Why Handcrafted Soap?
July 9, 2002
This page is meant to inform and enlighten you, and, maybe from
time to time, entertain you. Randy has put lots of time and effort
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There is a large amount of information about the advantages of homemade soap over the commonly available commercial products. Articles available on the internet will sing the praises of homemade soap at great length (sort of like "Let me tell you about my grandchildren").
Briefly, these advantages are:
1) Homemade soap retains all of the glycerin which is produced as a byproduct of the soapmaking process.
Glycerin is widely used in the cosmetics industry and is frequently removed by the large manufacturers of commercial soap for sale to that industry. Glycerin is a natural moisturizing agent and accounts for many of the benefits of handmade soap.
2) Most of the homemade (or handcrafted) soapmakers, known to this writer, use natural vegetable oils in their recipes. These oils are more expensive than those used by the large commercial manufacturers; but, the resulting soap is superior in texture, moisturizing properties and cleaning ability.
3) Chemicals, detergents (Hello boys and girls; can you say 'petroleum products?'), degreasers and the like are absent from homemade soaps. While these compounds will clean your skin, they also remove the natural oils and dry the skin.
From this writer's point of view, the first and foremost advantage of natural handmade soap is "First, do no harm."
Handmade, natural soap has no harmful, or potentially harmful chemicals.
To illustrate some of the advantages of handcrafted soap over mass produced commercial soaps, two products will be used: 'Irish Spring' and 'Lever 2000'. As mass marketed, commercial soaps go, these popular soaps aren't bad. There are certainly worse on the market.
On the back of the soap package, the ingredients are listed, in order, by the quantity of that ingredient in the product, with the largest quantity listed first. For 'Irish Spring' these are: "Ingredients: Soap (sodium tallowate, sodium cocoate, and/or sodium palm kernelate types), water, stearic acid (skin conditioner), coconut and/or palm kernel acid, glycerin (skin conditioner), fragrance, sodium chloride, titanium dioxide, pentasodium pentetate, BHT, D&C green No. 8, FD&C Green No. 3."
For 'Lever 2000 Pure Rain' these are: "Ingredients: Sodium tallowate, sodium cocoyl isethionate, sodium cocoate, water, sodium isethionate, stearic acid, coconut fatty acid, fragrance, titanium dioxide, sodium chloride, disodium phosphate, tetrasodium EDTA, trisodium etidronate, BHT, FD&C blue no. 1, D&C red no. 33." Whew! glad that's done. The spelling checker won't help with those names!
Notice that sodium tallowate is listed first in both of these soaps. This soap compound is the natural result of combining sodium hydroxide (lye) with beef tallow. Tallow has been used in soap making for about 5,000 years. Also, tallow is considered by some to clog pores, cause blackheads, and increase eczema for those individuals with sensitive skin. The attractiveness of tallow for mass producing soap is that it processes quickly, produces a hard bar of soap, is cheap and plentiful. Pioneers on the American frontier had few, or no, alternatives to the use of animal fats for making soap. Today, there are many vegetable oils which are better alternatives.
Sodium cocoate is listed in both sets of ingredients for our example commercial soaps. Sodium cocoate is the result of combining coconut oil with sodium hydroxide (lye). Nothing controversial here. Coconut oil is a main ingredient in many quality soaps. (I said these two commercial soaps weren't bad!)
Sodium palm kernalate is listed next for 'Irish Spring'. This soap compound results from the combination of palm kernel oil with sodium hydroxide (lye). Beginning to see a pattern here? "No Lye, No Soap." This is just as true for the manufacturers as it is for the homemade soapmakers. Anyway, back to sodium palm kernalate. This is an excellent soap compound -- white in color, very hard, and excellent lather.
Stearic Acid is listed in both sets of ingredients. Stearic acid is a saturated fatty acid usually derived from tallow or lard and sometimes palm oil. The use of stearic acid can contribute to a harder, more long-lasting bar of soap.
Titanium dioxide is a neutral, very white powder used in combination with other colorants. It is not considered to be harmful.
And now for the bad boys. If Lever and Colgate-Palmolive had stopped with the ingredients listed above their soap would have been merely cheap; and, for the most part questionable only for their use of tallow. But read on....
Pentasodium pentetate - An inorganic salt used as a water softener, emulsifier and dispersing ingredient in cosmetic cleansing creams, lotions and soaps. Can be an eye irritant.
Tetrasodium EDTA - Synthetic preservative - can be irritating to the eyes/mucous membranes.
Sodium cocoyl isethionate - synthetic detergent. Technically, an anionic surfactant, meaning it reduces surface tension, making water 'wetter'.
Sodium isethionate - synthetic detergent. Technically, a moisture absorber, surfactant and anti-static agent.
Trisodium etidronate - A preservative. Possible irritant.
BHT - (butylhydroxytoluene) Synthetic antioxidant to keep oils in formula from going rancid. When ingested, implicated in tumor formation and liver enlargement in rodent tests. Sometimes used as a food preservative.
Disodium phosphate - Buffering agent, used to adjust pH.
There you have it. I hope I haven't bored everyone, and I have tried to keep this little article short. If you liked/disliked this article please let us know. Also, if there is something you would like for me to write about in a future article, your suggestions would be more than welcomed.
Why Handcrafted Soap, Part 2
Sept. 2, 02