@ connecticut_yankee - Yes, there is a lot to learn and it can be intimidating! However, commercial soap cannot begin to compare to a good handcrafted soap. Please don't give in and give up!
(I am something of a compulsive handwasher, and my hands simply cannot take commercial soaps. I HAVE to have my own handcrafted soap, especially in winter! That's the reason lots of soapmakers start - they, or someone in their family, has eczema/psoriasis/other skin issues, and the commercial soaps don't hack it. Years ago, before I started soapmaking, I was advised by a dermatologist to use Neutrogena soap. That stuff stinks and clogged my sinks, so when I discovered melt-and-pour soaps at the local craft store, I got into that. Melt and pour soap bases are themselves problematic (most if not all of them have detergents in them), and so from there I moved on to cold process soap making. The CP soaps I make are better than the melt and pour soaps that I made, which were better than the commercial soaps that I could get.)
Re crayons and candle wax as colorants - yes, there is a toxicity issue (and this was even before China started sending us toxic crayons!). Those colorants are not meant for human skin. There ARE lots of "cosmetic grade" colorants that are safe to use in soap and bath/beauty products. I like to use micas (NOT glitters), but the color range is somewhat limited there. Some people like to use dyes (I don't). Some people like to use "natural" colorants, which range from clays through herbs/spices to mineral pigments (which themselves have some hazards, particularly inhalant). Sometimes, by virtue of what you are making your soap with, you will have a default color (usually some shade of tan or brown). Avocado butter or oil, for example, can lend a green tinge to the soap, depending on how much of it is used.
Two suppliers that I use for mica colorants (they have others) : http://www.brambleberry.com
(look under "skin care ingredients").
Actually, being on a soapmaking forum IS helpful for newbies!
When I started making soap, I read the Miller's soap page, but I had lots of questions/fears, and I found a soapmaking forum (not the Dish) and joined it. The members there were very helpful and supportive. (I later moved to the Dish because it was a much more active forum.)
If you join the Dish, you ARE expected to do your homework (don't ask questions for which a simple search of the forum will yield you answers). However, if you did your search and can't find your answer (or don't understand something), then post your question (it helps to state that you searched but didn't find/understand), and someone will jump in there to help you. Just don't ask people to share their soap recipes with you - that is a MAJOR hot button that will bring the collective wrath of the forum down on you! (And yes, the recipes sub-forum is not about soap.)
That said, from time to time people DO post soap recipes on the forum - sometimes to ask people for advice on their recipe, sometimes to share that this is a simple recipe that makes good soap. Here are two such recipes from the Dish forum which I make fairly often:
1. 57% olive oil
33% coconut oil
10% cocoa butter
I prefer to make this at 9-10% superfat. I would recommend not using full water, so as to help it harden up quicker.
(A word of warning - lots of "extra virgin" olive oils have been found to be adulterated with cheaper oils, such as canola. (Apart from the illegality/dishonesty and ripoff issues, olive oil is more stable than the liquid oils that have been discovered as adulterants, such as canola oil. Canola and other oils are more prone to causing problems in soap.) Many soapmakers buy their olive oil from certain online suppliers, both for cost reasons, and also to ensure that they are getting olive oil as opposed to other cheaper oils. I only make soap for myself/family/friends, and use off-the-shelf "Star" olive oil, and thus far have not had any problems with it (even though from a scientific survey it is considered questionable wrt purity). Costco house brand (Kirkland?) extra virgin olive oil is supposedly okay. Extra virgin olive oil will give a greenish tinge to the soap; for that reason, I use extra light or light olive oil in most soaps.)
2. 75% coconut oil
25% cocoa butter
This recipe (a so-called "breaking the rules" recipe) is one that people either love or hate. You MUST make it at high superfat: 15%-20% superfat - otherwise the high percentage of coconut oil will make it a drying soap. (At the high superfat, it is a lovely soap. If you use unrefined cocoa butter (and don't use anything to scent the soap), it has a slight chocolately smell.)
A warning on coconut oil - it can be drying, and apart from that, some people have an allergic sensitivity to it (it makes them itch). You can substitute palm kernel oil instead, as it has very similar properties (a hard oil, good for bubbly lather, etc.) but does not cause problems for people with sensitivities. (Some people feel that it makes a milder/better soap than coconut oil.) You do need to recalcuate the weight of lye that you use. (I also advise you NOT to use unrefined virgin coconut oil - as it smells like coconut oil, and that smell can come through in the recipe on the 75% CO recipe, even if you are using essential or fragrance oils. Ask me how I know...
If you do not have a soap calculator, here is a good one: http://www.soapcalc.net/calc/SoapCalcWP.asp
Plug in the weight of soap that you want to make, which oils at which %, what % superfat, and (if desired) what % lye solution you want to make (it defaults to full water). Click the calculate button, and then once it has calculated, click the view and print button, and it will pop up your recipe in weights for each ingredient.
There are many online suppliers of oils and butters for soapmaking. For palm oil and deodorized cocoa butter, I like http://www.brambleberry.com
. For other oils and butters, I like http://www.mountainroseherbs.com
Having mentioned essential and fragrance oils (EOs and FOs, respectively), that is a whole 'nother can of worms. Some fragrances are fine for candle making, but not for soap. There are lots of suppliers out there, but you need to check and make sure that their essential oil or fragrance oil is safe for soap or bath/beauty products. The typical rule-of-thumb is 0.5-1.0 oz per pound of oil (in the soap recipe), but that rule does not universally apply; some vendors of fragrance oils have their own rules as to usage rates (they make their EOs/FOs more concentrated??) so be sure to read the vendor info on safe usage rates. You will also probably need to experiment (or check the scent review board) to find what works best for you, for a particular fragrance. In general, none of these are safe applied directly to skin; all of them must be diluted in soap or whatever product you are making.
(While I absolutely love fragrance myself, I do have some concerns about the safety of habitually using it in everyday soap. The Dish forum members for the most part pooh-pooh this and claim that as soap is a "wash off" product, there should be no concerns. I have to dispute that; the soap may wash off, but frequently the scent lingers on your skin. Apart from that, there are issues with some essential oils, which may be sun sensitizing or which are unstable and degrade into carcinogens. In general, it is a good idea to buy your EOs/FOs from a reputable supplier who gets them freshly made, and to use them quickly when you get them. Also, do not store them in plastic (some vendors ship them in plastic to save shipping cost) - store them in brown glass.)
If you look at the acronyms list, or consult the Dish sub-forum on fragrance, you will probably find a ton of suppliers from which to purchase EOs or FOs. (For those that like peppermint, the best that I have ever found is the 2nd distillation
of essential oil of peppermint, from brambleberry.com. It does tend to fade out (actually, outgas) while curing - a problem I have not yet solved - but it is the best smelling one. Regular essential oil of peppermint is very herbaceous and not at all like the candy/food peppermint scent most people are used to, and every peppermint fragrance oil that I have tried has made me gag.)
I hope all of this is of some help.
(edited for encouragement