For most of my life I had a sore spot for beauty products. I knew nothing better than to go down to our local beauty shop, and use my pocket money on a new nail polish, face mask or shampoo. Like so many others have tried, especially as teenagers or young adults, I was gripped by commercials showing beautiful people and the products they ‘used’ to look like they did. Now I can laugh at those days, but I do think that there’s a very critical point to be taken – that is universally relevant. The point is this: when it comes to commercial products, not much is as it seems, and if consumers aren’t on their toes and educate themselves – they will be at the mercy of what companies want them to know – not what we should know!
For me this train of thought started when I decided to make my own products, because suddenly I had to figure out what these products actually contained. It was a domino effect – the more I found out about the products I had been using for years, the more I wanted to know. I started reading on the back of every product I came across, and researching the ingredients I found. Still today it’s hard for me to wrap my head around, how utterly clueless I have been about thing I used on a daily basis. To illustrate this point I will go through what I have learned about the ‘soap’ that is sold commercially today, but please note that the same goes for so many of the products we use today – even a good share of the ones advertising to be natural. Let’s get down to business.
The illusion of ‘Soap’
In my post: How to make natural soap I’ve written what soap is. To sum up –
Soap consist of liquid, fats and sodium hydroxide (lye), mixed together causing a process called saponification. If done in the right measurements there is only soap left once completely saponified.
Now this is an important point, because if you look at the back of most commercial soaps you will find about 35 additional ingredients – and at times sodium hydroxide won’t even be one of them. So if soap is liquid, oil and lye, then what are what are these bars if not soap? The answer is detergent and chemicals. If you pay attention to the names of such bars, it’s often not soap – but body bar, face bar, beauty bar or cream bar. The reasons for not selling natural soaps that I’ve been able to deduct are the following:
- Natural soap can’t be mass produced – the process of natural and/or handmade soap is such that it can’t be easily mass produced. Detergent on the other hand can.
- Detergents are cheaper – natural soap needs oil, and most oils don’t come cheap. This is also due to the fact that many cheap oils can’t be used in high quantities, because they will make a soft or sticky bar. Soya oil for example, that is a very cheap oil, can’t be made into a soap bar without adding other oils.
- Detergent makes for a ‘better’ bar – when I say better, I mean that they hit some desired points that is not easy or cheap to replicate in natural soap. This is for example stable and abundant lather, eternal shelf-life, strong scent and uniform look.
Now some might think, what is the problem if the bar cleans my body? The problem is simple. Detergent bars work against the body, not with it. Our bodies are made to keep it’s natural balance, and can regulate a number of the disturbances brought on by exposures we come in contact with during the day (harsh weather, dust, pollution etc.). Though if exposed regularly to something as strong as detergent, that drains the natural moisture and nutrients from the skin, the body gets thrown off balance. This means that it can no longer regulate itself, and a number of problems will start to appear – such as oily skin, dry skin, pimples etc. Now it might sound strange that you can get oily skin from a very cleansing bar, but its true – if you continuously deplete the moisture from your skin, your body will respond by secreting more oil to try to get back in balance.
Glycerine is a natural bi-product of the soap making process. You might have heard the term ‘Glycerine soap’, which is somewhat misleading, because all soap contains glycerine. Glycerine is a natural moisturizer because it attracts moisture from the air to your skin, and is therefore a very valuable commodity. This means that its often removed from soap and added to other and more expensive products such as face and body creams. Without the glycerine, the soap bar will most likely dry out the skin, even though it might clean it. One thing I have noticed after using handmade soap, is that I don’t need to use moisturizer as much as I did before. Actually I only rarely use moisturizer on my body, and my skin only rarely feels dry, and that living in New Delhi – where I’m exposed to a lot of pollution every day.
Smells like chemicals
Dove has won a lot of market here in India, as well as world wide, and it’s likely that a lot of you reading this has a Dove bar in your bathroom. So I realize I might be stepping on some toes to make this popular bar the center of my point – since ‘information is power’, I’m gonna take my chances. When Dove advertises that ‘it doesn’t dry out the skin like ordinary soap’, it’s important to understand two things: 1. Ordinary soap doesn’t dry out the skin if it’s made naturally and with the right oils 2. Even if it a Dove bar doesn’t dry out the skin, it contains a number of questionable chemicals that you might want to be aware of. Lets look at the ingredients of the Dove White Beauty bar:
Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate, Stearic Acid, Sodium Tallowate Or Sodium Palmitate, Lauric Acid, Sodium Isethionate, Water, Sodium Stearate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Cocoate Or Sodium Palm Kernelate, Fragrance, Sodium Chloride, Tetrasodium EDTA, Tetrasodium Etidronate, Titanium Dioxide (Ci 77891). (2)
- Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate – is a detergent
- Stearic Acid – a hardening agent made from plant or animal fats
- Sodium Tallowate Or Sodium Palmitate – this is actually quite misguiding since these are two different ingredients but are listed together. Sodium Tallowate is derived from Animal fats or Tallow. Now this might be important information to the many vegetarians in India, that wouldn’t want to use animal products. Sodium Palmitate on the other hand is Palm oil, which even though it is a wonderful oil, has a number of environmental concerns because it’s cultivation and harvesting ruins natural habitats causing major harm the nature and animals living there.
- Lauric Acid – a lathering and hardening agent
- Sodium Isethionate – also a detergent
- Sodium Stearate – also a hardening agent
- Cocamidopropyl Betaine – a synthetic agent added to increase lather, associated with irritation and allergic reactions such as eczema. According to some studies its often contaminated with nitrosamines, which is linked to cancer.
- Sodium Cocoate Or Sodium Palm Kernelate – Saponified coconut oil and saponified palm kernel oil
- Fragrance – again quite misleading, because manufacturing a scent actually takes up to 3000 different chemical compounds. Most of these are made from synthetic compounds derived from Petroleum, whereof many are known toxins linked to a number of serious health issues and disruptions. Many of them are still untested for possible harm.
- Sodium Chloride – salt
- Tetrasodium Edta- is a preservative and a known carcinogen (agent known to cause cancer), and is also a penetration enhancer – which means it breaks down the skins natural barrier, making it easier for harmful chemicals to penetrate the tissue and even enter the blood.
- Tetrasodium Etidronate – added to prevent changes in colour, texture and fragrance
- Titanium Dioxide (Ci 77891) – a whitening agent
Now, first of all, on their website it says each bar has 1/4 moisturizing cream, which is what makes it less drying than soap. I cannot figure out which of these should be the moisturizing cream. Second of all, there is not a lot of these ingredients that actually has any known positive effects on skin. Most are added to let the bar last longer, look uniform, have abundant later and maintain a strong smell. This is just one example – there are many more dangerous chemicals to add to the list if we start exploring commercial shampoos, creams, lip balms etc.
The Environment down the drain
When using soap, most of us don’t think about what happened before and what happens after we use a bar of soap. I am no exception. It has taken me years to start thinking along the lines I am about to write. For me it’s simple now, if something shouldn’t go on my body, then it shouldn’t go into nature. Many detergents and other chemicals are as toxic to the flora and fauna as it is to us, and after it runs down the drain it finds its way to the earth and water. Additionally, or maybe even more importantly, the chemicals used in many commercial bars are made from unsustainable practices that pollutes and depletes nature of its natural resources. With the enormous boom of consumerism of commercial items, the consequences are now becoming more and more serious. So what does one soap bar change? Nothing. But if one bar becomes to millions, I believe that it will make a difference.
All this is my personal opinions from my own experiences, observations and research. I am always looking to broaden my horizon and always acknowledge I can be wrong. For now though, this is what I think.