You may wonder why homemade soap is better for your skin. We did, too, before we began making our own soaps. Sure, homemade soaps have visual appeal and smell fantastic, but we wondered… are they really a better choice for skin than commercial soaps? For us, the answer is most definitely yes, and the knowledge blossomed into the adventure of creating unique palm free soaps (we’ve eliminated palm oil because overproduction is leading to the destruction of forests in some areas of the world, and robbing animals of their homes).
How Is Soap Made?
Soap is made by mixing oils (and optional ingredients) with a solution that contains lye, a very alkaline material that reacts with the oils to create the soap. All soap is made with lye, but the chemical reaction that takes place during the soapmaking process removes lye from the final product if the recipe is crafted with care and made with precisely weighed ingredients. In fact, extra oil is used to make sure all lye disappears, and the extra oil remains in the bar for added skin benefits. The reaction between the lye solution and oils is called saponification.
Homemade soaps contain a unique mixture of oils and butters chosen by each soapmaker. Vegetable oils are popular, but ‘old fashioned’ soaps made from lard and other animal fats are in demand, too. Homemade soaps also contain glycerin, a skin-loving byproduct of the soapmaking process. You might be surprised to learn that commercial soap manufacturers usually remove the glycerin from their soaps and sell it for other uses.
Let’s Talk About Commercially Manufactured Soaps
First, take a look at the ingredients label of a well know ‘beauty’ bar:
- Sodium lauroyl isethionate – a surfactant that’s used for cleansing. In soaps, surfactants allow the soap to break through the water in order to grab dirt and oils. Bottom line: it’s a synthetic detergent.
- Stearic acid – a hardening agent that can be either added to soap or produced as a byproduct of other ingredients during the soapmaking process. Some handmade soap makers use small amounts of stearic acid in their soaps.
- Sodium tallowate or sodium palmitate – sodium tallowate is animal fat that’s been saponified by lye; sodium palmitate is palm oil that’s been saponified by lye. Either or both could be present.
- Lauric acid – the end result after saponification of oils, often coconut oil. A surfactant.
- Sodium Isethionate – a fairly mild surfactant that helps lather bind to dirt so that it can be washed away.
- Water – no need for explanation.
- Sodium Stearate – occurs during saponification of oils mixed with lye. Can be of animal or vegetable origin.
- Cocamidopropyl Betaine or sodium C14-C16 olefin sulfonate – synethetic surfactacts that are suspected of interfering with our immune systems.
- Sodium cocoate or sodium palm kernelate – the result of saponification after mixing lye with either coconut oil or palm kernel oil. The oil used is not stated — it could be either
- Fragrance – Artificial agent used for scent.
- Sodium chloride – Salt, used to harden soap.
- Tetrasodium EDTA – a water softening agent that’s a potential carcinogen — made from formaldehyde and sodium cyanide
- Titanium dioxide – used in soap to make it whiter. Also used in sunscreen. Some studies suggests it might be a carcinogen.
The manufacturer has chosen to list byproducts of the saponification process, rather than the actual oils used. Look closely at the names and you’ll see that this bar of soap is likely composed of coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil and possibly animal fat, along with an array of synthetic materials to help it lather and clean.
Compare Our Homemade Soap Ingredients
Our recipes vary, but our soap labels always include the actual ingredients that are used to make the soaps — we do not hide behind chemical names, and make it very clear if animal products are used — such as our yogurt and milk soaps.
Ingredients in our Herb Kissed Olive Oil Soap
- Olive oil infused with calendula blossoms, St. John’s Wort and lavender
- Coconut oil
- Shea butter
- Cocoa butter
- Castor oil
- Marshmallow root tea (we often make soaps with herb infused waters — why waste an opportunity to add a bit of extra goodness?)
- Tussah silk
- Rhassoul clay and white clay
- An essential oil blend containing rosemary, peppermint, orange, lime, patchouli and lemongrass
- Glycerin, which is produced during the soapmaking process
Skin is the Body’s Largest Organ… Treat it with Care
We sometimes don’t stop to think about our skin for what it is — the body’s largest organ. Skin serves many purposes, of course, from protection to lubrication to synthesizing Vitamin D for our bodies… and more. But skin also has the ability to absorb unwanted chemicals, and can become sensitive to some of the components used in many contemporary body care products. We choose to cleanse our skin with homemade soap made from nourishing ingredients, not chemically altered bars of soap containing substances that may be harmful to our health.
© Janet Wickell, 2013