Home » Did You Know » Soap

Did You Know: Soap

Soap history dates back to around 2500-2300 B.C. and has an interesting evolution!
On rare occasions when cleansing was needed for a social or religious function, ancient peoples mixed fine sand with oils and aromatic herbs and applied this compote to their bodies, scraping away the grime and dirt with abrasive stones.
Cleopatra applied a mixture of essential oils, fine white sand, and other natural oils to cleanse her skin, using an abrasive tool to pull the residue from her body afterwards.
Excavations of the ancient town of Pompeii show evidence of a soap factory thousands of years old.
Roman baths were not supplied with soap, nor did their patrons and clientele use soap to cleanse themselves. Instead, a combination of oils and essences were used during hot water baths.
From the 8th century on, cities like Marseilles in France and Castilla in Spain were important soapmaking centers that aided in the growth and development of soap as a popular cleansing agent. Genoa, Savona, Venice, and Bari, Italy also became important soapmaking centers in the evolution of soapmaking history, but it was Marseilles that was the first great center.
The use of soap and water as a cleansing method didn't catch on until around the 13th century.
Around the 13th century, soapmaking became a trade and was commonly seen in Greek and French cultures. Plentiful supplies of olive oil gave way to early soapmaking centers. In Europe, olive oil became the main ingredient in soap for the centuries that followed.
In the 1700's soaps were only available to the rich and affluent. It wasn't until the turn of the century that quality handmade soaps could be offered to and afforded by all people.
Since olive oil was a rare commodity in the new world of America, the homemaker's chore of soapmaking required her to be resourceful and combine tallow (animal fat) with lye (made from leaching water through wood ashes) in order to make soap for her family. Fats were collected for an entire year, and then soap was made that would last the settlers just as long. Commercial soapmaking and manufacturing came to life around 1830.
Soap manufacturers actually played a very important role in the evolution of advertising. Up until the late 19th century, advertisers were predominantly hired to publicize the arrival of the circus to town or the various benefits of medicines or tonics. However, by 1880, soap companies had developed a unique way to advertise their product. By printing and distributing cards to customers that displayed an image of the soap, its name, and a catchy phrase or slogan to help consumers remember their product, soapmakers had a successful advertising campaign on their hands!
During World War II, oils used for soapmaking were rare in the marketplace and almost unobtainable. Fats, also used in soapmaking, were collected to aid in the war effort and difficult for soapmakers to find. Since cleansing oneself was a common daily practice, chemists had to step in and develop a new synthetic alternative (made with mineral oils, petroleum chemicals, and fatty acid substitutes) to true soap, so people could continue their daily regimen of bathing. The alternative bar soap essentially became a synthetic detergent that was mild enough for our skin and washed the dirt and grime away. Since it was so economical to produce, soap manufacturers never switched back to traditional soap recipes and continued to produce synthetic, detergent bar soap that has never been environmentally friendly.
Early true soaps, handmade by soapmakers, consisted of certain molecules that could be broken down in our environment by naturally occurring bacteria. Mass produced soaps manufactured during and following World War II were made with synthetic detergents that weren't able to biodegrade. As well, harmful phosphates were introduced into modern soap recipes. These synthetic cleansing agents continued to cause massive pollution of many of the world's important waterways. All natural handmade soaps have always been and will always be gentle on the environment.
True soap is made only of fats or oils in combination with a distilled water and lye (sodium hydroxide) solution. While there are many methods and ingredients used in making soap, these ingredients are a must when making handmade soap. When the oil is mixed with the lye/water solution, a chemical reaction occurs. This process is named saponification. Saponification is when the molecules of the fats or oils separate and combine themselves with the lye/water solution and reattach in a completely different pattern, making a unique new substance, which we know plainly as soap.
The traditional method of soapmaking is the Cold-Processed method. This ancient technique ensures that the natural glycerine (the main moisturizing component found in soap), remains in the finished bar. This gylcerine is usually extracted in commercial soapmaking and sold as a separate product.
A majority of commerical soaps are not really soap at all, but have become a mess of chemicals, unnatural preservatives, and emulsifiers, which ultimately give you a bar of detergent to wash with - not soap!
Avoid unnatural anti-bacterial soap. Researchers found that several harmful micro-organisms like those that lead to blood infections and urinary tract infections thrived in soaps that contained Triclosan, the active ingredient in many anti-bacterial soaps. Triclosan will also kill off the necessary bacteria beneficial to fighting more dangerous germs and viruses.
Many herbs naturally contain anti-bacterial agents in their genetic makeup. There is no need to add foreign chemicals like Triclosan to products, which find their way down our drains and out into our shared water supply.
Anti-bacterial soaps don't protect you from the flu or the common cold, and they DON'T combat viruses. Those popular antibacterial washes are no more effective in providing a barrier against diseases or other germs, than a good scrubbing at the sink with some water and an ordinary bar of soap. In 2005, federal health advisers said, "Soaps that use synthetic chemicals," like antibacterial soaps and washes "claim to eliminate 99% of germs they encounter, but could actually contribute to the growth of bacteria resistant to antibiotics."
Bacteria and germs can be eliminated by spending a moment at the sink or in the shower with a bar of all natural soap.
By eliminating the use of harmful detergents that contain phosphates, you are one step closer to cleaning our polluted waters and maintaining a safer environment for avian species.
It's best to stay away from mineral oil (petroleum based products), such as baby oil and other oils that contain animal fat. These oils are not absorbed by the skin and tend to form a greasy layer on your skin that can lead to skin irritation and clogged pores.
Human toxicity to chemically derived fragrance oils is happening. Synthetic fragrances can penetrate your skin and enter your body. Traces of synthetic musk fragrances have been found in human fat and breast milk.

Fly Right!™