitive skin, and this soap takes care of it like the best ones I have.”

 Score: 7.7


  • “The presentation was great! Great jar, excellent information card and the jar came packaged in a great little burlap bag (with ribbon and maple leaf). The presentation doesn’t get much better than this!”
  • “Nicely done, but once the dust settles, it’s the regular MW container. Still, the little decorated sack was a good surprise.”
  • “Generally speaking the provided jar is good for storage but the soap needs to be removed and lathered outside the jar. The burlap bag is a nice touch if you were giving it as a gift but generally I would prefer a better job of packaging the actual soap.”
  • “The soap comes in a very nice reusable plastic case with a screw top. Then packed in a holiday bag with a nice decoration around it. Also enclosed is a brief history of the soap and a list of ingredients. Very professionally done.”
  • “The bag was a really nice touch, the tubs sturdy, and the label high quality and waterproof.”
  • “The actual container was pretty plain and the typical artisan 4 oz round plastic container with the puck of soap inside. I did like the burlap sack and outside wrap with the orange stripe and leaf with acorn.”
  • “This soap comes on a plastic jar container , screw lid and a label on the top.”

 Score: 4.3

Sharpologist Staff

Sharpologist Staff

15 thoughts on “Scent Off: Mystic Water Indian Summer”

  1. “Scent Off” or “Stink Off”?
    I have been looking forward to the Scent Off for several weeks, and purchased and have been enjoying the products under review (Michelle was kind enough to sell me a puck in response to my begging). However, what I learned from the first round was that the experts disagree just as much as the newbies on the forums who overly praise their favorites, and make despairing remarks about others. I guess that this might mean that there are no experts, and we shouldn’t listen to such dribble? I can somewhat understand disagreement about scent, as in reality, we are each perceiving a different scent as our sense of smell is determined by genetics and is inherited. However, I was surprised by such extremes, from, “It captured the spirit of the season,” to, “I did not get the scent at all.” I had even more difficulty with the sensitive skin issues, as no one in their right mind who is sensitive to strongly scented soaps should volunteer for a fall/winter scent off where by definition they will be sampling strongly scented, spicy soaps. And there were the same extremes in comments on performance, from, “lathering very ease and abundant, lubrication and glide outstanding,” to, “produced a very sub-par lather, disappeared fast and dried on the skin.” Come on guys, this isn’t Congress or a Sunday morning political talk show with everyone showing their bias, it’s just soap. My experience with these soaps so far has been that they are all from quality soap makers who have produced some interesting, seasonal scents. Any “expert” who can’t produce a reasonably good lather from them is no “expert,” in my opinion. I have been enjoying all of the soaps, and “Indian Summer” is no exception. In general, I find Mystic Water soaps to produce an excellent lather comparable to other top-notch artisan soaps, such as Mike’s or Barrister & Mann, and with very interesting, pleasant scents. I rather enjoyed this unique, sweet and spicy fall scent with a great lather, and I’m hoping that Michelle will make it available, as I’m sure it will be another popular soap for Mystic Water fans.

  2. Pingback: Mystic Water Soap – Indian Summer (Scent off entrant) | Greg's Shaving Soap Reviews

  3. I would have been more impressed if there was no presentation score and the judges (and readers) had no way of knowing who made each particular soap until the final soap was evaluated.

    1. We discussed doing the evaluations “blind.” There are pros and cons with any format and in the end we decided to show the artisan up front, at least for this first competition. We may try a blind competition in the future.

  4. Interesting and thanks for the review. I use Mystic (aka Maureen ) Hair soap shampoo instead of store shampoo for years (Do some shampoo research- less crap in straight rat poison and nuclear waste than regular shampoos).
    My hair is great. I also use her soaps very good! I have a back log of mama bear shave disks but will keep her in mind for shave soaps.
    Thanks to all for for the reviews

    1. I would imagine that the judge whose face reacted to the soap did not rate the performance so high, while those whose skin was not sensitive to the soap rated it higher. This shows how YMMV works: one guy would say that the soap’s performance is excellent, another that it’s performance was bad.

  5. YMMV is in full view: my face did not turn red at all, so I don’t see how pH could be a factor: would it not affect us all? Certainly an allergic skin reaction seems more likely, unless people vary as much in pH sensitivity as they do in allergic reactions.
    One comment I didn’t understand: that the soap must be removed from the bowl/tub to be lathered. That would certainly be true if one wanted to use it as a shave stick, but I did the usual loading of the brush on top of the soap, as one does with many soaps that come in bowls or tubs (Geo. F. Trumper, TOBS, Mama Bear, Strop Shoppe, and on and on). All those listed and more have the puck in a container that is close to the size of the puck, but I have not hear of people having to remove them to lather. I’m puzzled by that.
    Fragrance is the usual YMMV thing, as expected.

    1. I agree on the pH thing. That ought to be an across the board problem. I think a sensitivity to one of the scent components (and the concentration thereof) is the more likely culprit. Lots of folks have issues with various fragrances, myself included.
      I also don’t understand the removing it from the tub bit. Is this pretty much the standard MW? If so, it is a pretty regular croap (on the softer side of croap I suppose). I just load in the tub.

  6. I’ve had problems with a couple heavily scented soaps as well, and I don’t have particularly sensitive skin. My sense has generally been just way to much of an oil that I don’t get on with (and it seems to be clove or cinnamon, which would be common to fall soaps).
    As for Mystic Water in general, I have a love hate relationship with the stuff. I have outrageously hard water, so that may be part of the issue, but I’ve never used anything that was such a bear to lather (there was a super long thread on B&B over the summer about it, and apparently, the ideal process is akin to launching the space shuttle). That said, the few times I’ve gotten it right, it has given the best shaves I’ve ever had. But there are soaps that perform close, and don’t take any effort to lather for me (two of which are among the artisans in this challenge).

  7. Interesting that two of the six participants reported irritation. I’ve also had issues with soaps that were a) strongly scented and b) supposed to be “autumn” fragrances. Apart from the soap formula itself, it might also be that there’s a higher proportion of cinnamon oil or synthetic cinnamaldehyde, either of which can be skin irritants. For this reason, I personally avoid spice-scented soap products.

    1. When it comes to stronger scents (especially stronger *spicy* scents) people who face lather tend to experience irritation while bowl and hand latherers don’t. HTGAM commented on this when they tested their pumpkin scent – it only bothered face latherers.

      1. Interesting. Obviously, face-lathering by itself won’t cause irritation: the skin also must be sensitive to the ingredients. I face lather regularly, but don’t have skin reactions.
        Still: Interesting that if you DO have a skin sensitivity, you still might get away with using the soap or shaving cream if you bowl lather. Worth knowing. Thanks.

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