From the previous post, we see side effects of certain chemicals in handwash. And we also see lab tests that shows that using just soap and water is effective enough for removing most bacteria on our hands. So, let us get back to basics and use plain old soap and water again for our hand wash.

There are many so called natural soap available in the organic health store. How do you go about choosing them? Here are the things I look out for.

Let’s be smart

‘Organic’, ‘Natural’, ‘Pure’, ‘Gentle’, these texts on the products can be misleading. I have the habit of reading the ingredient list on the back of the product, and soon I began to realise… that not all soaps labeled natural or organic is what it is.

There are still unfavourable ingredients in it. Many people who are not familiar with ingredients will most likely trust the label that says organic or natural. Knowledge is power, so it is good to start knowing the ingredients.

Old school way of making soap

Let’s have a quick understanding of what makes up a soap. In the olden days, a soap is made by mixing animal fat with wood ash solution. What is wood ash solution? It is simply taking ash from the burnt wood and mixing it with water and let it sit for a few days. After which, the ash is then filtered off and what is left is wood ash solution, an alkaline solution. The fat and this alkaline solution is then mixed together and stirred for long hours. When all the wood ash solution has reacted with the fat, soap is formed. This reaction process is called saponification.

So the essential ingredients in a bar of old school soap are fat and wood ash solution (alkaline solution).

Modern way of making soap

Instead of animal fat, we now have many choices of vegetable fat to use. We have an array of oil and butter available. Oils such as sweet almond oil, coconut oil, castor oil and olive oil, just to name a few. Butters such as cocoa butter, shea butter, mango butter, aloe butter and many others.

Different types of oil and butter can determine the hardness, cleansing, conditioning, bubbly, and creamy properties in a soap bar. And therefore, depending on what type of properties a soapmaker wants in the soap, various oil and butter are selected for their soap recipes.

As for alkaline solution, instead of wood ash solution, soapmakers now use Sodium Hydroxide or Potassium Hydroxide. They are also called Lye. These are extremely alkaline chemicals which soapmakers handle with respect and care. If not, it can burn their skin.

To soapmakers, Lye is convenient to use compared to preparing wood ash solution. Besides that, it produces clean and beautiful soap bar.

So what is the difference between Sodium Hydroxide and Potassium Hydroxide? Sodium Hydroxide is used for making soap bar and Potassium Hydroxide is used for making liquid soap.

So depending on whether the soapmaker is making soap bar or liquid soap, either Sodium Hydroxide or Potassium Hydroxide is used to mix with fat to form soap. After the saponification process, this chemical would have completely reacted with the oil and there will be no chemical residue left. So you do not have to worry about the chemicals.

So now we see, the essential ingredients used for making soap are vegetable fat with either Sodium Hydroxide or Potassium Hydroxide.

The ingredients I look for in a true natural soap

A true natural basic soap usually uses natural ingredients like vegetable oils and butter. So the basic ingredients I would expect to see on the ingredient list are the oils, butters, water, Sodium Hydroxide or Potassium Hydroxide.

Sometimes, Sodium Hydroxide or Potassium Hydroxide may not be stated. Instead, you will see terms like saponified vegetable oils such asĀ saponified olive oil, saponified coconut oil and that is ok. It simply means the oil has reacted with either sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide to form soap.

There can be other additives in a natural soap such as herbs like chamomile, arnica etc. Or beeswax, oatmeal, or essential oil for enhanced benefits and aroma.

What I would avoid

Generally, I would avoid soap bar and liquid soap that contains chemicals such as SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate), PEG, Triclocarban, Triclosan, Propylene Glycol, Artificial Colorants, Fragrance and Parfum.

I hope the information in this article is useful in helping you to choose a good soap for you and your family.