Oct 25

Why Handmade Soap is Better (Without The Chemical Fear-mongering)

This is a post I’ve sort of needed to write for awhile, but have avoided doing so because it’s really hard to draw a line between discussing the benefits of handmade soap and talking trash about chemicals. So many of the other articles I’ve found online tend to just give a “chemicals are so bad and in all your commercial soaps!” sort of standpoint and those that give you more scientific evidence, don’t back it up with resources. I’m not too keen on sharing any of them with my friends or potential customers.  I personally believe that you can’t give an educated, well written explanation of the scientific benefits of handmade soap while simultaneously bashing one of the most important sciences to my craft (hello, Chemistry!?) Here’s the thing, being a soapmaker is basically being some sort of low-level chemist. And I have to respect my art and profession by saying “Hey, let’s be better than this!”

So here’s the thing, I’m going to the most basic version of why handmade soap is better without trying to make it too scienc-y. And if you’re a nerd like me, feel free to click on my resource links to learn more.

I want to appeal to you in a way that you prefer without being anti-chemical. Here’s the thing, chemicals are EVERYTHING and that’s not a bad thing. “Dihydrogen Monoxide,” say it with me. It’s water, I hope you drink enough of it! Sodium Chloride is common table salt. And Sodium Bicarbonate, that’s baking soda. These are all chemicals and ones we ingest on a regular basis at that! Now I’m not saying ALL chemicals are good either, and here’s where we get into the “why handmade is better” when it comes to soap. Some chemicals ARE “bad” (for human ingestion, contact, inhalation, etc.) and some, while not bad, are just unnecessary and can become harmful over time.

So let’s get started, shall we?!

WHY Handmade soap is better – the quick and dirty version:

  • It (handmade soap) contains naturally occurring glycerin (produced during the saponification process) which helps draw moisture to your skin. This component is extracted from most commercial soaps and then sold off separately or used in higher priced items like lotions1. This is strictly a move for these companies to make more money because now instead of buying a SOAP that will clean and moisturize, you have to buy two things – a “soap” that cleans and a lotion to moisturize.
  • They then add other ingredients, called detergents, to help simulate the foaming/bubbling and other properties that they’ve removed. These ingredients (vaguely, chemicals) aren’t necessarily the worst thing ever, but they’re completely unnecessary and overtime can make your skin dry and can even inhibit the healing of eczema (I’m not saying they CAUSE eczema, I’m saying they contribute to the symptoms by drying out your skin.2)
  • The name “soap” is sort of a mislabel on most commercial soap bars. Why? Because the FDA says “To be regulated as “soap,” those “alkali salts of fatty acids” [the product of the saponification process] must be the only material that results in the product’s cleaning action. If the product contains synthetic detergents, it’s a cosmetic, not a soap.” They then go on to say that they are still allowed to use the word “soap” on their label.3 It’s just regulated differently.
  • Another thing? The word “natural” is not regulated at all. So if you’re seeing that on your store-bought cosmetics, just know that it doesn’t actually mean anything except that they’re hoping you’ll spend more on it.
  • If your store-bought soap is marketed as “anti-bacterial,” you’re also under a marketing spell. Antibacterial soap has been proved by the FDA and many independent studies to be not any more effective than regular soap & water. It’s not making you cleaner, but it might be making antibiotic resistant bacteria, which is a whole lot scarier than “chemicals.”4
  • In short – just use handmade soap. It’s going to be better for your skin, you’re going to love it. And if you’re someone who doesn’t use bar soap – give handmade bar soap a try. It really is way better than the “beauty bar” or “cleansing bar” your mom used to buy at the drug-store.

In the interests of being up front – I want to leave you with a list of the ingredients you’ll find in Blueberry Hill Soaps soap bars. They’ve all undergone the saponification process (when you take the alkali product called lye, or sodium hydroxide and mix it with the fatty acids of vegetable oils or animal fats – which we don’t use.)

BBH SOAPS Basic Ingredients:

Olive Oil is a major part of our soaps. It’s listed first on our ingredients for that reason – this creates a very GENTLE bar of soap. Occasionally I will create a Castille or Bastille bar (which means it’s either ALL olive oil or 90%+ olive oil.) Coconut Oil is also quite present, this makes our soap very hard and bubbly. Again, sometimes I will create a pure coconut oil soap with a high superfat (oil free-floating within the soap, unsaponified) because of the extreme moisturising properties it can have in this type of soap. Shea Butter is on it’s own very moisturising and it lends that property to the soap. And Castor Oil, also quite moisturising and creates awesome bubbles!
In addition to those I use Sodium Lactate, the salt of lactic acid, created by fermenting a sugar source, such as beets or corn. This helps make the bar of soap hard and long-lasting. I also use cosmetic safe micas (and sometimes cosmetic glitter which washes off in the first 1-5 uses and never sticks to your skin) to help color the soap. All the micas I use are completely vegan, with no animal testing and no animal by products. To scent the soap, I use both synthetic fragrances and essential oils, depending on the soap. Synthetic fragrances, when chosen carefully, are formulated to be SAFE for your skin and often better than essential oils because they typically don’t contain allergens or gluten, which isn’t a big deal for most people, but quite important for some. Lastly, I will sometimes use titanium dioxide in very small amounts, this helps create the whiter color in some bars of soap. TD comes from the element titanium and extracted using a method which includes oxidization.
Every once in awhile I also will use cocoa butter, which provides similar benefits to shea butter, but is a bit harder. I will also occasionally experiment with other fun colorants or additives such as cocoa powder, spirulina powder, steeped herbs, teas, coffees, and even beer! Just check your label or the online listing for all the ingredients before you purchase to make sure you don’t buy something you could be allergic to!




1) http://pioneerthinking.com/crafts/what-is-glycerin
2) http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/guide/atopic-dermatitis-eczema
3) http://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductsIngredients/Products/ucm115449.htm
4) http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/five-reasons-why-you-should-probably-stop-using-antibacterial-soap-180948078/?no-ist

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