Have you ever wondered what all the hype is about when it comes to handmade soap?  Like me, you've probably at some time had reason to consider purchasing a bar of handmade soap and thought "What's so special about it?  Why should I buy that when I can get the same thing so much cheaper at the supermarket?  Soap is just soap, right?"  Wrong!  While a bar of handmade soap is often more expensive than commercially-produced soap, handcrafted soap offers so much more in terms of benefits to one's skin.  In fact, if you have ever suffered from skin sensitivities such as eczema or psoriasis, or even just generally dry skin, you'll be pleased to learn the difference between handmade soap, and the mass-produced stuff that lines the supermarket shelves.


From humble beginnings, we've witnessed  how the soapmaking process has evolved over the centuries to align with human and technological advancements.  But with such changes, are we seeing greater benefits?   The answer is clearly, no. With technological advancement and scientific discovery has come cheaper alternatives that are easily sourced and used in place of natural ingredients.


Traditional soapmaking processes allow for the mixing of fats and oils (from animals and vegetables) with an alkali (sodium hydroxide) and through the process of saponification (heat-related chain reaction which allows the caustic elements of the alkali to be nullified, or rendered harmless), produces a moisturising substance known as glycerine. 


The industrial soapmaking process is a continuous process of adding and subtracting ingredients to arrive at the final bar of soap we purchase; bar after bar meticulously molded into the same shape and weight.  During this continuous process, glycerine which is vital for the moisturisation of the skin, is removed from the process in order to be used in other cosmetic products.  In its place, other substances such as sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) or sodium laureth sulphate (SLES) is added, along with parabens (synthetic preservatives), phthalates (fragrance enhancers) and petro-chemicals found naturally occurring in mineral oil and often used in other personal care products.  In terms of soapmaking, these additives are often referred to as 'fillers'.


So what does this mean to us as consumers of mass-produced product?  It means that instead of enjoying the benefits of a naturally occurring moisturising agent, our skin which is considered to be the largest organ of the human body, is subjected to the use of surfactants, or synthetic foaming agents. 


SLS is an inexpensive foaming agent which adds to a soap's lather and effectively decreases the surface tension of water which allows it to adhere better to the surface of 'grime', thus removing it from the skin more easily.  It is a KNOWN IRRITANT, like many other detergents, and while it is busy removing the dirt from our skin, it is also highly effective in removing the naturally occurring oils such as sebum which is produced through our skin.  It is also believed to cause the separation of skin layers and inflammation of the skin, as well as the corroding of hair follicles which in turn impairs the ability for hair growth.  The use of SLS extends not only to soap but also to washing liquids, floor cleaners, car wash and engine degreasers.


So what then, are the real benefits of handmade soap?  Here are some of the important ones:

  • Glycerine (natural by-product of the saponification process) is RETAINED in the end product
  • Fats not transformed during the process also remain behind, providing 'extra' moisturising benefit
  • NO synthetic 'fillers' or harmful products are added to bulk up the product
  • NO parabens, phthalates or petro-chemicals (which are considered carcinogenic or cancer-causing) are used in the process


As artisan soapmakers believe passionately in the goodness of their naturally produced product, they also understand the benefits of using naturally-occurring additives which have known benefits for the skin.  These additives may be things such as essential oils extracted from various plants and provide numerous therapeutic properties, to fibrous ingredients such as loofah or oatmeal as exfoliates.  Traditional soapmakers also have the option to include extra oils or other natural by-products such as honey or soy wax which provide added moisturisation for the skin.



And of course, a handmade bar of soap often presents as a visually superior product.  If you've ever looked closely at two bars of handmade soap, you would have noticed that no two bars are ever exactly the same.  With the employment of the soapmaker's various skills and techniques, use of colour and design, one is guaranteed of ending up with a miniature piece of art that is both decorative and functional!


Mass-produced soap


Handmade soap

Any which way you slice it, handmade soap is a far greater product in terms of value to the skin.  It is widely believed that synthetic additives such as SLS are often the CAUSE of skin sensitivities such eczema and psoriasis.


So while a bar of handmade soap may cost a little more than a commercially-manufactured product, one really has to weigh up the benefits in terms of the health of one's skin.  If you do suffer from skin sensitivity or dry skin, perhaps you could be encouraged to try handmade soap considering that you now know exactly what is contained within those we've all bought from the supermarket.  To many of us, soap is just soap, until we've actually experienced the alternative of handmade soap. 


Not quite convinced?  Take a look at the list of benefits obtained from the oils and other additives we use in our soaps. 


As a consumer of my own products, I enjoy the benefits that handmade soap offers and I can say with certainty that I will NOT be switching back to the industrially-produced alternative.  I can happily say that I now understand all the 'hype' about handmade soap and I'm positive my skin is loving me for my new-found wisdom!