Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Nature of Things

Let's talk about cleansers, shall we?

Really, what I want to chat about is liquid soap - specifically the kind in hand and facial cleansers and shampoo - and its ability to be natural. I'm not speaking about olive oil-based castille soap, which is alkaline (pH is above 8). BTW, some people can use this on their faces with no issue, and I envy them. It's all natural, inexpensive and, if it works, more power to them. But liquid soap and shampoo, made with surfactants, are mildly acidic (pH of 6 ish).  Skin pH is between 4.7 and 5.5.

Look, I'm no expert. I started making this shit today. But I have done a few weeks of research and I've lived a long time. I know that oily skin prefers acidic products.

That's why I'm not trying to go all-natural on the handmade shampoo or face cleanser. I'm looking for something to cut oil. I like bubbles (not crazy bubbles, but a little friction). I want my makeup to be all gone at the end of the face-washing experience. (Oh, I use toner also, but it shouldn't do the job of soap.)

For kicks, I took a pic of my hand soap, for our perusal:

I hope that you can see all of those ingredients if you click the photo to make it larger. The reason I'm highlighting them is because this product is, if anything, less "natural" than the ones I'm working on. Actually, it's pretty well the same level of natural, which is to say, made from lots of chemicals that you would not find, as is, in nature. Don't get me wrong. If you begin at the beginning, most start with some sort of plant (soy, palm etc.) But you're never going to walk into a field of cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine. For what it's worth, that's a lovely amphoteric surfactant (adds viscosity and it's anti-static.)

Brief Detour: Everyone stuff is EO rebranded. It's a popular line - affordable and the product works reasonably well. I particularly like the hand soap. It's one of many similar products peeps use daily to feel good about themselves, having bought from a "natural" store - which would only sell things with pronounceable ingredients (so no need to scrutinize, right?).  I don't want to get into an argument about whether natural is safer or to try to define it, God help us. But the point is that many of us mistaken in our beliefs about naturalness and that what we're buying actually fits that description. There are many effective products that aren't natural (and that doesn't make them bad, though some of them may actually be bad).

But let's get back to the product itself: The reason zillions of people buy this to wash their hands with, multiple times daily - vs. truly all-natural castille soap - which seriously, leaves a film?! - is because those surfactants are lowering surface tension to give one that feeling of clean. (Let's leave the definition of clean for another post, shall we?)

My goal right now is to learn as much about surfactants as I can - and to use them prudently (as I deem them safe) to make products that work optimally without being unnecessarily harsh - for the world and for me. If I'm going to use a product - whether I buy it or make it - I want to know what I'm getting myself into.

But what do you think? Do you feel protected by well-marketed brands that you pay a lot for (and that you buy in places known for selling natural things)? Do you only use the castille soap (and its relatives)? Do you read the ingredients when you're at Sephora?

While I'm non-apologetic in my use of surfactants, I don't generally use unpronounceables when it comes to leave-on skin care. My reasoning: That stuff stays on your skin and soaks in. Furthermore, for me, leave-on products work perfectly well in their naturalness. Why go fussy unnecessarily? But that's me and my skin. What are your thoughts on the matter? Are you like me? Totally different? Let's talk!


  1. Uh, I used to carry around Dr. Bronner's castille soap when I backpacked/travelled... picture me as a dirty hippie and you'll get the gist! Now I can't stand the smell of the stuff. So glad that's not what you are making!
    I've got no problem with modern ingredients or complicated ingredient names - Viva la progress! That said, I do try hard to clean my skin gently so that i need the least amount of moisturing etc to rebalance after washing it. Calm skin is happy skin for me!

    1. Ha! That's what I think about when I think about that soap - hostel travel and camping. It seems that you and I are well-aligned in this philosophy.

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