Soap is a necessity but is often overlooked in our shopping carts. Often, consumers do not give a second thought on what type of soap they buy, usually opting for the cheapest and most common brand. However, as this article aims to point out, your choice in simple everyday products such as soap, is not only important for your own hygiene and health but as well as animal welfare and environmental sustainability.
When you follow an ethical cruelty-free and environmentally conscious lifestyle you come to realize how the small seemingly insignificant actions and choices in your everyday life can impact the world on a much larger scale. Choosing vegan, natural soaps is a sure way to reduce your negative impact on the wider world.
To first understand the difference on the impact of conventional soap versus vegan soap, we first must look at the history of soap.
Brief History of Soap
The first recorded evidence for soap was in approximately 2800 BC in ancient Babylon consisting of all plant-based products, with the mixture of water, alkali (which is a type of salt) and Cassia oil. This important invention in human history helped clean out clothes and ourselves and improved human hygiene, preventing us from getting sick and dying from diseases.
The first animal-based soaps were thought to be derived in ancient Egypt, from a mixture of plant-based oils and animal fats combined with alkali salts and water. The word sopa which is Latin for soap first appeared in Pliny the Elder’s Historia Naturalis, which discusses the manufacture of soap from tallow (animal fats) and ashes. The ancient scholar states that he finds soap to be feminine and that the Romans preferred to cleanse themselves with fresh oil.
It was not until Medieval Europe that soap-making became semi-industrialized in small pockets in Italy and Spain and was soon practiced as a craft. However, the use of soap was still seen as a feminine quality much like that of perfume and other methods of cleanliness was used by the majority of individuals.
In the 18th century, however, with the birth of the Industrial Revolution, the connection between hygiene and health became apparent, and the use of soap and its production became more universal. This sparked companies to produce soaps that were cheap to produce and sell and consisted of harsh chemicals and animal fats. Not much has changed in conventional soap making today. It wasn’t until the very end of the 19th century that liquid soaps were produced, which mainly consisted of vegetable oils, palm oils, and artificial fragrances.
What’s in conventional soaps?
When you follow a cruelty-free lifestyle, you not only realize the importance of abstaining from animal products but also the impact of reducing your exposure to dangerous chemicals and hazardous materials that are often found alongside these animal additives. Conventional and traditional soaps are no different. You wouldn’t want to digest these harmful toxins so why put them on your skin?
Human skin is a living protective barrier that keeps organs and muscles from getting damaged from external forces and is an organ in itself. It regulates the body by excreting salts and water from its pores as well has absorbing beneficial substances such as Vitamin D from the sun, healing herbs and essential oils. However, this also means it can absorb harmful substances and what you apply directly to your skin daily can leech into your system. That is why it is always important to ensure the products you use are natural and don’t contain any harmful toxins.
There are a myriad common harmful chemicals and toxins that are found in conventional soaps. Benzaldehyde numbs the nervous system and can bring on dizziness, vomiting and can even effect a person’s blood pressure. Benzyl Acetate is an eye and lung irritant and a known carcinogen associated with pancreatic cancer. Sodium Laureth Sulfate breaks down fats and inhibits the skins ability to maintain moisture. It is classified as a mutagen and hence can break down or alter genetic material. Ethanol can irritate the respiratory track and motor and can induce a loss of vision. And finally, Linalool which is a narcotic substance that harms your motor skills.
Parabens are also present in conventional soaps. Scientific studies have shown that being exposed to parabens increases a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer. They are also proven to cause neurological damage by way of nervous system toxicity.
Almost all bars of soaps contain fragrances to make them pleasurable for the user. However, most soaps just label ‘fragrance’ when listing it on the back of their product and can be misleading as the fragrance could consist of a whole collection of different chemicals and carcinogens. Fragrance chemicals can induce side effects such as chronic dizziness, rashes, nausea, depression, respiratory distress and severe headaches.
These substances are often found all together in one bar of soap and has little resemblance to the makeup of soap made from natural sources. It is always best to stick to natural and vegan based soap products, and always read the labels if you’re not sure.
What’s in vegan soap?
Vegan soaps abstain from using a source of animal product which includes milk, lanolin, emu oil, fish oil, mink oil, honey, beeswax, tallow or urea. Vegan soaps contain natural and wholesome ingredients such as dried organic herbs, essential oils, cocoa butter, coconut oil and olive oil. A great rule of thumb is that if you can’t eat it, why put it on your skin?
You can find natural, organic and inexpensive vegan soaps usually in your local supermarket or in a health-food store. You can also purchase them on amazon.com.au. Also, a nice set of vegan soaps is a great idea for a gift.
Keep in mind, just because something abstains from animal products doesn’t always mean they are good for your skin. Always read the label and check the list of ingredients. If there is a long list of chemical-sounding names, chances are it will do damage to your skin. Another ingredient that many plant-based soaps use that should be avoided is Palm Oil.
Why avoid Palm Oil?
Palm Oil is a type of vegetable oil derived from palm fruit. It is grown throughout Africa, Asia, North America and South America and 85% of palm oil is exported from Indonesia and Malaysia. Palm oil is found in a lot of food and beauty products, but the palm oil industry is not a sustainable one, impacting the environment, animals, and humankind alike.
Palm oil expansion is a threat to the biodiversity and natural ecosystems present in the countries that the plant is grown. Large areas of land are razed to the ground to produce palm oil. Currently, a third of all mammal species in Indonesia are considered to be critically endangered due to this unsustainable production.
The massive deforestation required for palm oil production is also an aggravator of climate change, as the smoke and carbon that is used to burn down the forests are released into the atmosphere. Because of this Indonesia is the third largest country of greenhouse emissions.
Furthermore, palm oil production increases the access that poachers and wildlife smugglers have to endangered animals selling them as pets, medicinal purposes or sell their body parts as trophies. Palm oil is not only and environmental issue but one for animal welfare.
Though these palm oil industries do produce some job to the local communities in which they run, often governments allow greedy corporations to exploit indigenous people’s land for their own profit. The palm oil industry is also linked to massive human rights issues, known to use child labor in their manufacturing.
As you can see, if you choose a product that has palm oil in it, then you are not choosing an animal-free, cruelty-free or ethical choice! There are companies that guarantee the palm oil they source is from sustainable industries, but it’s always best to avoid palm oil to make sure you’re not impacting the environment negatively.
Is anti-bacterial soap better?
In a society where the fear of bacteria and viruses is getting more and more prevalent, it may seem a reasonable decision to use antibacterial soap. You only have to give a quick glance at the soaps lining the aisles to realize that more and more companies are using the term ‘antibacterial’ to suck in consumers and make a neat profit in the scare mongering tactics surrounding germs. However, using antibacterial soap is in fact not a great way to remain healthy for some reasons.
Many people attempt to kill viruses by using antibacterial soaps, but as the name suggests, antibacterial soaps only kill bacteria, not viruses. Furthermore, the antibacterial agents used are a form of antibiotic so even though they claim to kill 99.9% of germ, the .1% that survives is potentially the most hazardous as it can resist the antibacterial agent. The minuscule number of adapted viruses that survive breed and pass on the antibiotic resistance to its offspring creating lines of what we have called ‘super bugs.’ Antibiotic resistance is a threat to human health.
Also, Triclosan, which is a chemical found in most antibacterial soaps is shown to interact with chlorine in water to form chloroform gas, which is toxic and even fatal. It is also proven to be a hormone disruptor and especially damaging towards children.
There are plenty of good bacteria, as well as the bad kind. There are evidence and studies showing the benefits of dirt and exposure to some bacteria; that can be as beneficial as probiotics. When we lather ourselves in antibacterial soap, we destroy the good bacteria as well as the bad. Furthermore, it has also been shown that children who grow up in an overly sterile environment face higher rates of allergies and asthma. Exposure to different types of bacteria, specifically early in life, assists kid’s immune systems to develop more strongly.
Vegan Soap: Better for you, AND everyone you love
In conclusion, give your skin a healthy glowing complexion by using vegan, natural soaps that are free from palm oil. As well as keeping your skin fresh, it will reduce your impact on the environment and animal welfare and guarantee that your choice in soap did not negatively impact the wider world.
If you are having a hard time trying to figure out what to buy for your vegan significant other, why not give them a nice set of vegan soaps? This intimate and timeless gift shows a personal touch and can be more artisan than the usual generic Christmas beauty gifts out there. Though soap may seem like a small gift, hand-crafted goods that a person uses in their everyday life is a small gesture to demonstrate how much they mean to you!
Well-known companies such as Lush and The Body Shop offer beautiful and original vegan-friendly soaps that will suit even the pickiest of gift-receivers. Their soaps have also been featured in some of the top vegan monthly boxes which have been getting more popular lately. But seriously, who wouldn’t love a monthly surprise?
If you want to give a more personal touch, why not make your own soap? Most home-made soaps are made from olive oils or coconut oils mixed with organic herbs, spices, and essential oils.
So instead of giving them a generic soap which will result in them washing themselves in insect vomit, cow lard or sheep’s glands why not pamper them the gift of life and buy them some fresh vegan soaps!
Here’s a great tutorial on how you can make your own vegan soap: