Thoughts from The Queen Bee

Posts tagged ‘Soap’

Don’t believe everything you read (Part 1)


Women’s Health magazine posted this little tidbit of “information” on page 50 of their July/August issue, and it has generated a lot of comments in the handcrafted soap industry.

Lets break it down, shall we?

“Bar soaps are more drying than liquid because the chemical sodium hydroxide is required to create the cleansing system.”

This is a quote from a chemist, who should definitely know better. Leaving aside for the moment the idea that bar soaps are drying, liquid soaps are made using the synthetic chemical potassium hydroxide. Both sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide are commonly known as lye. Bar soaps are not more drying than liquids.

“The upside is that most of today’s bars contain synthetic detergents (they’re easier to manipulate than natural ones which can be unpredictable), making them more skin-softening than they used to be.”

Today’s commercial bars contain synthetic detergents (syndets) because they are cheaper, resulting in higher profits for the manufacturer, and because they produce massive amounts of lather and less residue, not because they are easier to manipulate, or better for your skin! You can read more about synthetic detergents in my earlier post, What is Natural, Part 1.

As far as their “skin-softening” abilities, the only way that you can actually generate softer skin is by eating healthy foods, drinking lots of water, exercising, and using a sunscreen daily. There is no beauty bar, soap, lotion, cream or expensive serum that can give you softer skin. Soap is designed to cleanse your skin by removing dirt and dead cells, which may make your skin look softer. Lotions and creams make your skin feel softer, but the results are temporary, which is why you have to keep reapplying.

A carefully crafted and cured bar of handmade soap is usually “superfatted” which means that the soapmaker has included more oils in the soap than is required to fully neutralize all of the lye, leaving no active lye in the soap. These extra oils are then available to leave a light occlusive barrier on your skin to shield it from the elements. This also helps your skin to look and feel softer. Also, real soap does not strip your skin of its own natural oils. Synthetic detergents are also known as degreasers, and are designed to clean very well.

Some syndets will advertise that they have added moisturizing cream or glycerine, which supposedly gives you softer skin. If you look at the ingredients you will not find any exotic ingredients…..moisturizing creams are made by emulsifying oils and waters, the same oils that are already in handmade soaps. Syndet bars need to add them.

Real handmade soap does not need to add glycerine. Glycerine is a by product of the chemical reaction that makes soap (saponification), and we leave the glycerine where it belongs, in our soap. Commercial manufacturers remove the glycerine and sell it separately to manufacturers of glycerine soaps, thereby increasing their profits.

While we’re on the subject, lets take a look at the Dove Truth Files campaign that was seen everywhere last year, and which claimed that Dove was gentler than other products. They placed cute little pink paper dolls on a Dove bar, and on their competitors, a variety of synthetic bars, liquid cleansers and body washes. In their commercial, the paper on their bar remained intact, while the others disintegrated, supposedly proving how harsh the other products were. The website, and the Facebook page are no longer active, but according to what I’ve read, they did not try this comparison with handmade soap, only with other syndets. Here is a picture from one of their PR events, and not a single bar of handmade soap in sight. What a surprise.


Okay, back to business…

“Look for formulas that contain hydrating oils, such as sunflower seed oil and olive oil. Try Kiss My Face Olive Oil Bar Soaps.”

Now this is where I get really steamed! They start off their comments by saying to avoid bar soaps because they contain sodium hydroxide, then finish by recommending that you go ahead and buy a particular brand of bar soap, leaving the impression that this bar soap is better because it does not contain lye! WRONG!

Kiss My Face, like every other bar or liquid soap out there, is made with lye.

Bottom line is this. Consumers need to be aware that every manufacturer, whether they are a large commercial operation or a small handcrafted soapmaker, is ultimately trying to get you to open up your wallet and buy something, and many of them will go to outrageous lengths to do so. Every magazine is trying to fill their pages with content to make you buy the issue. You must educate yourself. Just because you read something on the Internet or in a major magazine, it doesn’t make it true. Don’t believe something just because its a major company giving you the information, or because its featured in a multi-million dollar advertising campaign.

Also, keep in mind that any fool can write a blog. Don’t believe everything you read. Many bloggers will simply regurgitate something they read on someone else’s blog, without doing any independent research. This is how misinformation gets distributed so thoroughly that eventually people start believing that it is definitive and proven.

Be skeptical. Ask questions.

(Unfortunately, Women’s Health is not the only one guilty of repeating misinformation. Two other websites that drive me crazy are Skin Deep, a database administered by the Environmental Working Group, and Livestrong. However, this post is already long enough, and your brain is probably full, so I will take a look at these organizations tomorrow in Part 2.)

Ingredient Claims for Soap & Other Cosmetics

obesitysoapAlthough I didn’t realize it while writing it, my post a couple of days ago, ‘Watch out for green washing’ appears to have been the first in a series on ingredients, labeling, and advertising, so today I’m going to talk about what is supposed to be on a cosmetic label. Since I’m based in Canada, I will focus on that, but much of it applies to the EU and the U.S. as well. I will try to point out where they differ as I go.

Also, I am going to speak specifically about products that have only one label, such as a bottle of shampoo, or a bar of soap. If you are looking at a bottle of facial cleanser, for instance, that is sold inside a box, all of the requirements listed below are still in effect, but their are some differences between what is required to be on the outside (box) label and the inner (bottle) label. I won’t go into all of these, because this post would turn into an epic. If you’re looking for this information, visit Health Canada, and read the Guidelines for the Labeling of Cosmetics

The first requirement is the product identity. In Canada, this must be listed in English and in French.

Next, the ingredients. Simply put, if it’s in it, it has to be on it.

Ok, right off the bat, I’m going to point out an exception. In the United States, if a bar of soap is simply labeled as soap, without any claims such as moisturizing, deodorizing, antibacterial etc, then no ingredients are required to be listed.

Back to Canada, where all ingredients must be listed on the package, in descending order of their predominance in the product, regardless of whether it is soap, lotion or lip balm. So far, so good.

The next requirement is that the ingredients used be listed using the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients, commonly known as INCI. INCI was developed with the intent of making it easier for consumers to identify what was in the products by standardizing descriptions around the world, so that coconut oil, for instance, would be listed the same way in Germany as it is in Canada. In theory, this is a great idea, but in practice it falls a little short of its’ intention to provide clarity to consumers. The problem is that the average consumer reading the package does not know that sodium cocoate is the INCI for saponified coconut oil, which means coconut oil that has been mixed with lye to form soap, or that butyrospermum parkii is Shea butter. At BumbleBee Lane SoapWorks we have added a Glossary of Ingredients to our website to help customers figure it out. If you are unsure of an ingredient in a product that you have purchased, contact the manufacturer for clarification.

Next, the product must show the net weight of the contents. Pretty simple, right? However, have you ever seen this character in front of the weight on a label?


This little guy is called an ‘estimated sign’ or ‘e-mark’, and it signifies that the weight of the product is not less than the stated amount. Who knew?

The name and address of the manufacturer must appear. This is to ensure that the consumer can contact the manufacturer if they have any questions or concerns about the product.

Finally, the product must list any Avoidable Hazards and Cautions. This is where you will find indications that the product is flammable, or ‘may leave an oily residue on the bathtub’, etc.

So this is the list of what must appear on the label. How about what is not allowed to appear on the label? This is a much longer list!

Health Canada states: “According to the definitions of the terms “cosmetic” and “drug”, the key consideration for the classification of a product is its proposed use. The claims made in package inserts, in advertisements, and especially in product labels, indicate the intended use of the product.”

Products such as soap, body lotion, aftershave lotion…all of the products offered by the handmade bath and body industry are classified as cosmetics, and as such, are not allowed to make any claims that the product is in any way therapeutic, which is defined in the dictionary as “of or relating to the treatment of disease or disorders by remedial agents or methods.” What does this mean? It means that any claim that a product treats or relieves a condition, from eczema and psoriasis, to aging skin is not allowed.

So which of the following statements are allowed?:

“A must for treating Eczema and many other skin conditions.”

” It has been used in traditional medicine for the treatment of tetanus, eczema, scrofula and erysipelas.”

” I have used your Tea Tree Oil soap everyday and have not had one occurrence of fungal infection.”

The answer is, none.

Any claim as to the healing properties of a cosmetic, whether it is a statement made by the manufacturer, a testimonial by an existing customer, or a reference to the traditional or historical uses of an ingredient within the product, are illegal. If the manufacturer makes any such claims, they must declare the product as a drug, submit it to Health Canada for testing, and will receive a DIN, or Drug Identification Number which must be displayed on the product.

So what claims can be made?

A manufacturer can say that their soap is soothing or moisturizing. They can also say that it changes the appearance of the skin. For example, a soap that contains oils that are good for aging skin cannot be said to reduce lines and wrinkles, but it can say that it reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. A soap cannot claim to eliminate eczema or psoriasis, but it may be said that it helps soothe and moisturize dry, itchy skin, which is associated with eczema or psoriasis.

We are allowed to say that a product is an antibacterial or antimicrobial cleanser, but cannot say that it kills bacteria, germs, pathogens, etc. We can say that it kills odour causing bacteria, but cannot say that it kills bacteria.

Most of the name brand soaps, cleansers and skin treatments adhere to these rules of labelling. Unfortunately, where you will find the majority of the offenders is in the handcrafted bath & body and cosmetic industry. Do a quick Google or Etsy search, and easily 8 out of 10 products listed will make either a completely outlandish and insupportable claim, or will state healing qualities for their product that are completely contrary to the Health Canada regulations.

Imagine, you have eczema, and are shopping at a farmers’ market looking for a new soap. Two vendors, each with an all natural calendula soap.

The first soap advertises that it will “heal, moisturize and soothe all your skin problems”, and lists the benefits of calendula as “Calendula officinalis, also known as pot marigold or garden marigold, has been used for centuries to heal wounds and skin irritations. Calendula has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, astringent, antifungal, antiviral, and immunostimulant properties making it useful for disinfecting and treating minor wounds, conjunctivitis, cuts, scrapes, chapped or chafed skin, bruises, burns, athlete’s foot, acne, yeast infections, bee stings, diaper rashes, and other minor irritations and infections of the skin. Plus, it stimulates the production of collagen at wound sites to help minimize scarring.”

The second soap states simply that it is “Soothing.Gentle. Moisturizing.”, and speaks only of the quality of the ingredients.

Which soap are you more likely to purchase? This is an illustration of the power of marketing, and the very reason that Health Canada mandates what can be said on labels. Swept away by the miraculous qualities of the first soap, you may be disappointed when you get home and find that it does not live up to its marketing.

This leaves the percentage of us who work hard to comply with all legal and government requirements in a bit of a tough spot. Do we make the claims that our competitors are making and clinch the sale? Or do we do what’s right, and watch the customer purchase from the other guy?

So the next time you find yourself choosing between two handcrafted soaps, lotions, or balms, look past the claims, and ask questions. If you are buying from the person who made it, ask her/him about the ingredients. A good Soapmaker or formulator should be able to tell you why they chose all of the different oils and butters in the product, not just the sexy ones.

Don’t expect them to tell you about the healing powers of the essential oils and herbal extracts…they are not allowed to. Do your own research before you leave home. There are some excellent sites which discuss the properties of the various ingredients, and do not rely on information found on websites that are trying to sell you something. Always look for independent sources of information.

Choose some that you think would be beneficial in your particular situation, and go look for them. Will they be effective? Some will, and some won’t. Like all products, not everyone’s results will be the same. Try different products until you find one that works for you, and keep in mind that the amount of essential oils and herbal extracts in soap, lotions etc. is minimal. Do not expect the same therapeutic effect from a lotion or wash off product that you would get from treatment by a certified aromatherapist, but respect the ingredients….use the products as directed, and take note of any contraindications listed.

In closing, also keep in mind that a soapmaker who has taken the time to research the advertising and labeling regulations, and chosen to comply with them, is also more likely to be complying with other things such as good manufacturing practices, and maximum safe usage levels for ingredients, ensuring that you are purchasing a safe, quality product.

Which bar of handmade soap should I buy?

(To my followers….my apologies if you receive this post twice. I accidentally deleted it after posting…should have had another cup of coffee!)
Hmmm….good question!
All you need to make soap is lye and an oil. However, if you make soap with only one oil, you won’t necessarily get what you’re looking for in a bar of soap. Each oil brings different things to the party.
For example, classic castile soap is made using only olive oil. This makes an extremely gentle soap, which is often recommended for children and those with sensitive skin. Sounds lovely, what’s the catch? Soap made with just olive oil is extremely soft, so it must cure for a minimum of 6 months to ensure that enough water evaporates from the bar to make it hard enough to last in the shower and not melt away into a puddle in your soap dish. Secondly, because olive oil is a very heavy oil, the lather may have a somewhat oily feel to it, which some people dislike, and there will not be a lot of lather.
A 100% coconut oil soap will be very cleansing, but using coconut oil as more than 30% of your total recipe will give you too much cleansing power, and your skin may be left feeling tight and dry. An all palm oil soap will be a very hard bar, but low on cleansing power and bubbles. Handmade soap recipes are carefully formulated to achieve the perfect balance of cleansing, lather, and hardness.
So how does the choice of ingredients affect the price of a bar of handmade soap? If you do a quick Google search for handmade soap, you will find literally thousands of soap makers from all around the world, with very little to distinguish between one and the other. The question I get asked most often is, “Why are some bars so cheap and some so expensive?”. There are a few things which contribute to the cost of a bar of handmade soap.
While doing your Google search, you will come across bars as small as 3 oz to some as big as 7 0z. The first thing you should do is divide the price of the soap by the number of ounces in the bar to get the cost per ounce for the soap. This ensures that you are comparing apples to apples.
The second thing to consider is ingredients. The list of possible oils to use in soap range from those at the lower end of the scale, such as corn oil, soy oil, canola oil and cottonseed oil, high end oils such as coconut oil, palm oil, and olive oil, and luxury ingredients such as cocoa butter, shea butter, babassu oil etc. The cost of a bar of soap is directly affected by the cost of the ingredients.
Next, take a look at fragrance. Are the bars scented with pure essential oils, or more inexpensive synthetic fragrance oils? If the soap maker has used essential oils, there can still be variations in the cost. For instance, the more expensive essential oils, such as patchouli and ylang ylang are available in 4 grades, and many oils, including lavender and rosemary can be sourced from many different countries. Bulgarian lavender is much more expensive than lavender grown in South Africa, and this price difference will be reflected in the final product pricing. Are the essential oils steam distilled or extracted with solvent?
How about botanical extracts? The best botanicals are grown on family farms, without pesticides and herbicides, harvested the old fashioned way and hung to dry. These botanicals will cost the soap maker more per pound than the alternatives that are grown on factory farms,  cultivated using chemicals and mechanically harvested and processed.  This will be reflected in the price of the bar of soap.
Lastly, look at packaging. You will find just as many different types of packaging as you will ingredients. There are bars wrapped in fabric and tied with twine; bars wrapped with a “cigar band” of cardstock, bars in boxes, shrink wrapped bars and those wrapped in fancy paper. All of these are good alternatives, the choice is a matter of personal taste, both on the part of the soap maker and the consumer.
The intangible that goes into the cost of a bar of soap is the time and effort on the part of the soap maker. Is the bar of soap simple and unadorned, or are there multiple colours, embeds, swirls and mounded tops? Each step added to the process should add to the cost of the final bar, as it decreases the number of bars that can be made during a given period of time. Most handmade soap makers do not take their time into account when calculating their Cost of Goods Sold, which means they set their selling price too low. While this seems like a great deal for the customer, ultimately if the selling price is too low, the business will not survive.
Some large retailers are now trying to cash in on the increasing popularity of the “all natural” movement by offering a line of handmade soap at a price which undercuts the small retailers. Don’t be sucked into this: look at the ingredients. Most likely you will find that they use one or two of the cheaper base oils, and you can be sure that they will have chosen the cheapest essential oil or fragrance oil they could find. Unfortunately, many people will buy this bar of soap, and will be left with the impression that handmade soap is nothing special.  On the contrary, a well balanced soap, handmade in small batches using quality ingredients is a purchase that you will never regret. Try it….you’ll never go back to commercial soap!
So better ingredients = more expensive bar of soap, right? Not always. Many artisans who create beautiful bars of soap using only the best ingredients price their soap too low in an effort to complete with the lowest priced product on the market, and some large brand name soaps are sold at exorbitant prices to cash in on the segment of the consumer market that believes anything expensive must be better.  So do your homework, read the labels, and if you find a bar of soap made with quality ingredients at a bargain price, do yourself a favour and buy regularly, or in quantity,  to ensure that your soap maker stays in business!



As the owner and head soapmaker at BumbleBee Lane SoapWorks, I spend an inordinate amount of time on websites, forums and blogs seeking knowledge and inspiration. Certain common themes are emerging, and I will be exploring these in the days and weeks ahead. Come back tomorrow for my first post in the series on “What is natural?

Mike Michalowicz

Thoughts from The Queen Bee


Thoughts from The Queen Bee

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