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Organic Soap

Organic Soap - Natural Soap

The Difference between Organic Soap and Natural Soap

The term 'organic' or 'certified organic' has recently begun appearing in handmade soap advertising and on many soap websites. Does the term 'organic' have any real meaning when applied to soap, or is it a hollow ploy to get your business? We've written down a few of our thoughts on the subject for you to consider.

1. What is the definition of organic and who is doing the certification?

Many US states over the years have come up with definitions for 'organic' as well as the Federal Government through the US Department of Agriculture. Many of the definitions for organic do not agree and are sometimes mutually exclusive. Further, there is the issue of raw soap matierals from foreign countries such as olive oil (all grades), palm oil, coconut oil, cocoa butter and other butters or oils. Does the country of origin's definition mean the same thing as that of the US Department of Agriculture, or for that matter, any individual US state?

2. Does the term 'organic soap' in fact have any significant meaning for a product that is used externally, and not consumed as food?

If we assume that a fair definition of organic; means free from the use of pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic fertilizers, then residues of these products would be absent from soaps made with certified organic oils.

However, most olive, palm, coconut and other butters and oils that are food grade have already been through extensive screening, to remove any residues from ingredients which are consumed internally, by mouth, in food products. The harsh saponification chemical process of making soap from fats or oils involves the binding of sodium from the eye or sodium hydroxide with an organic fatty acid (from the fats or oils) to make a new sodium salt we call soap. Most all of any xxxresidues are bound in this sodium salt complex we call soap in such a way as to be of no concern at all in an external application, i.e. washing and bathing.

To be a problem, what infinitesimal amount of these residues that might be unbound in the soap complex itself would also have to be transdermal (actively migrate through the skin tissue) in order to have any effect whatsoever.

If the ingredients were food grade to begin with, and therefore tested to assure the ingredients could not migrate through body tissue, there cannot be any effect whatsoever.

Conclusion: Organic or certified organic as a term to describe soap products has no meaning at all, other than to advertise a more expensive product to consumers who think they should want everything organic even if that product is not necessarily 'better'.

3. Ingredient Costs and Soap Formulation

All true soap is made from animal fats and/or plant oils or butters that react in the presence of a strong chemical base, usually lye or sodium hydroxide. The result of this reaction is the production of three primary substances: a sodium salt that we call soap, glycerin (actually an alchol called glycerol which softens and conditions the skin), and extra water, over and above that present in the original lye solution.

Each soap maker has an infinite choice of fat and/or oil combinations to use in making their own respective formulas. However, the primary oils used today are some combinations of the olive oil (any of the four grades of olive), palm, coconut, soy, castor and sometimes almond, macademia, rape seed, hemp seed or the vegetable butters of shea butter, cocoa butter and mango butter, to name a few.

The use of exotic tropical oils and butters has always been more expensive. But the use of organic or certified versions of basic, as well as exotic oils or butters, increases their cost from a factor of 2-5 times per pound of oil and butter used. Because of this marked cost increase, soapmakers have an important choice to make if they want to claim that their soap is certified organic.

To claim organic status, and still sell enough soap to make a profit, many soapmakers have had to change their formulas drastically by reducing the relative amounts of exotic oils (although 'organic') and make up the difference with higher levels of less expensive filler oils (that may also be 'organic'). Many of these filler oils are only 25-35% of the cost of organic extra virgin olive, coconut, safflower or shea butters.

On the day I write this, organic soybean oil (or soy oil) can be purchased for 82 cents a pound, compared to organic extra virgin olive oil at $2.75 a pound. With Organic Olive Oil costing nearly five times (5x) as much as Organic Soybean Oil, which oil do you think will be used more in most organic soap recipes?

The result is often an organic soap that is less hard, more water soluble (meaning it's going to melt faster in the shower), produces less lather and is sometimes more drying to your skin.

4. Issues for Consumers of Organic Soap to Consider

For us to make our soaps organic, and still make them the same way you've enjoyed them for eight years (same recipes, same percentages of olive oil, castor oil and butters) we would have to increase the price of our soap 2-3 times. Would you really buy our soap if it was $8.00-$12.00 a bar? Would you buy anyone's soap if it was that price?

Handmade soap enthusiasts over the years have compared soaps purchased from various soapmakers and discovered vast differences in their recipes. Some soapmakers (like us) use olive oil as more than 50% of their recipe, while others choose a less expensive route by using more palm, coconut or soybean than olive. A Goat Milk Soap made by one soapmaker may use goat milk for 100% of its liquid, whereas another soapmaker might add a small fraction. One soapmaker might use fresh goat milk, another re-constituted powdered goat milk. Soaps made with shea butter might contain 5% Shea Butter as compared to 30% Shea Butter, but they're both called "Shea Butter Soap".

All these choices in creating handmade soap recipes make a difference in the quality of the handmade soap that is produced. These choices also affect how satisfied you are with that soap, how it feels on your skin, how it smells to your nose, how it lathers and how long a bar lasts in your shower.

Beware of any soap that is supposedly organic that is not also a significantly higher priced bar. And if you're going to the extent of purchasing an organic soap, then make sure you're buying one scented with an all-natural Essential Oil, and not a fragrance oil filled with petrochemicals. An 'Organic Soap' scented with an artificial fragrance will defeat your purpose, but in perusing soap sites, there's certainly a lot of soap businesses doing just that.


After reading all this, you probably already know the conclusion we've reached.

All bars of soap, even if organic, are not the same.

And we would suggest that an organic soap is not necessarily better than an all natural soap made with food grade oils and great recipes.


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