In the midst of a pandemic with continuous emphasis on the importance of washing your hands, it’s important to pay attention to what we are washing our hands with. A number of ingredients that are found in commercial soap are proven to be harmful to not only your skin, but harmful to the environment as well due to chemical residue and unsustainable ingredient practices. However, soap doesn’t have to use harmful chemicals, and this article will outline the differences between natural and synthetic soaps.
First, let’s look at the ingredients list between a leading commercial soap by Dove and Heavenly Street’s Honey and Oatmeal soap:
Leading Commercial Soap:
Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate, Stearic Acid, Lauric Acid, Sodium Tallowate or/ou Sodium Palmitate, Aqua, Sodium Isethionate, Sodium Stearate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Cocoate or/ou Sodium Palm Kernelate, Parfum, Sodium Chloride, Tetrasodium EDTA, Tetrasodium Etidronate, Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891)..
Ingredients correct at time of publishing. Always check product packaging.
Organic Elaeis Guineensis (Palm) Oil, Organic Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Organic Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil, Sodium Hydroxide*, Organic Oatmeal, Organic Bran, Honey.
Let’s look at the differences. Heavenly Street’s ingredients are simple and organic. The ingredients have been sustainably sourced and are traceable right to their origin. The chemical Sodium Hydroxide is actually necessary to create what we call soap, and USDA NOP regulations dictate that ingredients be listed according to what ingredients go into the production process. The final product does not contain vegetable oils or sodium hydroxide, but rather the “soap” made from those ingredients through a chemical change.(source:https://botaniesoap.com/blog/the-truth-about-lye-and-organic-soap/).
Dove’s soap contains a lot of chemicals, which isn’t necessarily bad, as we saw above with Sodium Hydroxide. However, some products in their soap can actually harm your skin, and dry out your hands, especially after the 50th time you washed them in a day. Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD, states that “soap can remove the natural oils produced by glands as natural protection for your skin and can leave it feeling dry and itchy.” The particular ingredient that Dr.Oz is referring to is ‘sodium lauryl sulfate’ (SLS) which is known as a ‘surfactant’ that decreases the surface tension between ingredients making it useful in cleaning products, but it takes a little too much off the top. SLS is the one of the most notable ingredients in soap to cause harm to not only your skin, but the environment as well. Dove uses similar synthetic surfactants, like Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate. In an article posted by alabu.com, they go over this ingredient that has a similar chemical makeup to SLS and how it shares the same irritant effects.
An article that discusses the effects of SLS from the David Suzuki Foundation outlines the chemical compounds in the soap that are ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. These chemicals have been directly linked to interfering with human development as well as negatively impacting your nervous system, so not an ideal ingredient to bathe yourself with.
In conclusion, natural soaps like Heavenly Street’s are made from ingredients that can actually be pronounced and are just as cleansing.
Dermatologist Dr. Ellen Marmur, MD compiles a list of ingredients and surfactants to stay away from here. Even though at first glance it looks like an evil wizard’s grocery list, if we are diligent buyers and avoid these substances we can improve our skin health emphatically.
Soap ingredients can hurt the environment by producing harmful residue and waste. An informative article from The Buffalo News outlines the detrimental environmental effects of triclosan, an ingredient in soap and dental health products that is added to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. The article states that “popular antimicrobial personal products are washing down the drains of our sinks and bathtubs into the Great Lakes…The chemicals disrupt the aquatic food chain, increasing resistant bacteria, creating toxic dioxins and contaminating marine life.” The staggering amounts of triclosan in the Great Lakes, (some of the cleanest water on the planet,) is alarming. Triclosan falls into the category of a substance that may be beneficial to us but bad for the environment, though it is easy to stay away from and I hope after reading you do.
For those that camp, using soap that contains these chemicals directly deposits these chemicals into lakes and streams, disrupting our eco system greatly. An article posted by treehugger.com expresses the irreversible effects of bathing yourself in a lake stating that “The detergent in soaps breaks the surface tension of the water, something that we humans may not notice, but that’s crucial for critters such as water striders to get around. Lower surface tension reduces the oxygen level in the water, causing harm to fish and other aquatic wildlife.” According to the same article, the issue of chemicals on skin ending up in lakes led the state of Hawaii to ban all chemical sunscreens to protect their water purification and wildlife. Using natural soap ensures that no matter where the residue ends up, it will not harm the environment.
While it is difficult to spend the time diligently figuring out which soap has this chemical or that surfactant, a good rule of thumb is to look for simple ingredients along with a multitude of sustainable certifications an environmentally conscious soap could have, as well as going the extra mile to make sure the soap uses natural oils and scents in their product. These natural products will assure you that it won’t have a negative effect on your skin, and its residue won’t have negative effects on the environment. As you can see above, Heavenly Street uses fresh, environmentally and physically safe ingredients.
So what can we do better in general to help ourselves and our planet? I feel like I’m beating an old drum here, but we need to buy conscientiously! If we collectively use the power of our wallets, we’d be surprised at how effective it is at improving our health and the environment; and there is no product that is a better starting point in the journey to being a conscious buyer than soap.