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Sarah Akkari of Senteurs d’Orient

The chandler of luxury handcrafted bath and body products on fulfilling her mother’s dream, the story behind soap moulds and how to shop for organic soap.

Women-owned beauty brands are a thing. Organic handcrafted soap bars are not. At least not yet. But we had the pleasure of interviewing one such purveyor of these unique goods: Sarah Akkari, the CEO of Senteurs d’Orient.

In 2009, after witnessing and experiencing bathing rituals of various East Asian cultures from Tokyo to Beirut, Hana was inspired to make her own soap. Joining forces with her mother after a successful corporate career, Sarah dedicated herself to taking Hana’s vision global. Sarah assumed creative and marketing responsibilities, while her mother refocused on product development. Then, both women believed that nowhere in the world was a more fitting place to set up their workshop than in the heart of the soap making region of Lebanon; in a production facility known as Atelier 130.

Offering handcrafted soap of different shapes and sizes, all bearing intricate filigree motifs, Senteurs d’Orient’s line is conscious luxury at its finest. Marrying the soap making expertise of the Middle East with fragrances from Grasse, and using natural ingredients sourced from around the world, the company strives to deliver products which promise uplifting sensorial affairs. 

True enough, Senteurs d’Orient’s soaps lather without much effort and luxuriate both skin and senses. The brand’s ‘Soap on a Rope’ range is practical too, with a strap around your wrist while soaping that also allows you to hang the bar up after use. All in all, these are beautiful additions to your self-care rituals.

“When shopping for soap bars, look out for those with ingredients like glycerine, vegetal oils like olive oil or coconut oil, shea butter and vitamin E.”

mint cutting bar soap

Soap blocks are hand-cut and sold as soap leaves, which are great for guest amenities and one-time use for baths

Tell us how Senteurs d’Orient’s journey began.

Senteurs d’Orient’s story begins with my mother Hana, whose journey took her from East to East. She was born and raised in Tokyo and, while finding her way to Beirut, she hit on the idea to create handcrafted soap inspired by the bathing rituals she experienced on her journey across the Orient.

In Japanese and Middle Eastern cultures, bathing rituals have an important place in their traditions. It is in the heart of the soap-making region of the world, in Lebanon, that Senteurs d’Orient was born.

Fifteen years later, I joined my mother’s mission in 2014 after working at L’Oréal for about five years. I saw the need to take her vision and expand internationally. I worked on a global strategy of expansion and new creative assets direction, before launching the brand in the US and Europe.

Why is it important to the brand to only use naturally derived ingredients?

We believe that beauty is authentic, natural and sensual. As such, we are committed to using naturally derived ingredients which are free of harmful chemicals like EDTA, silicones, parabens, petrochemicals, sulphates, colorants, titanium dioxide and tallow.

We believe that natural ingredients are not only good for your skin’s health, but also improve your overall wellness; and have long-term benefits in keeping your skin healthy.

What is your favourite product from the range, and the best way to use it?

Orange Blossom Hammam soap on a rope. It is my favourite fragrance and it’s light, slightly citrus and floral yet sensual. It reminds me of a Lebanese beverage called ‘white coffee’. It’s made with hot water, orange blossom water and honey. It’s very relaxing and uplifting.

Orange blossom hammam soap

Sarah’s favourite Senteurs d’Orient product is this Orange Blossom Hammam soap on a rope

What are three of your favourite skincare ingredients, and why?

Vitamin E, for its nourishing and repair benefits. Olive oil is another that remains a wholesome and traditional ingredient, especially when it comes to soap making. It is still one of the most effective ingredients for keeping skin smooth, hydrated and radiant. Finally, essential oils. I will pick a different scent depending on my mood. I like the aromatherapy effect it has on the mind, as well as their different skincare benefits.

Can you tell us about the art of soap making, and one thing about the process that most people are unware of?

We believe in combining the best of both worlds. This means we use both the traditional way of making soap, which includes hand mixing the ingredients and air-drying the soap for about 10 days; and we use modern machines designed for us in Italy, so that we produce the best, most homogeneous soap base. This ensures that the therapeutic benefits of the essences are released in the most optimal way while you shower.

I think the one thing people are most unaware of is that each soap is carefully crafted by local artisans in our atelier. After the air-drying process, they evaluate each piece in natural light to make sure that they have a “healthy shine” before hand-wrapping them. By doing this, they ensure that we create the best soap possible.

You create beautiful soap moulds. Is there a story behind them?

Yes. Our moulds and filigree soap designs are inspired by traditional Lebanese pastries known as ma’amoul. The ma’amoul pastry designs are made out of wooden tools with different shapes and lines.

senteurs d'orient soap mould hammam

Soap moulds are inspired by traditional Lebanese pastries known as ma’amoul

What is the best way to use a bar of soap?

We recommend using the soap bar with a loofah, so you exfoliate dead cells while cleansing your skin.

When shopping for soap bars, what are some ingredients that one should look out for?

Glycerine, vegetal oils like olive oil or coconut oil (no animal fat), shea butter and vitamin E. Avoid chemical ingredients like titanium dioxide, parabens, silicones, sulphates, colorants, tallow and EDTA.

What are your favourite daily skincare, makeup and hair care products?

For skincare, I use a gentle face cleanser, sunscreen and SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Serum. For makeup, I love RMS Beauty because it’s organic and they have great textures. I use their concealer and cream blush. For haircare, I love Herbivore Botanicals’ Sea Mist Texturizing Salt Spray.

Besides your own range, what are three of your favourite skincare brands and products, and why?

SkinCeuticals. I think their products are very efficient, they deliver on their claims, and their powerful agents are very concentrated.

Bioderma. I love French pharmaceutical brands in general, and Bioderma has great micellar water and moisturising face creams.

Belif. it is an herbal skincare brand that uses the safest natural ingredients. They have great formula textures and scents — and it works!

What does conscious beauty mean to you?

It means that it should first help improve your skin health and overall wellness in the short- and long-term — that means it has to be free of nasty chemicals. Second, it has to be cruelty-free. Thirdly, it has to be sustainable. And lastly, conscious beauty should be about contributing and buying into a social cause, or contributing to society.

In our case, Senteurs d’Orient supports women empowerment and gender equality with our Senteurs Women’s Initiative, in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme.

Senteurs d'Orient soap leaves

Senteurs d’Orient’s line is conscious luxury at its finest

Images courtesy of Senteurs d’Orient