Is Your Soap a Natural Product?

One reader, Dawn, recently commented on the last blog post, where one company’s natural soaps was mentioned from our Soapers’ Showcase. Dawn questioned soapmakers’ use of the term, “natural.”  Here is what she posted:

“Since you brought up the subject, maybe we need to look into natural again. When making my soap, I do not like to use 100% natural everything because it stifles me in color and fragrance. I think most Americans do not like the smell of most essential oils and prefer the more mellow fragrance oils or a blend of essential and fragrance oils. Until glitter is 100% natural, I will have problems making 100% natural soaps. When using mica, oxide, and lab colors in soap, it makes soap less natural. So us in the soap industry should state that our soaps are mostly natural or 95% or what ever percentage natural, should we not? Do some of you feel this way, or do you think that if we should just say fragrance and coloring on our list of ingredients and be fine with that?”

Dawn brought up an excellent question, though akin to opening Pandora’s Box.  I do want to emphasize that I don’t believe that Dawn was stating that the soap in the Showcase was less than natural, just that reading about these soaps caused her to think about the topic of natural soap.  Unfortunately, no simple answer to the dilemma exists.

Why this lack of definition?  In short, it is because we have no official definition of natural.  We all think we know it when we see it, and yet we do not all agree.  Indeed, the more we learn about cosmetic ingredients, the more complicated the decision becomes.  Additionally, the FDA has no legal definition of what constitutes natural ingredients in cosmetics.

We might, in a broad sense, consider anything that comes from the earth to be natural; but soon, we are faced with deciding how much processing in a product is tolerable before it no longer fits the category of natural.  Many cosmetic ingredients are derived from something most of us would consider natural, some of our foamers being a prime example.  At what point did these ingredients cross over from being natural to being synthetic?  Or are they still natural?  Are essential oils less than natural because of the processing required to obtain them?  Who’s to say?

Hence, natural is left to individual discretion.  Indeed, at least one group who is has undertaken the task of defining natural, but they are not a governing body, so their opinions are not official or binding.  Thus, it again boils down to individual thoughts and opinions.

The best I can offer, then, is that each soapmaker must search his or her own conscience regarding labeling and claims, regardless of what others do.  Do you feel truthful about using the term, “natural,” even though you have added fragrance oil and colorant?  If you use no more than 5% of what you consider natural ingredients, for instance, do you feel truthful in offering your customers, “natural” soap?  How do you feel about modern, lab-derived sodium hydroxide?

What do you think?  We’d love to hear your thoughtful and civil opinions.


8 Responses to “Is Your Soap a Natural Product?”
  1. Linda says:

    I more likely to be offended by someone claiming their product is 100% natural when it obviously cannot be. My products are 85% natural when you take into consideration the lye, fragrance, and colourants.

    Our customers are so used to commercial soaps that even when we tell them they are not 100% natural they are going to call them natural because we are using mostly natural ingredients, something they are not accustomed to.

    As long as we, the soapmakers, don’t try to fool our customers by making false claims then I am okay with people calling their soap natural, just not 100% natural.

    Just one woman’s opinion.

  2. Dawn Jones says:

    Thank you for your reply. Great answer.

  3. Tammy says:

    I agree with you Linda. Personly I would have a hard time putting 100% because of the lye. I know that we need it to make soap but unless were going to do the ash and water thing I think it’s not natural. thanks Tammy

  4. Jen says:

    I was enchanted (for a long time) with the idea of soap being natural, but I think I’m finally getting comfortable with letting that go. Soap is, at its heart, a chemical reaction (and one that does not take place in nature). Because of that, I just don’t feel comfortable claiming soap is natural. I definitely agree that “natural is left to individual discretion”, so I try to tread carefully.

    Thank you, Dawn, and the Saponifier for bringing this topic up. I thought I was the only one wrestling with terminology.

  5. Rebecca says:

    I wouldn’t consider lye to be an “un-natural” ingredient, as it is simply sodium chloride (table salt) that has been oxidized through an electrolytic bath.

  6. Ann Belonger says:

    As soapmakers we attempt to make our soap as “natural” as possible, just by the mere fact that we are crafting it in small batches, (not mass produced), and not using chemicals to preserve or scent are soaps. When compared to mass produced soap, well there really is no comparison, handcrafted soap is the best! It has within in it the passion and care of the crafter in every bar!

  7. Tye says:

    @Jen, Jen, Saponification does, and has happened naturally without provocation. See link: It ‘Naturally’ occurs when an alkali, water, and oils combine, and often times in nature this does happen…

  8. Janine says:

    If one is using the lye water that is a direct result of wood ashes mixing w/water & leaching out, one can call it natural. If one is using lye from any other source , it is a chemical, therefore not natural. In truth, everyone has the same definition of ‘natural’. Its when people try to split hairs, or stretch the truth that others may get confused.

    Essential oils are preferred by discerning customers with high standards. The way they are obtained, either co2 or steam distillation are natural, non-chemical methods. Other methods are not ‘natural’.

    Natural means not taking an ingredient, a plant, or something from nature, and applying something else to it that does not come from nature, to create something else. It means no manipulation with chemicals. We all know that. Some try to stretch it, some don’t. Some people don’t care and will believe anything they’re told, others care.

    Just look at sales of scented candles.

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