Maggi Dearmer, who suffered an allergy to commercial washing products, is hoping to clean up in the soap market after deciding to make her own.

ALL Maggi Dearmer wanted was to lie back and soak luxuriously in a bath full of bubbles. Unfortunately, all commercial soaps and bubble baths just made her skin condition even more inflamed. "Even shampoo made me itch," she says.

The answer, she decided, was to make her own, using the purest, most natural ingredients.

Now she can have as many showers and soaks as she likes, her skin is much improved, and she has a flourishing small business making soaps, gels and bubble baths and selling them at farmers' markets and by mail order all over the country. She even supplies a shop in New York.

And it's all done from the back bedroom of her house near Burnhope.

"I started off in the kitchen but then it got really embarrassing when we had visitors because no one could get in there or the dining room for tubs of ingredients or blocks of soap. So we stripped out the back bedroom and converted that."

Maggi was a teacher in London, (which is one of the reasons her company was called Touch of Class, and now TOC Aromatherapy) moved back up north with husband Malcolm a few years ago and was inspired into soap making by a trip to Egypt.

"I was in Cairo Museum looking at displays about Cleopatra and the creams and potions she used, but I don't care what you say, you still don't feel clean unless you've washed with soap," says Maggi.

She uses glycerine, purest essential oils, herbs, honey, goats' milk and fruit. It's all cooked gently until it turns into a jelly - like soup, it must never boil - and then it's left to mature for four to 12 weeks.

Maggi makes the soap in tins like large loaf tins and then cuts slices off. The only problem seems to be with lavender heads, which will always rise to the top.

The smells are wonderful. The soaps give a rich creamy lather and just a small amount of the bath oils is enough to give a bath of Cleopatra-style luxury.

They also have amazing names.

"That's part of the fun, dreaming up the names," she says. "Indonesian Dream was called that because it uses lemon and ylang ylang. Indonesians spread ylang ylang petals on the bed of a newlywed couple. It's said to be an aphrodisiac."

Swinging Sixties has patchouli, sandalwood, palma rosa and hemp. Goddess of the Nile has neroli. frankincense, jasmine, sandalwood and more.

While not medically tested, many of the products have proved to be particularly effective for those suffering with skin conditions. Sea Fresh, which has seaweed, borage oil, pine oil, cedar wood oil, benzoin and Dead Sea salts, has helped people with psoriasis. Aloe Vera is helpful for those with eczema. Bug Buster shampoo bar does just what it says _ and there's a school in London that's testing it pretty thoroughly.

"If there's a particular problem, I'll try to sort it out. We make everything, so it's easy enough to try something a bit different for someone."

Which could mean a lot more people will once again know the luxury of a long hot bubble bath.....

TOC Aromatherapy Ltd Peartree, Burnhope, Durham, DH7 0DY. Tel: 0191 371 9167.

They have a stall at most farmers' markets in the region. Soaps are £2.00 for 90gm, £2.95 for 160gms. Shampoo Bars £2.99. Bath gels £5, hand cream £4.95. There is also an organic range for babies. Baby gift baskets from £10 to £50.

Products are also available by mail order and at Pamper Party Evenings.