SOAP or SYNTHETIC DETERGENT... WHAT'S IN YOUR SOAP?
The process for natural soap making requires two basic elements... a base and an acid. Oil and lye. When mixed together, the ingredients go through a process called saponification, which basically is the chemical reaction of both these ingredients turning into soap. Then we add botanicals and other ingredients to make the soap have special characteristics. And still, not all soap marketed as natural is 100% natural. You will find that some may have artificial fragrances or additives. Read labels... just as you would when choosing health food.
How are traditional soaps and synthetic detergents different?
Not all soaps are created equal. In fact, most soaps are not soap at all, but instead chemically derived concoctions that leave your skin feeling dry.
Ordinary soap is made by combining fats or oils and an alkali, such as lye. The fats and oils, which may be from animal, vegetable, or mineral sources, are degraded into free fatty acids, which then combine with the alkali to form crude soap. The lye reacts with the oils, turning what starts out as liquid into blocks of soap. When made properly, no lye remains in the finished product. In the past, people commonly made their own soap using animal fats and lye that had been extracted from wood ashes.
Today there are very few true soaps on the market. Most body cleansers, both liquid and solid, are actually synthetic detergent products. Detergent cleansers are popular because they make suds easily in water and don't form gummy deposits. Some of these detergent products are actually marketed as "soap" but are not true soap according to the regulatory definition of the word.
What’s the regulatory definition of soap?
Whether a product is a “soap” in the traditional sense, or is really a synthetic detergent, helps determine how the product is regulated. So, let’s take a look at how “soap” is defined in FDA’s regulations;
To meet the definition of soap in FDA’s regulations, a product has to meet three conditions:
- What it’s made of: To be regulated as “soap,” the product must be composed mainly of the “alkali salts of fatty acids,” that is, the material you get when you combine fats or oils with an alkali, such as lye.
- What ingredients cause its cleaning action: To be regulated as “soap,” those “alkali salts of fatty acids” must be the only material that results in the product’s cleaning action. If the product contains synthetic detergents, it’s a cosmetic, not a soap. You still can use the word “soap” on the label.
- How it's intended to be used: To be regulated as soap, it must be labeled and marketed only for use as soap. If it is intended for purposes such as moisturizing the skin, making the user smell nice, or deodorizing the user’s body, it’s a cosmetic. Or, if the product is intended to treat or prevent disease, such as by killing germs, or treating skin conditions, such as acne or eczema, it’s a drug. You still can use the word “soap” on the label.