The general assumption is that soap is bad for you, and it is. But there are always exceptions to the rule. Guest contributor Shari Strosser shares a few reasons why handmade soap can actually be good for you and how to find ones that won't harm your skin.
What makes your skin feel tighter than a bad Hollywood face lift minus the "trout pout?» Soap, of course. The mere mention of soap tends to evoke the familiar and dreaded memory of dry, irritated skin. Why would anyone even consider using soap, especially on the face, when there are so many other appealing and popular cleansers? Believe it or not, handmade soap formulated from scratch is in a totally different league. While handmade soap has gained tremendous popularity over the past several years as a skin-soothing cleanser, many people remain apprehensive about it. Top-quality handmade soap is just as kind to the skin as expensive cleansers and, in many cases, is much better. Still skeptical? Pull up a chair and read on.
1. The down and Dirty
Who wants a face that looks like it’s done hard time in a rinse and hold dishwasher cycle and then been sentenced for three days in the clothes dryer with coarse-grit sandpaper? Soap can be defined as the result of a chemical reaction that occurs when vegetable or animal oils are combined with a base of either sodium hydroxide (lye) or potassium hydroxide (potash), and a liquid. Commercial brands of soap often contain inexpensive beef fat (sodium tallowate) which is a great cleanser but, on its own, is downright harsh. Chemical hardeners, colorants and other irritating ingredients are also added. Glycerin, a moisturizing by-product of soap, is often extracted from commercial soap for use in various other products. Lower-quality ingredients, irritating chemicals, the lack of glycerin, or a combination thereof, lead to harsh soap. It’s no wonder soap has gotten a bad rap.
2. Clean up Your Act
An experienced and educated soap maker is familiar with the fatty-acid components of the vegetable oils he or she uses and the properties they lend to the finished soap. For example, olive oil is a natural humectant and attracts moisture to the skin without leaving a greasy residue. An unscented 100% olive oil soap provides gentle, non-irritating cleansing and moisture to even the most sensitive or—how shall I say it?—experienced skin. Coconut oil produces abundant lather. Avocado oil is rich in vitamins and emollients. Let's not forget jojoba oil. Because it is so similar to the natural oils that the body produces on a regular basis, it is easily absorbed and effective on all skin types. These are just a few examples; there are so many other skin-friendly oils.
3. Superfat is Totally All That
High-quality, natural, handmade soap is made with skin-nourishing, noncomedogenic vegetable oils and does not contain chemical hardeners, lather enhancers or dyes. Many soap makers choose to incorporate pure plant essential oils for scent. Soap makers «superfat» their batches for extra richness and moisture. This means that excess oils are intentionally added which will not saponify (turn to soap) so that their beneficial properties remain in the finished product. Also, the skin-loving by-product, glycerin, remains in handmade soap.
4. Pure Additions
The inclusion of natural additives for specific purposes is an important added bonus. Some examples are: kaolin clay for gentle cleansing and smoothness; French green clay for unclogging pores; calendula flowers for anti-inflammatory relief; milk for skin-softening benefits; and oatmeal for mild exfoliation. Mineral-rich ancient salt from the Himalayan Mountains can be soothing for an array of skin issues, including eczema, acne and other problematic conditions.The list of skin-enhancing additives goes on and on.
5. Don’t Get All Mushy Now
One thing to keep in mind is that due to the lack of needless chemicals and other irritating additives, handmade soap needs to breathe on a well-draining soap dish in between uses so that it lasts longer and doesn't become soft. This is a small price to pay for supple skin. Those who use handmade soap would never dream of using another cleanser. However, for those who remain reluctant to give it a try, your own independent research on the benefits of the ingredients is sure to provide further enlightenment and appreciation.
6. Let’s Talk Dirty
There are an abundance of handmade soap varieties—even some with extra grit for specific purposes like dirty mechanic’s and gardener’s hands. The addition of clay makes a smooth shaving soap and shampoo bar. A cook’s favorite: soap infused with coffee to get rid of strong odors on your hands like onions and garlic. (For me, it’s the canned cat food smell or, worse yet, the husband’s dirty socks. Whew!).
7. No Need to Jump out of Your Skin
Hopefully, your urge to hide under the bed from soap has diminished. There are so many skilled and knowledgeable soap makers located all over the world producing top-notch products. After experiencing the soothing effects of quality handmade soap, the thought of "soap" will evoke feelings of luxury and spa-like serenity. Promise! Plus, after enjoying the skin-pampering results, others will have no doubt when you announce it's your 29th birthday, yet again.
Do you currently cleanse with handmade soap? If so, what are your favorites? If not, what are you waiting for? If you give it a try, I bet your skin will send you candy and flowers as a token of its appreciation.