In these time of Covid-19 when hygiene is king, we are all washing our hands more regularly than ever before. This takes its toll on our skin, leaving hands feeling dry and in some extreme cases, causes cracked skin. Hand washing doesn't have to be like this !
Not many people know that what they are washing their hands with is detergent and not soap.
Below is an extract from my e-book HOW TO BECOME THE PERFECT SOAP MAKER that describes the differences between detergent and soap to help you make more informed purchasing decisions when it comes to buying "soap"
In modern times, the use of soap has become commonplace in industrialised nations due to a better understanding of the role of hygiene in reducing the population size of pathogenic microorganisms.
Nowadays, most of what we think of as soap; the various shampoos, liquid soaps and washes we use, isn’t soap at all, but rather modern chemical detergents.
It has become so common to call detergents “soap,” that most people would be confused if you asked for a “liquid hand detergent” when shopping !
It is unlawful for industrially produced detergent products to be marketed as soap. These industrial giants have found canny ways to disguise their detergent products as beauty bars, beauty foaming bars … etc. After all, would you buy their product if labelled "beauty detergent" ? What's more, just because a little bit of oatmeal or similar is added doesn't make it natural.
Although both the soap and detergents perform same action, i.e. cleansing, foaming etc., there is a significant difference between them.
Detergents are generally made from petroleum products with synthetic surfactants, foaming agents and alcohol being their primary constituents.
Where a plant based oil is used in the formula, it is often palm oil as it is extremely cheap yet devasting to the rain forests.
However, some manufacturers use beef tallow (fat), in soap making, as this is an unused byproduct of meat processing, which can be obtained very cheaply. While saponified beef tallow can be used to make a satisfactory soap, there are some substances in tallow, which that do not saponify, and may cause acne and skin breakouts.
Detergents do not contain glycerin (see SOAP section below)
The manufacture process isn't a respecter of the environment. Highly polluting requiring enormous energy consumption, the "soap" produced bears no resemblance to the methods used by our ancestors over 4000 years ago and which are still used today by artisan soap-makers.
To remove the disagreeable odour of these chemicals, detergents are heavily scented with cheap, synthetic and artificial fragrances.
Detergents ingredients also include preservatives and antibacterial agents (to increase their shelf life) that make the detergents frequent causes of allergies and reactions.
True soaps are superior quality and are generally produced by small artisan soap-makers with natural saturated and unsatured fatty acids such as plant based oils and butters i.e. almond oil, shea butter, babassu oil...etc and an alkaline solution call lye.
During the saponification process (where the acid fats react with the alkali in an exothermic reaction to create soap), a natural substance is unleashed from the molecular chains in the fatty acids. This substance is glycerin, a humectant meaning that it attracts moisture from the air and this remains "free" in the finished soap.
The magic of this glycerin in soap is that, when used to wash your hands, face or body, the glycerin deposits the trapped moisture into the skin's epidermis, leaving your skin hydrated and soft. No dry skin or cracked skin here !
What you might find interesting or even astounding is that this glycerin IS formed during mass manufacturing but it is skimmed out of the detergent and used in more expensive cosmetic products such as face creams and body lotions.
This glycerin has a high commercial value and this is why your beauty bar may only cost less than 2 Euros as these canny industrial giants know that this beauty bar will cause dry skin and you'll head off to by a soothing lotion, often costing more than 2 Euros, made from the exact same glycerin that was extracted from your beauty bar.
Back to real soap:
The colourants used in artisan soap relies often on minerals & clays, plant extracts (seaweed, damask rose powder..) spices (curcuma, ginger, paprika) chocolate and other ingredients from nature's panier.
Many soap are fragranced either with essential oils or high grade cosmetic fragrances, the latter undergoing stringent, rigorous laboratory tests before being approved for cosmetic use. Conversely, essential oils aren't controlled in this way and relies on the artisan's ethos to buy top quality essential oils to fragrance their soap.
It is important to understand that soap fragranced with essential oils do not carry the beneficial properties of the essential oils used. This is because the delicate molecular structure of essential oils aren't able to survive the high temperatures achieved naturally during the saponification process. What remains is a delicate fragrance that often dissipates quickly leaving the soap scent free. This is one of the reasons why artisan soap makers like to use regulated cosmetic fragrances to ensure a long lasting fragrance in their soap.
Artisan soap require very less energy in the manufacturing process. It is possible to make soaps without having leftover by-products, which tend to go to the landfill, and the soap, which flows down the drain while cleaning, is biodegradable. These soaps have a pH of 9.5 to 10 (alkaline) that makes them effective cleansing agents and eliminates the requirement for harmful antibacterial chemicals and preservatives.
Whilst cheap, detergents such as shampoos, body washes, gel hand soap etc are made from synthetic, petroleum based products. These products are known to be the cause of dermatological problems such as acne, psoriasis, dryness etc.
Superior quality artisan soap harnesses the goodness of nature into one single product that is capable of serving as a shampoo, face and body wash, shaving foam, stain remover and even a laundry cleanser that, when grated into shards and used in the washing machne's dispenser, will bring your clothes up clean and fresh.
The Science Bit
Now that you know more about why you've got dry hands with constant hand washing, here's a cool experiment you can do at home with the kids to satisfy inquisitive minds
Download the Activity here
Happy hand-washing !