Currently, more of us are using liquid soaps. You’re probably not surprised – liquid soaps seem convenient in their plastic bottles. They sit neatly on the sink or in the shower and don’t dribble their suds or coagulate in a soap dish. But they have at least two big drawbacks.
Drawback 1: their plastic containers – an estimated 577 million of them entered the environment last year. That’s a lot of plastic, miles and miles of it – 45 thousand miles of plastic bottles, enough to go around the world 1.8 times. * And plastic pollutes.
Bar soaps, on the other hand, have minimal packaging, a simple paper wrap, a string of raffia, and sometimes – they come bare.
Problem 2 – Ingredients
Drawback to liquid soaps 2: what’s in those little plastic bottles – the ingredients. Those can do more than harm the environment. They may harm you.
An April article in INC. Magazine on the iconic brand. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap quoted David Bronner saying. “There’s nothing more elegant than a properly formulated soap. It’s the most beautiful lather, great skin-feel, great after-feel. You could basically eat our soap.” Not that we recommend that.
“He’s trying to explain the difference between a true soap … and the soaplike detergent products most of us use every day.….. At its most basic, the difference is natural ingredients versus synthetic ones. …. most detergents are made at least in part from nonrenewable petrochemicals (because it’s cheaper that way) and include a chemical cocktail of foaming agents, preservatives, and fragrances that, by and large, have never been tested and found safe for human consumption,” author Tom Foster wrote.
Seems like there’s a lot more to liquid soaps (and some beauty bars) than suds and smell.
What’s in soaps?
Some of the things in liquid and non-natural soaps may be triclosan and triclocarban.
Two Little Blackbirds, a natural soap-maker, says – “These synthetic antimicrobial chemicals kill aquatic life after they go down your drain and into the local water supply, and have been shown to disrupt proper thyroid functioning in humans. Use of triclosan is also associated with the rise of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, producing dangerous infections that don’t respond well to antibiotic medicine. Triclosan or its cousin, triclocarban, can be found on the ingredients labels of soaps, toothpaste, and other personal-care items.”
It not just natural soap makers that report problems with these ingredients. According to Mintel Soap, Bath and Shower Product Report, 2012, “there have been reports that triclosan, an ingredient used in many antibacterial soaps, including liquid hand soap, is potentially dangerous to users and may not provide the efficacy that users think they are getting using an antibacterial product.”
Two Little Blackbirds notes other questionable ingredients and explains their dangers. The cocktail of additives includes “DEA, diethanolamine, cocamide DEA, lauramide DEA, and monoethanolamine, Fragrance, parfum, linalool, limonene. MEA. PEG, polyethylene glycol, polyethylene, polyoxyethylene, oxynol, or words ending in the letters “eth,” such as myreth, oleth, laureth, ceteareth.”
Even “real” soaps differ
In addition to chemicals and preservatives, Foster wrote in INC., “Within the world of real soaps, there are other levels of purity that separate the brands. Most mass-produced soaps are made with animal fats such as tallow (beef fat) or lard (pig or mutton fat). …. Natural soaps are made with nonanimal fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, and palm oil.”
Fortunately, today, there’s a return to natural and/or local,
not only in foods, but also in soaps. It’s easy to find soaps made from goat’s milk (my favorite), olive oil, jojoba, aloe, and other natural ingredients. Natural aromas have also proliferated – lemon, lavender, almond, patchouli, orange, rose, and the more masculine Frankincense (yes, I’ve seen it) plus scores more. Some soaps may be made with perfumes, however, so it’s best to read the labels.
Where to find good soap
Check your local health food stores, specialty stores, and even local craft markets. You’ll discover lots of handcrafted soaps made from natural ingredients. To get an overview of the variety, visit The Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild’s gallery of about 100 different specialty soaps. And Real Handmade Soap is another source for finding natural soaps.
Living a good life means attention to all of life’s details – and making each activity – even what may seem like the most trivial – matter. And when it comes to getting clean, living a good life just may mean going back to the bar.
*Author’s note: Here’s how the estimate of plastic waste was derived. In 2011, people spent $1.9 billion dollars on liquid body wash and $788 million on liquid hand soap (Source: Mintel Soap, Bath and Shower Product Report, 2012.)
Estimating $5 each for liquid body wash and $4 each for liquid hand soap, that’s 577 million plastic containers. Next, I estimated the plastic bottles at an average of 5 inches each, that’s 2.8 + billion inches, divided by 12 inches = 240,416,666 feet. I divided that by 5,280 feet to come up with 45,533 miles, enough to go around the world 1.8 times.
By Bojinka Bishop
Photos on soap making courtesy of The Parsonage Handmade Soaps.
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