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Real Soap vs the "Soap" you may be using...

 
real soap
What is the big deal about "real" soap?
If you've used real soap, you know the answer to this question. But if you are still using your favorite grocery store brand along with moisturizers and creams, you may not know that there is another way to take care of your skin.

To understand the difference between real soap and today's commercially manufactured 'soap', you have to take a look back into history.   What follows is a brief accounting of our favorite, seemingly-simple, yet extraordinarily complex product known as soap.....

Once upon a time....
Some say the history or soap started with the ancient Babylonians and the ancient Egyptian. Records show that ancient Egyptians bathed regularly. The Ebers Papyrus, a medical document from about 1500 B.C., describes combining animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts to form a soap-like material used for treating skin diseases, as well as for washing.
Soap got its name, according to an ancient Roman legend, from Mount Sapo, where animals were sacrificed. Rain washed a mixture of melted animal fat, or tallow, and wood ashes down into the clay soil along the Tiber River. Women, washing their clothes downriver, found that this clay mixture made their wash cleaner with much less effort. They noticed that when this soapy mix of animal fat and wood ashes came into contact with their clothes, the dirt on them seemed to magically wash away. After this discovery, soap was made deliberately and proved most popular.
As Roman civilization advanced, so did bathing. The first of the famous Roman baths, supplied with water from their aqueducts, was built about 312 B.C. The baths were luxurious, and bathing became very popular. By the second century A.D., the Greek physician, Galen, recommended soap for both medicinal and cleansing purposes.
 
Soap is miraculous, medicinal, and very very rare....
Yes, it was simply amazing that the combination of these 2 very unlikely ingredients - fats and wood ash - transformed into one of natures greatest gifts. Real soap nourishes the skin, cleans and protects it. It also made it easier to stay clean and germ free, contributing greatly to a more hygenic and healthy way of life.
 
And so the wonders of real soap began to spread....
Soapmaking gradually found it's way into Europe and was an established craft by the seventh century. Soapmaker guilds guarded their trade secrets closely. Vegetable and animal oils were used with ashes of plants, along with fragrance. Gradually more varieties of soap became available for shaving and shampooing, as well as bathing and laundering. Italy, Spain and France were early centers of soap manufacturing, due to their ready supply of raw materials such as oil from olive trees.
Commercial soapmaking in the American colonies began in 1608 with the arrival of several soapmakers on the second ship from England to reach Jamestown, VA. Eventually, professional soapmakers began regularly collecting waste fats from households, in exchange for some soap.
 
From treasured prize to mass production...
The biggest obstacle to making soap in volume was collecting enough wood ash/soda ash to make the soap. In natures infinite wisdom, each molecule of caustic soda naturally combines with each fatty acid molecule in oil (animal or vegetable fats) and transforms (or saponifies) into a new substance - soap. Making soap on a large scale would be contingent on finding a way to make large quantities of caustic soda, or soda ash.

It wasn't until 1791, that a French chemist, Nicholas Leblanc, patented a process for making soda ash, or sodium carbonate, from common salt. The Leblanc process yielded quantities of good quality, inexpensive soda ash. A true understanding of soap came when another French chemist, Michel Eugene Chevreul finally understood the chemical nature and relationship of fats, glycerine and fatty acids. His studies established the basis for both fat and soap chemistry.

Soap can be understood as a marriage between nature and science. These scientific discoveries, together with the development of power to operate factories, made soapmaking one of America's fastest-growing industries by 1850.  Its broad availability changed soap from a luxury item to an everyday necessity. With this widespread use came the development of milder soaps for bathing and soaps for use in the washing machines, available to consumers by the turn of the century.
 
industrial soap factory
So where did it all go wrong?
The chemistry of soap manufacturing stayed essentially the same until 1916, when the first synthetic detergent was developed in Germany in response to a World War I-related shortage of fats for making soap. Known today simply as detergents, synthetic detergents are non-soap washing and cleaning products that are "synthesized" or put together chemically from a variety of raw materials.
Household detergent production in the United States took off after World War II. The war-time interruption of fat and oil supplies as well as the military's need for a cleaning agent that would work in mineral-rich sea water and in cold water had further stimulated research on detergents. The first detergents were used chiefly for dish washing and laundering and detergents containing a surfactant/builder combination was introduced in the U.S. The surfactant is a detergent product's basic cleaning ingredient, while the builder (typically a phosphate compound) helps the surfactant to work more efficiently.
 
(Ok, I'm not sure I like where this is going.....)
By 1953, sales of detergents in this country had surpassed those of soap. By the 1970, our rivers and streams were choked with green algae bloom caused by phosphates.... "Soap manufacturers" began stripping out the best, most moisturizing ingredient from their soaps - glycerin, and using it in their expensive creams and moisturizers.   Today detergents have all but replaced soap-based products for laundering, dishwashing and household cleaning. And, detergents - alone or in combination with soap - are also found in most of the "bath bars" and body washes/liquids used for personal cleansing.
real soap bar
But there is a happy ending....
It makes sense now why so many people experience burning, itching, dryness and other skin irritations from using our modern 'soap'. In fact for many of us, using grocery-store detergent bars is simply not an option. It's taken about 40 years for handcrafted soapmaking to make a comeback, but it's making a great comeback. With a new conciousness about natural and organic products, real soap is finding it's way to people everywhere. And once you have experienced the benefits of real soap, there is no going back!

Artisan soapmakers are creating the most beautiful, and luxurious soaps. Superfatted (i.e. more fats are used in the soapmaking process than is needed to react with the sodium hydroxide, resulting in an extremely emollient soap). Fragrance with pure essential oils, adding even more health and skin benefits to the soap.  And then there is "glycerin soap" - glycerin soap is a translucent soap, created by adding additional glycerin, a supremely emollient soap. All of these variations have made soap-making a true art.