Why Organic Soap?
By Sarah Villafranco, MD
Posted in Blog, on December 22, 2013
It’s been a long time since I used anything but my own soap. It’s in every bathroom. It sits on counters all over our town. My husband and family and friends are hooked. I sniff it like I have some sort of embarrassing sniffing addiction. I travel with it. I scrub my toes with it and practically kick my leg like a dog getting scratched behind the ear. Sometimes I think it’s just because I enjoy making it so much, and wonder if it’s partly my silly pride that makes me love it. But, on a recent trip, I forgot my soap. I used the luxury hotel soap for two days. And then… I itched all over.
So what is it about Osmia soap that my skin was missing? And what was it about the hotel soap that it didn’t like??
Let’s back up for a minute. Do you know how soap is made? How it works? Allow me to explain. I will be brief. And I will try to limit the degree to which I geek out about it. Because I COULD talk about it all day – I really love soap.
Bar soap is made from the combination of oils or solid fats with lye (sodium hydroxide, or NaOH). The oils are heated, and the lye, in the form of little pellets, gets added to water to make a solution – it’s a very neat little exothermic reaction that heats itself to about 200 degrees, and is then allowed to cool. At the right temperature, the oils and the lye are mixed together until they start to bond together in the process called saponification. Remember when I said I wouldn’t be geeky? Oh well.
Now, some of you are saying “LYE? Isn’t that an awful, toxic chemical??” Understandable. But lye is basically a salt. And, it’s a very BASIC salt, meaning that its pH is 14 (neutral pH is 7). This is why it is considered toxic – because if pure lye touches your skin, it will burn the same way pure acid will. The pH is just too different from your skin cells, and they don’t appreciate that. So they get burned.
The good news is that 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 soapmaking (saponification), so that the only things to come out of the chemical reaction 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. (A substance that does this is called a humectant – another example is hyaluronic acid, an excellent component to look for in facial care products).
Large-scale, commercial soap companies remove the glycerin molecules to make a harder bar, and make room for other chemical additives. This is 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!) So, this is why I was so itchy and dry after two days of using regular (albeit “luxury”) soap. My skin just wasn’t used to soap without so much of that good glycerin, and it probably didn’t like the synthetic color and artificial fragrance much either. (Osmia's organic soaps, in contrast, are made with gorgeous, gourmet food-grade, certified organic oils, wild-harvested butters and oils, and rely only botanical powders, clays, and essential oils for their color and scent. Once your skin gets used to that level of luxury without all the unnecessary fillers, it becomes pretty snobby about things.)
So, that covers the part about how great hand-made, organic soap is for your skin. The extra credit comes when you consider how good it is for the earth, too. There is no plastic bottle, which is a great starting point for all bar soap. Osmia's soaps are then packaged in partially recycled, acid-free watercolor paper, hand tied with hemp twine, and labeled with a tree-free, water-free paper called Terraskin – all of which could be safely recycled or composted by the consumer. Finally, the soap that rinses off your body and into the drain is utterly non-toxic.
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.
Here’s the thing. 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 year, 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 just a no-brainer.
For more information, see our Organic Soap products.