So, what’s up with all of this handmade soap anyway? Soap’s just soap…. right? Wrong!
Soap has been around since about 2800 BC in Ancient Babylon; the ruins of Pompeii revealed an entire soap factory; frontier women made all of their own soaps from rendered animal fats (gotta use every piece of the animal to survive in frontier life!); and a good quality, affordable manufactured soap was widely available in the 1800s.
Today, handmade soap has been increasing in popularity as people start to look for ways to return back to basics in our fast-paced technology-focused world, are becoming more educated about the products they bring into their homes, and start to look for natural “cures” for common health issues.
But, what’s the big deal about handmade soap vs our modern day commercial soap?
Let’s take a look at what each one:
What’s So Bad About Commercial Soaps?
Many Commercial Soaps aren’t Soap!
They are synthetic detergents!
Detergents originated in 1916 Germany, and the commercial “soap” we know today came into existence during WWII. Detergents are synthetic (often petroleum based) cleansers that strip your skin of the natural oils that your body needs for healthy skin, and can lead to skin disorders and rashes.
Commercial Soaps Contain More Than Just Soap
Even if you do find a bar of real soap at the store, it might not be all that great for you. Many commercial soaps contain chemical-based colorants, dyes, fragrances, lathering agents, preservatives, and other “things” we can’t pronounce. These additives can wreak havoc on our sensitive skin and hair, and pollute our drinking water.
Some commercial “soaps” and body washes even include triclosan, which can promote cancer (pretty scary stuff, and you can read more about it here if you want to get squeamish about some of the products we are sold).
Commercial Soap Lacks Glycerine!
With all of the work commercial soap manufacturers put into adding “things” to their product, you wouldn’t think they would spend time extracting from it… but they do!
Glycerin is a naturally occurring byproduct of the saponification process (that’s the chemical reaction that we call soap making). Glycerine is a humectant—meaning it draws moisture from the air to your skin—leaving your skin soft and moisturized.
Well, guess what? Commercial soap manufacturers typically remove the glycerin from their soap, and sell it separately, or use it in a second product—moisturizer! Yup, they take one good bar of soap, extract the moisturizer, and then sell it to us as a second product (both of which may contain harmful chemicals).
Yuck! Let’s take a look at the better alternative: handmade soap.
What is Handmade Soap?
Handmade soaps are a natural alternative that are good for your skin!
Soap is pretty basic: it’s a salt of a fatty acid. In order to make soap, fats and lye are combined in a process called saponification. That’s it! You take some lye, some fat (animal or vegetable oils), heat it up, and BAM soap! OK OK, I simplified it, but you get the idea… soap is a natural process that comes from combining natural ingredients.
Handmade soap is made of vegetable oils (sometimes animal fats too) and butters that are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and nutrients that are essential to healthy skin. And, real handmade soap contains glycerine! You won’t find any soaper out there extracting all the goodies from their soap to upsell you the 2nd product. On the contrary, handmade soapers are working hard to find wonderful skin loving ingredients to create more and more beneficial soaps for our lovely skin. Each of the ingredients used in my soaps is chosen based off of their effect the final bar (moisturizing, exfoliant, odor removing, lathering, etc.) and are carefully selected for each bar.
Wait, Is Lye natural?
Some people are scared of soap made with lye, but if lye wasn’t used you couldn’t make soap (you would just have a puddle of oils). And, there’s no lye left over after the saponification process—it’s been turned into soap!
Lye is a liquid obtained by leaching ashes, that’s it. Ma and Laura made it by running water over ashes from the fire pit, and many people still do today. You can also purchase lye by its chemical names: sodium hydroxide (NaOH) used for making hard soap, or potassium hydroxide (KOH) which is used for making liquid soaps.
What Goes Into Handmade Soap?
The variety achieved from different oils, textures, shapes, sizes, smells, and more is one of the great things about handmade soaps—no two bars are ever the same as they are works of art in themselves. But beauty aside, handmade soap should be crafted with care.
The main reason why soap is better for you than commercial detergents is based on the ingredients. If you make a handmade bar of soap and then add chemicals to it, you’re no better off than the stuff you can buy at the grocery store. However, if you handcraft soap with all natural ingredients (and skip the chemical color and fragrance part) you will have a wonderfully good for your skin bar of soap!
Isn’t All Handmade Soap Natural?
Unfortunately, not all handmade soap is created with high quality and natural ingredients.
Some people craft soap with chemical-based additives called “melt and pour”—mostly because they are not aware of what they are purchasing, are new to the soap making process, or just don’t know better.
Other soap makers will use a chemical based additive to make their soaps look pretty or smell better. But, a well-crafted bar of soap doesn’t need either of those. Soap shouldn’t be neon color (or smell like grapes) if it’s truly natural. And yet, there’s a huge market for these chemical based additives in the soaping world.
So, how do you know if the soap you are buying is all natural handmade soap?
How to Choose the right bar of handmade soap
1: Check the ingredients
As with all products, read the labels. If it’s a real bar of soap, you will be able to understand and pronounce everything (now that you know what saponification and sodium hydroxide means!). The process should take about 20 seconds—there are only a few ingredients in a bar of real soap!
While you’re reading, make sure you are not allergic to anything in the soap like peanut oil, coconut, or some of the essential oils that can be present. You can find a list of all ingredients used in my soaps here.
2: Ask about cure time
Cure time is the amount of time it takes for the bar to fully mature, and to be a long-lasting bar of soap. A good soaper will tell you that their cure times can vary based on the ingredients of the soap, but each bar will typically take between 4-8 weeks.
3: Beware of fragrances and colors
While pumpkin spice is all the rage, you might not want it in your soap (unless it’s created with real pumpkin and spices!). If the bar is bright orange, watch out and ask the soaper how they got that orange color. If they can tell you about the herbal infusions, and gel stages they worked hard to achieve, then you found a great bar of soap!
Note: not all additive colors are bad, just be sure you know what you are purchasing by doing a bit of research and talking with your soaper. I prefer to use natural ingredients like coffee, mint from my garden, other spices, and techniques to color my soap. Others might use pigments that are “nature identical” meaning that they are manufactured in the lab to have the same molecular structure as their “natural” counterpart.
4: Natural vs. Organic
While the USDA regulates and sets quality standards for the word “Organic”, there is no regulation for the word “Natural” that helps a consumer really know if the soap is real, or safe… or not. Basically, even though a soap is marketed as natural, that doesn’t mean it’s all natural or good for your skin. (see tip 1: and read those labels!)
5: Try out more than one bar of soap
Everyone has different skin types, different water conditions (hard vs. soft) and will have different experiences with different bars of soap. My sister has hard water and loves how my salted spa bar bubbles for her, but my water is softer and I prefer my bars unsalted.
6: Talk with your soaper
Some people will find that they prefer different soaps for different uses: hair, skin, face, feet, one for the bath, and a different one for the kitchen. Talk with your soaper and let them know what you want your bar of soap to do. They will be able to help you find the right bar for exfoliating your feet, and one to really clean off the garlic smell after cooking in the kitchen.
Want to talk to a soaper about soap? Send me a message and I’ll help you find the perfect bar (even if that means creating one just for you!)