It’s been a long time since I used anything but Osmia soap. It's the first thing I learned to make in the world of natural beauty, and my skin has become accustomed to its benefits to the point that anything else - even luxury hotel soap - makes me itch. People love the way our soap looks, feels, and smells, and lasts forever; we have loads of loyal soap customers who won't settle for anything but a beautiful Osmia bar. But, to a person who's never tried our soap, or to a body wash believer, perhaps the benefits of a handmade soap are not as clear. So, we'll try to explain why it's different and, in our opinion, a better choice for your skin and for the planet.
HOW SOAP IS MADE
The very first time I made soap, I understood immediately that the process of creating handmade soap is a place where science and art converge. The hard chemistry of soap making is uncompromising: you goof the recipe, you end up with #notsoap. But once you’ve nailed the formula, the options for creativity with colors, textures, and scent are endless - and endlessly fun.
Bar soap is made by combining oils or solid fats (in our case, derived only from plants) with lye (sodium hydroxide, or NaOH). The oils are heated, allowing any solid oils like shea butter or coconut oil to melt. Meanwhile, the lye gets added to water to make a solution – it’s a neat little exothermic reaction that heats itself to about 200 degrees, and is then allowed to cool. At the right temperature (90-110 degrees Fahrenheit), the oils and the lye are mixed together until they start to bond together in the process called saponification.
People often ask if we use lye in our soap because many have the impression that lye is a toxic chemical. In fact, lye is used in all soap making – if it’s not made with sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide (the two forms of lye), it’s not technically soap. While lye is a chemical manufactured in a laboratory, it’s really just a salt made of sodium, hydrogen, and oxygen, and is “toxic” only because of its high pH. The pH of lye is 14, neutral pH (where our bodies function) is 7, and the pH of hydrochloric acid is zero. If pure lye touches your skin, it will burn the same way pure acid will. This is also the reason your Grandma Louise’s “lye soap” didn’t feel good – she probably made lye-heavy soap, where the ratio of fats to lye was incorrect, leaving leftover lye in the finished bar. As a result, the bar would have had a high pH, which can irritate the skin.
The good news is that we have our soap science figured out, and even though lye goes into the soap, it’s not present in the final bar – magic, isn’t it? (Chemistry is actually just poorly marketed magic.) The lye, comprising a sodium molecule, a hydrogen molecule, and an oxygen molecule, gets disassembled and rearranged in cold-process soap making so that the only products of the chemical reaction called saponification are soap molecules and glycerin. The soap molecules work by sticking their little tails into grease and dirt, and then letting themselves get rinsed down the drain with the water. The glycerin molecules don’t rinse away as much, and work throughout the day to attract water to your skin. Highly technical drawings below.
HANDMADE VERSUS COMMERCIAL SOAP
Large-scale, commercial soap companies remove the glycerin molecules to make a harder bar, and make room for other chemical additives. Additionally, handmade soap requires curing time – eight weeks in our case. Large companies don’t have time to wait for water to evaporate from their soap – they just take care of it all in one step. That’s why the general category called “soap” got a bad reputation for being drying. (And, maybe it’s why you end up needing so much lotion?) Soap made by the cold-process method does exactly the opposite for your skin – it pulls moisture to your skin all day long.
For the sake of comparison, here are the ingredient lists from a popular, unscented commercial soap marketed to those with sensitive skin, and the ingredient list for our Oh So Soap, for the same skin type.
X Brand Commercial bar soap:
Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate, Stearic Acid, Sodium Tallowate Or Sodium Palmitate, Lauric Acid, Sodium Isethionate, Water, Sodium Stearate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Cocoate Or Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Chloride, Tetrasodium Edta, Tetrasodium Etidronate, Maltol, Titanium Dioxide (Ci 77891).
X Brand Liquid Body Wash for sensitive skin:
Water (Aqua), Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Hydroxypropyl Starch Phosphate, Lauric Acid, Sodium Lauroyl Glycinate, Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil or Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Sodium Chloride, Glycerin, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, DMDM Hydantoin, Stearic Acid, Fragrance (Parfum), Citric Acid, BHT, Tetrasodium EDTA, Methylisothiazolinone, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate.
Osmia Oh So Soap:
Saponified organic oils/butters of olive*, mango*, and castor bean*; dead sea salt; buttermilk powder*, rosemary antioxidant*, non-GMO mixed tocopherols
As you can see, we are of the “less-is-more” mindset when it comes to making sensitive skin happy.
IS BAR SOAP UNHYGIENIC?
Some people are concerned about bar soap being unhygienic. I disagree. Cleanliness is a big deal in my house (doctor + soapmaker = moderately crazy germ freak). Hand washing is like a sport to me – one that I could have played at a collegiate level. When you use bar soap properly, using very warm water, and a 20-30 second scrub, you rinse away the top layer as you lather, and the dirt and germs go down the drain. Doing this with a hand-made, moisturizing bar soap makes more sense to me than using a liquid soap: the antibiotic and chemical laden liquid soaps being aggressively marketed today shed toxins into our water supplies and septic systems, and create resistant bacterial strains that will UNDOUBTEDLY cause trouble for us in the near future. This said, I do recommend storing your bar soap on a clean, aerated surface (like our reusable soap-saver), to keep it out of a puddle of soap soup – germs WILL proliferate in standing water. Plus, keeping the soap dry between uses will help it last longer.
Bar soap, especially if it’s packaged by a company like ours, is low-impact on the environmental scale when compared with liquid cleansers. Liquid soap usually comes in a plastic bottle, whereas our bar soaps come in biodegradable paper and hemp twine. Liquid soap has far more ingredients, especially if it’s not true soap, but a body wash or gel cleanser: this means more ingredients are swept into the water treatment system or your septic field.
You use soap every day, on yourself and possibly your family. It washes down your drains. It AFFECTS things like fish and birds and worms and flowers. And, there was a time when choosing organic bar soap meant LESS luxury and more earthy-crunchy-granola. But that isn’t true anymore. (Have you looked at our soap page on the website?) So here it is, folks - the beginning of a bright new era in beauty and self-care, and a small change you can make that will not only help the planet, but will leave your skin beautifully conditioned, and make you feel like you are treating yourself to a tiny luxury every time you pick up a bar.
It’s a no-brainer.