The War on Natural Soap
In October 2015 I wrote a blog entitled "What is pH Balanced Skin Care?"
The blog discusses skin, pH, and the claims of commercial skincare companies that their pH balanced cleansers are more beneficial to your skin than soap.
It is now two years later and I am standing on my soapbox quite distraught.
I simply believe that natural soap has, and continues to receive unfair condemnation in the world of pH balanced skin care.
A quick reminder: The typical pH scale ranges from 0 to 14. In general, any liquid with a pH less 7 is considered acidic and a pH greater 7 is considered alkaline or basic.
I have spent many years researching the scientific literature about the anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry of skin. I absolutely agree that the acid mantle has an acidic pH and it not only provides the proper environment for the skin’s protective microbiome to flourish, but it is also responsible for a lot more including the proper functioning of the entire surface layer of our skin.
While I understand and respect the research that has been done over the years concerning skin pH, I disagree with the way in which the research is being commercially corrupted.
Individual scientific researchers study small systems, small pieces of a puzzle, and then over time as more and more research is completed the puzzle pieces come together to create a better understanding of how systems work together.
What I object to is the way in which large companies take a small piece of research, which is usually incomplete, and create a product marketing hype that plays on the fears of consumers in order to make millions.
It happens so many times. Some examples include . . .
- Our bodies need vitamins and minerals so let’s create a multibillion-dollar vitamin and supplement industry to replace a healthy balanced diet.
- Infants need proper nutrition so let’s create infant formula that is the “perfect food for infants,” “better than breast milk.”
- Butter is bad so let’s create a tub of hydrogenated margarine with trans fats that our bodies cannot metabolize properly.
- Bacteria is bad so let’s create antibacterial soaps and cleaning products to protect our families that not only create super-bacteria but totally disrupt the natural microbiome of everything.
- Soap is bad so let’s create new products like “syndets” which are actually the same old synthetic detergents that may be harsh and harmful but now they are supposedly pH balanced.
And the list goes on. I could write an entire book on products or fads, based on hints from good research, which in many cases turned out to do more harm than good.
Each Person Is Unique
Each person’s acid mantle is dependent on the secretions our individual bodies put on the surface of our skin.
There are so many factors that affect the ecosystem that lives on our skin and each individual is quite unique.
Gender, age, ethnic origin, seasons, humidity, wind, pollution, dust, genetics, medication, what we eat and drink, even the fabrics we wear can all play a role.
If you exfoliate, wear makeup, shave, exercise, even the way in which you use a towel can cause a temporary disruption in your acid mantle, your skin pH, and your microflora populations.
Do you enjoy relaxing in a warm bath?
The pH of a tapwater bath can range from 7 to 8.5 depending on where you live.
Tap water pH is affected by the composition of the groundwater bedrock, the presence of cleaning agents in the water, and the methods your municipal processing plants choose to treat the water.
Do you like to swim?
The pH of a typical pool is about 7.5. If you love the beach . . . the oceans have a pH of about 8.1. While the pH of freshwater lakes and rivers is naturally variable, the pH ranges from 6 to 9.
When you swim or bathe, your body is in contact with "non-pH-balanced" water for quite a while.
So, how can a pH-balanced cleanser that remains on your skin for seconds claim to be so important in the "protection" of your acid mantle?
There are so many factors that affect the pH and microbiome of the skin! Sorry, but the importance of pH balanced synthetic cleansers just does not make sense to me.
Studies have shown that the pH and microbial populations in different areas of the skin on one single human body can vary quite a bit. I am almost 65 years old and over that period of time, my skin pH and microflora biome have changed dramatically.
So for whom are these cleansers pH balanced?
It should be obvious to everyone that anytime you clean the skin, even if your product is “pH balanced” you are removing and/or disrupting the natural microflora of the skin.
Not all soaps are created equal.
One reason Natural Soap has received unfair condemnation is that although all soaps are not created equal, they are all lumped into one category called "soap."
Most commercial "soaps" and body cleansers are not soap at all--they are detergents or a mixture of soap and detergents.
Commercial "soap" companies do not superfat their soaps and as a result, they often contain free alkali which increases shelf life and lather. But this free alkali makes the bars harsh and drying. Also, the long list of artificial colors, fragrances, preservatives, etc. can really irritate the skin.
Saying a soap is "handmade" says nothing about the quality of the ingredients or the knowledge and skill of the soapmaker!
The quality of handmade soap varies with the quality of the ingredients and the expertise of the soapmaker. Some handmade soaps are made with synthetic colors and fragrances. Some handmade soaps are made by crafters. It is not difficult to follow a recipe to make a bar of soap.
But a quality, well-balanced natural soap bar requires an understanding of the chemistry of soapmaking.
It troubles me that ALL soaps get lumped together in this commercial “war” against soap.
Please read our blog, "Are All Handmade Soaps The Same?"
Natural vs Synthetic
We just don't know enough about the synthetic chemicals in pH balanced skin care.
Synthetic chemicals often cause contact dermatitis and other skin problems.
Studies have shown that contact dermatitis increases the skin’s pH and can become a chronic condition. So how has the pH balanced product helped that person?
If you consider all of the abuse that our skin is exposed to on a daily basis, it is quite a resilient organ.
I believe that the synthetic chemicals in pH-balanced cleansing products can cause more damage to the skin than the temporary disruption of the acid mantle that comes from a well-formulated natural bar of soap.
I have noticed a number of websites like to create lists of the skin "problems" they believe are caused by soap, such as:
- sensitive skin
- chronic dry skin
- itchy, flaky skin
- irritated and inflamed skin
- cracked skin
But we have talked to and received emails and testimonials from so many customers who have received relief from the above problems after just a few days of using our handmade soap.
Sorry for the rant! I don’t agree that the mildness or gentleness of a skin cleanser is solely based on pH. It is based on the total package of ingredients.
I don't believe that a correctly formulated bar of natural soap damages the acid mantle. Does it temporarily disrupt the pH immediately after cleansing? Perhaps, but so does water.
The pH value alone does not determine whether a soap is gentle, harsh, or even effective.
The chemical makeup of a product consists of all of the important components, with the pH value being only one of them. Whether a product is gentle or damaging cannot be determined simply by low or high pH values.
These qualities are determined by the complete chemical makeup of the product. In other words, all of the ingredients used to create the skin or hair care product.
After all of my research and years of soapmaking . . .
if I have a choice between Chagrin Valley's organic natural soap or a "pH balanced" synthetically manufactured "soap" with foaming cleansers-- for me . . . there is no contest!