Known as the “Soap Lady” of Ponte Vedra Beach, Mary Vastola-Yannello makes about 350 bars a week.

There’s the soap with goat’s milk and lavender that’s calming before bedtime. There’s the Dirty Hippie soap with loofah for a rich exfoliating scrub. There’s the cherry red swirl soap topped with shavings that looks good enough to eat. But that’s not all you can find at the Ponte Vedra Soap Shoppe. Bath bombs, lip balms, natural bug sprays and essential oils also line the shelves of the cheerful storefront that opened two years ago.

Above photo: Mary Vastola-Yannello in her shop, which carries not only a wide variety of soaps and othet items, but also offers workshops and supplies on soap-making.

“I like to help people,” says Vastola-Yannello, a creative, driven woman who is a local pioneer in the handcrafted movement. “And I’ve met a lot of really, really nice people.”

The operation started in her home in 2001. She was making soap as a hobby while she was growing more dispirited with her office job at SuperStock.

“I was sick of sitting in the cubicle,” she says.

At the time, only a few companies were selling the raw ingredients for body care products directly to enthusiasts. So she learned how to build her own website and opened the Ponte Vedra Soap Shoppe as a wholesaler of raw materials for bath and body products. Soon, locals were scooping up her soaps and asking for classes, instructions and recipes.

In 2014, having outgrown the home office and seven storage units, she opened the storefront in the Veranda Center on A1A in Ponte Vedra Beach, near Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. With the 1,100-square-foot store, she can house and ship the raw materials, make batches and sell her products all under one roof. Meantime, she is still teaching private workshops on making soap, lip balms, lotions, body scrubs and mineral makeup.

Vicki Nagangast, who pops in the store regularly, is particularly fond of the Almond Joy Soap made with goat’s milk from a local dairy. All the products are fun and delightful, she says.

“They’re perfect for hostesses and teachers gifts,” she says.

While Vastola-Yannello has played a big role in the homemade personal care movement, she’s still amazed by how it has taken off.

“There’s soap everywhere!” she exclaimed. “It has become a craft, a cottage industry, and they can make their own if they want to.”

Here are some tips on what to look for in a good handmade bar of soap.

• The ingredients should be natural and simple: oils, butters, essential oils or cosmetic-grade materials. They should be free of synthetic ingredients like sodium laurel sulfate.

• Want a good lather? Make sure coconut oil is in the top three ingredients. Having castor oil somewhere on the list also does the trick.

• A long-lasting soap should feel hard.  This is produced by a long curing time, which typically takes about four weeks.

• Glycerin soap softens the skin because it attracts moisture. But it melts faster.

• For sensitive skin, use goat’s milk soap that contains a very mild essential oil.

The Ponte Vedra Soap Shoppe is at 820 A1A North, Suite W19 (in the courtyard). For more information visit the website pvsoap.com. Vastola-Yannello also sells her products at the Riverside Arts Market in Riverside.

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