Encouraging Health, Creativity, and Community Through Handmade Soap

I love to teach and I love to learn, which may explain why I am always so full of questions. Let’s address some of the WHY’s of handmade soap, and explain a little bit about what it means to encourage health, creativity, and community along our journey.

When you choose handmade soap, you are encouraging health. To legally be called “soap” in the United States, the product must meet the following requirements, as defined by the FDA:

  • The bulk of the non-volatile matter in the product consists of an alkali salt of fatty acids and the product’s detergent properties are due to the alkali-fatty acid compounds, and
  • the product is labeled, sold, and represented solely as soap [21 CFR 701.20].
  • the only claim made is that it cleans.

Basically, this means that your “soap” must actually be SOAP, not a “detergent”, “beauty bar”, “body wash”, etc. I challenge you to check out the products at the store and see which ones can’t legally call themselves “soap” on the label. You might be surprised. There are very few true soaps on the market. Most body cleansers, both liquid and solid, are actually synthetic detergent products.

Chemistry teaches us that when a fat and alkali (yes folks, I’m talking LYE) react, an endothermic reaction (saponification) takes place and a new product, soap, is made. It’s a simple process, but the results can vary drastically, depending on the amount and type of fat and alkali you start with. This is one of the reasons that many soapmakers focus so heavily on the ingredients they use and their ability to replicate the process. A good soapmaker will approach the process through the scientific method; setting a goal, formulating, experimenting, taking notes, and making adjustments as needed. Consumers can be made aware of what ingredients are used to create the final product, and have a personal choice over ingredient exposure.

The definition of a soap also eliminates the use of medical or cosmetic claims, whether true or not. Soap can only claim to wash. Handmade soapmakers, like myself, may formulate their soap based on ingredient properties, but that formulation cannot translate to a claim. Soap is a wash off, topical product and the only guarantee a soapmaker can make, without their product being regulated as a “drug” or “cosmetic”, is that their soap will clean.

Choosing handmade soap encourages creativity. Artists create with color, texture, and fragrance to elicit a reaction to their designs, and every bar is unique. Micas and fragrance can be used for almost any effect the artist desires. Shaped and molded soaps visually stand out from the standard bars. Botanical and essential oil based soap find their beauty in the way the natural ingredients accent and change within a bar of soap. Artisan soapmakers are formulating, designing, and pouring these soaps with a goal in mind. The lye, oil, and additives are the tools of their creation.

The choice of handmade soap over mass produced soap encourages community. Artisan soapmakers are small businesses and their profit goes directly to supporting their family and their craft. You can choose soaps made in your country, in your state, or even your city. Soapmakers are everywhere and, as one of my soapy sisters, Chris King of Pampered Sisters, says, “There are enough dirty people to go around.” Artisan soapmakers thrive to create clients, rather than customers. We are creating for YOU! Shop small, shop local, and support community.

Consider the lesson learned and explore your options. With your next soap purchase, whether for yourself or as a gift, will you choose handmade soap? Remember that this one small choice has the power to encourage health, encourage creativity, and encourage community.

By Andrea Orr-Gilroy  December 14, 2019

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