Bar Soaps – 5 Things You Need to Know About Them

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I have been researching a lot about products that are both human and Earth friendly, one such products are body and hair bar soaps. This is when I realized there is so much to learn about them, including the different terms, ingredients, the composition (or recipe) and Sodium Hydroxide. In this blog post, I will summarize the five points you should take note of.


Castile Soaps are made up of at least 80% Olive Oil

This is when I realized most people may have named every ‘natural’ soap a castile soap! Traditionally, Castile Soap is made using 100% Olive Oil. Now, most Castile Soaps are made using at least 80% Olive Oil with other oils, butters and fats. Because of the high Olive Oil content, they have the same moisturizing and conditioning properties as Olive Oil and are known to be gentle and soothing. Bastille Soaps are another type of Olive Oil based bar soaps made using at least 70% Olive Oil.

When you do a quick search on ‘Castile Soap’ on the internet, several brands will pop up straight away. Some brands include Dr. Bronner’s and Dr. Woods. If you’ve been buying ‘castile’ bar soaps from these brands, you might want to read their ingredients carefully. The ingredients list of Dr Bronner’s Baby Unscented Bar looks like this –
Saponified Organic Coconut Oil*, Saponified Organic Palm Oil*, Saponified Organic Olive Oil*, Organic Glycerin, Water, Organic Cannabis Sativa (Hemp) Seed Oil, Organic Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Salt, Citric Acid, Tocopherol (* Certified Fair Trade by IMO)1. Ingredients list show the percentage of the ingredients in a product from high to low, so it’s safe to say this unscented bar is not a Castile Soap.

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Not all bars are made using the same method

Cold processed (CP) bar soaps are what most people know. They are made using oils, butters and maybe fats as well, and formulated using Sodium Hydroxide (also known as Lye or Caustic Soda). Sodium Hydroxide is a controlled chemical in Singapore, hence only authorized sellers can sell them. It is very corrosive and can cause severe burns so soap makers wear protective gears to be extremely careful with them.

Hot processed (HP) bar soaps have similar ingredients as cold processed soaps, except they are made using hot oils. HP bars cure between 1-3 weeks, while CP bars cure between 4-6 weeks or even longer. The longer you cure, the harder the soap and the better the lather. HP soaps may lose the benefits of its raw ingredients as the ingredients are heated, but they are sometimes preferred by those who need a shorter cure time.

Most commercial soaps sold in pharmacies and stores are Synthetic Detergent (syndet) bars, like those from Dove, Cetaphil or Lush. Syndet bars are not soap, and are known to be less drying and damaging to the sensitive skin. However, commercial syndet contain chemical detergents such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and that counters the benefits of a syndet bar. ‘Natural’ syndet bars are usually made using lab derived surfactant ingredients such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate (SLSA), Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI) and Cocamidopropyl Betaine (CAPB). Other common ingredients in syndet bars such as Behentrimonium Chloride ‘is a toxic compound, and concentrations of .1% and higher have been shown to damage the eyes by causing tissue death of the mucous membranes. It’s also highly flammable, and irritating to the skin’ 2. Hence, always look up the ingredients if you’re unsure!


All soaps use Lye

Lye is a metal hydroxide and is a necessary ingredient to making CP or HP soap. It is an alternative name to Potassium Hydroxide (KOH) or Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH). As mentioned above, NaOH is very corrosive and can cause burns. NaOH is an essential ingredient in making soaps as they are mixed with oils and fats to create soap. The process is called saponification 3. If you don’t see NaOH or lye in the ingredients list, you will definitely see the word ‘saponified’ to indicate that NaOH or lye has been used.


Coconut Oil soaps are drying for the skin

If you use Dr Bronner’s bar soap, you would see that Coconut Oil is usually first on the ingredients list. Most people would find that Dr Bronner’s soaps are very drying and they would have to dilute the soap before using it. The reason why it is drying is because a large proportion of it is Coconut Oil. Coconut Oil is well loved by many people because of its moisturizing and conditioning properties. However, because of the saponification process, there is hardly any Coconut Oil left in the soap to moisturize the skin after Coconut Oil is saponified4. Nonetheless, Coconut Oil based soaps are great at producing suds so perfect for use in laundry or cleaning.


Bar soaps have no preservatives

If you are sensitive to preservatives, then you would be happy to know that bar soaps do not have preservative in them. Most products that has a base of water or aqua would need to have preservatives added because water will breed bacteria and mould. Water is used to help activate the lye and disperse it through the oils, however no water is left in the bar soap5 hence no preservative is required. That said, bar soaps can be kept for years and years and it will never expire. If you ever come across a product that claim to be preservative free, check the ingredients for water (aqua) and you’ll know if “preservative free” is genuine or gimmick.

Browse our Natural Bar Soaps


Sources 1 Dr Bronner’s | 2 Truth In Aging | 3 Soap Making Essentials | 4 All Sorts of Soap | 5 Lovely Greens