What is Real Soap?

Take a close look at the packaging of your

favorite commercial brand soap.

Do you see the word SOAP anywhere on it? Or, is it called a beauty bar, cleansing bar, or body bar?

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but that’s because you are not using soap! You are using a synthetically formulated detergent to clean your skin. If the manufacturer is following correct FDA labeling, these products cannot legally be called SOAP.

True soap is created through the saponification process which involves combining oils (fats) with alkali (salt) to create a binding chemical reaction (saponification) that forms a humectant, glycerin. Glycerin is worth more pound for pound than actual soap, and prized for hydrating results in lotions, creams and moisturizing treatments. Many commercial manufacturers often remove the glycerin from their formulations and sell it. They replace it with synthetic lathering ingredients, call it something catchy like a “beauty bar” and there you go… technically, it’s no longer soap, but you can pick up 3 bars for $1.99.

If you want a true quality soap, you need to learn to read

the ingredients label, just like you do on your cereal box!

The cold process method produces premium quality soaps, but takes the longest. This is the method I use for my own company, and have the most experience with. All of the glycerin is retained in our formulations which is why many comment that their sensitive skin does not feel tight or dry after using our soaps. The best quality cold process soaps use organic vegetable oils and need to dry (or “cure” in soap terms) for up to 1 month before they can be sold for use. There are 2 other soap making processes: hot process, which is like a speedy version of cold process, by adding heat to the formulation to get things moving. And melt and pour which is popular with crafty types and kids; think of those soap making kits you see at Michael’s with neat designs and embedded toys in soap. As my mom would say, it’s like making a birthday cake with a mix rather than from scratch.

here’s a peek at how handmade cold process soap is formed

soap logs curing in molds after being poured and swirled

soaps after curing, cut into bars

  • Lucia Felty

    Kristen, Great article! I love that you guys are doing this site. It is a great counter to all the mis-information out there.
    Do you mind telling me what those soap boxes are made of? I need some new boxes and those look very nice– I don't see a liner either (big plus!) Thanks, Lucy

  • SUSAN

    They look like the ones made by Ron Jonas: http://soapequipment.com/ltmolds/

    (I used to work for him) He is the single most informative person I have ever met during my time running the Soap Guild…an amazing resource. He covers liners here: http://www.soapequipment.com/faq/soapmolds.htm#

  • SUSAN

    They look like the ones made by Ron Jonas: http://soapequipment.com/ltmolds/

    (I used to work for him) He is the single most informative person I have ever met during my time running the Soap Guild…an amazing resource. He covers liners here: http://www.soapequipment.com/faq/soapmolds.htm#

  • http://greenskincareblog.com/ Kristin Fraser Cotte

    hey there Lucia, Thanks, this has really been a labor of love and Lisa is a fabulous partner! The molds are made of HDPE I believe. Liner-less, not much wear and tear (and they get a workout) plus they can run through dishwasher after a good powerwash/pre-scrub. Love 'em!

  • http://greenskincareblog.com/ Kristin Fraser Cotte

    hey there Lucia, Thanks, it has really been a labor of love to pull this site together and Lisa is a fabulous partner! The molds are made of HDPE I believe. Liner-less, handle wear and tear (and they get a workout) plus they can run through the dishwasher after a good powerwash/pre-scrub. Love 'em!

  • http://www.indiebusinessblog.com Donna Maria Coles Johnson

    Great post! There’s nothing in the stratosphere like genuine, real SOAP — made with oil, water and sodium hydroxide. Women have made soap for hundreds of thousands of years, and today, the same techniques are used not just to make soap. They also empower women worldwide to make a living selling a useful consumer product that everyone needs. I don’t use commercial bars. I use soap, real soap. And my family does too. And we are better for it!

  • http://greenskincareblog.com/ Kristin Fraser Cotte

    wow- sorry I never saw this months back Lucia! They are made of HDPE, do not require a liner, break down easily, plus they are dishwasher safe making clean up a bit easier. Many soap supply sites sell them and I’ve also seen them new on ebay.

  • Anonymous

    wow…didn’t ever catch the difference between the labels of soap and bar….that’s one to be kept in mind….

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  • laurence

    if oxides are added for color in the soap is it still true soap?