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Kettle soap versus commercial soap: what’s the difference?

September 15, 2017

Kettle soap versus commercial soap: what’s the difference?


You use it daily when bathing or showering, but do you really know what ingredients are in the soap you lather up with? Or, for that matter, if its ingredients are truly safe? Chances are, you’re like most people who settle on a soap that gets the job done and makes them smell nicer in the process, without giving it a second thought.

We hope to change that after you read this article. After we divulge some dirty details about what may be lurking in the commercial soap you’ve been using to suds up (spoiler alert: it’s not pretty), it may just inspire you to re-think what you’re putting on your body's largest organ, which soaks up everything like a sponge. We also take a closer look at why people are switching to kettle soaps as a healthier alternative.

The dirty truth about commercial soap

Soap generally sets out achieve one simple goal: cleanliness. While that seems straightforward, choosing a soap that’s free of harmful substances these days can be anything but simple. That is, until you know what to look for and avoid.

Today’s commercial soap market is a maze filled with products claiming to contain “natural” ingredients, when they are nothing more than chemical cocktails sold under the guise of compelling advertisements to entice consumers, while avoiding any unpleasant details about what the product actually contains.

So, how do you know what is safe to use?

It boils down to knowing what to look for in the ingredients list. Knowledge is power and learning to intelligently dissect labels is helpful. 

When profit becomes the primary motivation, commercial soap makers skimp on quality and purity by using questionable ingredients such as chemical surfactants and foaming agents (Sodium Lauryl and Laureth Sulfate), thickening/hardening agents (Propylene Glycol or Stearic Acid), chelating agents for preventing soap residue (Tetrasodium Etidronate), artificial dyes (Blue 1, Red 33, Yellow 5), synthetic preservatives (Tetrasodium EDTA and BHT), and fragrances derived from petrochemicals (“Perfume” or “Fragrance oil”) of questionable safety. .

Upon closer inspection, commercial soap appears to be a glorified chemistry experiment yielding skin detergent rather than actual soap. You may be surprised to find that your commercial laundry detergent may contain many of the same ingredients as what you’ve been using on your skin – yikes!

What you need to know about commercial soap

  • Ever notice how your skin feels dry, tight, and itchy after using commercial soap? That’s because most commercial formulas remove glycerin, a main hydrating ingredient in soap. Glycerin is removed b/c it makes a harder bar and thus lasts longer, but the result is drier skin. If we were skeptics, we might wonder if the lack of hydrating additives by soap makers is to encourage the purchase of other other products to re-hydrate your skin. Just sayin'. 
  • You know that heavenly-scented “Tahitian Sunset” body wash or “Pumpkin Spice” soap bar you love to get a whiff of? Bad news. Carcinogenic pthalate chemicals were likely used to concoct that olfactory-tickling fragrance. These chemicals can also cause hormonal issues, allergies, and skin conditions.
  • Aside from being hazardous to your health, chemical-based commercial soaps can be irritating, especially for sensitive skin. Harsh ingredients also strip skin of its natural oils, leaving it parched and prone to premature aging.
  • A word of caution about antibacterial soaps: they kill bacteria, not viruses. Triclosan is commonly used in antibacterial soaps as a form of antibiotic, which wipes out both the bad and good bacteria, while viruses remain unphased. It’s also a known hormonal disruptor for women and children. A little-known fact is that antibacterial soaps can actually leave you more open to infection by “superbugs” (e.g. think MRSA) because it encourages mutation and increased resistance to antibiotics.
  • Mass-produced and factory-made: most commercial soaps are produced in enormous batches in factories all over the world.  Knowing the source of the soap is significant. While soap produced in the United States is subject to regulations and good manufacturing practices, international standards vary and one must be wary that facilities may have poor working conditions and concerns about cleanliness.

    For these reasons and more, consumers are turning away from commercial soap imposters and opting for natural, health-conscious alternatives, such as kettle soap.

    What is kettle soap?

    As the name implies, artisan soap makers traditionally used large cast iron kettles to make small batches of soap. While many soap makers have switched their kettles for large tubs, and interior stoves have replaced outdoor fires, the concept of handmade soap remains the same.

    Soapmaking in this fashion is more than a craft or art form, it’s also a science that requires a level of fine-tuned mastery to add just the right mixture of carefully selected organic ingredients, in order to produce rich, moisturizing soap that nourishes your skin.

    Special care goes into making each batch, with each bar being cut and trimmed by hand. It is this hand-crafted quality that provides a simple bar that is often irregular but delivers cleansing that is gentle and non-drying.

    9 Good reasons to switch to kettle soap

    1. Gentle and safe for sensitive skin types.
    2. Natural colors derived from organic earth clays, botanical herbs, and plant extracts.
    3. Infused with pure essential oils for light fragrance and to help control body odor.
    4. Enriched with natural emollients – coconut oil, shea butter, hemp oil, olive oil  – that are rich in fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to keep your skin looking healthy and youthful.
    5. Produces a creamy lather compared to synthetic foaming agents.
    6. Some kettle soaps may contain sea salt to act as a gentle exfoliant and remove impurities. It also nourishes your skin with magnesium, zinc, calcium, potassium, and iodine.
    7. No preservatives. No parabens. No sodium lauryl sulfate. No petroleum compounds.
    8. Versatile uses: apply soap to hair, face, and body. Men also love to shave with kettle soap.
    9. Average bar size is larger (4.5 - 5.5 ounces) compared to commercial soaps and they tend to last longer when allowed to cure in the air and firm up after use.

    Just as natural kettle soap is no ordinary soap, Abbey St Clare is not your average skin care company. We’re committed to providing handcrafted soap that’s as kind to the earth as it is to your skin, which is why we only use organic, vegan, and health-enhancing ingredients.

    Below are a few best-selling kettle soaps that our customers love. You can also shop our full collection of 19 kettle soaps and experience how soft and hydrated your skin feels after using our soap.

    Geranium Beauty Bar. Benefits: Soothing, renewing, beautifying. Ingredients: Olive Oil, Water, Coconut Oil, Sodium Hydroxide, Organic Palm Oil, Butyrospermum parkii (Shea) Butter, Grapefruit and Geranium Essential Oils, Organic Aloe Concentrate, Kaolin Clay and Rosehip Powder.

    Activated Charcoal & Tea Tree Drawing Soap. Benefits: Skin-clarifying and balanced oil-prone skin. Ingredients: Organic Olive Oil, Dist Water, Coconut Oil, Sodium Hydroxide, Organic Palm Oil, Organic Butyrospermum parkii (Shea) Butter, Activated Charcoal.

    Lemongrass. Benefits: A burst of lemon delivers a pick-me-up first thing in the morning and tames oily skin. Refreshing after a workout. Ingredients: Olive Oil, Water, Coconut Oil, Sodium Hydroxide, Organic Palm Oil, Butyrospermum parkii (Shea) Butter, Cymbopogon flexuosus (Lemongrass) Essential Oil, Cymbopogon flexuosus Herb.

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