Handmade vs. Commercial Soap.. What's the big deal??

I have been asked this question a few times.. Is handmade soap better than a commercial soap? With brand-name soap companies spending millions each year on misleading advertising, it’s understandable why a consumer may ask questions. The short answer is YES, but here we will look at a few reasons why...

First... What is Soap?

The word "Soap" actually has a legal definition provided by the FDA. A soap is specifically defined as fatty acids (the oils and butters used in handmade soaps) which are neutralized by an alkali such as lye. Most commercial brands are not called soap because by law they cannot be -- because they are DETERGENTS and do not meet the legal definition of soap.

Many commercial “soaps” are in fact detergents created by using mostly synthetic chemical compounds. These commercial products are marketed as “cleansing bars” or “beauty bars” and others are sold in liquid form as shower gel or body wash.

Handmade soaps, however, are made from ingredients found in nature.  These ingredients can include Coconut oil, Cocoa Butter, Shea Butter, and many other skin-loving butters and oils.  They will almost always be made with essential oils as opposed to synthetic fragrance oils. (At the Cajun Mermaid we only use essential oils in our products)

Detergents are good for removing oils and may be good for cleaning laundry or dishes, but NOT your skin!

Detergent bars strip the natural oils from your skin. So after you bathe with commercial soap you reach for lotion to put back the moisture that was taken away.

The label of ingredients on a bar of commercial soap has a long list of ingredients, most of which are unpronounceable. Whether or not some of these ingredients are bad for you and the environment may be up for debate, but chances are you are better off without them. This is especially true since there is an alternative with an ingredient list that you can understand.

The Labels..

Below is a comparison between a store bought bar of Dove and a typical soap made by the Cajun Mermaid..


Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar  - ingredients as listed on their website (the accompanying definitions are directly from the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep website:

  1. Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate - Sodium Salt - Functions as a surfactant, cleansing agent
  2. Stearic Acid - Natural occurring fatty acid – may be of animal origin or plant based (not specified here); can be harsh and irritating – Functions as a surfactant, cleansing agent, stabilizer
  3. Sodium Tallowate Or Sodium Palmitate - Rendered beef fat – may cause eczema and blackheads – Functions as - surfactant, cleansing agent, foam booster or sodium of palmitic acid, found in olive oils, coconut oils, or body fats – Functions as cleansing agent, emulsifyer, viscosity controlling
  4. Lauric Acid - Natural occurring fatty acid, common in coconut oil – Functions as - surfactant, cleansing agent, emulsifier
  5. Sodium Isethionate - Organic Salt – Functions as - antistatic, cleansing agent, hair conditioning, skin conditioning
  6. Water
  7. Sodium Stearate - A natural occurring fatty acid – Functions as - surfactant, cleansing agent, emulsifying, viscosity controlling
  8. Cocamidopropyl Betaine - A synthetic surfactant – associated with irritation and allergic contact dermatitis – Functions as - antistatic, hair & skin conditioning agent, cleansing agent, foam booster, viscosity increasing.
  9. Sodium Cocoate Or Sodium Palm Kernelate - Sodium Salt of fatty acids from coconut oil – Functions as - cleansing and emulsifying or sodium salt of the acids derived from palm kernel oil - Functions as - surfactant, cleansing agent, emulsifyer, viscosity increasing
  10. Sodium Chloride - inorganic salt (table salt) – Functions as - viscosity increasing
  11. Tetrasodium Edta - Chelating Agent - associated with organ system toxicity - used to sequester and decrease the reactivity of metal ions that may be present in a product - Functions as a chelating agent.  The simple definition of chelating agent (taken from drugs.com) - Chelating agents are chemical compounds that react with metal ions to form a stable, water-soluble complex.
  12. Tetrasodium Etidronate - Diphosphonic Acid Derivative – Functions as - chelating agent, stabilizing, viscosity controlling
  13. Maltol - Maltol is a naturally occurring organic compound that is used primarily as a flavor enhancer. It is found in the bark of larch tree, in pine needles, and in roasted malt. It is a white crystalline powder that is soluble in hot water, chloroform, and other polar solvents (this definition is from Wikipedia) - Functions as - Masking, tonic.
  14. Titanium Dioxide - an inorganic compound used in a range of body care products such as sunscreens and makeup. It appears to have low skin penetration but inhalation is a concern - Functions as - Colorant; Opacifying Agent; Sunscreen Agent; Ultraviolet Light Absorber

Cajun Mermaid's Avocado & Spearmint Bar

  1. Organic, Sustainable, Palm Oil - has a mild stabilizing lather, helps make a hard, long lasting bar
  2. Organic Virgin Coconut Oil - has abundant lather with large fluffy bubbles, high cleansing quality, helps make a hard bar, white color for lighter soaps
  3. Organic Avocado Oil - has a medium lather, mild cleansing quality, makes a softer bar, high in vitamin E and other vitamins and minerals
  4. Organic Avocado Butter - Similar qualities as the avocado oil but helps with hardness
  5. Organic Castor Oil - Boosts lather by making a soap more easily dissolved in water, makes a softer bar.
  6. Fresh Avocado - similar to the avocado oil and butter qualities, but adds natural color.
  7. Poppyseeds - Adds an exfoliation property to the soap
  8. French Green Clay - French Green Clay comes from the sedimentation of Silico-aluminum, its color is the result of the oxides contained in these rocks. Its unique composition includes Iron, Silica, Aluminum, Magnesium, Calcium, Titanium, Sodium and Potassium. French Green Clay is prepared for the commercial market by a process of sun-drying and crushing. After the clay has been mined, it is spread in the sun to remove excess water. It is then ground by large hydraulic crushers and micronized, or finely pulverized. The last stage in the process is a final period of sun-drying to remove the last traces of water.  French Green Clay absorbs and removes impurities from the skin, revealing the fresh surface of the skin to provide a healthy looking glow. When prepared as a mask, the clay dries on the skin causing pores to tighten and the skin starts to feel firm, toned and refreshed. French Green Clay can be used in mineral baths to promote relaxation of the body and a sense of well-being. It is suitable for all skin types. It also contributes as a natural colorant.
  9. Spirulina Powder - natural colorant. 
  10. Spearmint Essential Oil - A top note with a medium aroma, Spearmint has a fresh minty smell reminiscent of Peppermint that is sweeter, and not so sharp. Spearmint is a native of the Mediterranean area. A hardy perennial herb, Spearmint reaches about 1 meter (3 feet) in height. It has characteristic lance-shaped leaves with pink or lilac-colored flowers. The ancient Greeks used Spearmint to scent their bath water. It is a common flavouring agent in foods and scent in toiletries.
  11. Distilled Water
  12. Sodium Hydroxide (Lye) - highly caustic and reactive inorganic base which combines with the oils through a chemical process and so changes into soap and glycerin. After the 24 hour saponification process, no lye remains in the soap. All real soap is made with lye.

After looking at all the ingredients, which would you choose to put on your body's largest organ, your skin??  I can tell you what my decision was.....

Until the next time...

The Cajun Mermaid