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.