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The Good and the Bad of Soap

Why use “fake soap” when natural soap feels so good?

We define “fake soap” as primarily synthetic “soaps” full of harsh detergents and petrochemicals, like the ones that fill the shelves of most stores. This group includes most

  • Transparent (or sometimes opaque) glycerin soaps
  • Commercial shower gels and liquid soaps
  • Hypoallergenic soaps recommended by mainstream dermatologists (the word hypoallergenic is meaningless)
  • Triple-milled overpriced French soaps (they’re usually drying!)
  • and even many of the supposedly “natural” soaps found at your local health food store!

Check out the ingredients, and you’ll see just how many cheap oils, animal fats, and synthetic petrochemicals these so-called “soaps” contain.

Don’t buy into it!

A few herbs and a natural-sounding name don’t make fake soap real. Read labels carefully, ask questions, and be informed.

Real handcrafted natural soap is easy to spot. It will say “soap” on the label. By law, fake soaps aren’t supposed to use that term, so they call it a “beauty bar” or a “moisturizing bar.”

Look for soaps with cold-pressed organic extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) as a main ingredient. It’s rich in antioxidants and revitalizing skin nutrients. Unfortunately, most commercial soaps contain very little or none because it’s expensive. And, often, those soaps that do contain EVOO use pomace olive, a cheaper, inferior grade of oil extracted with harmful chemical solvents.

Is your skin worth the very best? We think so!

Try the microwave test to distinguish natural soap from glycerin soap (a.k.a. melt and pour or craft soap). A melt-and-pour soap begins to liquefy in the microwave after 10-15 seconds. (They only last for a short time in your tub or shower too.) On the other hand, cold-process soap will melt slowly.

Most melt-and-pour soaps don’t have as much skincare value as cold process soaps, and many (especially the cheap ones) contain harsh and sometimes even harmful ingredients. There are some exceptions, of course, but if you want superior skin care, choose cold-process soap.

Fake Fragrance

Avoid fragrance, perfume, potpourri, and nature-identical oils—all different words for synthetic fragrance oils. Many of them contain unknown or toxic ingredients, pollute our environment, and are often the biggest causes of skin irritation and sensitivities. Just because a product has a botanical-sounding name does NOT mean it came from a plant. Cranberry, watermelon, peach, pear, apple, strawberry, fig, pomegranate, and many others (the list is long) are synthetic scents made in a laboratory.

Likewise, many soaps supposedly containing vanilla, jasmine, rose, lemon verbena, and sandalwood are also made with synthetic scents because the authentic essential oils, absolutes, or concretes are expensive or even endangered. The bottom line? If an oil doesn’t have a Latin botanical name, it’s not a true essential oil and has no aromatherapeutic benefits. Ask the soap maker what they use. Then, go to the health food store and smell the real essential oils. After a while, your nose will know the difference.

Look for soaps made with essential oils extracted from plants that are safe and therapeutic when used correctly. They’re more expensive but well worth it in terms of your health and our planet’s. If the label says “fragrance,” “perfume,” or “parfum,” it’s probably a synthetic scent. Steer clear.

Other synthetic additives to avoid are FD&C colors, dyes, antibacterial triclosan and triclocarban, EDTA, TEA, DEA, sodium laureth, and sodium lauryl sulfates, to name a few. They’re not kind to your skin, your health, or the environment.

The Real Test

Use a well-made natural soap. (I said well made because all handmade soaps are not created equal.)
If it dries your skin out or makes it feel tight or itchy, it may not be real or made properly. A high-quality, glycerin-rich, handcrafted, natural olive oil soap will leave your skin feeling soft, smooth, and nourished.

So if you’re looking for skin-loving soap, take the time to seek out natural and handmade ones. They may cost more, but you get what you pay for, and your skin will thank you.

What About Goat’s Milk Soap?

We like a good goat’s milk soap, but some companies want you to believe their soaps are made mostly of goat’s milk or that goat’s milk dramatically lowers the pH of their handmade soap to make it more gentle than others or that only goat’s milk soaps are moisturizing and mild.

Nothing could be further from the truth! While goat’s milk is a terrific ingredient to include in handmade soaps, you can only make real soap with fats, oils, or butter. (If you look at the ingredient list, you’ll never see goat’s milk as the first ingredient.) And all true soaps are alkaline by nature, but that’s OK. Your skin adjusts quickly after using an alkaline soap product; in the end, no real harm is done. Plain goat’s milk may have a pH level near the skin, but once you combine it with fats/oils/butters and lye, the pH level changes.

Now, goat’s milk IS super moisturizing, but no more so than a myriad of other natural ingredients used by handmade soap makers. So don’t be fooled by the notion that goat’s milk soap is superior to all others. That simply isn’t the case.

Why Anitbacterial Soaps are a Bad Idea

Triclosan is the antibacterial agent commonly found in antibacterial soaps, lotions, toothpaste, acne products, cosmetics, and other personal care products. It is classified as a pesticide by the EPA and as a drug by the FDA. The EPA considers it a possible risk to human health and the environment. It is also a known endocrine disruptor and a suspected carcinogen. In addition, its overuse has contributed to bacterial resistance in the same way that widespread overuse of antibiotics has.

Triclosan does not belong in the personal care products we use daily. According to the American Medical Association, there is no evidence that using antibacterial soap works any more effectively than plain soap and water.

The Care & Feeding of Handmade Soap

Pure handmade bar soap in its natural state doesn’t contain any synthetic preservatives or artificial hardeners—it doesn’t need them. And with just a little care and feeding, you can prolong its life:

  • Don’t let your soap drown in water.
  • Feed your soap plenty of fresh air between uses.
  • Store your soap on a well-drained soap dish.
  • Use a natural wash cloth or loofah to extend its life.
  • Use fresh new soap within six months of purchase.
  • Store unused soap in a cool dark place like a lingerie drawer or linen closet.