Soap is one of the most essential household products. Its primary function is to cut grease and remove dirt. When you take a look at supermarket shelves, you will see various brands and types of both liquid and moulded soaps servicing the retail segment of the society. But lately, there have been a rise in locally made natural or hand-made soaps. These are gradually getting popular in the market with people still debating their differences and if they should switch brands.

Soap has been around since almost the dawn of civilization. Frontier women made all of their own soaps from rendered animal fats. Affordably manufactured soap was widely available by the 1800s.

Commercial bar soaps generally are mass produced soap brands that that flood grocery store shelves. It has been found through research that these soaps contain harsh chemicals, synthetic ingredients, and cheap perfumes or fragrances which all can cause irritation to the skin.

Today, handmade soap has been increasing in popularity as people start to look for ways to return back to basics in our fast-paced technology-focused world. People are becoming more educated about the products they bring into their homes.

But is there any big deal about handmade soap? Is natural soap better than commercial soap? Let us try to find out their differences and maybe similarities.

Difference Between Natural and Commercial Soap

  1. Is it really soap?

From research, we found out that commercially made soaps are usually choke full of harsh chemicals. But another debate that has been going around is if these soaps actually qualify to be called ‘soap’.

The word “Soap” actually has a legal definition provided by the FDA. Most commercial brands are not called soap because they are detergents and do not meet the legal definition of soap. Both soaps and detergents are surfactants (a blended word that comes from “surface-active agents”). A surfactant decreases the surface tension of water which allows grease and water to mix.

Detergents strip the skin of their natural oils which can leave the skin feeling dry and tight after a shower or bath. Natural, real soap on the other hand, is created with an excess of plant oils in a process called “superfatting”. This process along with the chemical reaction called “saponification” leaves a soap bar full of moisturizing, natural oils, and glycerin.

Today there are very few true soaps on the market. Most body cleansers, both liquid and solid, are actually synthetic detergent products. Detergent cleansers are popular because they make suds easily in water and don’t form gummy deposits.

Some of these detergent products are actually marketed as “soap” but are not true soap according to the regulatory definition of the word.

  1. Ingredients

Another way to differentiate natural and commercial soap is via their ingredients. This is a common ingredient deck for cheap grocery store soap.

  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) – a detergent and surfactant found in many personal care products, soaps, shampoos, toothpaste etc. It is used as an inexpensive foaming agent that is in many cosmetic products for its cleaning and emulsifying properties. They behave similarly to soap. Like many other detergents, SLS is an irritant. It has also been shown that SLS causes eye or skin irritation in experiments conducted on animals and humans. The surfactant SLS is a known irritant.
  • Phthalates- This is a substance added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity. It is commonly used to create fragrances and added to cosmetics to extend shelf life of a product. Phthalates are known to cause birth defects in lab animals.
  • Parabens- this is yet another preservative used in cosmetics. Also known for their bactericidal and fungicidal properties. They are bad for the environment and possibly for humans.
  • Petrochemicals: these are made from petroleum, these chemicals should be considered unsafe for humans because little is known about the long-term effects they have on the health.
  • Synthetic Perfume: artificial perfume scents, although they smell nice, are linked to allergies and hormonal issues. As well, synthetic ingredients such as perfume are likely to cause skin conditions and to aggravate existing issues such as acne.
  • sodium cocoyl isethionate (synthetic detergent)
  • stearic acid (hardener)
  • sodium tallowate (sodium salt of cow fat)
  • water sodium isethionate (detergent/emulsifying agent)
  • coconut acid (the sodium salt of coconut oil)
  • sodium stearate (emulsifier, also used as a cheap stabilizer in plastics)
  • sodium dodecylbenzonesulfonate (synthetic detergent)
  • sodium chloride (table salt)
  • titanium dioxide (whitener)
  • trisodium EDTA (stabilizer, used in industrial cleaning products to decrease hard water)
  • trisodium etidronate (preservative, a chemical that is used in soaps to prevent soap scum)
  • BHT (preservative)

Natural soap ingredients

These are some of the ingredients used in making natural soaps.

  • Healthy Oils: Despite common belief – oil is actually an important ingredient in soap, especially for those with oily or acne prone skin. Oils like coconut oil, grapeseed oil, or olive oil help to nourish and moisturize skin and bring it back to its natural PH levels.
  • Essential Oils: These oils can be combined and used to create aroma and scent, naturally. They are harmless to the skin, provide additional moisturizing properties, and are safe against most allergies/sensitivities.
  • Kelp, Aloe, Charcoal, etc.: Natural soaps are made with organic, biodegradable ingredients that are harvested, produced, or sourced in a safe and conscious way. Unlike chemical ingredients, a consumer can easily understand what these ingredients are and how their body will react to them.
  • Organic Coconut Oil
  • Unrefined Organic Shea Butter
  • Earth Derived Colorants such as Herbs, Root Powders, & Natural Clays

From the list above, one can see that natural soaps contain no detergents, sodium lauryl sulfate, phthalates or parabens. They in addition, they do not contain harsh or harmful substances.

3. Method of preparation

Commercial soaps are mass produced by large multinational companies, with factories all over the globe. This mass-production can result in environmental waste and degradation as well as poor living conditions for thousands of people worldwide. Most consumers remain oblivious to the working conditions and cleanliness of the factories their soap is made in.

These soaps are made by machine and utilize added preservatives to extend shelf life once the soap hits the stores shelves.

Natural soaps are often produced locally, or in smaller batches, with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Natural soap production can benefit small communities financially and also has a very minimal carbon footprint.

Hand-made, natural soaps are rising in popularity due to the fact that it’s becoming an artisanal craft, and each bar can be made with care using traditional methods.

If a soap company is only interested in making money, they usually won’t commit themselves to natural soap-making due to higher production costs for mass-producing. For this reason, most natural soap lines are consciously created by people who are passionate about health and the environment.

4. Commercial Soap Lacks Glycerine

With all of the work commercial soap manufacturers put into adding “things” to their product, you wouldn’t think they would spend time taking things away from it… but they do.

Glycerin is a naturally occurring byproduct of the saponification process (that’s the chemical reaction that we call soap making). Glycerine is a humectant—meaning it draws moisture from the air to the skin—leaving your skin soft and moisturized.

Glycerine is proven to be so beneficial to the skin that it is extracted from commercial ‘soap’ and reserved for higher-priced body care, such as costly body lotions and skin care products. This is the ugly truth of popular “beauty” bars that are usually not qualified to be called soap.

Commercial soap manufacturers typically remove the glycerin from their soap, and sell it separately, or use it in a second product—moisturizer. They basically take one good bar of soap, extract the moisturizer, and then sell it to people as a second product (both of which may contain harmful chemicals).

Which is the best?

Natural soaps are the best because of these reasons;

  • Ingredients

The best reason to use handmade soap is its ingredients. The natural ingredients incorporated in the hand made soaps add a healing touch to the daily skin routine. Homemade soaps ingredients are grown from the earth itself and are rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins, and nutrients that are healthy for your skin.

The commercial soaps you get are just chemical cocktails made of detergents and synthetics. Some of the ingredients in these soaps are often linked to cancer. Often the ingredients used to add fragrance to these commercial soaps also have the tendency to irritate the skin.

  • Gentle on skin

Commercial soaps dry the skin out and can be very uncomfortable when used long term, especially for children. The chemicals in these soaps dehydrate the skin and can cause itchiness. These soaps also have an allergic reaction on the skin.

Handmade soap, on the other hand, tends to be much gentler on the skin. It is ideal for those who have sensitive skin and also fantastic for children. Handmade soaps naturally moisturize the skin, keeping the skin soft.

  • Environmental friendly

Handmade soaps are far more biodegradable than their antibacterial counterparts, and they do not contain synthetic chemicals. They are also considered environmentally friendly as no pesticides and chemicals are used in its creation.

You have an array of personal cleansers to choose from in the supermarkets, but they all have a negative impact on the environment. All commercial soaps are made of disturbing synthetic and chemicals detergents that are non-biodegradable due to their branched hydrocarbon chains.

  • Safer to use with Minimal to No side effects

The most alluring quality of the handmade soap is their harmless effect on the skin. The handmade soaps improve your skin condition. It relieves from itchiness, dryness, and skin conditions like eczema, and acne.

The chemicals soap removes natural skin oil, which protects and lubricates the skin. These soaps also might lead to breakouts or dry skin. Chemically infused soaps are like slow poisons what we are giving to our skin. These types of soaps will not affect you in a day or month but it will have its effect after years of usage.

  • Natural soaps are handmade in small batches

Most soapers use the traditional cold process method of making soap. Each recipe is hand prepared, hand cut, inspected and packaged individually. This attention to detail means that each bar of soap is of the highest quality possible. The recipes contain only the best natural and organic ingredients including olive oil, coconut oil, shea butter, essential oils and natural fragrances. The ingredients are chosen for their benefits and natural healing abilities. That is why natural soap is so good for your skin.

  • Glycerine content

Glycerine is a precious humectant that softens and maintains water balance by attracting moisture to the skin. Glycerine is a compulsory ingredient in soap, and in hand made soaps glycerine is created during the making process. This basically settles glycerine in between the soap molecules and it attracts moisture and draws it deep into the skin to keep it hydrated. The low pH due to glycerine makes sure the skin remains fresh throughout.

But in commercial soaps, the glycerine is completely extracted and is added in other products, gels and lotions. This makes your skin dry and flaky over a course of time. So, the customers are forced to buy soap for cleansing and another product for moisturizing.

A note of warning 

Yes, we advocate for the use of natural soap, but unfortunately not all handmade soap is created with high quality and natural ingredients.

Some people craft soap with chemical-based additives called “melt and pour” either because they are not aware of what they are purchasing, are new to the soap making process, or just don’t know better.

Other soap makers will use a chemical-based additive to make their soaps look pretty or smell better. But, a well-crafted bar of soap doesn’t need either of those. Once the soap is natural, it needs not smell like heaven neither should it have the colour of the skies.

Ajaero Tony Martins