A History of Soap Making and Why Ingredients Matter

Soap making was originally a natural and wholesome process that gained popularity in ancient Roman times. Somehow, the technique has become increasingly complicated over time, with more and more unnatural ingredients being added, usually to save time and money during production. Let’s take a look at how soaps are made and why the ingredients are so important to your skin.

All-Natural Soap ProductsAncient Methods

The original recipe for soap was very simple – boiled wood ashes (lye) and animal fat, with a little salt added in to solidify the solution. The fat serves two purposes – to provide a rich moisturizer for the skin while neutralizing the caustic properties of the lye. The result was a sudsy soap that cleans away dirt and bacteria while preserving the natural moisture of the skin. This natural and effective method of making soap persisted well into the 19th century, at which time chemical processes made soap manufacture cheaper and more streamlined.

The Introduction of Synthetic Chemicals

Pure, all-natural soap has always been the best option for skin, but it has not always been cost-effective to make. For this reason, manufacturers began to look for ways to increase  quantities, extend shelf life, and improve the consistency of machine processes. With the introduction of synthetic chemicals and petroleum products, the business of making soap became much more profitable. Here are a few of the chemicals you will find in many popular soaps that line your supermarket shelves:

  • Sulfates, such as sodium laurel sulfate, make soaps more foamy and strip oils from the skin.
  • Petroleum products (often disguised under other names like “mineral oil”) are used to improve consistency and increase shelf life. They also coat your skin and prevent it from either absorbing oxygen or releasing toxins.
  • Ethyl alcohol is often used as a solvent or to thicken the soap solution, but it breaks down the protective outer layers of your skin, leaving it more vulnerable to damage.
  • Artificial fragrances, preservatives, and colors have been known to irritate sensitive skin and dry it out.

Making Natural Soaps with Vegetable Oils

Today, some companies are going back to the lye-based soaps of old, but have found methods to improve on the process in a much healthier way. By adding all-natural oils derived from vegetables and plants, soap makers are able to infuse soaps with therapeutic qualities, anti-microbial properties, and wonderfully-natural fragrances. A few vegetable oils you can look for in your soaps include:

  • Coconut oil, which is packed with skin benefits, from its natural anti-bacterial properties to deep-penetrating moisturizers and antioxidants
  • Palm oil, an excellent source of the healing antioxidant Vitamin E, with the added benefit of improving consistency and longevity of soap products
  • Castor oil, which  exhibits natural anti-microbial and anti-fungal qualities without drying out the skin and also helps to seal in moisture and create softer skin texture
  • Olive oil, an excellent anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant agent that soothes and protects irritated skin, moisturizes it and protects it from damaging free radicals

Although you may not be ready to take up the craft of soap making on your own, it is possible to find reputable manufactures that still create healthy, pure soap. Living Clean offers natural bar soaps that are infused with beneficial oils, such as Dr. Clark’s Pearl Olive Oil Soap, Rich’s MSM Soap Bars, or our Handcrafted Lye Soap with Oatmeal. Browse a range of all-natural skincare products in the Living Clean store, or learn more about product ingredients:

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