Is your handmade soap REALLY all natural? REALLY organic? REALLY "Plant Based"? Not knowing for sure could hurt you.
This article was edited on 17 July 2019 to correct some confusing information. Links to the edit are below.
NO hard bar soap is organic. NO soap made with non-natural “fragrance oils” is “all natural.”
When Debra and I started C&L Soap Company, we did proper research into the chemistry and regulations governing our industry, and we made a decision to be 100% honest and truthful in our advertising. We didn’t know it at the time, but this decision put us in the minority of handmade soap companies.
Some handmade soap companies either do not understand what “all natural” or “organic” means, or in the worst case they DO understand, and they just don’t care.
I’ll tell you what this all means, and then I’ll prove it by showing you the ingredients lists of one common fragrance oil used by "natural" handmade soap companies. In future posts I will disclose the warnings and ingredients lists of others, too.
Handmade soaps are scented two ways: With natural essential oils, or with fragrance oils. Assuming the labeling and advertising for your soap is truthful and done to regulation, it should list “essential oil” or “fragrance oil” in the ingredients section.
Because soap must be made with ingredients that are inexpensive enough to allow selling the finished bars for prices ranging from $3.00 to $10.00 per bar, the price (and quality) of the essential oils or fragrance oils is necessarily limited to those that are inexpensive enough to allow a reasonable profit for the soapmaker, his middle men, and his retailers. This usually limits the wholesale price of the oil used to scent the soaps to less than $30 per pound.
Essential oils are all natural and can be organic.
The “fragrance oils” commonly used in soaps are neither natural nor organic, therefore the soaps made with them cannot be "all natural" or organic.
NOTE: There are a few truly “all natural” fragrance oils, but they are far too expensive to use in soaps that sell for less than $10 per 5-ounce bar. For example, there is an all natural Amber fragrance oil. However, it sells for around $66 per pound, making it unlikely that your soap contains it, if you paid less than $10 per bar. It is more likely that your amber scented soap contains a non-natural, man-made amber fragrance oil that sells for around $24/pound and smells nearly identical.
All non-natural fragrance oils contain artificial, man-made chemicals.
Essential oils are all natural plant oils derived directly from plant material, with no artificial or man-made ingredients. Soaps made with essential oils (and not fragrance oils) may be called “all natural”.
Some small soap companies twist words in their advertising to confuse you, saying things like “chemical free” or “no chemicals” in their advertising. Some say “no gluten” or “made without parabens” or “no detergents” or “no sulfates”. So what? Virtually all handmade soap is free of these ingredients. For all this really means, they might just as well list even more scary sounding ingredients they don’t use, like “no hot lava, uranium, razor blades, spiders, or snakes.”
All handmade hard bar soap contains chemicals. NO handmade hard bar soap is “organic”.
All handmade hard bar soap is made with lye (sodium hydroxide), a man-made chemical. It is impossible to make hard bar soap without lye. The lye used in soap is a byproduct of the production of chlorine. Since there is no natural, organic source of raw sodium hydroxide lye, no sodium hydroxide lye is organic, and by US law, no soap made with it can be called “organic”.
Of course, none of this stops some small soap companies from claiming their soaps are “all natural” or “organic” or "plant based", it just means they’re lying to you. It’s up to you to decide if they’re doing so out of ignorance or malice.
At Cosgrove & Lewis we never claim “chemical free” or “organic.” We only claim “all natural” for our soaps that are truly all natural and made with essential oils – about 2/3 of our product line. We even disclose the “natural” content of all our soaps as a percentage, usually 96% to 100% natural.
The public are starting to revolt against the lack of truth in soap advertising. Several class action lawsuits have been filed, and some settled for million$ at the time of this writing:
Here are your takeaways:
- No hard bar soap is organic.
- No soap made with a non-natural “fragrance oil” can be “all natural”.
- No hard bar soap is “chemical free”.
- There is legal recourse against soap companies making false claims.
As promised, here are warnings and an ingredients list of a common fragrance oil called Monkey Farts. Some soap companies who scent their soaps with non-natural, man-made fragrance oils like this one (which contains many chemicals) tend to name their soaps the same as the fragrance oil they use. To be fair, some of these chemicals do exist in nature as components of things like orange peels and essential oils, however, to also be fair, many more of these nasty sounding chemicals are man-made and have no natural source.
[Correction 17 July 2019] I received an email today regarding this article, and I have made a correction as a result. The information listed below is copied directly from the MSDS, as you can see from the link below. However, I failed to copy the entire MSDS, which also lists exposure limits that some government agencies consider "safe" for them. (although, as mentioned, I DID include a link to that rather lengthy document, which you can read for yourself if you want.)
Monkey Farts Fragrance Oil
All Natural: NO
Monkey Farts is used in soaps and other personal care products that have a sweet scent of fruits.
H227: Combustible liquid
H303: May be harmful if swallowed
H315: Causes skin irritation
H317: May cause an allergic skin reaction
H319: Causes serious eye irritation
H371: May cause damage to organs
H411: Toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects
Citrus aurantium dulcis (Orange) oil
Isoamyl acetate (Isopentyl acetate)
For more information, or if you want to request corrections or additions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be HAPPY to investigate and print corrections.
So far there has been only one request for corrections, and here it is.