The Scoop on Soap

I broke up this rambling thought process into multiple entries because the first was more about shaving, and this one is more about soap.  Why?  Because I used to do a bit of trade in hand-crafted artisan cold process soap (see my long-dead Etsy store for proof.  Sorry for the highfalutin product descriptions, but they really seemed to click with buyers).  In other words, I have a passion for soap, skin care, and all that good crap.

Question: Why should you give a damn about soap?
Answer: Because what you put on your skin affects how your skin looks and feels.

Let’s start with the basics.  What is soap?  Most people use the word “soap” the way they use “kleenex.”  Rather than referring to a very specific product, they’re referring to a product category.  To get technical, soap is the result of a combination of an alkali and a fatty acid.  More specifically, it’s usually the combination of sodium or potassium hydroxide and some kind of oil.  Let’s use one of my simpler recipes as an example.  Don’t worry, I’m out of business so I make no money by promoting my stuff:

Ingredients: Olive Oil, Canola Oil, Coconut Oil, Lavender Tea, Sodium Hydroxide, Wildflower Honey, Grapeseed Oil, Salt, Lavender Buds, Lavender Essential Oil

Let me break that down.  You have a blend of fatty acids (Olive oil, canola oil, grapeseed oil) and sodium hydroxide.  Congrats, It’s soap!  In addition you have lavender tea (the water base in which the lye is dissolved), wildflower honey (sugar promotes lather), salt (salt improves hardness), lavender buds (exfoliator) and lavender essential oil (smells good).

Lavender Buff Soap

The bottom line: When you look at the ingredients of a true soap you should see two ingredients: Sodium or Potassium Hydroxide and at least one oil.  Everything else is bonus.  Take away the fragrances and exfoliants and other additives and you’ve still got soap.  Take away the sodium hydroxide and oil and you’ve got a yucky mess that won’t clean a damn thing.  Here’s a slogan for you: Soap: It’s Two Things.  Snappy.

That beings us to the next question: What is NOT soap?  Well, everything else.  If it ain’t soap, it’s a detergent. Plenty of commercial “soaps” contain and rely on detergents for their cleaning power.  Remember the old commercials for Zest, where it proudly proclaimed that it wasn’t soap?  They were right, the cleansing action of their bars came from detergents.

So how do you know what you’re buying?  Look at the language and read ingredients.  If you look at a commercial bar of soap and you start getting into long, complex chemical names you’re probably looking at a detergent bar.  And watch the marketing language.  Beauty bar, deodorant bar and cleanser are all flags that tell you you’re not looking at soap, or at least not entirely soap.

Now, this brings me to the controversial part: Is soap really better than detergents?  Soap aficionados would say yes, are you crazy?  But the real answer is a bit more complicated because it all depends on effect it has on your skin.  I’ll cover that in my next entry.


One response to “The Scoop on Soap

  1. Pingback: The Art of Leg Shaving « That Thing I Like

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