Eco Friendly Soap Bars

Change from liquid soap and shower gel stored in plastic containers and purchase solid plastic free and eco-friendly soap bars instead!

To see some of the many options click here.

The use of natural soap bars has been a practice for many years long before bath gels in plastic bottles and liquid soap pumps flooded the market. Liquid soap and gels became popular together with the introduction of plastic puffs and plastic mesh body scrubbers as bath accessories. Unfortunately, many people do not realise that by using these accessories, tiny microplastics are being flushed into the drain with every use, adding to the increasing microplastics that are already polluting our seas and oceans. 

Furthermore, the liquid and gel soaps sold in plastic bottles are no better even when these are made of or sold in recyclable plastics, as these cannot be recycled indefinitely and soon end up as unrecyclable. The caps and pump heads are also often made of hard to recycle plastics. So, all these eventually form part of the plastic waste sitting in landfills for hundreds of years or end up finding their way to the ocean and slowly breaking down into micro-plastics and endangering sea and marine creatures.

It therefore time to start reverting back to some traditional practices before plastic came into the world! One of these is using eco-friendly soap bars. These natural soap bars are often sold in recycled cardboard boxes, paper wrappers or wrapped in cloth and tied with a ribbon (a nice gift idea!). These eco-friendly natural soap bars normally work out a lot cheaper than liquid soap and gels packaged in plastic and last a lot longer too!

But before you go and rush out and purchase soap bars there are a few different types to be aware of and certain chemicals and ingredients to avoid.

In general there are 3 kinds of soap bars:

  1. The fully natural soaps bars (Best)
  2. The Syndet bars (Stay away from these)
  3. The Combination Soap bars (Can be ok, but not as good as fully natural bars)

Fully natural soaps bars

The fully natural soap bars are high glycerine eco-friendly soap bars, produced using a lot of varied natural raw ingredients and natural oils without synthetic chemical surfactants. Common ingredients are Shea Butter, Argan oil, Cocoa butter, Aloe Vera, Bamboo charcoal, tea tree oil, olive oil, carrot juice, honey, coconut oil and many others.

Eco-friendly natural and oil-based natural soap bars are a good choice for cleaning skin, they are also rich in nutrients, vitamins, and antioxidants which are beneficial to the skin. There are different choices of these natural soap bars which include:

  • Soap Types for Dry Skin – These are mild natural soap bars with ingredients such as aloe vera, vitamin E, shea or cocoa butter, almond, or olive oil which are all great for dry skin. Bar soaps with vegetable fats like olive oil, coconut oil and shea butter can also help moisturise dry skin.
  • Soap Types for Oily Skin – Bar soaps with glycerin are the best for oily skin so soaps often made with a base of vegetable oils, coconut oil, castor oil, sunflower oil and lye (100% sodium hydroxide). Also look for natural non-comedogenic ingredients such as shea butter, argan oil, rosehip seed oil and hemp seed oil to prevent clogging of pores. Other common natural soap bar ingredients used are lemon, olive oil, jojoba oil, tea tree, kaolin clay, honey, oatmeal and witch hazel.
  • Soap Types for Acne Prone Skin – People prone to Acne are best using medicated or antibacterial soap. Herbal ingredients and essential oils such as rosemary, tea tree, eucalyptus, clove, oregano, lavender, chamomile, calendula and mints are good for healing and many have antibacterial properties.
  • Soap Types for Sensitive Skin – People who are prone to skin allergies (eczema and hives etc) are also best using organic soaps with natural ingredients that are skin-friendly. Its best using mild natural soap bars like the dry soap with ingredients such as aloe vera, vitamin E, shea or cocoa butter, almond, or olive oil which are delicate on the skin, but its also sensible to consider other antibacterial ingredients such as the rosemary, tea tree, eucalyptus. vegetable fats (olive oil, coconut oil and shea butter) and animal fats like goat milk can also help moisturise and protect sensitive skin.

Syndet bars

Syndet bars are made from synthetic ingredients combined with tension-active surfactants as the detergent, hence the name syndet. They are not called soap but cleansing bars, beauty bars or alike, as they do not meet the legal definition of soap. This kind is likely to be slightly more acidic than natural soap and contain other ingredients which often prove more harmful to the skin and environment than natural soap bars.

One example of syndet bars is the Dove White bar. Some of the common ingredients found in Syndet bars are:

  • Sodium cocoyl isethionate (SCI) – the most common and widely surfactant ingredient for mild cleansing. Some concerns include potential eye irritation and lung irritation.
  • Sulfosuccinates – such as Dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate (DSS) and a non-sulfate surfactant, non-irritant and effective for degreasing, foaming, and emulsifying benefits, gentle to skin even in higher concentration. It has been proved to be irritating to abraded skin, and can again cause irritation to eyes, lungs and some sensitive skin types.  This substance has also found to be highly toxic for fresh water rainbow trout.
  • Alpha olefin sulfonate (AOS) – a deep-cleansing primary surfactant. Whilst considered generally safe to skin and the environment, one report to the soap and detergent association in 1993 raised concern to low levels of aquatic toxicity effecting some fish.
  • Alkyl glyceryl ether sulfonate – mild lather -enhancing detergent surfactant. Again, whilst considered generally safe to humans the a global product safety strategy report by the Kao Corporation commented that it “suggests to cause toxicity for aquatic organism and harmful to aquatic life with long lasting effects”.
  • Sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) or sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) (also sodium laurilsulfate) – which are used as a foaming agent, are well known for removing oils from the skin, and can cause irritation to your eyes, skin, mouth, and lungs. Also known to clog pores and in some cases cause acne on those with more sensitive skin. It has also been found that where concentrations are more than 10% SLS it could cause skin corrosion, cornea damage and hair loss, and in concentrations more than 15% SLS can cause some animals depression, labored breathing, diarrhea and even death.
  • Betaines (also trimethylglycine) – derived from the sugar beet plant acts as humectant helping skin stay hydrated, and youthful. One of the better ingredients in Syndet bars, as it shows no real signs of harm to the skin, body of environment. The only concern for this ingredient is when taking as food supplements where it’s known to cause increased cholesterol levels, however not something that we need to worry about in the bars!

Combination Soap bars

The combo soap bars are basically a combination of the natural ingredients and synthetic ones. They are designed to try and increase the levels of cleansing but minimise skin irritation and environmental concerns.

As you would expect we advise you to investigate the synthetic ingredients yourself before purchasing any of these combo bars, but if you are unable to purchase fully natural soap bars then these may be a better option than the Syndet bars.

Final Considerations

Please remember that all the bar soaps, whether natural soap bars, syndet or combo’s, must be left to dry after use to prolong its useful life. Good options for drying are by using a natural wooden soap rack or use a natural sisal soap pouch and hang to dry. Sisal soap pouches are also great for exfoliating and being able to use up the small soap bits that often get chucked away.

Further to the ingredients used in soap or cleansing bars stated above, it is important to be mindful of the packaging of the soap bars too, as a lot of these can still be still packaged in plastic film or wrapping, which only adds to the ever-increasing plastic pollution our world faces. Those that manufacture and sell natural soap bars however are often more environmentally friendly and packaged in compostable packaging such as paper packaging, cardboard boxes or bags made from corn-starch etc. So please also consider this environmental impact when purchasing.

To see a range of natural soap bars, click here!