Many consumers of natural soaps ask why are the natural soaps opaque,while the so called glycerine soaps are transparent. This is a question that puzzles many who are searching for the most natural soap bar product they can buy.
Natural soaps contain the glycerine that was originally part of the oil or fatto generate the soap. When the soap molecule is split the result is free glycerine and soap. Glycerine is found in all soaps made by the "cold process", which does not salt out the glycerin by the introduction of abrine solution. Transparent soaps in addition to glycerine, if they are madeby the "cold process" contain alcohol as well. There are several recipes forthe making of homemade transparent soaps. These recipes all require the melting down of cured soap and adding alcohol. The simple alcohol used in these recipes vary from pure grain, rubbing, whiskey or vodka for the alcohol. For the home soap maker it is suggested that transparent soaps be made in small batches. It is difficult to control the melting of the soap into the alcohol without igniting the mixture of soap and alcohol. It is soap suspended in a solution of alcohol that makes a soap transparent; not the glycerine in the soap itself.
When checking the labels of commercially prepared transparent soaps,alcohol is listed. The higher price transparent soaps do not use a simple alcohol to bring about the transparent solution of soap. These soaps have a complex alcohol called sorbitol. Sorbitol, originally obtained from amountain ash, is produced from hydrogenated glucose The soaps that employ sorbitol are usually not natural soaps but are made from components of isolated fatty acids. Basically to answer the original question a soap to be transparent must be suspended in an alcohol solution or be a composition bar of fatty acids in a sorbitol solution.
The transparent natural soap bar might be pretty to look at and fine for decoration. The addition of the alcohol makes the soap drying, an attribute that most people do not want or need in their soaps for use.
The difference between alcohols is based on the number of carbon atoms that make up the alcohol molecule. The lower number of carbon atoms,the alcohol is called a simple alcohol and in nature is a drying substanceas it evaporates quickly. A longer chain alcohol which includes glycerol (glycerine) and sorbitol is classified as a humectant and has moisturizing properties. Complex alcohols are heavy and sweet substances. Glycerine and sorbital both are both considered safe ingredients for consumption. Many of the sugar free foods on the markets including sugar free chewing gum toothpaste, baked goods such as cookies, and candies contain sorbitol. It is very similar to glycerol in its reactions.
Transparent soaps made with sorbitol and glycerine will not be drying like those made with the simpler drying alcohols. The problem is the extraenergy required to produce a transparent soap made with sorbitol. While sorbitol was first isolated from the berries of the mountain ash in the 19th century; it is now synthesized by the hydrogenation of glucose. This requires extra energy to produce a transparent soap than a natural soap. The glycerine in a natural soap yields all the moisturizing benefits of sorbitol without the extra energy Glycerine a is natural result of the soapmaking process.
When a person decides to live a more natural life style; one should consider the amount of energy necessary for the production of any item. Energy in manufacturing requires a drain on our energy sources . One is by direct use of petrochemicals to manufacture artificial substances. The other being the use of energy in extra steps in production. Electricity the energy that drives manufacturing operations depends too on the use of the world's supply of fossil fuels.
Sorbitol is used as a humectant in many types of products for protection against loss of moisture content. The moisture-stabilizing and textural properties of sorbitol are used inthe production of confectionery, baked goods and chocolate where products tend to become dry or harden. Its moisture-stabilizing action protects these products from drying and maintains their initial freshness during storage.
Sorbitol is very stable and chemically unreactive. It can withstand high temperatures and does not participate in Maillard (browning) reactions. This is an advantage, for example,in the production of cookies where a fresh color with no appearance of browning is desired. Sorbitol also combines well with other food ingredients such as sugars, gelling agents, proteins and vegetable fats. It functions well in many food products such as chewing gums, candies, frozen desserts, cookies, cakes, icings and fillings as well as oral care products, including toothpaste and mouthwash.
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