Want to scrap all the bottles on the side of your bath in favour of a bar of soap which is more ecological, healthier, and better for your skin? Great idea! All of this is true… As long as you choose the right soap. And that’s not always easy: with the boom in popularity of Zero Waste movements, bars of soap are everywhere and it’s not always easy to tell which is good and which isn’t. Here’s our guide!
Bars of soap… Are they always better?
While dismissed for a long time, bars of soap have made their big come-back. And for the better! At least, for the planet. Because when it comes to liquid soaps, we’re talking bottles. Usually made of plastic, these bottles are possibly recyclable but they’re rarely recycled… By contrast, a bar of soap can come packaging-free, using 25% less CO2 over the course of its life cycle and, being just for the hands, bar soap is used 6 times less often than we’d use a liquid product. Evidently, this has an effect on your wallet: even if you’re using high-end products, bars of soap end up being 3 times less expensive.
Another major advantage of bar soap: it skips out on preservatives. When it comes to shower gels that have a very high water content, it’s impossible to avoid them. And though parabens, thankfully, have become few and far between, their more common replacements – methylchloroisothiazolinone and methylisothiazolinone – are at least equally dangerous. Combine the fact that they’re banned in non-rinse products with some fabulous innovations like exfoliant shower gels with their little balls of microplastics, these products can be disastrous for our aquatic environments.
But if we’re talking about mainstream cosmetics, bars of soap or shower gel are one and the same. What’s the problem? Not their effectiveness. Their purpose is to clean, and they do clean – but at what price? You can blame their petrochemical and pollutant sulfate surfactants. In particular, Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) or Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES), which are inexpensive and very effective lathering agents, not that this compensates for their artificiality… or for their effect on our skin’s hydrolipid film. If they’re capable of cleaning a dirty car, think about how resistant your skin’s sebum will be. Your skin will be clean, that’s for sure, but it will also be irritated, weakened and exposed to other dangerous substances… which these products aren’t lacking either: EDTA colour and texture stabilisers, hormonal disruptors containing antioxidant BHT and allergenic synthetic fragrances, controversial colouring agents like titanium dioxide… The list goes on. Lots of suds, a bright colour, an exotic fragrance? Seems a little suspicious.
Organic certification will keep you away from some of these nasty ingredients, but not all of them: ammonium lauryl sulfate, for instance, is a naturally-derived surfactant ingredient and is authorised by Ecocert and Cosmebio, but is an irritant. To really get the best for your skin, you need to dig a little deeper.
Good fats make good soap
The chemical reaction that produces soap, saponification, was put in to practice centuries ago. How does it work? By combining a fatty substance’s triglycerides and an alkaline agent. Concerning the alkaline agent, there’s not a lot to it: caustic soda for a bar of soap and lye for liquid soap. As for the fats, there are more options because in theory all fatty substances can be saponified… And some results are better than others.
Animal fats, tallow or lard, have been used since ancient times. However, they don’t have an awful lot going for them: obtained by melting animal fats, they produce soaps that quickly turn rancid, without a lot of benefits for the skin. But they’re still very widely used by manufacturers. There’s no cheaper way to produce soap… Be careful with supermarket soaps and the ‘faux-artisanal’ production of markets and souvenir shops: Sodium Tallowate? You might be more familiar with its pseudonym ‘beef fat’. Sodium Lardate is pork. It’s different when it comes to donkey or goat milk: they aren’t involved in saponification but are added further along the process and their benefits are real. But at oOlution, we’ve made an ethical choice: to not participate in animal exploitation of any kind.
Particularly because plant fats knock them out of the park. Their fatty acids, in synergy with our skin, produce a healthy and effective soap. And they have another big plus: their unsaponifiable components. The vitamins E ad A, squalene, phytosterols, and terpenes that they contain don’t react with the caustic soda and so remain intact. The soap, therefore, takes on their antioxidant, protective, restructuring, nourishing and soothing properties. With an immense variety of plant oils, the soap will respond to all of your skin’s needs. Just be sure to avoid the disastrous palm oil, which is widely used even in what we think of as ‘traditional’ soaps. Once saponified, its name changes to Sodium Palmate or Sodium Palm Kernelate.
Instead, look out for shea butter, sodium shea butterate, which is exceptionally rich in unsaponifiables, for a bar of soap that is smooth and nourishing. Olive, sodium olivate, with its precious unsaponifiables, will wash your hands thoroughly. Coconut oil, sodium cocotate, has great washing capabilities and will make your bar of soap durable and make sure it foams up nicely. All of these elements integrate themselves into our Soap Rise. As you can gather, additives and chemical surfactants are completely useless!
Gentle soap: a question of temperature and glycerin
Soap, even when it’s made using the best plant oils, has a drawback: it’s an alkaline surfactant. It strips down our skin to a lightly acidic pH. Which is what we’re asking for in order to clear our skin of impurities and excess sebum.
This is where the second substance produced by saponification comes into the mix: glycerin. It isn’t used for washing, but its job is just as important. Moisturising, hydrating, capable of absorbing water, it leaves a protective film on your skin: compensating for the soap’s action by almost immediately restoring the hydrolipid film. Without it, your skin would feel incredibly stiff! The manufacturing process of your soap determines both the quantity and quality of its glycerine.
When it comes to manufacturing, it’s a bit of a disaster! To speed up the saponification process and cost-effectiveness, manufacturers do so under extremely high temperatures and using extremely large quantities of caustic soda. The result is that the heat damages the fatty acids, destroys the unsaponifiables and, to get rid of excess caustic soda, multiple rinses are required. These are rinses in which glycerin is washed away alongside the caustic soda (it is then added back in separately because it’s more cost-effective). A few undesirable additives and some petrochemical additives are then added in as camouflage. What you end up with is a product that is drying, stripping and pollutant which has, for a long time, given soap a bad name.
With an artisan cold-saponified bar of soap, this reaction is much slower, takes place at room temperature or less, and takes place over a drying period of at least 4 weeks. This is the process required to keep the fatty acids, unsaponifiables, and glycerin intact. Of course, alongside all of these natural, cold-saponified soaps, there exists an equivalent hot-saponified range: the famous Savon de Marseille or Aleppo Soap. The latter soaps are heated gently and are much richer in oils than industrial bars of soap, but they remain less rich in glycerin than cold-saponified soaps. And less rich full-stop – a cold-saponified soap will have all the benefits of an immense variety of plant oils, not needing to turn exclusively to heat-resistant ingredients. And finally, with no certification or patent, their market is largely dominated by masquerading manufacturers, producing soaps made from palm oil and synthetic colours and fragrances. With a cold-saponified soap, this isn’t possible – the process is impossible to mass-produce.
Could you do with regaining a little fat?
In short, for dry and sensitive skin, babies and children: cold-saponified bars of soap are indispensable. And they’re great for everyone else. Even better if they’re superfatted. That’s right, we want fats!
Saponification is a total reaction: it only stops when a component runs out. By playing on proportions, we can ensure that at the end of the process not all of the oil has been transformed into soap. We can also add some unsaponified oils into the mix at the end of the process. The advantage? You’ll get a bar of soap that’s gentler and more nourishing, that becomes a real skincare product in and of itself! To ensure that your soap is actually superfatted, check its ingredients: as well as saponified oils and butters (their INCI name will be sodium + ending with ate), others are mentioned under their conventional name (the latin name + oil).
There are just as many possibilities as there are plant oils, allowing them to cater to the needs of all skin types. What’s best? Playing on the benefits of plant oil combinations via a bar of soap rich in high-quality plant oils and butters. This is the idea behind our Soap Rise, composed of 24 organic, cold-pressed plant oils and one oil extract: shea butter, olive or sweet almond oil are softening and nourishing, coconut is soothing and hydrating, macadamia and avocado are moisturising, borage, rosehip and evening primrose and antioxidant and revitalising, hemp is reparative. It is, of course, palm oil-free and made using traditional methods in the Alps. If you have sensitive skin, or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding: our unscented Soap Rise is perfect for you. For everyone else, try the version fragranced with essential oils of citrus, lobolly pine, ylang-ylang and orange blossom for a subtle relaxing and dynamic balance. Fancy a shower experience free-from synthetic fragrances? It’s made for you!
We use it every day, all over our bodies, and it’s rinsed off directly into our waterways – our choice of soap is far from being insignificant. Our morning shower is not just a question of cleanliness. With a natural, cold-pressed and superfatted bar of soap, it becomes a question of health and skincare, and a radical gesture to protect the planet!
This post is also available in french.