Top 10 Natural Soap Myths


September 3, 2013 by thesoapalchemist

The Myths we will debunk:

10. Body oils need to be removed in order to have clean skin.
9. The best soaps are pH balanced.
8. Antibacterial soap is better than regular soap.
7. Soap made with chemicals is bad for your skin.
6. If you can’t pronounce it, it shouldn’t go on your skin.
5. Lye soap is harsh.
4. Soap can be made without lye.
3. Castile soap is 100% olive oil.
2. Soap making is difficult and expensive.
1. Soap can’t be “all-natural” since it doesn’t exist in nature.

The Debunking Explanations:

Body Oils DO NOT need to be removed to have clean skin.

10. Clean skin doesn’t equal oil-free skin. Our bodies are constantly creating oils that help to clean pores, and guard against germs and dehydration. Using harsh cleansers that strip away natural oils is not necessary in order to be clean. The goal of skin cleansing, is to remove dirt and grime, sweat, and harmful bacteria.

pH  Balanced Soap is Not Necessary For Skin

9. Many soaps claim to be pH balanced implying that this is somehow beneficial to skin. pH is a scale used to describe the balance between acidity and alkalinity. Handcrafted soap is alkaline, generally having a pH somewhere between 8 and 10. Our bodies are generally more acidic on the outside, and more basic on the inside. One notable exception to this is the stomach, where harsh hydrochloric acid aids in digestion. pH varies from person to person, but in general, our skin is acidic. This helps to keep bacteria at appropriate levels. When we wash with soap, we temporarily remove some of this acidity, but the body quickly replaces it, and returns to its normal pH. Attempting to alter the pH of your skin is not only an exercise in futility, but is unnecessary. The body is designed to operate at the pH that occurs naturally. pH balancing soaps will not have a lasting effect on the pH of your skin.

However, we do know that when natural soap is first poured into a mold, it is highly alkaline. As it cures, the soap becomes less alkaline. Monitoring the change in pH can help determine whether the soap has cured adequately or not. There is such a range of pH’s, though, even in properly cured soap, that this is not an accurate or reliable measure of the gentleness of a soap. Those attributes are more affected by the choice of oils used.

Antibacterial Soaps are Unnecessary

8. Plain old soap and water is effective at removing surface dirt, grime and germs. This is because soap is a surfactant- a solution that lifts crud, bonds with it, and allows it to be rinsed away with water. Antibacterial soaps do this as well, but are also promoted as “germ killing.” To do this, the antibacterial agent must be in contact with bacteria for approximately 20 seconds to be effective. Unfortunately, many people do not wash this long, which potentially leads to bacteria with increased antibacterial resistance. There is also concern about the safety of some commonly used antibacterial agents (i.e. triclosan) because of their similarity to dioxins, and links to endocrine system disruption. Being an Ann Arbor native, I’ll share the following that I found on wikipedia: “A comprehensive analysis from the University of Michigan School of Public Health indicated that plain soaps are just as effective as consumer-grade antibacterial soaps with triclosan in preventing illness and removing bacteria from the hands.”

Do Not Steer Clear of Soaps Made With Chemicals

7. Soaps made from chemicals are unavoidable. Chemicals are simply the universe’s building blocks. Every substance that exists is made of chemicals. It would be pointless to try to avoid them. A couple of common chemicals found on soap labels include sodium hydroxide (the alkaline necessary to turn oils into harmless soap), and sodium cocoate (coconut oil that has been turned into soap using sodium hydroxide). An especially important, and harmless chemical used to make real soap is dihydrogen monoxide, otherwise known as…water.

Unpronounceable Ingredients are Not Necessarily Bad

6. What about those unfamiliar, unpronounceable chemicals? Cymbopogon Schoenanthus oil? Azadirachta Indica oil? These are just two examples of hard to pronounce things that are found on many natural soap labels. They are the International Nomenclature terms for lemongrass essential oil and neem seed oil. Hard To Pronounce does not equal Bad For You.

Lye Soap Can Be Amazingly Gentle on Skin

5. Properly made Lye soap is NOT harsh. Since all real soap is made with lye, then lye soap and real soap are one and the same. When properly formulated and allowed to cure, real soap is a gentle, mildly cleansing product. In a properly formulated recipe, a soapcrafter ensures that lye is the “limiting reagent.” When the lye is gone, the reaction is over. Some of us do this by “superfatting” our natural soaps. Additional oil is added to the formula to be absolutely sure that any trace of lye will be forced into reacting and creating soap. The unreacted oil remains in the soap as a conditioning agent.

Real Soap Cannot Be Made Without Lye

4. No lye= no soap. Let’s call it “the Soapmaker’s Mathmatical Expression.” Lye is necessary for making natural soap. Soap is oil that has been “Saponified.” Saponification, by definition, is the reaction of lye with fatty acids to produce the salts of the fatty acids (“soap”). Without lye, saponification doesn’t happen. Therefore, no lye, means no soap. Now, there are many products out there that can be used for cleaning that are not really soap, and were not made with lye. These products are most likely detergents- synthetic cleansers often made with petroleum products, and harsh cleaning agents. Originally lacking in natural glycerin, they must have moisturizers added in to make them more gentle for skin. You may find soapcrafters who claim to “make soap” without using lye. These folks don’t make soap from scratch, but instead rely on premade bases that they melt down and mold. This is called the “Melt and Pour” technique. Be assured, though, that the manufacturer of their base used lye, or the base is a synthetic detergent. All real soap is made with lye.

Castile Soap is Soap that Contains a Large Percentage of Olive Oil

3. The term “Castile Soap” was once used exclusively to describe soaps made only with lye and olive oil. However, modern usage of the word refers to pure olive oil soap, as well as soaps with a high proportion of olive oil in their formula.

Soap Making is Simple and Affordable

2. Making soap is actually quite simple and affordable. The process of making soap involves measuring, mixing, and pouring. Online “soap calculators” are available that can help to create recipes and ensure the correct amounts of ingredients are specified. The difficulty some people experience in making soap lies in the precision that is necessary in weighing ingredients and stirring to the correct consistency, in the formulating (it can be tricky to come up with a nice formula that makes a soap with the qualities you want), and also in the precaution that must be taken when handling corrosive lye and lye solutions. Depending on a person’s comfort level with laboratory or kitchen methods, and on their dedication to studying their craft, the technique of making soap can be mastered. I always advise that people read, read, and read some more before attempting their first batch. As far as expense, soap can be made with grocery store ingredients such as lard, Crisco, olive oil, castor oil (from the pharmacy area), and other oils found in the baking aisle of most food stores. Lye (usually sodium hydroxide) can be bought on line, and also in some hardware stores. It is important to use 100% PURE sodium hydroxide, with no other chemicals in it. The equipment needed to make a simple batch of soap can be as basic as a couple of pyrex bowls, a scale, a stainless steel spoon, a microwave, and a shoebox for a mold. Obviously, more serious endeavors into soapmaking will require more elaborate equipment, but it need not even be expensive equipment.

Soap Made With Natural Ingredients Should Be Called “Natural”

1. We believe soap made with only natural ingredients deserves to be called “natural.” While soap is not naturally occurring, (with the exception of perhaps soap-like compounds found in several species of the genus Saponaria), the reaction between lye and fatty acids happens naturally. There is no catalyst needed, other than the simple act of adding one ingredient to the other. The reaction proceeds on it’s own. If natural oils (olive, coconut, palm, etc) are used along with natural essential oils, natural fragrances made from isolated scent compounds, or botanicals (oatmeal, dried herbs), there is no reason to not feel comfortable calling the resulting soap “natural.”


5 thoughts on “Top 10 Natural Soap Myths

  1. Ron says:

    Great post,
    I was wondering about Gamila Secret who does not claim there is sodium hydroxide in their soaps, or not listed as one of their ingredients…
    Is that possible?

    • Thanks so much, Ron!
      I took a look at Gamila Secret’s website, specifically their Cleansing Bars and the heading “Ingredients.” They don’t list any sort of ingredient that would cause all the oils and extracts listed to become anything more than a liquid mixture of oils and extracts. Saponification is the process by which oils and lye become soap, and it simply cannot happen without a base (like sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, etc). Perhaps their product label lists the complete ingredients? FDA requires disclosure of ingredients for all cosmetic products. If they make claims as to moisturizing ability, conditioning power, or any similar, their product is legally a “cosmetic.” Soap that is merely sold as “intended for cleaning” is exempt from most labeling regulations. Since they market the bars as “encourages the skin’s capacity for self repair, hydrates and promotes elasticity,” their product is clearly a cosmetic and ingredients must be disclosed. In any case, there HAS to be something in their bar besides oils and extracts that would make it become a solid, unless it’s sold frozen!! I also noticed they say their bars are “Suitable for the most sensitive skin types including those allergic to essential oils since none are added.” I wonder what is so different between the “extracts” that they use and an “essential oil?” Perhaps the extracts are less concentrated, but the chemical make-up would be similar. I would expect someone who is allergic to say, lavender essential oil, to also be allergic to lavender extract. Anyway, thank you so much for the heads up! There are so many companies out that aren’t as open about their ingredients as they could be. Rather than educate their customers, they simply leave the harsh sounding ingredients off the lists.
      Enjoy your day!!

      • Hi again!
        I wanted to update you; Gamila Secret responded to a request I sent them regarding their ingredients.
        This is the video they forwarded (it took forever to load!) that explains their “special” process. The video states that Gamila Secret uses sodium hydroxide (lye) just like all soap makers do. 🙂 They do, however, state that they “wash it all out” with a salt solution. This seems unnecessary. If the correct amount of oil and lye are used, there won’t be any free lye in the finished soap. Lye changes into soap when in the presence of the fatty acids in the oils. It’s simple chemistry. Coconut oil plus lye equals sodium cocoate. Lye plus olive oil equals sodium olivate. They go to an awful lot of trouble trying to make their process and product look “more safe” than that of other soap companies. I’ve heard of salt solutions being used to wash GLYCERIN out (it is then sold to other industries; food, medical, scientific, etc), but never to wash sodium hydroxide out.

        Ah, the magic of marketing! The real differences between bars of soap will be in:
        -How they smell/look
        -How they feel
        -How they leave your skin feeling
        -How long they last

        Try a few different natural soaps. Find a favorite! Each soap maker uses a little bit different recipe, but we’re all bound by the same chemical truth that lye must be used, even though some companies choose not to list it on their website’s ingredient lists.

      • Ron says:

        Thanks Erin! I knew there had to be some serious marketing there since they sell a bar for the horrendous price of $35 !! I saw that video and noticed that they said they put minimal sodium hydroxide in and then “wash it out”, which does not seem possible after it reacts with the oils!

  2. Gosha says:

    thanks nice information..!

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