22 August 2009

What is Soap anyway?

I get a lot of questions at Rocky Mountain Soap about, well ... Soap, as I guess I should since we sell more than 30 different kinds! The most common questions are: "What is soap anyway?", "Is your soap natural?" and "Do you have glycerin soap?", so let's address these here.

What is soap anyway? : in lay terms it is the product of an oil reacted with lye or potassium/sodium hydroxide. You take almost any oil - olive, coconut, and almond oils are very
common - and you mix it usually with KOH (potassium hydroxide) and/or NaOH (sodium hydroxide) and a gelatinous slippery material is produced - i.e. soap. KOH and NaOH historically were derived by pouring water through wood ash - this is rarely they case anymore - but the reaction is a natural one, and both materials occur naturally. Indeed, Pliny the Elder mentions this in his Historia Naturalis (AD 79), so we have been using soap for a long time. As you can see from the picture to the right, soap comes in solid form, but it also comes in liquid that is dispensed as is. Recently companies have been aspirating glycerin enhanced liquid soaps to produce a very luxurious and natural foaming wash. Of course natural soap may just be that, without any additions. However, for those that like texture or scents or colours, essential oils and extracts are used, such as lavender essential oil or apricot fruit extract to name but a few. Colours are usually natural earth minerals and textures such as pumice, seeds, grains and even coffee are sometimes added for look, feel or exfoliating purposes.

Is your soap natural?: If soap is produced in the above manner, it is considered natural. However, most 'soap' these days is hardly natural, and sometimes isn't even soap. Detergents, which contain no actual soap are often formed into bars with added moisturisers. Dishwashing liquid is also usually just a detergent with synthetic fragrances added. Most detergents contain harsh surfactants like SLS, SLES or Coco Betaine etc. Rocky Mountain Soap's products are all 100% natural. If you are unsure, read the ingredient list, if there is one. It should say something like saponified oils of coconut (insert oil of choice here) - but if it says something like "derived from" coconut (etc) oil, then you might want to question how it was derived...

Do you have glycerin soap?: All real soap has glycerin. The oil molecules that real soap is made from contain a component called glycerol on one end. In the saponification reaction, this is converted to glycerin. In commercial soap production, the glycerin is often skimmed off, and sold for industrial purposes, as it is quite valuable. Natural soap makers usually leave all the glycerin in their soap because it has natural cleaning and moisturising abilities. This is what helps give the soap its silky and slippery feel. It is also a natural humectant, that is, it attracts moisture - another reason that you will also find it in natural moisturisers. However, many people think of those clear, almost see through soaps when they think of glycerin soap. This is simply because alcohol has been added during the soap making process. Aesthetically, this might be more pleasing to some, but alcohol is drying and helps defeat the purpose of glycerin being left in the soap in the first place.

Soap is a pretty simple product - yet there are a variety of issues surrounding it. Read ingredient labels and when in doubt, ask your soap retailer for clarification so that you get what you really think you are buying. Natural matters!


Jordan Keats said...

Thanks for the breakdown of what soap actually is. All I knew about soap before this was from the movie Fight Club, and they were making it from liposuction fat and lye. It is good to know this is not always the case.
I have been using Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap for years now, and from his label(http://tinyurl.com/ycu6lz)I know how serious some people take soap making.
I can't wait to try some of your soap,

Foot Butter Guy said...

Thanks for your comments Jordan. Drop by the store at Mayfair anytime. We get so many questions about soap that we realised that there might be some confusion out there so attempted to clear a bit of it up. I wonder if we should do a "Fight Club" soap? Ok, bad idea...but seriously the oil used is important to people, especially those that choose to avoid animal products.

soapy lice-treatments said...

Yeah, thanks for the details of what soap is, and I second the using of Dr Bronners. I love their stuff. I actually used to use the peppermint kind for toothpaste, but switched over to a natural peppermint bar soap instead ....you heard me right. I use it to brush my teeth. I am SOOO not into the sugary sweet toothpastes anymore, and NATURAL soaps (with no chemicals) are super great for your gums and teeth.

Thanks for the article. I am OBSESSED By good quality soap products...sick and tired of all the poisons in most things these days.

:) Scott

natural soap said...

Thank you for explaining all of that I found it very helpful. I love all types of natural soap, especially a make called Abahna, there stuff is juts so nice and I cant get enough of it!