Soap, Suds, and Sustainability


by: Tonya Bramlage

Whether you pull it off the supermarket shelf, buy the melt-and-pour soap from your local craft store, or make it yourself from scratch, all soap begins with a process known as saponification. By its proper definition, “soap” is the end-result of mixing oils, lye and water. In the 1940’s, chemists discovered how to change the molecular structure of some naturally occurring substances and what they discovered was called, “detergent”. Commercial bar soaps commonly contain all or part detergents. Hardeners, whiteners, lather boosters, and chemical fragrances are often found in common brands of “over the counter” store bought, “soap” or detergent bars.

Castile soap is entirely different. It is made from plant-based fats and oils, whereas other soap varieties are made from animal fats like lard or tallow. The word Castile is a reference to La Castilla, a region in central Spain historically significant in the history of soap making. Using real essential oils for scent, blended with tropical coconut oil, and olive oil from the Mediterranean, Castile soaps are made using all natural ingredients. Castile soap is three times more concentrated than most liquid soaps on the market and maintains the highest standards for ecological sustainability. Looking for an alternative to that bar of soap you have been using all these years? Castile soap is an excellent option.  

Not ready just yet to let the bar go? Aleppo soap is one of the oldest and purest soap in the world. It is considered to be the “original” natural soap made from 100% olive oil and laurel oil. Cured and dried for five months, the soap boilers in Aleppo start in November and work through March of each year mixing and pouring the soap on to a flat surface in order to maintain the 3000-year soap making tradition. Each bar of Aleppo is handmade and will last a very long time as long as it is kept dry between uses and is stored in a draining soap dish away from any direct stream of water. 

Household plastic waste is a massive, global problem. The world produces 300 million tons of it annually, with at least 14 million tons winding up in the ocean. A single shampoo bar provides roughly the same number of washes as three 8.5 oz-10oz bottles of liquid shampoo. This solid, concentrated hair cleanser, is a low waste, travel friendly alternative to traditional liquid shampoo found in plastic bottles. Solid shampoo has been growing steadily in popularity especially among those conscious consumers looking to reduce their consumption. Shampoo bars do not just eliminate the need for a plastic container. Every bar of shampoo replaces three average bottles of liquid shampoo. An additional bonus bar shampoo usage offers is most bars are also free of the harsh sulfates typically found in liquid shampoos. In some cases, sulfates can cause scalp irritation, and too many harsh sulfates in a shampoo can strip your hair and scalp of its natural oils, making it feel drier. 

The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Geological Survey are currently studying what happens when we wash our shampoo suds down the drain. Pharmaceutical and personal care products alike make their way from your bathroom into the ecosystem. Everything from medication to sunscreen to vitamins to cosmetics have been found in most rivers, streams, coastal waters, and groundwater sampled. What kind of chemicals exactly? A close look at your shampoo, soap, sunscreen, and cosmetics will reveal a telling line up of offenders. Parabens are a popular class of preservatives typically found in cosmetics. Though they are usually deemed safe, they are considered endocrine disruptors and have raised concerns about their impact on aquatic life. Phthalates were among the most frequently detected substances in EPA fish tissue samples. They are widely used in fragrances designed to make your body and tresses smell a particular way and are not required to be listed on labels. Sodium laurel sulfate is the chemical behind your shampoo’s luscious lather and presents a cause of great concern over eco-toxicity.

Sulfates are salt-based molecules and commonly found in hair and skincare products such as shampoos, face washes, as well as toothpastes and detergents. Sulfates are made from sulfur-containing salts. They attract both water and oil, which is why they can effectively clean your hair or skin, teeth, and clothes. As you wash your hair, sulfates grab onto all the dirt, oil, and product buildup in your hair strands and scalp, and then carry them out of your hair, and down the drain when you rinse clean with water. While the exact ecological impact of shampoo remains murky, prudence suggests that you steer clear of any questionable ingredients in your PPCP’s ( Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products).Reading the labels on your products will help you avoid harmful chemicals and do less harm to the environment. Just because something is labeled “natural” does not automatically mean it is better. When in doubt, The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database makes shopping easier by rating hundreds of products on their public access website 

In 2018, in the United States alone, almost 7.9 billion units of rigid plastic were created just for beauty and personal care products. More and more brands are using recycled materials or staying away from plastic altogether, using glass, aluminum, bamboo, or even paper instead. Most assuredly, you can further improve your local watershed simply by washing your hair and body less frequently and by using less product. Purchasing refillable products is another way to reduce your waste, especially if you’ve found a product you know you’ll use again and again. Minimally packaged soaps, shampoo bars, and recyclable cosmetic containers such as those sold by, and support sustainability for the environment and personal care alike. Eco-inspired shopping sprees are not the greenest way to find an ideal product, as discarding unused or unwanted products add yet another layer to the pollution crisis. Sustainability does not mean you have to buy eco conscience products, it means that you use up what you buy.

Think global, support local, and beware that what you chose goes directly into the water that you use.

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