Soap was the first thing I learned to make in the world of natural beauty, and my skin has become so accustomed to its benefits that anything else makes me itch. If you’re already a bar soap believer and just want to buy some gorgeous soap, go check out our body bars, STAT. But if you’ve never tried our soap, or you’re still a body wash believer, perhaps it’ll help to understand why bar soap is different and much better for your skin and for the planet.
HOW IS BAR SOAP MADE?
The first time I made soap, I understood immediately that the process of creating handmade soap is one where science and art come together. After lots of hours in the chemistry lab during my premed years, I knew that the chemistry of soap making would be uncompromising: you goof the recipe, you end up with #notsoap. But once you’ve nailed the formula, the options for creativity with colors, textures, and scent are endless—and endlessly fun.
Bar soap is made by combining oils or solid fats (in our case, plant fats) with lye (sodium hydroxide, or NaOH). The oils are heated, allowing any solid oils like shea butter or coconut oil to melt. Meanwhile, the lye gets added to water to make a solution. When both the oils and the lye are at the right temperature (90-110 degrees Fahrenheit), they are mixed together until they start to bond together in the process called saponification.
People often ask if we use lye in our soap because many have the impression that lye is a toxic chemical. In fact, lye is used in all soap making—if it’s not made with lye, it’s not technically soap. While lye is a chemical manufactured in a laboratory, it’s really just a salt made of sodium, hydrogen, and oxygen, and is “toxic” only because of its high pH. The pH of lye is 14, neutral pH (where our bodies function) is 7, and the pH of hydrochloric acid is zero. If pure lye touches your skin, it will burn the same way pure acid will. This is also the reason your Grandma Louise’s “lye soap” didn’t feel good—she probably made lye-heavy soap, where the ratio of fats to lye was incorrect, leaving leftover lye in the finished bar. As a result, the bar would have had a high pH, which can irritate the skin.
The good news is that we have our soap science figured out, and even though lye goes into the soap, it’s not present in the final bar. (Chemistry is actually just poorly marketed magic.) The lye, comprising a sodium molecule, a hydrogen molecule, and an oxygen molecule, gets disassembled and rearranged in cold-process soap making into soap molecules and glycerin. The soap molecules work by sticking their little tails into grease and dirt, and then letting themselves get rinsed down the drain with the water. The glycerin molecules don’t rinse away as much, and work throughout the day to attract water to your skin.
WHY IS NATURAL BAR SOAP BETTER THAN CONVENTIONAL BAR SOAP?
Handmade soap requires a curing time of about a month to allow water to evaporate from the bar so it hardens appropriately. Large companies don’t have time to wait for their soap to cure, so they remove the skin-softening glycerin and introduce harsh chemical additives to harden their bars. That’s why the general category called “soap” got a bad reputation for being drying. Soap made by the cold-process method does exactly the opposite for your skin—it pulls moisture to your skin all day long.
For the sake of comparison, here are the ingredient lists from a popular, unscented commercial soap marketed to those with sensitive skin:
Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate, Stearic Acid, Sodium Tallowate Or Sodium Palmitate, Lauric Acid, Sodium Isethionate, Water, Sodium Stearate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Cocoate Or Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Chloride, Tetrasodium Edta, Tetrasodium Etidronate, Maltol, Titanium Dioxide (Ci 77891).
And here are the ingredients for Osmia’s Oh So Soap:
Saponified organic oils/butters of olive, mango, and castor bean; dead sea salt; organic buttermilk powder, organic rosemary antioxidant, non-GMO mixed tocopherols
As you can see, we take a less-is-more approach when it comes to sensitive skin.
IS BAR SOAP BETTER THAN BODY WASH?
Remember the ingredient list from Oh So Soap above? Let’s compare that to a leading brand of body wash marketed to consumers with sensitive skin:
Water (Aqua), Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Hydroxypropyl Starch Phosphate, Lauric Acid, Sodium Lauroyl Glycinate, Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil or Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Sodium Chloride, Glycerin, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, DMDM Hydantoin, Stearic Acid, Fragrance (Parfum), Citric Acid, BHT, Tetrasodium EDTA, Methylisothiazolinone, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate.
There are far more ingredients in the body wash, and some of them have some health concerns associated with them, such as synthetic fragrance, DMDM hydantoin, and methylisothiazolinone. Plus, body wash comes in a bulky plastic bottle, whereas bar soap usually comes in biodegradable, non-plastic packaging.
DOES BAR SOAP SPREAD GERMS?
Some people are concerned about bar soap being unhygienic, but luckily it’s been studied. When you use bar soap properly, using very warm water and a 30-second scrub, you rinse away the top layer as you lather, and the dirt and germs go down the drain. We recommend storing your bar soap on a clean, aerated surface (like our reusable soap-saver) to keep it out of a puddle of soap soup—germs WILL proliferate in standing water. Pro-tip: keeping the soap dry between uses will help it last for ages.
IS BAR SOAP BETTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT?
Bar soap, especially if it’s packaged by a company like ours, is extremely low-impact on the environmental scale when compared with liquid cleansers. Liquid soap usually comes in a plastic bottle, whereas our bar soaps come in recyclable, FSC-certified paper packaging. Liquid cleansers have far more ingredients than bar soap, and require preservatives and synthetic scent to cover the chemical smells, which means more ingredients are swept into the water treatment system or your septic field.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF BAR SOAP?
You use soap every day, on yourself and possibly your family. You use it from head to toe, on practically every inch of your skin. Then it washes down your drain, where it ultimately affects things like fish and birds and worms and flowers. There was a time when choosing natural bar soap meant LESS luxury and more earthy-crunchy-patchouli. But that isn’t true anymore. (Have you looked at the soap page on our website?) So here it is, folks—a small change you can make that will not only help the planet, but will leave your skin beautifully conditioned, and make you feel like you are treating yourself to a tiny luxury every time you pick up a bar. Plus, our bars last forever, so your money goes a long way.
Save your skin, save the planet. It’s a no-brainer.
With love and lots of soapy suds from us to you,