The Slippery Slope of Soap

importance of natural soaps

Soap seems like a pretty straightforward substance with a basic goal- cleaning. In today’s world, there are hundreds of varieties of soaps for many different purposes. Soap for dishes, soap for laundry, soap for skin… the list goes on. There are antibacterial soaps, scented soaps, vegan soaps, animal based soaps, hypoallergenic soaps, etc.

In general, soap seems like a good thing… after all, cleanliness is next to Godliness, but in our germ-afraid society, have we gone too far? Unfortunately, many of the things we use as “soap” are actually harsh detergents or chemical cocktails. Rather than the gentle action of true soaps that pulls dirt and grime off the skin, these detergents can strip the skin (or other surfaces) of healthy oils. Most laundry detergents, for example, contain no soap at all, but are just a chemical detergent mix. This is also true of many body wash products that don’t contain any soap but just a mix of chemicals. Certain natural soaps can be beneficial to the skin, but most commercial versions are more detergent than soap and strip the skin of vital oils. So how does a person decipher the dirty details of soap? Let’s look at the options.

Antibacterial Soaps

Antibacterial soaps and sanitizers have taken center stage lately with all the scares about various types of flu viruses originating from various animals. Certainly, I can see the appeal of a sanitizer that claims to “kill 99.9% of germs” when you have small children at home and illness for one usually means illness for all. The antibacterial label is popping up on all kinds of soaps, especially kids soaps, cleansing wipes, and even adult bath soaps. While I can understand the appeal of the antibacterial label, we don’t use these kind of soaps for several reasons:

  • Antibacterial soaps kill bacteria but not viruses. The antibacterial agents are actually a form of antibiotic, so while they wipe out most bacteria, good and bad, they don’t do a thing for the viruses many people use them to prevent.
  • Because they only kill 99.9% of germs (seems like a lot!) that .1% is the most potentially harmful anyway, because it has the ability to resist that antibacterial agent. This small percentage that survives then breeds and passes on its antibiotic resistance to its offspring, creating lines of “super bugs” that resist antibiotic use. Some even speculate that overuse of antibiotics and antibacterial agents has led to the dramatic increase in strains like MRSA.
  • Triclosan, the chemical in most antibacterial soaps has been shown to interact with chlorine in the water to form chloroform gas. On top of that, it has been shown to be a hormone disruptor, especially in children.
  • Bacteria isn’t all bad! We purposely ferment our food to add good bacteria (probiotics) and there is even evidence showing the benefits of dirt and exposure to some bacteria. When we use, and especially overuse, antibacterial soaps, we literally throw out the baby with the bathwater.
  • Some evidence shows that kids who grow up in an overly sterile environment actually have higher rates of allergies and asthma than kids who don’t use antibacterial products as much. The reasoning is that exposure to different types of bacteria, especially early in life, actually helps kids immune systems to develop more strongly.

My strategy when it comes to bacteria is to make sure my kids immune systems are strong by feeding them healthy foods, probiotics and vitamin D and letting them get plenty of exposure to dirt during the day (an important part of childhood). I use handmade bar soaps or homemade foaming hand soap for all of our hand washing needs, and we made it through flu season with no cases of the flu. Coincidence…. maybe, but I certainly don’t see the need to use harsh chemicals to sanitize my house daily.

Scented Soaps and Washes

Most commercially available bar soaps and body washes are artificially scented. Shocked? I hope not! There is no essential oil of Irish Springs or green apple, or pomegranate. These scents come from chemicals, and most of these products are laden with detergents, preservatives and questionable ingredients. Ever wonder why there is a growing need for moisturizing body washes, lotions, and other forms of skin nourishment? Aside from the fact that many people are deficient in saturated fats and have dry skin from the inside out, most bar soaps and body washes are also stripped of the glycerin made in the soap making process. This leads to an unbalanced soap that pulls moisture out of the skin. While we think we are nourishing our skin with a lovely infusion of pomegranate and green tea, we are usually just stripping our skins natural oils and exposing our largest organ to hundreds of chemicals. In fact, the average person is exposed to over 100 chemicals before even leaving the bathroom in the morning! There are soaps that are healthy and beneficial to the skin, but you aren’t usually going to be able to find them in Wal-Mart of your grocery store. The best types of bar soaps are made from vegetable (not mineral) oil blends and have the glycerin put back in so they clean without drying skin. For liquid and foaming soaps, liquid castille soap is best, and often cheaper than the scented, antibacterial options anyway.

Laundry Soaps

You’ve heard my rant about Laundry Soaps before, so I’ll spare you to long details. In short: making your own laundry soap is easy and much cheaper so there aren’t really any excuses on this one. Most commercially available laundry detergent is just that, a harsh detergent that isn’t good for you or your clothes!

What to Do?

  • Don’t be afraid of a little bacteria! In fact, make sure to get some good bacteria in your foods and drinks!
  • Opt for high quality bar soaps and liquid castille soap in place of harsh antibacterial and scented options
  • Make your own laundry soap, and all-purpose cleaner . You’ll save money and provide healthier options for your family.
  • Avoid using antibacterial soaps, sprays and sanitizers, at least most of the time. It will give your immune system a boost and reduce your exposure to chemicals.

What kind of soap do you use? Antibacterial or scented? Natural and homemade?

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Reader Comments

  1. I’m new to all this and have enjoyed every post. Thank you!! Where is the best place to get high-quality bar soap and liquid castille soap? I will try making my own laundry detergent this summer!

    • You can get liquid castille soap from several places including
      Mountain Rose Herbs, Dr. Bronner’s and even at most grocery stores in
      the natural section. Quality bar soaps can be hard to find, but stay
      posted… I might be able to help with that- more info soon 🙂

      • Hi! I was wondering if you ever were able to post a recipe for the homemade soap?? I’ve been looking everywhere for a good natural recipe… :/

      • I am curious about the quality soaps. Have you written more on where to get those or make them?

      • I am allergic to Dr Bonner’s Castle soap. Any suggestions?

    • Hello,

      I make homemade 100% raw goat’s milk soap! My ingredients are:
      Olive oil
      100% raw Goat’s milk
      Palm oil
      Coconut oil
      Shea butter
      I have essential oils, fragrance oil, and fragrance free.
      My bars are 4 1/2 -5/12 oz
      Bonnie Tesone

      • One of the absolute best tooth cleanser is to combine salt/baking soda and rinse your mouth with hydrogen peroxide. It will condition your gums, clean your teeth and remove much of the bacteria that lends to bad breath and gum/teeth problems., Best to use a natural baking soda and real salt brand salt or pink himalayen salt. We keep a glass jar like is used in the pizza restraunts to hold cheese and such filled with this mix. I like to add dry mint from the herb bed and include that in the mix for that minty fresh taste.

      • How can I purchase your soap?

      • I don’t think this is the appropriate place to try and sell your stuff.. just sayin

  2. Hi! I clicked over from your comment on The Healthy Home Economist. I’m hoping you have your remineralizing toothpaste recipe on here somewhere. I’m going to subscribe and look around!

    • I do have one recipe up that works well, but I’ll be posting another
      one soon that I like much better. I actually sent this second one to
      a holistic dentist and he gave it an A+. Thanks for dropping by an
      I’ll try to let you know when I get that recipe up!

      • I too popped on over here from the Healthy Home Economis to look for the remineralizing toothpaste recipe. Glad to hear that is has been improved upon. Hope to be getting an email about the new toothpaste recipe soon. Thanks!

  3. I use home made laundry soap with fels-naptha but had just bought a Mexican kind called Lirio at the local international foods store…the ingredients are:coconut oil and tallow soap, sodium silicate, sodium hidroxide, abietic acid, sodium chloride, sodium lautyl ether sulphate, coconut fatty acid, diethanolamide, perfume, and dye. I haven’t used it yet so I have no idea how it compares or what all the ingredients means lol!

    For batheing soap i use dead sea mud soap made by one with nature. I’m not sure if this is good soap or not but the ingredients are at least recognizable to e lol. they are:

    Palm and Palm Kernel Oils, Dead Sea Mud, Vegetable Glycerin, Citric
    Acid, Shea Butter, Dead Sea Salt, Cinnamon, Salt and Vitamin E

  4.  I have been using a lot of Seventh Generation brand products, which are supposed to be more natural.  At first my boyfriend made fun of me, but now that he is accustomed to them, I want to simplfy even more and try making my own with just the basic, tried and true ingredients.  I would love to try some natural soaps!  I’m gradually phasing out as many chemicals as I can, as well as wasteful products that go with them like paper towels and commercial sponges.

  5.  I just started making soap, and I’m addicted!  I haven’t had the time yet to foray into the full-blown cold-processed soap making.  But, my husband found a great local source for all natural coconut based melt & pour soap to get me started.  It has been amazing!  It’s great fun to mix in different carrier oils and essential oils and other beneficial additives. My latest batch was with oatmeal and honey … my skin is sooo liking real soap instead of those detergents that I used to use.  Even my elbows are soft now!  The best part is that since my skin feel so much better, I feel so much more confident and beautiful.. My latest batch was with oatmeal and honey … my skin is sooo liking real soap instead of those detergents that I used to use.  Even my elbows are soft now!  The best part is that since my skin feel so much better, I feel so much more confident and beautiful.

    • Where can I find the recipe for the soap you are making?

      • Where cant I find the recipes to make the soap

  6. I want to try natural soaps!!  I’m also dying to try your water kefir soda suggestions– just need to order my grains.  Thanks for your excellent posts–LOVE the info! 

  7.  This is actually a very timely post for me cause as I have changed for the better what goes into my body, I haven’t really changed much about what goes on the outside.  
    I recently found a local supplier of hand made soaps and will likely be giving hers a try. She makes ones that can used as shampoo as well as just bar soap, I found this very intriguing!  But was wondering what about conditioner? I have very fine, curly hair that needs lots of moisture, so I was wondering if you had any suggestions for that.
    My other question is about the homemade laundry detergent. We have a new high efficiency washer that requires you to use the detergents marked with HE. And my roommate is very strict about this (I live in her house). Any idea how the homemade ones would qualify?

    • You might have trouble with the soap bar if your hair is curly, as it
      causes mine to tangle. If you are able to use the shampoo bar though,
      maybe try apple cider vinegar for conditioner. Surprisingly, it works
      really well and is very nourishing for the hair also. I’ve also in
      the past used avocado, yogurt and a mixture of coconut based oils/
      creams and they all seem to work well.
      For the laundry detergent, you should be fine with a HE washer.
      Several readers have commented that they use this in their HE washers
      and it works great (with no problems) I don’t have one personally,
      but from what I understand, it is the bubbles and suds that are bad
      for the HE washer, and this homemade version is non-foaming, so it
      should be fine.

  8.  I’d love to try some interesting new soaps.  We use diluted Dr. Bronner’s in re-used foam pumps as hand soap.  I’m also a huge fan of Orange Fuzz soaps, sold at our farmers’ market and on Etsy.  We’ve been trying different natural laundry detergents, but I haven’t been truly happy with any of them.

  9. Soap nuts are great for doing laundry. I’ve been doing all my laundry with soap nuts for about 2 years and they work great. Contrary to what the instructions say on some websites that sell them, they can be used in cold water, and they last longer when used in cold water. For an extra boost oxygen bleach powder can be used & adding some essential oils adds a fresh sent to your clothes & your washing machine.

  10. I’ve made olive oil/goat milk soap for years, first as an alternative for my cousin with horrific skin issues, then as a business, now as a safe product for my husband and three little blessings. We won’t use anything else, and the leftovers/rejects can be used to make laundry soap! 

  11. Such good advice.  I am a natural soapmaker from UK and I just love it when people use my soaps and come back to tell me how lovely they are.  Natural soaps don’t leave your skin feeling tight and dry, they also last a lot longer than shop bought detergent versions!!

  12. I am confused regarding soap. If using soap has decreased disease then what is soap doing? If regular soap doesn’t kill bacteria then what is it doing that is decreasing disease. Is it only killing bad bacteria?

    • Regular soap is capable of removing most bacteria without creating a
      sterile/antibacterial environment. Natural soaps remove bacteria and
      viruses from the surface of the skin without needing the harsh
      chemicals that actually kill the bacteria.

  13. I love your site! I have been wanting to start making homemade soap, but have no idea where to start.

  14. Have you put up a recipe for making your own natural homemade bar soap? If not I would be very interested!! Thanks 🙂

  15. Or learn to make your own soap and cosmetics at Plush Folly

  16. Or learn to make your own soap and cosmetics at Plush Folly

  17. I am very interested in learning to make my own bar soaps. I used to buy shampoo bars, a shaving bar and wonderfully sented body bars from a friend…but have since moved away ): I so miss them and havent found a local place. I know it would be much more fun to make my own…plus I have four eager helpers! I’m sure they would get a kick out of making their own soap!

  18. I would love to try homemade soap! I’ve thought of making my own, but it seems a bit too overwhelming right now with 2 toddlers 🙂
    I am LOVING your posts too!! I’m going to the health food store to pick up some ingredients to make some of these products, like the toothpaste and hair spray and deodorant bar and, and, and, LOL:)
    Thanks so much!

  19. Me too! Me too! Homemade soap bar recipes would be warmly welcomed in our home! Yes please!

  20. I would love to make my own soap for my family, have you posted a recipe for homemade soap?

  21. Are there any brands you would recommend for those of us not up for making our own soap? I use liquid castile in some of my recipes, but I prefer a bar for cleansing my body. I have been using Yardley, but wasn’t sure if it was actually “natural”. I know there is a castile bar soap as well…

  22. The one BIGGEST thing that I’m looking for is a “GOOD Homemade Bath Soap”….. I would LOVE to make some Good scented, healthier, and fun to make recipe. Thank you bunches!!! 🙂

  23. I am definitely interesting in making some natural bars of soap for my family! Just started the “no-poo” method while I wait for ingredients to come in…..we’ll see how that goes…but now I need some soap!!! Give me your secret! Please!! ;}

  24. Yes! Can’t wait to learn more about your new soap making idea! We’ve made 2 batches and love using it/giving it to friends and family…

  25. Yes please! Need recipes for home made soaps. I love them and they’re always so overpriced everywhere I look.

  26. I’m looking for a bar soap recipe or shower gel.

  27. I’m new to your blog and am so grateful I found it! Actually, my 13 year-old daughter got a bug one day wanting to make lotion, googled the topic, and found your site, so I can’t take credit for the find, but I sure have run w/it since then! I’m anxious to try many of your chemical free and healthful recipes (already made the deodorant and lotion is next) but would love to know more about natural soap. Also, can you please tell me what you use for regular dish soap? All of our pots and overflow dishes are washed by hand and I would love a more cost effective and safer option than Dawn. Do you just use your all purpose cleaner?

  28. I would love to try making my own soap

  29. thank you so much i’m doing a science project on soap and hand sanitizer so thanks so much you really helped me with it and i learned something new i luv making homemade things like soap,shampoo, body wash,etc i’ll keep up with your blog thanks so much.

  30. I would be interested in trying some hand crafted soaps. I want to try and make soaps of my own eventually as well but I am taking baby steps. This weekend I will be trying out making my own detergent using your recipe. If that goes well I will move onto making my own deodorant. Right now I currently use one that I get from lush which I love but would like to try making the recipe you have here. I totally notice the difference from the ones you buy in the store to the natural one. Oh I didn’t mention for soap right now I have been using Dr. Bronners.
    And if everything goes well I will continue onto making your toothpaste recipe.

    Thank you so much. I love your site and content.

  31. First off I wanted to say thank you, I have recently started my journey to going all natural and your site has been such an enormous help! I was looking on the tropical traditions site and noticed they have 100% coconut oil bar soaps and liquid soaps. I know you use their coconut oil, but talk about Dr. Bronners when it comes to soap. Are the tropical traditions ones just as good or have you tried them?? Thanks!!

  32. Hello
    First of all thanks for such an amazing web site! So much great recipes for everything. We are having twins in May and only want to use all natural products on them and love all your baby products! My question is do you have a good face wash to remove make up and help acne prone skin that wont cause break outs? And also would you suggest using the soap nuts for laundry detergent or your liquid detergent recipe in HE front load washer? Also do you have a recipe for dish washer soap?
    Thanks:) sorry lots questions

  33. I am looking through your site. Have you posted any recipes on homemade soap bars? Thanks 🙂

    • I am a hard core supporter of this website, but I make our soap using a recipe from mommypotamus because this website did not have a recipe. It is just organic coconut oil, water, and lye. It is WAY super fatted so it is very gentle on skin. I use it on my 6 year old and 13 month. The 13 month old had terrible eczema and other skin issues that have disappeared since I started making our soap. The recipe is super easy and takes about an hour to make in a crock pot.

  34. I would love a recipe to make homemade liquid hand soap that’s moisturizing. I’m assuming liquid Castile (sp?) would be a base? Maybe like the shampoo recipe?

  35. I love your blog. I was looking for some organic soap that wouldn’t dry out skin out. My daughter and I have very sensitive skin and she now is getting dry skin. I do have one side note, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” <—says no one and no where in the Bible. Someone made that up.

    • Kristen J commented on the saying, “cleanliness is next to godliness.” May I suggest the following quotation, made by a friend of mine many years ago: “cleanliness is next to friendliness.” That really says it all.

      I love your site, Wellness Mama. As I seem to recall, you did post how to make soap recipes a couple of months ago. I was looking for it just now and didn’t find it. Directions please?

  36. I make my own real old fashioned soap. All kinds – from salt bars to goat’s milk. I do sometimes use fragrances instead of EOs for two reasons, 1 because EOs are soooooo expensive and it takes about 2 oz to make 3 lbs of soap. Fully 2 oz of good EO is easily $40 for some of the absolute cheapest ones. (And then I run into issues like can’t use citrus cuz sun exposure or can’t use rosemary cuz I’m epileptic, can’t use cinnamon – at least not very much or peppermint at least not very much – without causing tingling or even burning and the list just goes on and on – truly EOs are like medicine more than they are for fragrance and finally because it seems I have little talent in mixing up any type of fancy scents that are very pretty beyond ones that are real simple like a mix of lavender and patchouli or lemon and lavender … – anyway word of caution to anyone starting out using EOs – research, research, research before you use any of them!!!! And take notes – and LABEL THINGS!!! YOU WILL FORGET!!) and 2. because using something like strawberry or honey or even a copy of a perfume is fun. I figure on sooo many levels I am cutting out all the “bad” chemicals (hard to use that word because truly everything is a chemical – EOs are full of chemicals, natural ones – ones that help us… the word chemical is often misused) I mean I make my own laundry detergent, dish detergent, switched to castile soap for dish washing, make my own household cleansers – ya know for like counters and floors, room fresheners etc – all of them using EOs because you don’t need much EO in them – a little goes a long way. But if y’all are wondering why that bar of natural soap with all organic ingredients and EOs is sooooo expensive – it truly is not at all because the person is trying to gouge you but because it is sooooo expensive to make!!! That said it is still cheaper to make your own at home than to buy from someone else cuz obviously they are going to charge some for their hard work and to get their business going naturally and as it should be. And it is worth it and it is fun!!! (And cuz once you’ve spent all that money and made your soap, you now have enough to last for years!! I have too much!! But I give them away often. If I start making too much more I think I’ll take it to a shelter perhaps. It’s somewhat addicting.)

    I had wanted to start making my own shampoo and conditioner and have run into issues regarding preservation and whether to in fact use some detergents – not all of them are monsters. It just is requiring a GREAT deal of research for me to do this – I mean ALOT!!! That is to figure out what ingredients are made from what and whether that’s a good thing and it is just sooo very complicated!! To me anyway it seems that making all the other stuff is not that difficult but when it comes to things like lotions (not the bars – those are easy – but the ones with water in them), shampoos, conditioners and stuff like that, basically any type of soapy product that is fluid instead of hard, is where I’m running into some problems.

    I’m certainly not asking you to do the work for me LOL 🙂 I’m just sharing my experience.

    Oh and has anybody run into the problem with natural soaps making their skin dryer!?? I seem to not have a great reaction to natural soap – although I love using them nevertheless. So long as I use lotion I’m ok but normally I am not one who has to use very much lotion. I thought maybe I was doing something wrong so I bought some ph strips – tested them to make sure they work and then tested the soaps and they are all exactly where they are supposed to be. I’ve talked to a couple soapers about this and they say it is a most unusual problem and that for the very, very most part people have a better reaction to the homemade-type bars, but of course everyone is different. And I do have super sensitive skin. Even my own perspiration stings me (which just drives me batty – I get all red-faced and itchy and uncomfortable whenever I exert myself, which is of course is often).

    Oh and your oil cleansing is all the cleansing my face ever needs. I recommend it to EVERYBODY!!!! It is just fantastic – I LOVE IT!!! It gets your skin sooo super clean that oddly even though you’re using oils to clean with, you do indeed have to use lotion afterwards cuz your face is like a baby’s skin – fresh and soft and just too vulnerable to leave open to the elements – hence I now use a lotion (that I made using some ingredients that are great, like rose hydrosol and green tea extract and some that might be questionable like BTMS50 – not sure really to be honest and am having trouble finding out and to make matters worse everyone’s got a different opinion on them!! Ugh). Although I only really wash my face a couple times a week as odd as that may seem. Water alone generally keeps me pretty clean – so that while I shower at least a little of whatever I’ve used in the shower has made it onto my face at some point (a little soap, a little shampoo, a little conditioner lol) and by the time I’m done I don’t need to do special cleaning just for my face – is that weird? I think probably yes. (Don’t hardly ever wear makeup) But despite being sensitive and also not able to be in the sun my skin is pretty good just left alone. And yes I do appreciate that as I understand most people have at least some type of problem with their skin – either being too oily or too dry … Don’t hate me LOL (MMmmmaybe my face stays pretty clean because I’m constantly throwing water on it to get rid of any sweat – it really feels almost like there is alcohol on my skin or some type of acid when I perspire, annoying).

    Anyway, as usual, much thanks to you Katie cuz you’re the one who got me started down this path along with You have changed the errors of my ways – soooooo many of my ways!!!! My coffee now has coconut oil instead of cream. I make my own kombucha, don’t drink out of plastic anymore………. Basically almost everything has changed for the better since I ran into your website. You have made a fan for life in me!!

    (Oh and why not use castile on my hair? Cuz the ph is off – need to have something with a lower ph in order to do your hair justice. Castile runs it’s lowest at about 8. Really you need something more like 6 for your hair. Sooooo the research shall go on and on til I figure it out!!!! Perhaps the answer is just to add citric acid to castile? I heard that makes it separate though. Perhaps…..maybe I’ll give it a try and see what happens – ahhhh the mad scientist in her lab – kitchen LOL whipping up all kinds of fun stuff – I feel like a little kid when I’m doing all this stuff – soooo fun!! And yeah coconut milk/cream of course but I wanna make something I can bottle and ship to my friends!! That they won’t have to refrigerate and throw out in a week!! I’m just having too much fun!! And yes my whole family is using my lotion bars and lip balm and whatnot LOL I think I finally found my passion in life!!)

    Sorry for such a terribly long post – just wanted to A sing your praises, B talk about real soap and C expound on some of the fun and and some of the challenges (half the fun LOL) in making this stuff!!

    Your No 1 Fan


  37. i rili wnt to learn hw to mk soap but i dnt hv any idea on dat. i need help.

  38. I have been using FaceDoctor soap and just amazed at the results! I had what I thought was an allergic reaction to the plastic nose piece on my glasses. It was extremely itchy and was just on one side. As time progressed it grew into a raised sore. I recalled reading about this soap and thought ‘Why not give it a try?’.
    Within a week of using it the sore virtually disappeared. It is totally gone now and I can’t even see where it was. So impressed!

  39. Is there a bar soap you recommend for purchase? I would like something soothing and safe for my kids 7 years+ – not babies)? Also, any recommendations on purchased laundry soap?

  40. I am having trouble with boils or furuncles on my body. Is there a “natural” antibacterial soap you recommend? Thanks!

      • Thanks for the reply! I’ve started adding sea salt to my Epsom salt baths and it’s helped a lot. I got the idea from an article with Adina Grigore.

    • You could go with a good Tea Tree soap, or black seed with its own essential oil. Maybe don’t use a fragranced soap.

  41. For me, I just prefer the basics in a soap – nothing but sodium salts of fatty acids and glycerol (which sounds like a chemistry set in itself, but is just true soap).

    You haven’t mentioned shower gels much in this article, but its worth pointing out that they are just as bad as soaps.

    • I think it’s very important to know your skin’s limitations. Have you received chemo or radiation treatments. Do you have diagnosed skin outbreaks. There are certain herbs that add to a soap’s value. Black seed and its essential oil, for example, aids in controlling eczema; honey soothes, oatmeal is a mild exfoliate and moisturizer. And, to add to what you said, Craig, you need only hydrogen chloride (lye solution), a fat (like shea butter and/or virgin olive oil).

  42. natural soaps are perfect for you and your skin especially when they are with Donkey milk!