True Lies or True Soap? - Island Thyme Soap Company

True Lies or True Soap?

Your Skin Knows the Difference Between a True Soap and a Detergent. Do You?

The chemistry of soap

Did you know that by law a bath bar that is not truly a “soap” can’t use the word SOAP in the label?  When shopping for personal care items such as hair care products and bath products, how closely do you read the label? Does your favorite cleansing product wash say "beauty bar, cleansing bar, or body bar or body wash" instead of "soap?"  Here's why that might not be good. 

Many commercial soaps contain chemicals that are responsible for many skin cancer types or alter the skin in some manner. They are regulated as cosmetics or drugs.  

According to the FDA, there are very few true soaps on the market today.

"Most body cleansers, both liquid and solid, are actually synthetic detergent products."

In other words, all that lathers is not considered soap. 

If the bar you use for bathing does not claim to be a "soap" on its label, it's probably a synthetic detergent product.  The cocktail of chemicals they contain, the way they are manufactured and the ingredients used prohibit them to be called true soap and use the word “soap” on their packaging.

So what are some of those synthetic chemicals they've added?


Parabens are among the most commonly used preservatives in cosmetic products. The most common parabens used in cosmetic products are methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben. Typically, more than one paraben is used in a product, and they are often used in combination with other types of preservatives to provide preservation against a broad range of microorganisms. The use of mixtures of parabens allows the use of lower levels while increasing preservative activity. They have been linked to possible carcinogenicity, as well as an estrogenic effect from being exposed to the continued use of parabens as preservatives. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in their report "Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in the Environment: Agents of Subtle Change?" reported that the parabens—methyl, propyl, butyl and ethyl displayed estrogenic activity in several tests. It is a medical fact that estrogen stimulates breast cancer and anything absorbed through the skin may be as high as 10 times the concentration of an oral dose. There have been no successful studies to show that repeated and prolonged use of paraben is safe. It is a low-cost synthetic preservative for which many large cosmetic brands have tried to fund study to prove that prolonged usage is safe; all studies failed. Parabens are used in over the counter personal products as a preservative to extend the shelf life of the product. These chemicals can be found in face, body moisturizers, body wash, and cleansers.


A truly toxic skin care ingredient. Dibutylphthalate (DBP, DEP, also butyl ester) helps skin care absorb into skin. DEHP has been classified as a "probable human carcinogen" by the EPA. The Department of Health and Human Services has also classified DEHP as a potential carcinogen. 

Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate

Also known as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) or Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES). This is a foaming agent and the second most concentrated ingredient in most shampoos. READ YOUR LABELS - the FDA requires that label ingredients are listed in the order of highest concentrations - meaning that the highest level of ingredients are listed first. Take a look at your cleanser or shampoo and you will find SLS is second or third. It is used in concrete floor cleaners, engine degreasers, car wash detergents, and just about every commodity soap and shampoo on the market. In the same way as it dissolves the grease on car engines, sodium lauryl sulfate also dissolves the natural protective oils on your skin, which can cause a drying effect.  It's an irritant.

Do you really want to put any of those chemicals on your skin?

True soap is solely made up of fats that when mixed with a strong alkali produce "salt" through a chemical reaction called saponification. The products of the reaction are two: soap and glycerin. Water is also present, but it does not enter into the chemical reaction. The water is only a vehicle for the alkali, which is otherwise a dry powder. The water is evaporated during the curing process, which depending on the fats used, can be anywhere from six weeks to six months.

When you think of "pure soap" do you think of Ivory soap?

Have you noticed that even "Ivory" no longer lists the word "soap" on the label?  New varieties of Ivory contain altered ingredients. "Simply Ivory" contains tetrasodium EDTA It is used as a chelating agent. Put it in layman's terms, it makes hard water become soft. 

While it's true that Dove reaches a pH level of 7  by "re-batching" their soap, they leach all of the natural glycerin (a natural humectant produced when making true soap) out of their bars with their continues processing method of making the soap. Humectants attract moisture to the skin.

Soap making as an art has its origins in ancient Babylon.

"The earliest recorded evidence of the production of soap-like materials dates back to around 2800 BCE in ancient Babylon." A formula for soap consisting of water, alkali, and cassia oil was written on a Babylonian clay tablet around 2200 BC. The Ebers papyrus (Egypt, 1550 BC) indicates the ancient Egyptians bathed regularly and combined animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts to create a soap-like substance.

The name saponification literally means "soap making". The root word, "sapo", is Latin for soap. The Italian word for soap is sapone.   The oils used in modern handmade soap are carefully chosen by the soap maker for the character they impart to the final soap. Coconut oil creates lots of glycerin, makes big bubbly lather, and is very stable. Olive oil has natural antioxidants and its soap makes a creamier lather. The proper recipe and cure can produce a very gentle bar.

Antibacterial bars

But what if you feel true old-fashioned handcrafted soap might be a little too easy on germs and want to cling to products that claim to be an anti-bacterial? In a recent study sponsored by ABC news, numerous products were tested as to efficacy, and true soap ranked right up there with hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial soap. In fact, true soap ranked better than alcohol-based sanitizer. Furthermore, the FDA has come out advising consumers not to use anti-bacterial soap because it assists in creating microbes that are increasingly immune to agents used to kill them.

The skin produces oil which then traps dirt and germs.  Soap has the ability to mix with oil and water, trapping it and them making it possible to remove the dirty layer.  As a person lathers with soap, the soap latches onto the dirt and germs rinsing them away.  True soap does not kill microbes, but rinses them off the skin and down the drain.  The cleansing action of soap is sufficient cleansing.

When shopping for soap, look at the label for the word "soap." 

Or if you're shopping at healthfood stores or farmers markets and the bars are unwrapped, not labeled at all, it's probably true soap and not detergent.

Better yet, let Island Thyme Soap Company be your supplier of luxury true soap.  Your skin will thank you! And remember to wash your hands frequently with "true" soap, singing "Happy Birthday" twice, and hug a handcrafted soapmaker today.

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