Is your bath soap a detergent or real soap? Did you know that according to the FDA, “Most body cleansers on the market today are actually synthetic detergent products and come under the jurisdiction of FDA. These detergent cleansers are popular because they make suds easily in water and don’t form gummy deposits. Some of these detergent products are actually marketed as “soap” but are not true soap in the common and legal definition of the word.” Handmade soap, on the other hand, is a true soap because of the way it is made and the ingredients used to make it. So what are you washing your skin with, true soap or detergent?
Handmade Bath Soap vs. Commercial Soap
Handmade bar soap, when made properly, is very gentle on the skin despite the claims by commercial soap manufacturers that it has a high pH value. Why? Because handmade soap has not been stripped of the valuable properties that make it a gentle cleanser.
Typically, when commercial soap manufacturers make soap they do it in very large batches, sometimes over 100,000 pounds, and part of their process is to remove the glycerin, which is a natural by-product of the soapmaking process. Glycerin is a humectant, meaning it draws moisture, and is beneficial to the skin. In addition to removing glycerin, commercial soap manufacturers add fillers to their soap that are not necessarily skin-friendly.
Handmade bar soap is made by combining a base and an acid. Although the word acid sounds ominous, the acid in soapmaking is actually vegetable oils, various butters such as cocoa butter and shea butter, or even animal fats like lard and tallow. The base is lye, which is derived by mixing sodium hydroxide with a liquid. Water is typically used as the liquid, however, other liquids can be used such as goat milk, coconut milk, or even herbal tea.
When handmade soapmakers make soap, they do it in smaller batches with more attention to detail, and the glycerin remains in the soap. They choose ingredients based their properties and what they will add to the finished bar of soap. For example, cocoa butter can make a harder bar of soap and is gentle on the skin; coconut oil adds lather; and jojoba oil is a good skin conditioner. Additives, such as oatmeal, may also be added to enhance the final product.
Handmade soap made by an experienced soapmaker is formulated so that the lye required to complete the process of turning oils and butters into soap is completely used up and there is no free alkali left in the soap. They also superfat their recipes, which means a certain amount of the oils are not affected by the lye thereby leaving free oils in the soap. This produces a gentler bar of soap.
Dispelling the Myth of Moisturizing Skin Cleansers
Skin cleansers, such as soaps or body washes, are rinse-off products meaning they do not stay on the skin. You use them to clean your skin and then rinse them off. Rinse-off products do not moisturize the skin because they are not in contact with it long enough to actually moisturize it. That being said, certain skin cleansers can cause dry skin. Even though they are only on your skin for a short period of time, they can actually strip your skin of its natural protective oils in the cleansing process. This is due to the way the cleanser is made and the ingredients it contains.
Good handmade soap is made in such a way that it does not strip the skin of its natural oils. Because of its gentle cleansing properties it can actually leave your skin “feeling” moisturized since it does not remove the protective barrier your skin creates.
Not All Handmade Soap is Really Handmade
Some handcrafted soapmakers make their soap from a commercial base known as Melt & Pour. This type of soap is often referred to as “glycerin soap” and is often clear due to the alcohol used to make the base. The soap is not really a true glycerin soap and does not have the benefits of handmade soap made from scratch.
There are many good handmade soapmakers that sell their products online and in their own shops or at craft fairs. Look for soapmakers that disclose the methods they use to make their soap. The “Cold Process” and “Hot Process” methods are typically used by soapmakers that make their soap from scratch. If the information about how they make their soap is not disclosed on their websites or in their literature, do not hesitate to ask them.
The best way to determine the benefits of handmade soap is to try it for yourself. To test the claim that handmade is better, try washing one half of your body with commercial soap and the other half with handmade bath soap. Do this for about a month and then compare both sides and see for yourself which bath soap is gentler on your skin.