When soap stopped being soap
It’s early Tuesday morning in spring. Market traders slowly amble into life, setting up their stalls and displaying their wares in a way to tempt and delight the anticipated crowds. The high-pitched singsong chatter floats above the medieval rooftops of Caylus before dissipating into yet another azure blue sky.
In the corner of the square, there’s me, always struggling to erect and pitch my very stubborn tent having had another pleading conversation with the Market Inspector about not being placed opposite the fish stall. After all, I argue, do fish wear deodorant?
Perhaps this needs some form of explanation. You see, I have a Savonnerie in Caylus where I make hand craft soap from the best plant butters, oil and waxes that nature provides. Delicately fragranced with the souls of plants in the form of essential oils, these aromas were never intended to compete with the pungent smell of fish.
From my small workshop co-located in my B&B, I create my soap along with bath and skin products that I sell at local markets, seasonal fairs, my website as well as from my small boutique located on Rue Lagardère in Caylus.
So here I am, at my stall on the market when the first customer of the day arrives. “Do you make glycerin soap?” she asks adding that the soap she normally buys is extremely harsh and leaves her skin feeling dry and tight.
Now this is a very interesting question followed by a true observation, one that many people can identify with. To better understand the benefits of glycerin, how it’s formed and ultimately used by the giants of the cosmetic and personal hygiene industry, you might like to know a little more about this colourless and odourless substance with a sweet taste. (Glycerin from the Greek work “glykys” meaning sweet.)
Glycerin, discovered in 1779 by a Swedish chemist named Carl. W Scheele, is highly hygroscopic which, in lay-mans terms means that it absorbs water from the air thus drawing moisture into the skin or hair. It occurs naturally during the soap making process and is a highly prized substance. During the 1800’s for example, glycerin was extracted from the soap and used to make the nitroglycerin for dynamite.
The practice of glycerin extraction by commercial soap manufacturers continues today. To do this, salt is added which curdles the soap and floats it to the top. The soap is skimmed from the top of this mixture leaving the glycerin behind. Even in this state, there are many unwanted natural additives in the glycerin so it is distilled and then bleached and sold on for cosmetic, commercial and industrial use worldwide carrying with it a phenomenally high commercial value.
During World War 1, the ingredients needed to make pure soap were exceedingly scarce, which forced German scientists to develop a new form of soap with synthetic compounds. This is the point in time where soap stopped being soap.
Known as detergents, it is interesting to note, that most commercially made soap available today cannot legally be labeled and sold as “soap”. You are more likely to see the words Beauty Cream Bar or Beauty Bar on the packaging. The reason for this is because of the addition of synthetic compounds and the extraction of glycerin during the manufacturing process.
If you’ve ever wondered why you pay a high price for your face creams and other cream body products, think glycerin. Yes, the glycerin in your beauty products is the same glycerin extracted during commercial manufacture of the humble detergent based “soap”.
These commercial giants are extremely cunning however, especially now, as heightened consumer awareness of the possible side effects of synthetic additives in commercial soap means that the consumer is increasingly seeking truly natural products.
Just because one or two natural ingredients are added into the mix doesn’t mean the resulting product will be 100% natural. They are not. They are still detergents and in fact, it is virtually impossible for commercial companies to make a 100% natural soap, hence the emergence of a cottage industry of soap-makers whose hand-made products are increasingly in demand.
So there it is. We now have the answer to my customer’s question. Yes, all my hand-made natural soap retain the glycerin which results in a most luxurious product, packed full of honest plant goodness with supreme moisturising properties.
Isn’t it time to save your skin and that of your family by switching to a soap that is 100% powered by nature?
Jacqueline Hurley is an Artisan Soap Maker based in Caylus, SW France offering an extensive range of hand made soap and bath products as well as a small range of natural face creams, balms and body butters.
From her atelier in the basement of her Chambres D’hotes Le Petit Coin de Charme, Jacqueline crafts bespoke orders for weddings, guest houses, B&B’s as well as producing an unusual array of soap that is sold at local markets, from her shop and also through her website. Jacqueline also runs regular soap making workshops for beginners through to professionals and offers residential soap-making holidays between March & October