Monday, 7 April 2014

Natural Soaps or Chemical Soaps?

By Marie-Helene Blackmore

Isn't it funny how the ethos of a healthy lifestyle can echo in our heads, yet the experience of everyday living presents us with continual dilemmas of choice? It seems a constant modern conumdrum: natural vs chemical.

When it comes to soaps, specifically, what are the benefits of choosing natural over chemical? Potentially: many.

Soap is an integral part of our everyday lives, and our choices around it impact us from morning to night. Many soaps, body washes, shampoos and laundry detergents on the market today contain chemicals that can irritate the skin and even be harmful to your health. Choosing a more natural soap can be a simple way to fix an irritating problem.

Many soaps, bath products and hair care products on the market today contain chemicals that can irritate the skin or that can even be harmful to your health. Some chemical additives that are commonly used in soap-making may cause skin allergies and other skin problems, and some are even linked to serious health concerns. The most commonly used chemical substances in soaps, shampoos, body washes and other personal care products include sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), parabens and synthetic fragrances.

Why Are Chemicals Added to Soap?

These synthetic ingredients are added to beauty products, cosmetics and skin care products mostly because they are cheap. They are also added because they are effective cleaning and foaming agents or preservatives. However there has been increasing concern over the effects of these chemicals to our health.

Skin allergies and sensitivities are common today in adults and in children, and many people react to synthetic fragrances and preservatives. Many chemicals are also absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream; for example parabens can be absorbed into the blood and may have adverse health effects when they build up in the body over years of use. Parabens, SLS and other synthetic ingredients are often also harmful to the environment.

Paraben Preservatives in Soaps

Parabens are used in many, if not most, commercially available beauty products. Even some products that are called "natural" may contain parabens. You can find these on the ingredients list as methyl-, ethyl-, butyl- or propylparaben, which are the most often used types (although there are other parabens that are used in cosmetics and beauty products, too).

Parabens are antibacterial and can stop the growth of both bacteria and mould. They are generally used in beauty products as preservatives to lengthen the product's shelf life. They are cheap, but they can preserve a beauty product for several years. However there are many health concerns linked to the widespread use of parabens in cosmetics. Research has shown that these chemicals can mimic estrogen, the female hormone, and studies have linked parabens to breast cancer.

Parabens can also have an effect on the male reproductive system. People with sensitive skin may experience allergic reactions when using products that contain parabens. Like many other chemicals used in beauty products, parabens are also harmful to the environment and especially aquatic life.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is used as a foaming agent in soaps, shampoos, body washes and even toothpaste. It is what makes soaps lather and what gives many bath and shower products their foaming effect. Because it can effectively remove grease, it is also used in industrial strength cleaning products. However there has been growing concern in recent years about the use of sodium lauryl sulfate and many other similar sulfates in cosmetics and personal care products.

Sodium lauryl sulfate has been shown in several studies to irritate the skin and the scalp. Because it removes grease and fat, it also removes natural oils that the skin needs for protection and moisture. SLS has been found to irritate the skin, to cause inflammation, to damage the mucous membranes in the mouth (when used in toothpaste) and possibly cause mouth ulcers. It also reacts with other ingredients in beauty products and may form nitrates, which have carcinogenic (cancer-causing) properties.

SLS is used to make soaps lather more, but more lather does not necessarily mean that the soap cleans more effectively. Some alternatives to sodium lauryl sulfate include sodium laureth sulfate, which is often derived from coconuts. It may be milder and less harmful, but is not necessarily completely safe and can cause skin irritations - especially in people with sensitive skin that is prone to allergies. Ammonium lauryl sulfate and ammonium laureth sulfate are also sometimes used as surfactants and they are usually milder than SLS.

Many beauty products contain other chemicals, such as phosphates (sodium, disodium and trisodium phosphates). They are found in soaps, hair dyes, shampoos, skin care products and many other personal care products. Phosphates are often used as buffering agents and pH adjusters.

Synthetic Perfumes and Chemical Fragrances

Most beauty products contain some types of fragrances. These are very often synthetic fragrances. The majority of synthetic fragrances are derived from petroleum products and many are linked to respiratory problems, such as asthma. Chemical perfumes can irritate the respiratory system, although some people are more sensitive than others. Synthetic fragrances can also irritate the skin and cause allergic reactions in children and in adults.

Alternatives to Chemical Additives

Fortunately there are safer, natural alternatives. Natural and organic soaps are suitable for most skin types, including sensitive skin. The Savons d'ailleurs eBoutique sells dozens of traditionally made natural soaps and organic soaps.

Traditional vegetable soaps are made with olive oil and other natural oils, and natural fragrances such as essential oils (nature's own alternatives to chemical fragrances). Essential oils are derived from plants, from flowers, leaves, roots, seeds and bark. They are 100% natural, and there are dozens of essential oils that can be used in soap-making to add long-lasting fragrance. Many oils are also beneficial for the skin, and have hydrating, moisturizing and balancing properties.

Marseille soap, from the city of Marseille in France, or Aleppo soap from Aleppo in Syria, are popular traditional soaps that are made with pure natural ingredients, mostly olive and other vegetable oils, alkaline ash, and beneficial oils such as laurel oil. The ingredients in these soaps have been used in traditional soap-making for centuries, and are suitable for most skin types even in daily use. They are also biodegradable and much better for the environment than soaps that contain SLS or parabens. Organic soaps are another alternative; soaps made from organic ingredients are generally free from all the harmful chemicals and synthetic fragrances used in many non-organic products.

The Marseille, Aleppo and organic soaps in the Savons d'ailleurs eBoutique do not contain phospates, parabens or other chemical additives. They do not contain sodium lauryl sulfate, and although they may lather less than chemical soaps, they are much safer to use. These beautiful soaps are suitable for even a sensitive skin.

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