Why buy an artisan, handmade bar of soap?
“Why would I pay so much for a bar of soap?! I can get this for a fraction of the price in the supermarket!”
I’m not the only soap maker who’s heard comments like these, especially face to face at markets. They are rare, most shoppers are polite, but they do happen.
And yes, to an extent they are right. In fact, I’ve just checked and you can absolutely get a bar of soap for 30p in one of our main supermarkets here in the UK. And if your aim is to tick items off your shopping list at the lowest price possible, then there are indeed plenty of options out there much cheaper than buying a decent bar of artisan soap from a local/online soap maker.
However, such comparisons aren’t working as you’re not comparing like for like. I couldn’t compare my little Toyota car with a Rolls Royce, and quite frankly Rolls Royce would laugh at me if I told them I can get a car for a fraction of the price of theirs. And people know that there are different cars out there with different functions, some more fancy or of better quality than others, affecting the price you pay for them.
We are in a cost of living crisis. Everything has become so much more expensive, and everyone has their own priorities and budgets. Whilst I personally don’t need the fancy car with the open roof top and automatic boot, others value these features. And that’s ok.
However, it is a shame that often people don’t understand what goes into making a decent, natural bar of soap. And this starts with the labels on soap bars: the labelling on the back of soap bars can be confusing (I didn’t understand all before starting to make my own)! It’s not us soap makers being difficult, I promise! Every legitimate soap maker, who has done their research, has practiced for months and years and follows all legal requirements will provide you with the accurate, required ingredient list in ‘INCI’ form.
Now, what is INCI you ask? It is the ‘international nomenclature cosmetic ingredient’ – it means that as a soap maker I must provide each ingredient with its internationally recognised name. This means I cannot write ‘olive oil’ but will need to write ‘sodium olivate’ (more on this and saponification another time…).
Not just once have I had someone say “Oh no, I’m not going to buy this. It’s got chlorine in it!” ‘Sodium chloride’ is the INCI for salt. And yes, I add salt to my soaps (at a rate of under 1%). There is no chlorine in my soap bars, and the one function salt has in my bars is to make the soaps harder and therefore longer lasting.
I wouldn’t expect any of my customers to be familiar with INCI names or the purpose of specific ingredients in my products, therefore do ask if anything is unclear!
Coming back to artisan/handmade/natural bars of soaps: I have a range of recipes but in general you will find that my soaps contain a range of liquid natural oils (such as olive oil, jojoba oil, grapeseed oil, apricot kernel oil, castor oil and sunflower oil). To ensure my soaps harden and don’t go mushy I also add solid oils and butters, such as coconut oil, shea butter, mango butter, cocoa butter (the hardest of them all). These oils are melted down, mixed with sodium hydroxide and water (which in turn makes the mixture go through a saponification process – hence the name ‘soap’) to create soap. There is no ‘soap’ without this process. Hence Dove not calling their ‘cleansing bars’ soap, as they actually aren’t a soap product.
Of course, we can then add additives, such as salt (to harden), sugar (to increase bubbles), botanicals, powders, clays, colourants and fragrances (be that essential oil or fragrance oil). We then even make these bars look pretty with cute designs, layers, swirls and decorative tops!
This is a very different process to soap bars (or liquid soaps, but that’s for another time) which – to make them cheap – contain cheap/chemical/environmentally damaging ingredients. They can also be incredibly irritating and drying for the skin, depending on their composition. They will almost certainly be cheaper though.
So it really is down to customers – what is important to them?
As a family we made the move after our third child was born and I started to really look at the ingredients in the products I bought. Having sensitive skin, allergies and eczema myself, changing the skincare products we use was the first change I made! I will share other blogs about skin irritants, allergens in fragrances and much more soon.
For now, here is a link to our natural, handmade bars of soap: https://soakind.co.uk/product-category/artisansoaps/
And here is an example of what an INCI ingredient list looks like:
Sodium Olivate, Sodium Cocoate, Cocos Nucifera Fruit Extract, Glycerin, Aqua, Helianthus Annuus Seed Oil, Theobroma Cacao Seed Butter, Butyrospermum Parkii Butter, Sodium Castorate
This is what it would look like in English:
Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, Coconut Milk, Glycerin, Water, Sunflower Oil, Cocoa Butter, Shea Butter, Castor Oil
More to share soon!