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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