Handcrafted in small batches, natural soap is gaining converts. Customers are snapping up product in record numbers because it is not only pure, natural, and nontoxic; it is also good for the skin.
Evidence abounds of the health value of handmade natural soap, particularly when essential oils are included. People that have sensitive skin or are hypoallergenic often find immediate relief by switching to natural soap.
What is most important with handmade soap is what is not included. As a rule, top quality handmade soaps, are devoid of artificial colors, fragrances, and preservatives that can cause irritation and worse.
Handmade soaps also can have “hand-lotion-in-soap” effect. Most good hand lotion is an emulsion of water and glycerin with vegetable oils and waxes. All these ingredients are present in handmade soap and comprise up to 40% of the bar. While the “hand-lotion-in-soap” effect may reduce lathering, this is what makes handmade soap extraordinarily mild and moisturizing for dry and sensitive skin.
The Secret to Creating a Top Notch Handmade Soap
Master soapmakers create handmade soaps with natural ingredients that are blended in small batches and poured into wooden block molds. When ready, the soap is wire cut into bars, placed on oak drying frames and aged in a special curing room, usually for up to a month. This process removes excess alkali from the bar soap, a major cause of dryness and irritation often found in conventional bar soaps.
Handmade natural soap can be made from a number of renewable vegetable and botanical sources, such as saponified oils of palm, coconut, and olive, as well as therapeutic-grade essential oils. Rosemary extract can also be used as a natural preservative. The result is a soap that does more than just cleanse the skin. It can also act as a therapeutic skin treatment with powerful antioxidant and skin-protecting properties.
Many people complain that commercial soaps make their skin feel dry and itchy, or worse. Trapped free alkali is the most common irritant in soap. Soap is made from oils (an acid) mixed with water and alkali (a base). Acids and bases neutralize each other to form a salt—in this case soap with glycerin as a byproduct. Oils that did not find the alkali are “free” or “superfatted” which makes soap milder while reducing lather and shelf life. Alkali that does not find oils is “free alkali”, which makes soap harsh and drying. The handcrafting process for natural soap removes the excess alkali that other soaps leave in.
“Natural” Can be Unnatural
Unfortunately, the term “natural” can be used in very deceptive ways. If an ingredient was a coconut “umpteen” generations ago, some will claim it to be natural, even if you can’t pronounce the ingredient! Handmade soaps stick to a very strict definition of “natural.” Essential oils, organic, botanical, and vegetable wax sources such as cocoa butter and shea nut butter are used to alter the characteristics of the soap.
The main ingredient in many mass-produced bar soaps is a mysterious substance known as “tallowate”. What are these?
These are the fatty remains of slaughtered cows, sheep, and horses. Brains, fatty tissues, other unwanted parts of diseased or dead animals are collected into large vats and used to create “tallow.” This tallow is shipped off to commercial soapmakers where it is processed into bars soaps.
The Body’s Largest Organ: The Skin
With skin covering approximately 20 square feet of the human body, it is the largest human organ and is your first line of defense against harmful substances, temperature, infection, and dehydration. For adults, the skin is between 15 and 20 percent of total body weight. Therefore, healthy skin is very important for overall well-being.
The skin can also soak in many types of toxins and petrochemicals due to its large surface area. This can result in cancer-caused compounds slowing building up in the body and accumulating in the fat.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration does not regulate the ingredients in soap. Some ingredients in mass-marketed soap including Isopropyl Alcohol, fragrances, DEA, FD&C Colors, Propylene Glycol and Triclosan have been proven harmful to human health. Isopropyl alcohol’s drying effects can also remove protective oils and create microscopic cracks in the skin, which can trap and harbor bacteria and other pathogens. DEA (diethanolamine) are hormone disrupting chemicals known to form cancer-causing nitrates and nitrosamines. Dr. Samuel Epstein of the University of Illinois has found that repeated skin applications of DEA-based detergents resulted in a major increase in the incidence of liver and kidney cancers.
Regarding coal-tar derived FD&C colors, A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients states “many pigments cause skin sensitivity and irritation…and absorption (of certain colors) can cause depletion of oxygen in the body and death.” Do you really want pretty colors when they could cause sensitivity, irritation or worse?
Instead of synthetic colors, German chamomile can be used instead. Rich in chamazuline, an intense blue pigment, chamomile actually has anti-inflammatory properties that accelerate skin healing. Moreover, other compounds in chamomile and other essential oils combine therapeutic action with delightful aromas. Peppermint oil imparts a delightful fresh fragrance to a soap while containing compounds such as menthol that act as a pain-reliever and anti-inflammatory.
Sadly, many of the compounds in the commercial fragrances use in bath and body products are carcinogenic or otherwise toxic. The word “fragrance” on a soap label can mean any of 4,000 different ingredients, most of which are synthetic. Not only are fragrances potentially carcinogenic, according to Home Safe Home author Debra Lynn Ladd, “Clinical observation by medical doctors has shown that exposure to fragrances can affect the central nervous system, causing depression, hyperactivity, irritability, inability to cope and other behavioral changes.” A surprising number of people experience a dry-skin reaction from many common fragrances.
Propylene glycol, the main ingredient in automotive antifreeze, is found in many soaps. Because of its ability to quickly penetrate the skin, the Environmental Protection Agency in the US requires workers to wear protective gloves and goggles when working with this substance. Material Safety Data Sheets required by OSHA warn against skin contact because it can have systemic impacts such as brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities.
Triclosan, an antibacterial chemical found in some bar soap, is a chlorophenol, a class of chemicals suspected of causing cancer in humans. It is also a chlorinated aromatic compound, similar in molecular structure to some of the most toxic chemicals on earth: dioxins, PCBs and Agent Orange. Do you really want these substances being applied intentionally to your skin?
Selecting The Right Soap
Carefully review the ingredients in the soap you are currently using. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients or your skin is dry or irritated, identify a natural vegetable-based soap bar that addresses the needs of your skin type. Another way to test for the right soap: wash one forearm with the soap near the elbow joint. Skin tends to be very sensitive in this location and potential irritation will be noticed quickly.