Over the years, handmade soap become trendy due to consumer demands for natural product. This post is to provide insider view of soap (both handmade and commercial soap) and the safety aspect of soap.
What is soap?
Soap is a naturally derived surfactants from oil (or fats) reacted with sodium hydroxide (or lye). Its’ natural pH is about 9-10, some even higher.
Handmade soap, as its name called, is made without mechanical devices. We usually categorized handmade soap into cold soap, hot soap and melt-and-pour soap. Cold soap is direct reacting oil and lye without any heat. The saponification process (process of converting oil to soap) typically takes 1 month upto 6 months. Whereas hot soap convert the oil to soap with elevated temperature, typically complete the saponification within days.
Melt-and-pour soap, on the other hand, is simply melt the pre-made soap in bulk, and solidify back to soap after added with fragrance or essential oil. This pre-made soap is usually supplied by big producer. Most of the producer use fatty acid instead of oil, as the saponification takes only minutes to an hour. For this type of base, solvent such as propylene glycol, sugar, titanium dioxide (to make the soap opaque) and co-surfactants (Such as sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate) are added. Many handmade soap producer not aware melt-and-pour soap is partially made with synthetic ingredient, yet they are comfortably claiming their handmade soap is 100% natural.
Commercial soap product on the other hand, is actually nothing much different compare to the above. In term of chemistry, it is the same. Most commercial soap bar is all natural (exluding the fragrance and dye they added). The significant difference of commercial soap bar is the lack of solvent (Commercial soap bar do not usually added with solvent).
Handmade soap producer typically claim their product is all-natural and selling at very high price, which to my perspective is unreasonable. The cost for handmade soap is high mainly due to essential oil. However, is essential oil really good for you is something debatable (please refer here for detail).
Is handmade soap safe?
Over the years, we have been receiving feedback from user soap is drying and sometime causes allergy. We would like to remind our readers that, it is not our objective here to attack handmade soap, our objective here is to share the scientific background of soap and the reasoning.
Soap is naturally high in pH (pH 10-11, some can be as high as 13), whereas our skin is naturally mild acidic (pH 4.5-5.5). The increase of the skin pH irritates the skin, changes the composition of the cutaneous bacterial flora and the activity of enzymes in the upper epidermis. The dissolution of fat from the skin surface may influence the hydration status leading to a dry, itchy and squamous skin. In fact, most consumer is not aware that soap is actually more harsh compare to sodium lauryl sulfate.
Allergy is usually not due to soap but the essential oil in soap (please refer here for detail). If you find yourself showing symptoms of allergy after using certain product (not only soap, it can be any product), stop using and talk to your doctor.
Overall, soap is safe to use despite the potential drying effect and allergens from essential oil. However, we do want to remind our readers, handmade soap producer do not usually control free alkalinity of the soap. Free alkalinity can be corrosive to your skin, so finding a trustworthy handmade soap producer is important too.
Is handmade soap really magic and cure skin problem?
This is another sector we would like to discuss. We have seen a lots of handmade soap producer claiming fantastic efficacy of soap. On the scientific point of view, most potent ingredient (component that really does magic to your skin) is not stable in high pH. There are exception of course. However if you bump into soap with enzyme,fruit juice, flower extract, and plant extract; these are not going to function in soap (obviously useless on your skin too!). Ingredient such as clay, bentonite, charcoal may have some degree of function. After all, soap is meant to rinse off! find yourself a body lotion or leave-on conditioner instead.
If you do have skin problem such as acne, eczema, allergy; please talk to your doctor instead of trying out “magic soap”.
Our team is dedicated to busting those beauty myths, helping you solve your skin problems. If you need any other skincare tips, do drop us an email.