What is Soap Made of (And Why Does It Matter)?

October 12, 2021

What is Soap Made of (And Why Does It Matter)?

“Anyone's life truly lived consists of work, sunshine, exercise, soap, plenty of fresh air, and a happy contented spirit.” - Lillie Langtry

Men and Women across the globe have used soap for thousands of years, with evidence of soap existing since before 2800 BC. Since then, the process and set of ingredients used to make soap has changed tremendously, except for a few artisan soapmakers that continue to craft soap the ‘old-fashioned’ way.

soapmaker making soap in kitchen space

Some of these innovations were made to better eliminate dirt, oil, and microorganisms from the body, while others were made to increase yield and decrease cost of production.

Whether those changes positively affected soap or negatively is up to the consumer to decide. Being informed, however, is always essential!

What is Soap?

The definition of soap (a la Webster) is a cleansing agent created through the actions caused by mixing an alkali with a fat. An alkali is a chemical compound that neutralizes acids when combined with fats in a process called “saponification”.

… In English?

A bar of soap is a completely reconfigured, solid conglomerate of what used to be liquids. Soap cannot be made without an alkali - sodium hydroxide if it’s a hard bar of soap, potassium hydroxide if it’s liquid soap.

These two chemicals might sound extreme, but they are necessary components to the soap making process. They are the catalyst that restructures what would be an oily slew to a lathering wonder, capable of getting rid of dirt, bacteria, and sweat on your body after a long day.

soapy hands holding a bar of soap

Must Have Soap

Can you imagine life without soap?!

Have you ever tried rinsing your body one day with only water? Let’s be honest, if you did it was probably after you got in the shower and realized you didn’t have any soap! As you may have discovered, it doesn’t really get the job done, does it?

What is Soap Made of?

At its core, soap could be made of just two ingredients – fat and an alkali. Many traditional soapmakers still use just this very simple combination. They combine cow or pig fat with lye. That’s it. And while it surely works to clean the skin, it’s not likely to have a very appealing appearance or scent. A little beef-stewish with a milky color.

Thankfully, modern soap tends to contain ingredients that soften the scent a bit, add color and even change the soap’s properties. With such a vast amount of possible soap recipe combinations, it’s important to read labels and ask questions. Even within the natural soap category, all soap is not created equally.

Have you ever noticed how certain bars of soap just feel wrong – such as leaving you with a vaguely sticky feeling on your skin even after you just took a shower? Or how about soap that dries your skin out terribly! Ever have a bar disintegrate after just a few uses?

Typical Soap Ingredients

lady making soap using natural ingredients• Oil or fat (examples include coconut oil, olive oil, castor oil, tallow, lard, palm oil and shea butter)

• An alkali (sodium hydroxide, better known as lye)

• Fragrance oils (either natural essential oils or synthetically manufactured fragrance oils)

• Colorants (either artificial dyes or natural herbal powders)

• Herbs, flowers and/or food (examples include lavender buds, calendula flowers or lemon peel)

• Preservatives (wait...why…soap doesn’t expire…)

• Stabilizers (again…why…soap is stable…)

• Additional chemicals depending on the manufacturer’s formula

Not all “additives” are bad. For instance, adding essential oils and herbs to the recipe can provide skin soothing benefits to those with sensitive skin. However, some additives, like artificial fragrances and preservatives, have been shown to cause skin irritation and allergic reactions.

And some additives, simply don’t make sense to the average ‘Joe’. We’ve reasoned these must be those chosen ingredients that help maximize yield and profit - used by the big, big soap guys.

Essentially, the lesson here is to read labels and become aware of what ingredients are in your soap, why and how your body may react to them.

Why Soap Ingredients Matter

soap ingredients coming out of bars of natural soap

The different types of ingredients used in soap impacts how effective it is for removing dirt from your skin, and it also affects how your skin will react to it. Different ingredients also impact the soap experience - whether the soap lathers well, stays firm after the first use, how quickly it disintegrates and how moisturizing it is for the skin.

Soap can range from being all natural to a chemical bomb of sorts – and when you start getting unnatural chemicals involved with the human body, it’s important to stay informed and err on the side of caution.

Which is why we always advocate for going as “all-natural” with your chosen skincare products as you can – even when it comes to soap. Our theory, here at Nefertem - why use artificial when you can use ingredients found in nature.

There’s no reason for your soap’s ingredients list to be filled with a ton of ten-syllable words you’ve never seen before. Opt for labels that list “grass-fed tallow” and “madder root powder” as ingredients over “cocamidopropyl betaine” or “Tetrasodium EDTA” every time you have the choice!

Nefertem All-Natural Soap

Nefertem has been hand-crafting soaps since 2012 with the desire to produce the finest, all-natural soap on the market. Infused with pure essential oils and natural herbal colorants, you can be sure that what you put on your skin has been provided by nature herself.

*This post may contain affiliate links to ingredients we use and trust in the manufacture of our products. If you click the link and make a purchase, we may be compensated for making the referral.

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