Clean beauty has a lot of time for solid products, like shampoo or toothpaste bars, because they are more eco-friendly. But solid soap does not necessarily mean clean soap (good for both the skin and the planet). Here are the explanations.
Clean soap calls for a clean production process
With a little marketing, any soap can appear to be natural and environmentally responsible.
Beyond the packaging and ingredients, you have to look at the production process and favour age-old methods like cold-process saponification. This is a true “slow production” method which is difficult to carry out on a large scale. It’s a process very different to that of mass-produced soaps. These are made from soap pearls which often come from Asia. Once they have melted, these pearls are kneaded in a machine with colourants, preservatives and perfumes added.
Another merit of cold saponification is that the gentle, moisturising, nourishing glycerine produced during the production process is kept intact in the formulation. This differentiates cold-process from hot-process saponification (used to make Marseilles soap, for example) whereby the glycerine is removed to be sold separately. An added bonus for the planet: the process requires little heat and water. Moreover, soap made using cold-process saponification is very stable and fully biodegradable. This means that it doesn’t need any preservatives that are synthetic, polluting, not very biodegradable or toxic to the environment. This cold-process saponification, which requires at least four weeks’ drying, vouches for a real wish to produce a clean soap.
Clean soap calls for clean ingredients
Soap is the result of a chemical reaction between oils (or plant-based butters) and an alkali, like soda.
So what’s the arch-enemy of clean soap? Palm oil, which because of unscrupulous producers is even found in so-called traditional soaps like Aleppo and Marseilles soaps. So a clean soap is one made without palm oil, one that’s vegan, free of preservatives and parabens and made from 100% natural ingredients. Its production process, which is directly linked to the ingredients, requires butters such as shea or oils such as or olive or coconut. To be completely “clean”, the plant-based butters must ideally be ecosourced or sourced via responsible production methods. Obviously, there’s no sulphate in a clean soap, because this surfactant, used to make lather, strips and dries out the skin.
Zero-waste soap – locally sourced with a short supply chain
These artisan soaps are rarely sold in mass retail. You’ll find them on the “committed to zero waste” distribution circuit or in organic stores. They are easy to spot due to their uneven, oily appearance. You’ll sometimes find them sold loose or by weight, via sales direct from the producer or in organic stores, where they are generally packaged in a minimalist cardboard box. Be aware that the cardboard packaging of organic soaps can distract you from the fact that they may contain palm oil.
So clean soap is mainly produced via cold-process saponification – a process that guarantees 100% biodegradability – with non-polluting ingredients that keep the skin’s balance right.