A good bar of natural soap is becoming popular in modern showers today. Many people don’t like the itchy drying chemicals found in artificial soaps.
Natural bar soap is a kind of soap that minimizes chemical processing and artificial ingredients. It’s crafted in the shape of a bar. Natural soap works like regular bar soap. The final product is mostly plant-based and natural in origin. Many people switch to natural soap to soothe their skin.
- Here’s the best natural bar soap (in my opinion): click for my recommended natural soap page on this website. I have several favorites.
|Disclaimer: Always ask your dermatologist before using any soap. Some people have allergies or unwanted reactions to soap in general, even to natural products. This article is for informational purposes only and contains no medical or beauty advice. These products are my personal favorites, but they might not work for everyone.|
What is Natural Soap Made Of?
Here’s a list of the best natural bar soap ingredients:
- Coconut Oil
- Olive Oil
- Shea Butter
- Castor Oil
- Grapeseed Oil
- Jojoba Oil
- Rose Water
- Avocado Oil
- Palm Oil (make sure it’s sustainably-sourced)
- Hemp Oil
- Rosehip Oil
- Essential Oils (choose your favorite scent)
- Himalayan Pink Salt
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Sodium Hydroxide* (not natural, but needed for a chemical reaction to make soap – it disappears in the process)
Basically, the oils (except essential oils) and fatty ingredients like shea butter are warmed and combined, then cooled by mixing them with a sodium hydroxide solution (made with purified water and/or rose water). The essential oils are added last, as the mixture is cooling, to retain their scent better.
Some people think that natural soap shouldn’t contain sodium hydroxide (also known as lye). But to keep things legal, the FDA says that in order to be called “soap”, the oils or fats must be mixed with an alkali to legally be regulated as soap. 1
An alkali isn’t considered “natural” by most people, but it’s necessary for soap, according to the FDA. Sodium hydroxide serves as an alkali to keep the product effective and legal. There can be other alkali substances used in soap-making besides lye, it just happens to be the most common.
Here’s the good news: if soap is made properly, the alkali actually disappears in the process. The FDA reassures us of that on their website. 1
So don’t be nervous if you see “sodium hydroxide” on your soap label! The company is following the law and the government assures us that the bar of soap should be free of lye if it’s made correctly.
What is saponification in soap making?
If you see the word “saponified” on the soap label, that means the fats or oils in the soap have been properly reacted with an alkali in order to form soap, according to government regulation. Don’t worry, if the soap is made right, there shouldn’t be any sodium hydroxide (lye) left in it.
It’s the alkali (lye) that makes the oils turn to a solid. That’s why soap is firm. Without lye, the oils would remain in a liquid state.
Basic Soap Ingredients
The basic ingredients in a bar of natural soap are quite simple. Basic soap ingredients include:
- Natural fats or oils
- An alkali (a chemical like lye that makes the oils turn into a solid)
When these 2 components are properly combined, a chemical reaction occurs that gradually turns the fats and oils into a solid substance. As the liquid oils transform into a solid, the chemical alkali disappears. This process leaves a more natural product when the lye (or sodium hydroxide) is fully used up in the reaction.
The above stated process gives you a basic bar of soap without color or scent. To get fancy, many soap makers add beautiful natural dyes and organic essential oils to make them look and smell amazing. Of course these additions aren’t necessary, but they make the soap more enjoyable.
Sodium Hydroxide in Soap (Lye)
According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) Code of Federal Regulations (which lists specific substances generally recognized as safe), it states that sodium hydroxide may be used as a pH control agent and a processing aid. 5
There are defined limits as to how much is considered safe. Here’s a link to the FDA’s website if you’d like to read more details: FDA website link.
Sodium hydroxide is considered safe when good manufacturing practices are implemented. 6
What is Natural Soap Base?
Natural soap base is the main bulk of soap that’s made up of saponified fats or oils without any scent or color added. It’s like a blank canvas to a painting. Natural soap base alone would give you fragrance-free and dye-free soap.
If you prefer scented and beautifully-colored soap, you can always add your favorite essential oils and natural dyes to create a natural soap with personality. Some people like to put in additional moisturizers.
What are Natural Soap Dyes and Colorants?
Many people today are trying to avoid soap with artificial dyes. A good natural soap should contain colorants that come from plants or clay.
Nature offers amazingly vibrant colors that can be extracted from raw natural materials.
Natural soap dyes and colorants should be sourced from:
- Roots of a plant
- Natural clay from the earth
- Plant leaves
- Herbs & spices
- Volcanic materials
These ingredients are unprocessed and harvested raw, properly cleaned, and dried. The dried material is ground into a super fine powder and used as a natural dye for soap.
To prevent the color from looking blotchy or tacky in the soap, the natural dye should be thoroughly dissolved and blended in a small amount of oil, filtered (if needed), then mixed into the soap base. If it’s added straight to the soap without smoothing out the color first, it can look grainy, uneven, and downright amateur.
Is there such a thing as an all natural bar of soap?
Not really. Even though the lye in soap disappears as the soap hardens, it still needs to be added in order to turn the liquid oils to a solid. The FDA regulates the word “soap” which requires the bulk of the product to come from the alkali salts of fatty acids. That means something generally considered unnatural, like lye, must be used as the alkali, even though it goes away as the soap solidifies. 1
So, it definitely doesn’t start out natural, but it can end up mostly natural. An all natural soap isn’t exactly all natural to start out with, so the answer is somewhat ambiguous. What is an all natural soap? It doesn’t unequivocally exist because of the necessary presence of a reactive alkali in the early stages of soap-making. Here is the most natural bar of soap that I use (click to visit my natural soap page on this website).
In my personal experience, these soaps (link above) are the healthiest soaps out there. But what works for me won’t work for everyone, so make sure you ask your dermatologist before using any natural soap, or any common synthetic soap especially.
Some people who want to avoid lye in soap use a homemade paste of chickpea flour (or oat flour), milk powder, neem oil, and water. They use it as a gentle body scrub in the shower. This is not approved by the FDA and cannot be considered a natural soap by law, but it’s a way some people naturally cleanse their skin without chemicals. Don’t try this without asking your dermatologist.
What is the best natural bar soap?
I’ve used a lot of bar soap in my lifetime and have spent a lot of money trying to find the best one. It’s actually quite hard to buy a good natural bar of soap that works. What is the most natural bar soap? For the best natural bar soap brands that I personally use and trust, visit my recommended soap page to see the top picks on this website.
It’s important to always use a paraben-free bar soap. There’s conflicting research out there that makes people question the safety of parabens in personal products. I would rather be safe than sorry. Why risk it when there are other options?
I’ve used a good mix of both cheap natural soap and high-end natural soap. Surprisingly, the inexpensive natural bar soap is almost as good as the more expensive stuff.
Handmade soap bars are absolutely wonderful. They have a personalized touch that makes the shower experience that much sweeter.
Is Natural Bar Soap Better?
Many people say that natural bar soap is better because it contains a higher amount of natural ingredients. Even though people may have allergies to any soap in general, most people agree that they have fewer allergies with natural soap as compared to common drugstore soaps with harsh detergents and artificial ingredients.
I’ve personally tried both synthetic drugstore soaps and natural soaps. Not just a few brands, but a lot of brands from each category.
When I used the chemical unnatural soaps, my skin was dry, red, irritated and itchy. They also had a strange lingering scent that smelled like nursing home aftershave.
When I switched to natural soaps, I never had a bad reaction to any of them. Not all of the natural soaps completely eliminated my odor. For example, I’ve never found a glycerin soap that abolished my odor entirely. I don’t recommend any glycerin-based soaps if you’re looking for a natural bar soap for body odor cleansing purposes.
However, after much trial and error, I did find a few soaps that I personally use and recommend that totally work. They completely knock out my body odor. To see my absolute favorite natural soaps that work, here’s my natural soap page on this website. It contains a natural bar soap review that highlights my top picks and some good herbal soaps.
Is Natural Soap Good for Skin?
Many people say that natural soap is really good for their skin. It’s great for mine! As compared to common drugstore soaps with harsh detergents and artificial ingredients, they say natural soap is by far the preferred choice. But a few people have allergies, even to natural products. So a person should always ask their dermatologist before using any natural soap.
If a person doesn’t have an allergic reaction to the following ingredients found in natural soap, and their dermatologist gives permission to safely use them, the following natural soap ingredients have been shown to be good for skin in scientific studies 3 :
Helps form collagen
Promotes healing of wounds
Protects skin’s outer barrier
Fights bacteria, viruses, and fungus
Partially blocks out UV rays from the Sun (SPF)
|Avocado Oil 2||Increases collagen|
|Jojoba Oil||Similar to human skin sebum (nourishing)|
Helps keep skin hydrated
Repairs skin’s natural barrier
|Hemp Seed Oil||Moisturizing|
Rich in vitamin A, C, E and beta carotene
High in linoleic acid and a-linolenic acid
|Shea Butter||Anti-inflammatory 4|
What bars of soap should you avoid?
It’s best to avoid bars of soap that cause any kind of skin allergy, itching, burning, redness, or irritation. It’s not worth it. Always consult with a dermatologist to determine what kind of soap is best for your type of skin. All people are different. What works for one person may not work for another. It’s best to get individualized skin tips and guidance from a doctor, specifically a dermatologist.
Many people who complain of irritated skin from regular bars of synthetic soap often switch to natural soap. When I made the switch, my skin was definitely happier and no longer dry, itchy, red, or irritated.
To see the bars of soap that I personally use, here’s my natural soap page on this website.
Where to Buy Natural Bar Soap
Thankfully, many regular stores, drugstores, and even grocery stores are now carrying natural soap. Because of popular demand, the shelves are starting to get stocked with more natural options.
Many people are tired of chemicals and harsh ingredients in their personal products.
Natural soap can also be purchased online. To see where I get mine, here’s my recommended natural soap page on this website.
What is an organic soap?
An organic soap is soap that’s been legally certified as organic by an accredited certifying agent. A soap cannot be sold with the word “organic” on the label unless the product has received approval by the legal authority.
An organic soap must contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients in order to qualify for the “organic” seal on the product.
In the United States, you’ll see the green-and-white “USDA ORGANIC” stamp on foods and products that have been inspected and legally certified to contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients.
These organic ingredients can’t be grown in soil that uses synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. The product can’t be genetically-modified. Artificial dyes aren’t allowed. There are no synthetic additives in the final product and the soap can’t be exposed to irradiation. The farmer’s who grow the ingredients use natural methods to the greatest extent possible.
So, an organic soap is going to contain a minimum of 95% natural ingredients in the final product, which is pretty good in my opinion (compared to the chemical bars of soap out there).
For soap, sodium hydroxide is allowed to be used in the soap-making process for organic soap, even though it isn’t natural. Isn’t that interesting? The good thing is that if the soap is made properly, the sodium hydroxide disappears as the soap hardens, leaving a product that’s more natural. The accredited certifying agent is responsible for determining the safety of the product. Check for the USDA seal.
If you see the USDA seal on your soap, you should feel pretty good knowing it’s been regulated for safety.
Hopefully, this article helped you understand what natural bar soap is and the kinds of ingredients it contains.
Even though natural soap isn’t totally natural in the early stages of creation, the end product is much more natural than most chemical soaps on the market today.
I love using natural bar soap because it makes me feel clean, smell good, and it keeps my skin soft and smooth. There’s no way in the world I’m going back to the artificial stuff!
Here’s the best natural soap: click for my top picks on this website.
1. FDA U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Frequently Asked Questions on Soap. Updated by FDA website: 11/15/2017. Accessed: 06/14/2020. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-products/frequently-asked-questions-soap
2. de Oliveira A.P., Franco E.d.S., Rodrigues Barreto R., Cordeiro D.P., de Melo R.G., de Aquino C.M.F., e Silva A.A.R., de Medeiros P.L., et al. Effect of Semisolid Formulation of Persea Americana Mill (Avocado) Oil on Wound Healing in Rats. Evid. Based Complement. Alternat. Med. 2013; 2013: 8. doi: 10.1155/2013/472382. [PMC free article]
3. Lin TK, Zhong L, Santiago JL. Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. Int J Mol Sci. 2018; Jan; 19(1): 70. doi: 10.3390/ijms19010070 [PMC free article]
4. Verma N, Chakrabarti R, Das RH, Gautam HK. Anti-inflammatory Effects of Shea Butter Through Inhibition of iNOS, COX-2, and Cytokines via the Nf-κB Pathway in LPS-activated J774 Macrophage Cells. J Complement Integr Med. 2012; Jan 12; 9: Article 4. [PubMed]
5. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Volume 3. (Revised as of April 1, 2019). 21CFR184.1763. Sodium hydroxide. Retrieved from: https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=184.1763. Last accessed: 06/16/2020.
6. US. Food & Drug Administration. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Volume 6. (Revised as of April 1, 2019). 21CFR582.1763. Sodium hydroxide. Retrieved from: https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfCFR/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=582.1763 Last accessed: 06/16/2020.