Commercial versus artisan soap

I am a real freak when it comes to getting something right. If you’re one of the rare bunnies that knows me well, you know that if I can’t get something exactly how I envision it I often get really frustrated with myself.

So starting Homestead seemed like not only a natural part of progression of my goal and vision but an incredibly scary thing as well because now I needed to be on point all the time with no room for error.

I mean things will go wrong, soap batters will fail, and that’s normal for everyone. But when you’re a small-scale producer and you’re wanting to maximize your time and effort the last thing you want or need is for anything to fall down around you.

Especially when you still work a full-time day time job and have other commitments. I never thought it would be easy! But I definitely enjoy the challenge.

One of the things I have really come to enjoy is formulating soap recipes. In the early stages I was working off a tried and true recipe I had been using myself for soaps for us around the house. Then COVID happened. And due to COVID, there’s been a need to revise and review and look at ways to streamline all things.

I also wanted the soaps I produced to be simple. It’s been my primary goal. And simple doesn’t mean not luxurious. It just means using quality ingredients in a way to best formulate a soap.

I read something once about food that said if your grandma can’t pronounce the ingredients or they weren’t around in her time then you shouldn’t be eating it. And the same applies to soap.

Have a look at the following ingredient deck from a commercial liquid soap:

Aqua, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Chloride, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Parfum, Citric Acid, Glycerin,  Sodium Benzoate, Sodium Lactate, Tetrasodium EDTA, Geraniol, Limonene, Linalool, CI16225, CI19140, CI42090 

A simple google search will show you the descriptors of some of these ingredients. Let’s look at some of them a bit more.

Cocamidopropyl betaine: (CAPB) is a mixture of closely related organic compounds derived from coconut oil and dimethylaminopropylamine. CAPB is available as a viscous pale yellow solution and it is used as a surfactant in personal care products. Cocamidopropyl betaine is a synthetic fatty acid made from coconuts, so products that are considered “natural” can contain this chemical.

Side effects of cocamidopropyl betaine. Cocamidopropyl betaine allergic reaction

Some people have an allergic reaction when they use products containing CAPB. In 2004, the American Contact Dermatitis Society declared CAPB the “Allergen of the Year.” Since then, a 2012 scientific review of studies found that it’s not the CAPB itself that causes an allergic reaction, but two impurities that are produced in the manufacturing process.

The two irritants are aminoamide (AA) and 3-dimethylaminopropylamine (DMAPA). In multiple studies, when people were exposed to CAPB that did not contain these two impurities, they did not have an allergic reaction. Higher grades of CAPB that have been purified don’t contain AA and DMAPA and don’t cause allergic sensitivities. (taken from https://www.healthline.com/health/cocamidopropyl-betaine#side-effects)

Sodium laureth sulfate: Sodium laureth sulfate, an accepted contraction of sodium lauryl ether sulfate, is an anionic detergent and surfactant found in many personal care products. SLES is an inexpensive and very effective foaming agent.

Sodium Benzoate: a preservative used in some sodas, personal care items and packaged foods to prolong shelf life. It’s an odorless, crystalline powder made by combining benzoic acid and sodium hydroxide. Benzoic acid is a good preservative on its own, and combining it with sodium hydroxide helps it dissolve in products. It doesn’t occur naturally and has been linked to concerns it converts to benzene a known carcinogen. For people with allergies, it has been known to causes itching, swelling and inflammation to the body.

Tetrasodium EDTA: this is used as a chelating agent, (or to put it in layman's terms), it makes hard water become soft. As water makes its way through the water cycle, it sometimes picks up metal ions such as calcium and iron. These metal ions can make water hard, which is a problem because hard water won't get you clean. Body washes, shampoos and other cleansers work as surfactants, which are responsible for attracting dirt and oil and pulling it off your skin so it can be rinsed away by water. The only problem is that surfactants also attract the metal ions found in hard water, hindering the surfactants' ability to cleanse your skin. That's where tetrasodium EDTA comes in. As the chelating agent, it neutralizes the metal ions in hard water and allows the surfactant to do its job.

Squirming yet?

Let’s have a look at some of the ways they describe the soap:

  • 100% nature inspired fragrance to transform your mood
  • A shower gel that leaves your skin delightfully fragrant
  • An invigorating shower gel with lime and mint scents inspired by nature's finest ingredients
  • A scented shower gel and body wash rinses off easily leaving your skin feeling fresh and clean
  • A cleanser and shower gel suitable for daily use, squeeze out shower gel, lather on body
  • A shower gel and bodywash pH neutral, dermatologically tested shower gel and suitable for all skin types

Now let’s have a look at the ingredient deck for one of the Homestead Soaps. I’ll use one of the recent Cleanse bars.

  • Pork lard/tallow mix 80%
  • Coconut oil 15%
  • Calendula Oil 5%
  • Water and lye (sodium hydroxide) solution (water as % of oil weight 38%)
  • Sprinkling of dried calendula flowers on top
  • No scent

And a description for this product based on the bar and oil quality used in recipe formulation:

  • A harder bar
  • Lighter on cleansing
  • Lighter on conditioning
  • Light lather, but stable
  • Incredibly creamy
  • Moisturising and later, silkiness

Now these descriptors come from the known effects of the mixture of oils used in the formulation of the bar. For me to get these descriptors, I first had to decide on what oils I would use, what size loaf of mold they would go into (in terms of volume) and how many bars I expected to achieve from that yield. All that leads to me then inputting the information into a formula to work out how much water and lye I need, how much fragrance I can use (if I chose to use it), and how much colour (if I choose to use it). From this, my bar properties are developed based on the percentages of all this information. If I increase the amount of coconut oil, these properties change. If I reformulate this to remove the tallow and lard, and instead use Palm oil (which would be its only true substitution), the properties change again. If I want a softer bar for face use, I would reformulate starting with softer oils or shorter curing times to ensure I got the right mix.

And that my people, is why artisan and handmade soap is superior to any commercial soap. Firstly, you and your grandma can actually pronounce the ingredients, meaning there is nothing harmful in the creation of the soap. Second, you can choose from certified organic oils and raw ingredients to ensure all your soaps are safe not only for you and your body, but the water system and ecology you are part of. As someone who lives on an acreage property, the most important thing to keep in mind is the safety and health of our grey water and septic systems which cannot have harsh chemicals inside them.

Are any of the ingredient from the Homestead bar unsafe? As you can see above, no.

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