BUYING GUIDE TO NATURAL SOAPS
So you have made the decision to be more environmentally conscious in all that you do. This can be accomplished by your own actions and by the products you buy and use.
Some choices, when one goes to the market are obvious, raw vegetables grown organically are the most natural choice. In general, selections on the food you eat are fairly easy, since food stuffs are produced from the land. The consideration is then the amount of processing done or the conditions under which the plant were grown or the animal raised.
Harder and less obvious is the selection of personal care products. This article will deal with the difference between soaps and other personal care cleaning products and not cosmetics. Before we discuss soap particularly, we will discuss what is natural and degrees from the basic state of nature.
The less change from what Nature produces to the end product you use is a degree of "naturalness" that I would like to describe. The most natural are items that are found in nature and are used with little change except for slight mechanical processes. Examples being cutting, washing, grinding (flours), and twisting (fibers for making cloth from wool, cotton and silk).
There are many needs that cannot be met by using articles that are direct from Nature. One example is glass, another bread, and, yes, beer. Oh, I would like to find a beer tree and so would everyone else. A beer tree would be as good as the proverbial money tree. But unfortunately Nature does not provide us with a beer tree, or a glass plant, or bread rock. But Nature has given us a brain with which humans could, using basic items from nature, obtain these commodities. How we change them is when we get into degrees of naturalness. If our changes are mechanical and the results do not have unnatural compounds added, the items are very true to nature. But items such as glass, beer and bread are not just mechanical; they are chemical.
Chemical changes are tricky. They change the basic molecular structure of an item. It is now something completely different. Human beings have been performing chemical reactions ever since they discovered fire. This is a long time ago about 500,000 years. Beer, bread, and glass-making are very old chemical products going back to the dawn of civilization.
So how can we set standards on what is to be natural when dealing with items produced by chemical reactions? Since the early basic reactions were achieved by only the application of heat at normal atmospheric conditions, chemical changes done this way are the most basic and closet to nature. Cooking a cake or bread in your oven comes under that category as well as making beer at the home brewing level. The more chemical reactions you do to achieve the final product or the more complex the reaction such as polymerization, the less natural the end result will be.
Soap too is like beer, bread, and glass. It is not found in nature. It too was an early product produced from a basic chemical reaction. The first soaps were made by simply boiling wood ashes together with fats in water. Then wool was immersed in this mixture to clean the wool before spinning into yarn. Even today in Africa in some tribes, women clean their grease covered cooking pots by rubbing them with wet ashes; thus making soap on the spot. So you see, soap making is about as natural as you can get without having bars of soap growing on trees.
But how many soaps do you find on the market even in natural food stores that are made in the basic way of reacting natural oils and fats with an alkali? Few bars are made by the basic soap making process. There are now fortunately more available as the small home soap makers are turning their craft into small businesses. Among the gels and liquid soaps, there are hardly any that are real soaps but chemical combinations consisting mainly of sodium lauryl sulfate. Even in a local natural food store among their dozen soap gels and liquids, I did not find one that listed its ingredients as simply soap.
All things found on the earth are obtained from the natural world. Even petroleum was once plant material. There is not much difference between a synthetic detergent made from a petroleum base or made from a fatty acid originally in a vegetable oil that has gone through many chemical transformations.
Most of the commercial soap bars on the market today are not true soaps but are cakes of synthesized chemicals containing petroleum derived detergents. These are not usually called soap but rather complexion bars. These are frequently irritating to sensitive skin.
Bars on the market that call themselves soap bars, while chemically soap, are not made in either an environmentally or energy efficient manner. These are generally made from chemically extracted fatty acids reacted under high pressure with alkali. Extraction process introduces trace elements of heavy metals as catalysts. These elements are not good for your skin and can cause irritation.
Found rarely but available from small soap crafters or stores who sell their soaps, are the cold process soaps. These soaps made by reacting whole natural food quality fats and oils directly with an alkali. Trace elements being the vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and other nutrients present in the fats and oils used. Plus the natural glycerine that results from saponification, the basic soap making reaction. These natural trace elements are good for your skin. These soaps are not only extremely mild and gentle on your skin, they are also made in the most energy and environmentally friendly method possible producing an item, while not found in nature, is one that humankind has a great need.
What about soap gels and liquids which are now becoming more popular? By and large most of the them have their major ingredient, sodium lauryl sulfate. These are solutions of sodium lauryl sulfate with herbal extracts and vegetable oils thrown in to appeal to the "green consumer". But the chief part of these products are not natural. Sodium laurylsulfate is a synthetic detergent whether made from petroleum or an extracted plant fatty acid. It is known to be harmful to human skin and mucous membranes. Sodium lauryl sulfate has a toxicology rating of LD50* (Lethal Dose) which means in toxicology studies 50% of the rats given oral dosages were killed. Soap, by the way, does not have a Lethal Dose value.
It is difficult to chose the best personal products that are natural. There can be some guidelines. Buy bar soaps over complexion bars, and cold process hand made soap over both. For buying the best gels and liquids, avoid labels that list sodium lauryl sulfate. Search for those few labels that list the major ingredient as soap made from vegetable oils and/or fats.
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