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We have all heard the saying “Better ingredients make a better product” or “The difference between something good and something great is attention to detail.” Nowhere are these sayings truer than when it comes to the soap manufacturing process, specifically when we compare the difference between manufacturing commercial soaps versus making handcrafted natural soap bars. Natural soaps take a longer time to make, require lots of care and attention to detail, and generally have the best natural ingredients that are proven to be beneficial to the skin. Whereas commercially produced soaps tend to be loaded with chemical additives and inferior ingredients, and are made in a rushed fashion that places profit above potential benefits for the skin.
Better Ingredients + A Skilled Artisan = A Product That’s Better For Your Skin…
Pure, natural handmade bar soaps with all the intended skin benefits should, as the name suggests, contain only natural ingredients (aside from the lye that is converted during the saponification process, and necessary to create soap). These ingredients can be derived from vegetable oil, plant extracts, natural materials from the sea, and powdered, dried or grounded up botanical material. These natural ingredients are found to improve the texture, feel and overall health of the skin, without harming it, and are naturally rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that help nourish the skin. Moreover, a skilled artisan of natural handmade soaps can tailor the soap formula to naturally produce desired characteristics in the soap instead of reverting to chemical additives to achieve the same goal.
A skilled soap-maker is aware of the characteristics that natural oils impart to the final soap bar, and then selects and modifies specific oils to achieve the desired final characteristic results in the bar soap. For example, to create a harder bar of soap, one might add olive oil, which allows the bar soap to naturally harden over time as the bar soap cures and ages. To produce a bar soap that cleanses without leaving an oily feeling, one would add and expertly modify the level of coconut oil, palm oil or babassu oil in the soap recipe. Sea salt or Himalayan salt will allow soap recipes to naturally harden faster in the mold, while also imparting natural mild detoxifying and exfoliating qualities to the soap. A skilled soap artisan is able to carefully calibrate all these natural ingredients to impart the right beneficial properties in the final bar soap, without causing a detriment to the skin.
In stark contrast, commercially manufactured soaps are likely to contain synthetic chemicals and additives to produce similar results, but often this comes at the expense of the benefit to the skin and overall body. The BEST bar soaps use the best natural ingredients: (a) a wide variety of high quality oils and butters (especially certified organic oils and butters, like mango butter) to achieve moisturization, cleansing, conditioning, rich and creamy lather – this requires more than 3 oils; (b) high quality non-GMO botanicals (such as certified organic oats and fruits); and (c) pure essential oils and natural fragrances instead of artificial fragrances. Each ingredient should be especially and intentionally selected for their potential natural healing and beneficial capabilities, without reverting to fillers.
Optimizing Transfer of Potential Benefits of Ingredients to the Skin
Commercially manufactured “soaps” – or synthetic detergents – are made using a continuous flow method wherein ingredients are continuously added while undergoing chemical reaction or subject to mechanical or heat treatment. In this manner, the “soap” base is continually being made and blended with filler ingredients and chemicals, such as sodium isethionate (a foam enhancer) and cocamidopropyl betaine (a surfactant suspected of being an environmental toxin) and then formed into molds to approximate the look of a bar soap.
Many of these chemical additives, which include parabens, petrochemicals, synthetic perfumes, phthalates and artificial coloring, can be harmful or irritating to our skin and body over time, and even contribute to the growth of cancer. These chemical ingredients that are found in commercially manufactured soaps are at the core of the surging interest in natural handmade soaps, as people look for natural and more healthier alternatives.
Traditional handmade natural bar soaps, however, are made using either hot process or cold process method. In the cold process method, soap is made by mixing sodium hydroxide (lye) with water (or milk), and then blending it with oils that are carefully selected for the characteristics they would impart to the soap or according to the skin ailment the soap is to address. Additives, such as fruit powders, botanicals, and herbs, grains (oats), are then added and combined in before the mixture (or batch) is finally then poured into molds to set. The mixture then sits inside the mold for 24 hours to allow it to become soap (to saponify). After 24 hours, the soap is removed from the mold to dry for an additional 24 hours, then cut into bars of soap and is placed in a drying room or on a baker’s rack to then air dry or "cure" for 4-6 weeks. Yeah, it's quite a process. The cold process soap is safe to use after a few days, but is soft and contains excess moisture. The soap is left to dry, or cure, for up to 6 weeks. The additional drying allows water to evaporate resulting in a proper bar of soap.
The hot process method is quite similar, except instead of placing the soap in a mold to set, the ingredients are placed in a heat source, such as an oven or crockpot, and heated until combined to create the heated batch. This is then poured in the mold. Also, once you pour the batch in the mold, your soap will cure and be ready to use almost immediately; you won’t have to wait six weeks! While speed of use is one of the main benefits of the hot process method, the major benefit of using the cold process method is that the soap that is created using the cold process method has a higher proportion of vitamins, antioxidants and nutrients preserved, which is more beneficial for the skin, because you’re not destroying these benefits during the heating process or adulterating the potential benefits with chemical additives. Consequently, discerning consumers tend to prefer (cold process) natural handmade bar soaps, because the enriching benefits of the natural ingredients are most preserved, without any chemical additives to compromise the health, look or texture of the skin.
Natural Handmade Soap Bars Are Better For the Environment…
Natural handmade bar soaps are not only ideal for healthy skin, they are also great for the environment. Most cold process natural handmade bar soaps are vegan-friendly and cruelty-free, as they are made primarily with plant-based ingredients (vegetable oils, and fruit and botanical powders) and cruelty-free ingredients. The majority of natural soaps are made using cruelty-free and plant-based ingredients. Commercially manufactured “soaps” on the other hand, with all their chemical additives and ingredients – some of which are classified as human hormone disrupters and carcinogens – are seen as not being very healthy for the environment and our water systems.
When it comes to soap making, it is more important to go slow, use the best natural ingredients, and put the health of the skin front and center, than to rush the process, use cheap chemical additives, and put profit centerstage. The verdict is in – Natural handmade bar soaps have the best ingredients and requires careful attention to detail to make, hands down…