What’s the most basic of luxuries you can enjoy on a daily basis? Or a twice daily basis if you like. Even thrice daily. All you need to do is upgrade your soap. Pretty, sensorial and rejuvenating, some of today’s exotic soap bars are a welcome bit of old fashioned luxury – the easiest way of indulging ourselves on a daily basis.
After all, soap is one of the first and last things that you encounter in the day, right? So, why not make beauty’s best basic not just a boon for your skin, but also a boost for your soul? Here’s a quick primer on what’s available on the market to help you during the next shopping expedition.
Conventional vs handmade soap
These are the three broadest genres of soap making and here’s how they stack up.
Conventional bar soap: Also known as industrial or mass produced soap, this is essentially more detergent than actual soap (detergents are petroleum based products, like gasoline and kerosene). Besides this, conventional bar soaps usually contain sodium tallowate, BHT (butylated hydroxyl toluene), synthetic fragrances, artificial colors, salts and other preservatives. They are cured for approximately 3 days, vis-a-vis the 30 days of their handmade counterparts, and have a much higher alkalinity. Their most (or only) redeeming qualities are that these soap bars are hard, cheap and plentiful.
Handmade soap (or milled soap): These are usually made from vegetable-based oils (like olive, coconut and palm), have a much higher glycerin content (to keep skin hydrated and healthy), contain luxe ingredients like essential oils, herbs or botanicals and do not have the potentially skin-irritating chemicals found in conventional bar soap. Almost all handmade soaps are crafted with the cold process, which leaves the vegetable and essential oils intact, while removing any harmful ingredients (like lye). Handmade soaps take between 4-6 weeks to make and are usually softer in texture. However, the payoff is that they not only look and smell gorgeous but are also wonderful for your skin.
Artisanal soap: These are the uber-creative soaps that are crafted by specialists who bring in food-grade or organic ingredients for the most luxe and skin-friendly results. Examples include super-fatted soap (made with extra oils and butters), soap made with clays, extravagant oils, goat’s milk and so on. This is the best you can get!
And there is more…
Beyond these basics, you also need to keep in the mind the following while making a choice.
Plant, vegetable based or vegan Soap: Usually made with coconut, palm or olive oils, these soaps contain no animal fats and are great for sensitive skin.
Castile soap: Authentic Castile soap is made with olive oil from the Castile region of Spain. These soaps are known for their luxurious, creamy lather.
Marseille soap: This comes from Marseilles in France and is anchored by the region’s pure olive oil. Authentic Marseille soap is made to a 600-years-old recipe, is 100% natural, has at least 72% oil and is free of artificial additives.
Glycerin soap: This excellent moisturiser is recommended for dry or delicate skin. However, it’s a fallacy that all translucent soaps contain glycerin. Usually, mass produced soaps are far lower on glycerin than handmade versions because of the cost factor.
Triple-milled or French-milled soap: Milling is a method of extracting excess water by passing soap through steel rollers under tremendous pressure. In triple-milling (also called French-milling as the process was invented in that region) the process is repeated three times – this not only removes most of the water for a longer lasting product but also ensures that the ingredients are well blended and the soap bar’s texture is smoother and more uniform, sans impurities.
Sodium tallowate soap: When this is listed as an ingredient, it means the soap was made using animal fat, specifically tallow. Bars made with tallow are usually inexpensive and on the harsher side.
Cold vs hot processed soap: Hot processed soap is made at a much higher heat – this reduces the manufacturing time from several weeks to a few days; however, it also results in a lower concentration of beneficial ingredients like oils and glycerin, while upping the percentage of potential irritants like lye. In the cold process method, the manufacturing is done at room temperature, thereby preserving the oils and glycerin.