People sometimes ask me whether our handmade soap will last as long as a supermarket style commercial soap bar. This is a good question, given that the handmade bar is often more expensive. (There are many commercial bars that ARE more expensive than handmade soap - I'll return to that point later in the post). As you might expect, the answer to 'how long will a soap last?' is a little complicated. You need to understand something about the ingredients that go into soap to get a complete answer.
Oils such as Palm, Coconut, Tallow, Shea Butter and Cocoa butter produce very hard bars of soap. Oils such as Olive, Rice Bran, Macadamia, Sweet Almond, Grapeseed, Apricot Kernel, Jojoba and Castor oil tend to make softer style soap. Commercial soap bars are predominantly made with Palm Oil, Coconut Oil and Tallow, so they are hard.
So why don't we just use these oils and make a hard bar?
The fatty acids that make up each type of oil display particular characteristics when made into soap. Palm, Coconut and Tallow make great cleansers, removing dirt and oils with ease. The problem is that they also tend to leave the skin feeling a bit too 'squeaky clean', and can make the user's skin feel dry, itchy and sometimes irritated.
Softer oils, tend to be more emollient. They soothe, condition, soften and leave the skin feeling more moisturised. Good bars of soap are formulated for particular needs. Laundry soap will contain Palm, Coconut or Tallow for superior cleansing. Bars for dry, mature or sensitive skin will include high proportions of soft oils, and possibly other soothing ingredients such as goat's milk. The truth is, a rock hard bar of soap with ingedients dominated by hard oils is not going to be the best choice for your skin. Now,I don't want to give you the impression that handmade soap is soft to the touch or will waste away quickly in the shower. Artisan soapmakers balance their formulas to achieve the right mix of hardness and gentleness. They will also cure their soaps well. The minimum cure time is 4-6 weeks but can be up to 6 months for specialty bars such as 100% olive oil.
I did say I'd come back to the issue of expensive commercial soap bars. Palm oil, Coconut oil and Tallow are amongst the cheapest oils, yet you will find commercial soap bars ranging in price from $1-00 right up to $20-00 per bar. How can this be? Commercial soap companies use some pretty fancy terms to describe their soap. You may have seen terms such as 'French Milled' or 'Triple Milled' on some of the more expensive soaps. The photo above is a sample of 'soap noodles', which form the base for 'milled' soaps. Noodles are made from hard oils such as palm oil,coconut oil and tallow. Soap manufacturers buy soap noodles in bulk and 'mill' them into a fine powder. Pigments and perfume are added to the powder before forming it into moulded bar shapes. With their dyes, perfumes, artificial additives, preservatives and harsh oils, commercial soap bars bear very little resemblance to handmade soap bars.
You now have the knowledge to examine the ingredients on both handmade and commercial soap bars and make an informed decision about what's best for your skin. In the next post I'll share some tips about getting the longest life out of handmade soap bars.