Response to "Truth in Soap"

Posted by Rob Cosgrove on Jul 17th 2019

As anyone who reads my rants knows, I'm a stickler for truth in soap advertising. I wrote an article called "Truth in Soap" where I expose the fake claims of some soap makers who use man-made fragrance oils to scent their products, claiming they are made with all natural essential oils. I won't rehash my argument here.

Amber Erickson of "Spark & Madness", complained bitterly (and after I considered her argument, I somewhat agree) about how I presented some of my evidence. Here's her email to me:

I happen to be one of the small soap makers you are vilifying and making some pretty bold accusations against. I agree with you that some people are willingly dishonest in labeling, while others are ignorant of the science and facts and they sell products full of bacteria, mold and fungus. I’m also aware of businesses like yours, using outrageous scare tactics as you cherry pick certain pieces of information that support your claims and leaving out the rest. The reality, the truth, the whole picture. You...are a liar...too. And it’s quite evident this isn’t an innocent, well intentioned error of ignorance. You could be sued for making deliberately malicious and misleading statements about a competitor. I could bounce back and forth between screens to write this email and list in detail all of your misleading statements, but I don’t think you need that. Because you are aware of the choices you made, to claim for example the fragrance oil would cause organ failure and a long list of other dangers...leaving out the amount of fragrance oil someone would have to come in contact with for this to ever be possible in a still unlikely scenario. And that it would need to be ingested. You neglected, by choice, to leave out the info about its safety with proper use. If I were to pull up the safety sheets on your essential oils and post them as you did, cherry picking and suggesting to readers that the amount you use in your soaps could kill them, I imagine we’d be looking at another capitalized, italicized tantrum of falsehoods.

I suggest that you consider practicing some of this honesty you claim no other soap maker other than you is capable of, because you’re slinging mud at a company with the means to take legal action.

One final note, the only message that comes across in these posts is “they all lie to you, their soaps will kill, blah blah blah...”. You must not have much faith in your own product if it can’t stand on its own merits. Scare tactics and mud slinging are the lowest forms of sales, the last act of a desperate man.

If you want soapers to label honestly then be a good example of what that looks like. These statements are far more harmful than someone saying a bar of soap is all natural if its only 99% natural. There is NO LEGAL DEFINITION of natural! There is one for slander though.

Amber Erickson,

Spark & Madness; Owner

Here's the part I agree with - I reprinted verbatim part of the Material Safety Data Sheet for "Monkey Farts" fragrance oil. The MSDS declares some of the synthetic chemicals in the oil to be dangerous, and that's true. But, what I failed to mention is that the regulating agencies consider these chemicals "not dangerous" (I'm not going to say "safe") when used in recommended concentrations.

On a second reading, failing to mention recommended concentrations does make that article seem hysterical. I'm not going to change it, though, because lots of people consider ANY use of potentially dangerous chemicals to be undesirable, ESPECIALLY if the company using them is lying about using them. For example, how much lead in drinking water is "safe" for your children? Likewise, how much amyl butyrate or isoamyl acetate is "safe" in your children's soap? I don't know. You decide. I just reprinted the MSDS.

Even if soap makers use the recommended concentrations that some consider "safe", as I do and I am sure Amber does, the soap makers themselves have to handle these chemicals at their full concentrations, which ARE dangerous. It is 100% true that mishandling them can cause serious health problems. 

I'm concerned about the health of the employees of companies who supply their employees with repackaged full-strength synthetic fragrance oils, telling them that they are safe, natural blends of pure essential oils. These employees are handling dangerous chemicals without knowing it, exposing themselves to potentially disastrous health problems. Even many all natural, pure essential oils are dangerous to handle at full concentration, and those handling them should be trained and equipped to do so with the right amount of caution.

I'm sure Amber is an honest person and labels her products honestly. My article wasn't aimed at people like her any more than it was aimed at me. I admitted using synthetic fragrance oils, and labeling them as such. Their ingredients list contains a lot of unpronounceable words. You decide if you want to use them.

I also sell products scented with pure essential oils, and I label them as such, as I'm sure Amber does.

She's right - there's no legal definition of "natural." But I'm pretty sure we all know what "natural" means - Made with natural ingredients - ingredients from nature. Man-made, synthetic chemicals are not "natural," and I don't think anyone could argue effectively that they are.

Sure, at the level of pure chemistry, pretty much everything is made of "chemicals". All natural essential oils are made up of chemicals, but chemicals put together by nature, not by guys in lab coats.

I really hope you're not one of those "small soap makers [I'm] vilifying", Amber. I am vilifying liars and cheats - people who claim their products are scented with pure essential oils when they are not.

At the bottom of that article I agreed to post corrections or additions from anyone who wanted to call me out. Although Amber accused me of being a liar (among other things), I can't find anything inaccurate about my article. As I said above, though, I think the article might be misleading to some people because I failed to mention the levels of recommended concentrations of some of the synthetic chemicals, so well done, Amber. I agree with you, and I will edit the article as you suggested. I'd give a link to your soap company's web page here, but alas, I can't find your site.