What is Real Soap?

Learn some fun facts including the dirty little secret behind French-milled soaps!

Soap has been mentioned in historical records dating back about 5,000 years.  A popular belief claims soap takes its name from an ancient temple site on Mt. Sapo where it is said animal sacrifices took place.  The story goes that animal fat from the sacrifices would mix with ashes from the temple fires and rain water to produce soap; however, there is no evidence that this is anything but a fable. Sapo, by the way, is Latin for soap, and the word first appears in Pliny the Elder's Historia Naturalis. 

The first solid historical record of soap use is attributed to the ancient Babylonians circa 2800 BC, and the first soap recipe was found inscribed on a Babylonian clay tablet dated to 2200 BC.

Real soap is is made by combining an oil with a caustic solution.  In the "good old days" (and still in cheap soaps), animal fat was the source of oil.  High quality soaps use vegetable oils and butters such as olive, coconut, and palm oil. These oils are acidic and react with the caustic solution.  Of course our food oils aren’t dangerous like sulfuric acid, in fact, quite the opposite is true.  They provide essential fatty acids which are a vital part of a healthy diet, and they are just as important for our skin's health. 

Caustic refers to either potassium hydroxide (used to make liquid soaps) or sodium hydroxide (used to make bar soaps).  In the old days caustic came from wood ash.  In modern times, sodium hydroxide is made by passing electricity through water.

To make our soap we combine sodium hydroxide with coconut, palm, and olive oils, then we add shea butter for good measure.  Each oil makes its own unique contribution to the finished product.  Mixing oils with a caustic agent to make soap is called saponification (from the Latin word Sapo).  In the process, the oils and caustic neutralize each other and transform into a salt and glycerin.  I’ll bet most of you didn’t know that one!  Soap is a salt.  Technically, soap is an alkali salt of a fatty acid.  Now go impress your friends with your new-found knowledge. 

A soap molecule is very interesting in that one end of it wants to attach to oil, while the other end wants to attach to water.  Perfect!  One end wants wants to attach to the dirty oils on our bodies and the other end attaches itself to clean rinse water.   The dirt goes down the draining our skin winds up clean, conditioned, feeling and smelling great!   

So far so good, but what makes one soap better than another?  The quality of ingredients and techniques makes a big difference.  We use only high-grade (sometimes organic or wild-crafted) food oils and a technique known as the “cold process” method.  Simply put, we don't add heat to the process of making our Traditional Soaps.  Our soap is handmade in small batches, which gives us an important edge in quality control that is just not available in large-scale operations.  We also hand-shape, inspect, and packaged each bar, one at a time.  This is a very laborious process, but its how we consistently produce a high quality product.  By the way, we’ve made over 2,000,000 bars of soap this way, and with customers all over the world we'd like to think we're doing something right.

We also do something called super-fatting, which means we deliberately put too much oil in every batch.  That way when when the soap making reaction is complete there are still free, reacted oils still in the finished soap.  Super-fatting makes our soaps excellent skin conditioners.  Our Traditional Soaps also have plenty of naturally formed glycerin in them, and that brings us to the next major point... Glycerin.

Glycerin forms naturally during soap production, and its key to moisturizing your skin when you wash.  The glycerin in our soap attracts moisture to your skin, which is then “locked in” by the free oils and shea butter.  

Milled soap, French or otherwise, are forced through rollers, known as mills, usually three (triple milled) or more times.  Each pass through the high pressure rollers squeezes glycerin out of the soap.  The extracted glycerin is then often sold to other industries, as it has more value by weight than their soap.  The stripped soap is then sent through a mixer where it is combined with various additives.  It then gets squeezed into bars under very high pressure, put in a pretty package and sent to the marketing department, who's job it seems is to misinform the public.  

Milled soaps are marketed as having a smoother texture and better lather better than non-milled soaps. The truth is that milled soaps can be very harsh and strip your skin of oils and moisture.  There’s a good reason they lather quickly...  Milling mines all of the good stuff out of the soap. The ingredients that condition and moisturize your skin, free oils and glycerin, do suppress lathering, but to a very negligible extent.  So, you need to ask yourself: "Would I rather have a smooth bar of soap or smooth, radiant, healthy skin?"  Our natural soaps have a rich and creamy lather, they smell amazing, and they’re great for your skin!  Try some real soap and experience the difference.


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