The humble soap bar, once a staple found in most bathrooms across the world, almost went the way of the dodo but recently, like a phoenix it has risen from the ashes (pun not intended!). It doesn’t matter what you wash with as long as you get it clean, right? This no-nonsense approach might work for washing a car, but your skin is a little more complicated and to find out why, it’s time to take a trip through history.
The history of Soap
The light bulb, penicillin, the wheel, fire, the internal combustion engine and soap. What do all of these have in common? Each one is considered the greatest creation of mankind. Soap!? Well it’s the most basic cleaning agent for humans. What makes it truly the greatest creation of mankind? Soap is the most basic weapon in the war to protect our health and to fight disease-causing microbes.
The earliest written record for soap is credited to the ancient Babylonians. The evidence for this is Babylonian clay containers dated at 2800 B.C. Inscriptions on the containers present the earliest known written soap recipe and they state that the product was made from fats combined with wood ash and water. These early references to soap and soap making were for the use of soap to wash wool and cotton in preparation for weaving into cloth, soap was not necessarily used to wash the body.
However, it is the Arabs which produced soap from vegetable oils, such as olive oil, along with the inclusion of perfume & colour. Sodium Hydroxide was used for the first time around 850 A.D. and it hasn’t changed from the current soap sold in the market.
The Benefits of Soap Bars
With a long history of use, the humble bar soap is a cheap and effective way to cleanse yourself. The resurgence in recent times however has been on the issue of the benefits soap can bring to the environment.
As the bar soap is typically made without water, it doesn’t require airtight, sealed packaging. It can be totally unpackaged or with minimal, renewable packaging. Without water, it cannot sustain life either, so typically bar soaps do not contain irritation causing preservatives like parabens, phenoxyethanol and isothiazolinones.
The downsides of Soap Bars
This is not to say that bar soaps are completely benign. Healthy skin pH is around 5.5, which is slightly acidic, but soaps have a much higher pH, sometimes as high as 11. The pH of a substance is a number from 0 to 14 that tells how acidic or alkaline the substance is; water is neutral, so its pH is about 7. This pH difference sounds like a minor issue, but it can cause two very big and very real problems.
First, a mildly alkaline environment makes a great breeding ground for the bacteria that cause acne — not an ideal situation for your face, especially since men tend to be a little more prone to longer-lasting acne.
Secondly another problem with soap’s alkalinity is that it interferes with one of your skin’s primary functions: to serve as a barrier. Your skin’s chemistry helps it act as a wall to keep bacteria and other invaders out, while keeping moisture in. Changing your skin’s pH can damage this barrier and let too much moisture escape, leaving your skin dry and irritated. Add this to the fact that the skin on your face is more delicate than the rest of your body and you’re asking for trouble.
So I shouldn’t use Bar Soaps?
The act of bathing, at first glance, seems pretty simple: Hop in the shower, suds up, feel clean, and be done with it. But as anyone who follows our Science in Skincare series here at R10 Labs knows, even the simplest daily activities usually sit atop a mess of complex issues, somewhat like an iceberg. It’s pretty fascinating to stick our heads underwater to suss out the true implications of our everyday choices.
Skin, our largest organ is fantastic at regenerating and healing from the constant damage we inflict upon it. But there is only so much it can take before irreversible changes are caused. When soap was first used, life resembled nothing of what it does today. Only until recently, do we have a bathroom, modern sanitation, transportation and mechanical help such as combine harvesters.
Personal hygiene in nearly every era preceding, was not conducted with the same rigour as today. Bathing was, at best, conducted yearly. Dirt and grime were far more common, after all, there was no sanitation, with human waste simply discarded onto the streets or local water courses.
Using soap infrequently did no major harm. However, personal hygiene in the modern age have progressed on, where it’s expected for you to bathe yourself at least daily. There are no issues with using soap infrequently, however if using daily, it is best to follow up with a nourishing, pH balanced moisturiser to reverse some of the effects of soap.
What’s the best for me?
Whether you prefer to stick with the traditional bar or soap or want to go with the modern gel’s, the best choice for you ultimately depends on how frequently you use it and with anything, what ingredients those products are made from. As we have always said, it is always the ingredients which make the biggest different (and why we are so proud to display all the ingredients we use).
Both soaps and gels can and do contain ingredients which can damage your skin. While soaps have a high pH, gels can contain SLS & other ionic surfactants which can similarly damage skin. Both can similarly also have irritation causing fragrances, colours & other ingredients which causes irritation and inflamma’aging. Luckily, you aren’t doomed to dry, ashy skin forever, with our 100% natural skincare.
If you’re not quite ready to drop soap, consider a natural or handmade small-batch soap. Handmade soaps tend to be less harsh than commercially produced bars and generally use higher-quality fats and oils during the saponification process. Good ingredients like shea butter, coconut oil, or olive oil are often the base for these soaps, whereas commercially produced bars use harsh ingredients and low-quality oils and fats.
However really dig into the ingredients, even supposedly ‘natural’, handmade, small-batch soaps can contain all manner of ingredients in an attempt to greenwash and fool you.