Sunday, 1 March 2015

What makes handmade soap different?

What makes handmade soap different and why should I buy it are two questions that I get asked a lot.

Not all soaps are the same - different ingredients, shape, smell, liquid or bar, handmade or mass-produced. 

Possibly one of the biggest differences between a mass-produced bar and a handmade bar is glycerine. Glycerine is a naturally occurring by-product of cold-process soap making. Glycerine is a humectant, which means that it draws moisture to itself. Typically a bar of handmade soap is about 25% glycerine. Some mass producers remove glycerine from their soaps to use in other products. You're much less likely to get that dry, tight feeling from a glycerine-rich soap.

Go to the soap aisle at your local supermarket. Look closely and see what is labelled as soap and what isn't. Turn the packet over and look at the list of ingredients - how many do you recognise? As well as water, and lye (sodium hydroxide) you may find:
  • sodium tallowate (beef tallow) 
  • sodium cocoate (coconut oil)
  • sodium palmate (palm oil)
  • sodium laurel sulphate - a detergent derived from coconut oil that may cause skin irritation
  • waters softeners
  • preservatives
  • synthetic colours and fragrance

If you don't recognise an ingredient do some research and find out exactly what you're washing with. 

Unfortunately some of the products you find in the soap aisle are more detergent bar than soap.

A typical handmade bar may include water, lye, coconut oil, olive oil, shea butter, cocoa butter, rice bran oil, essential oils. Some soap makers use palm oil, some use animal fats, some use goats milk, some make vegan soap. I often use beeswax, tea, coffee, coconut milk, dried herbs, even craft beer in my soaps. I choose not to use synthetic ingredients.

Not all large scale production soaps are the same. Not all handmade soaps are the same. If you have the opportunity talk to the soap maker.

I hope this explains what a makes handmade soap different. Why should you buy it? That's a personal choice, but if you haven't tried a good quality handmade soap from an artisan soap maker please do.

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