Sunday, 22 June 2014

Marseille Soap 101

By Marie-Helene Blackmore
   Famous for its traditional cube shape, Marseille Soap (Savon de Marseille) is also available in liquid or soft form, in shavings, flakes or small bars, and is a unique and authentic product. Its versatility makes it effective in many a situation: on excursions or at home, in the kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, garage or garden.
   A completely natural product made from olive, copra or palm oils, the true "Marseille Soap" does not contain colorants or synthetic substances. The term "Marseille" relates to the method used to produce the soap and its composition of 72% vegetable fat. Unfortunately there is no system of labelling to guarantee the origin (AOC) of this product which is made from a blend of oils whose neutrality and quality contribute to ensure its authenticity and fame.  There has recently been renewed interest in this soap on account of its natural properties. It is highly rated by those who pay special attention to the components of their beauty care products and to their impact on the environment. Its nostalgic, retro image, redolent of Provence, is another reason for its success. Marseille Soap maintains a positive image evoking nature, simplicity and "old-fashioned" cleanliness.
Does "Marseille Soap" actually still come from Marseille?
   The designation "Marseille Soap" is not protected. Nowadays scented soaps containing colorants and synthetic substances, as well as the usual ingredients particular to Marseille Soap, sell under this name. We also find Marseille Soap produced abroad using the Marseille process - Marseille Soap manufactured in France becomes an exception; in fact, the leading producers of Marseille Soap are China and Turkey. Furthermore, many French companies claiming to be soap-makers, or who use the notion of Master Soap-makers, are merely "packers" who work at assembling the soap from a base which they buy and then re-work. The soap base - shavings or 'bondillons' (soap pellets made from raw materials) - comes primarily from South East Asia. The only work to be carried out is colouring, perfuming and moulding this soap base which has been prepared from a modern process claiming the right to the designation "Marseille", thus making the products accessible to the largest number of consumers. Fortunately, purists can still obtain the real Marseille Soap from soap-makers like Le SérailLe Fer à ChevalMarius Fabre and Rampal Latour, who continue to make it in cauldrons the traditional way
Does "Marseille Soap" have to contain 72% oil?
   One of the characteristics of Marseille Soap is its composition of 72% vegetable oils (hence the stamp "72%") and 28% moisture. The more the soap dries out and the water evaporates the greater its oil content will be. Just like a vintage wine, quality Marseille Soap improves with time.
What is the difference between green and white Marseille Soap?
   There are two types of Marseille Soap: the "pure" Marseille Soap which contains 72% olive oil and sometimes a little copra oil (extracted from the coconut) on account of its foaming properties, and a little palm oil (extracted from the fruit of the oil palm) for its purity and smoothness. This soap is green. It is gentle enough to be used on the body. Olive oil soothes, nourishes and moisturizes. White Marseille Soap does not contain olive oil; it contains 72% copra and palm oils and sometimes peanut oil. It is ideal for laundry and housework. It is therefore vegetable oils which give Marseille Soap (green or white) its natural colour.
What is the difference between Aleppo and Marseille Soap?
   Aleppo Soap (Savon d'Alep) is made in Aleppo, Syria. The manufacturing process is similar to that of Marseille Soap: by cooking vegetable oils in a cauldron at a high temperature, using olive oil. The main difference is the addition of laurel berry oil after cooking. Real Aleppo Soap is fragrance-free, contains only saponified olive and laurel oils and there is an indication of the percentage of laurel berry oil in it. Known for its many virtues in skin treatment, laurel berry oil is a traditional component of creams and ointments.
Does black Soap have the same effects as Marseille Soap?
  Inasmuch as it is a body scrub, Black Soap (Savon noir) is considered to be an item essential to body beauty more than a soap and hygiene product in the conventional sense of the term. Its composition is also different. Rich in vitamin E, this type of "soap" has moisturizing and exfoliating properties despite the absence of exfoliating grains. It eliminates dead cells and toxins and purifies the skin. It is known for its calming and softening properties and leaves the skin feeling fresh and smooth.

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