Natural Soaps: Better for You and the Earth

November 24, 2009 at 2:10 AM | Posted in Environmentally Friendly Living, Health and Fitness, Psychological Wellness | 2 Comments

First off, let me apologize for the lapse in posting. Lately, I’ve been weighed down with school and I’ve been getting back into weightlifting, so I haven’t had a lot of time to post. On another side-note, I am attempting to keep my posts shorter so more people read them. I’ve had more time to mull over some of the potential topics I wanted to talk about. Here’s one: organic soap.

Until this summer, this seemed like a luxury that only wealthy people would ever be able to afford, and it always struck me as a kind of pretentious thing to do. But I’m pretty big on holistic health care, and I believe that a little preventative medicine goes a long way towards keeping you in good health and reducing your health care costs. With the coming changes in health care, wouldn’t it be better if you simply didn’t have to rely on it at all? I think you would agree with me on that, at least.

So, what’s the deal with organic soap? It’s easier to answer that question by defining a few terms.

1. Soap: Real, true, honest-to-science soap is a cleansing agent made from the salts of vegetable or animal fat that has the rare ability to mix with both water and oil. Your skin and hair are oily, and you want to be able to clean off the excess oil with water. Soap seems perfect for the job.

Real soap: Not just for yuppies anymore.

2. Synthetic imitation beauty products: By law, manufacturers of beauty products are not allowed to call their product soap unless it is TRULY soap. Soap can be made at home using emulsifying wax, an oil base, and some sort of herb or essential oil for fragrance or medicinal properties, or both. You can’t make the stuff on Wal-Mart’s shelf. These products are called body wash, beauty wash, beauty bars, or moisturizing bars instead of soap. They are usually based on some sort of synthetic oil (or a low-quality vegetable oil at best), synthetic fragrance, and harmful chemical additives.

Commercial, synthetic washes are normally a liquid at room temperature.

For you skeptics, here’s a few lists.

Pantene Pro-V® ingredients: water, ammonium lauryl sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate, cocamide mea, glycol distearate, dimethicone, ammonium xylenesulfonate, cictric acid (preservative), fragrance, panthenyl ethyl ether, panthenol, polyquaternium-10, sodium citrate, sodium benzoate, disodium EDTA, peg-7M, cetyl alcohol, methylchloroisothiazolinone, methylisothiazolinone, sodium chloride.

So, Pantene®’s ingredients list contains pretty much nothing that sounds normal.

Here’s another list:

Dove gofresh® (waterlilly & fresh mint scent): water, sodium laureth sulfate, cocamidopropyl betaine, lauric acid, glycine soja (soybean) oil or helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, petrolatum, cocamide MEA, glycerin, fragrance, guar hydroxylpropyltrimoinum chloride, menthol, isostearic acid, PEG-8, stearate, citric acid, DMDM hydantoin, tetrasodium EDTA, blue 1, titanium dioxide, yellow 5.

They even got a patent for that formula. I’d like you to take note that neither Dove® nor Pantene® make what are generally considered to be “low-quality” products. I used to regard both of these companies as sort of the top when it came to buying every-day “soap.” Of course, with Dove®, at least a portion of your money goes to some sort of charity…

Watch for marketing gimmicks like this.

If you go online and do a search for natural health care products, you’ll get some interesting results. Sometimes the stuff online is good; sometimes it’s not. Here’s a soap from a site called The Greatest Herbs on Earth. This site has a supposed restoring shampoo and expounds at length on the evils of manufactured soap imitation products. It would be easy for an unsuspecting customer to fall victim to this scam, after all of the talk on the website. Here’s the ingredients list for their “savior” shampoo:

Water (aqua), sodium lauroamphoacetate, cocamidopropyl betaine, sodium cocoyl isethionate, polyether-1, Triticum vulgare (wheat) flour lipids, Persea gratissima (avocado) oil, retinyl palmitate (vitamin A), panthenyl triacetate (vitamin B), tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate (vitamin C), tocopheryl acetate (vitamin E), Aloe barbadensis, Arctium lappa (burdock) root extract, Urtica dioica (nettle) extract, Chamomilla recutita (matricaria) flower extract, Cedrus atlantica (cedarwood) bark oil, Oenothera biennis (evening primrose) oil, Aleurites moluccana (kukui) seed oil, Vitis vinifera (grape) seed oil, Simmondsia chinensis (jojoba) seed oil, Rosa canina (rose hips) fruit oil, Triticum vulgare (wheat) germ oil, Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) leaf oil, Lavandula angustifolia (lavender) oil, Mentha piperita (peppermint) oil, Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf oil, fragrance (essential oils), myristic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride, polyglyceryl-3 distearate, disodium EDTA, citric acid, laureth-4, glycol stearate, acrylates/C10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, phenoxyethanol, methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben.

That list is longer than either of the other two I’ve shown so far, and although it’s slightly better in terms of quality, it’s still loaded with all kinds of chemicals you can’t pronounce (You probably didn’t even bother reading the whole thing, did you?). So what now?

Here is the shampoo that I settled on personally. It comes from a website called Bubble and Bee Organics, and they carry a veritable plethora of organic body soap bars, shampoos, lotions, toothpastes and deodorants (to name a few items).

Ingredients: saponified oils of organic coconut, olive, and jojoba, vegetable glycerin, organic guar gum, organic sweet almond oil, organic macadamia nut oil, organic jojoba oil, organic peppermint essential oil, organic tea tree essential oil, organic spearmint essential oil, rosemary extract.

That’s tough to beat. Every single one of those ingredients can be obtained by a normal person, and this shampoo could easily be recreated. The list is also extremely short. It would really be even shorter if they didn’t list “organic” before each ingredient.

Here is the ingredients list for my current bar of soap, which I use for everything but my hair:

Ingredients: saponified cold pressed olive, coconut, organic palm, sunflower, and castor oils, distilled water, essential oils (patchouli, lavandin, orange, ylang ylang), wild mesquite bean meal, organic oats, calcium bentonite clay, sea salt.

Once again, nothing in there that sounds like it came from a top-secret nuclear research facility.

So let’s cover the benefits of buying organic, natural soap. I’ve made it into a list for ease of reading.

1. Better for your health. This is probably the most common-sense reason for buying real soap, so it’s the least-supported by research. As far as solid scientific research goes, studies have not proven any of the sodium sulfates in manufactured soap to be carcinogenic (then again, what is definitively carcinogenic?). At sufficiently high concentrations, most of the chemicals in commercial soaps do cause some sort of skin or membrane irritation. It is known that commercial shampoos sometimes cause a notable amount of damage to hair and scalp tissue. This is one of those things that causes slow, undetectable damage for many years and then manifests as some detectable problem down the road. However, without a lot of funded, FDA-accepted research out there, you’ll just have to take my word for it. If you try a really good soap out for a week or two, you’ll notice the difference. You won’t be able to go back to synthetic soap.

2. Reduced health care costs. If you have any sort of skin condition or hypersensitivity, natural soap is going to make your life better. Almost every kind of natural soap is advertised as hypoallergenic, and rightfully so. Besides a few really nasty or strong essential oils (which are not used for soap-making), there really aren’t any ingredients in regular soap that can aggravate skin. If you’re suffering from dandruff, gout, eczema, warts, psoriasis, dry skin, oily skin, acne, or blisters, nothing will offer you more relief than showering with a regular, natural soap. Why spend thousands of dollars per year on harsh, chemical-laden “doctor-approved” hormone creams (or whatever else you can drop into the money pit) when all you need to do is buy real soap? Using natural soap probably won’t cure the absolute worst of cases, but it will make them much more manageable. In some cases, skin conditions don’t go away because they simply never get the chance to heal because you put synthetic soap and chemicals on them every day. Give your body a chance to heal.

There’s also the implication that your risk for skin cancer will be vastly reduced by using natural soap. Skin can absorb toxins from the things you put on it, the air (to a very small degree) and from processed, chemical-laden foods. You’ll be taking a lot of the toxins out of your skin by not adding to the load and allowing your body a chance to filter some of the others out. Then, the next time you get sunburnt, there isn’t some dastardly plastic molecule sitting there with its massive carbon chain to confuse your body and cause some sort of deadly melanoma growth. Crisis averted!

3. Better for the environment. There are two major reasons that real soap is better for the environment. First off, commercial, synthetic soaps often rely on the oil industry for their raw ingredients. They use them in the soap itself, but they also ship their product in plastic containers, which always relies on oil for production. With bars of soap, you can get them package-free, minimally packaged, or in cardboard (which beats the hell out of plastic for sustainability). So, if you get natural soap, you’ll be giving foreign oil the boot in yet another way.

But another reason natural soap is better for the environment is one you might not have thought of. All of the shower water, toilet water, sink water, and the like goes to some sort of municipal wastewater treatment. The treatment process is responsible for removing pollutants generated by humans from the water. As a civil engineer, I know first-hand exactly what municipal wastewater treatment is capable of. If you’re washing vegetable oil, vegetable products, salt and essential oil down the drain, the natural processes can remove all of that without any problems. However, if you’re washing pesticides and  synthetic, polymer-based molecules (read: commercial soaps) down the drain, the processes can’t handle those as easily. Some of it disrupts the normal process and lowers the overall efficiency. Plastics and long polymer chains pass through unaffected and go on to damage natural waters, and become someone else’s drinking water downstream a little ways. This phenomenon has given rise to more stringent drinking water quality standards and raised the cost of treating water. In the end, it raises your utility bills and poses a threat to your health.

This is the new EPA endorsement for products that do less damage to the environment. Look for it on laundry and dish soaps, and other alternative household cleaning products.

4. It doesn’t cost any more. At first, it may seem that buying organic soap and shampoo costs more. But if you compare natural soap to synthetics, it doesn’t cost any more per year. Regular soap lasts longer than commercial soap. If you buy the really nice, name-brand designer stuff, that’ll cost you more. However, consider that when you buy something like Tresemme®, you’re paying a lot already (or any spa-level soap). Furthermore, you don’t have to buy any conditioner for your hair when you use natural products because conditioners were only invented to cover up the damage commercial shampoos do anyway. Some natural shampoo makers encourage a diluted vinegar rinse to replace conditioner if you really want – it is optional though (I do it because it helps with my dandruff).

Real cost-benefit isn’t understood by our instant-gratification-centric society today. An archaic concept called investment refers to an event where you put money in now and derive some greater benefit at some time down the road (note the heavy cynical tones here: thank you). The investment you make in your health by using natural skin care products is important. You won’t be visiting a dermatologist, you’ll have a better immune system since your body is that many toxins lighter, and you’ll just visit the doctor less. You can dispute that, and I’m sure many of you will, but the experience speaks for itself: it is the proof. If you don’t believe me, try it. What have you got to lose?

If you’re interested in taking this to the next level, there are all kinds of alternative organic cleaners available. Consider replacing the following items in your home with a natural alternative:

  • Laundry soap: available with any big-name retailer.
  • Dish soap: also available at just about any retailer.  They aren’t usually organic, but they are natural enough to be easier on you, clean just as well, and not destroy natural waterways.  That goes for laundry soap, too.
  • Toothpaste: if you didn’t guess, regular toothpaste is pretty bad for you, too.  I’ll have more on this below.
  • Lotions, moisturizers, lip balms, shaving cream, insect repellents (and no, not talking about copious amounts of garlic..although that is the most delicious way), and deodorant.
  • General surface cleaners: replace things like Windex®, 402®, Mr. Clean®, and Pledge® with natural alternatives.

Before I call this post done, I’d like to say a word about natural toothpaste. Natural toothpaste isn’t exactly what you expect it to be. It’s actually shreds of soap, just like you’d use on your skin, but with a few natural ingredients added for flavor (usually xylitol, sea salt and stevia – look them up, they’re all clean). Before I switched to tooth soap, I had rapidly receding gums that were always inflamed and red around the edges. I had exposed, sensitive roots, sensitive teeth, problems with staining and buildup, cavities, and frequent cankersores. After two weeks of switching, I noticed my gums no longer bled when brushing, they had changed to pink, and had stopped receding. My tooth sensitivity was gone and I had a generally “good” feel after I brushed. After a much longer term of use, I noticed I hadn’t had any cankersores since I switched, and I still haven’t had one yet. I HIGHLY recommend tooth soap instead of commercial toothpaste. Once again, nothing in it harms our natural waterways, so you can feel good about your contribution to our environment’s health.

This is the tooth soap I use. I love this stuff, and it’s given me back so much in terms of oral health. I hate the dentist, so going less (or not at all) is an awesome side-effect.

To get the maximum benefit of using natural tooth soap, you need to stop rinsing with commercial mouthwash, too.  It is full of harmful chemicals that you don’t need.  Instead, I suggest a pre- and post-brushing rinse with a sea salt solution.  The salt replaces the anti-bacterial properties of mouthwash, and it also helps to remineralize your teeth. If you drink a lot of coffee or tea, you may find it beneficial to do a daily brush with a baking soda mixture (make sure it is pure sodium bicarbonate on the label) followed by a tooth soap brush and a sea salt solution rinse. This will manage stains.

This is nearing 2600 words, so I’m calling it quits now. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me about anything. Start using real soap and I guarantee you’ll notice the difference. Here are a few good, trustworthy sites to get you started (especially if you’re having trouble finding something acceptable in town).

http://www.awildsoapbar.com/
http://www.bubbleandbee.com/index.html

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2 Comments »

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  1. I am curious about the implications involved in the title of this blog. “Stop sucking at life” implies that there is a right way and a wrong way to live and that you are challenging us to live the right way or, more specifically, to stop living the wrong way, assuming that there is no neutral way (not a safe assumption) or any other ways to live. “High performance lifestyle” implies that life performance can be measured. I am curious how you evaluate a person’s lifestyle performance and what it means to stop sucking at life. I have searched for these answers for a while now and I would like to know what you mean by this.

    • Once again, Adam, you assume too much of what I say. I see no logical train of thought that could possibly lead you to think I have assumed there is no “neutral way” to live your life. Obviously, it is not for me to determine what is appropriate for your life and what would determine whether or not you suck at life. That said, I take a rather general approach that I think can be applied to some degree to most people who read the blog. In my opinion, not sucking at life is any combination of the following, rather holistic items:

      1. Not contributing to the downfall of civilization (i.e. the zombie apocalypse) by continuing to be a part of the wanton destruction of the environment on which we all depend by changing ways that have been bred into us by the media and societal standards since birth
      2. Not contributing to your own health and wellness problems or, rather, taking an active role in improving your own health and wellness through natural approaches
      3. Becoming as educated as possible in an effort to alleviate some of the adverse effects of your ignorance on yourself, others, society and the environment
      4. Becoming a social activist, an advocate for a cause, nurturing a passion or finding a passion and doing something productive with it
      5. Encouraging others to stop sucking at life.

      Since ignorance has nearly always been the cause for what I perceive to be my own shortcomings, I seek knowledge for myself in order to help solve those problems. I started the blog in order to help others who might have been plagued by the same lack of knowledge. I feel that many people are ready and willing to help save the world from certain destruction, and that many people all think it is time for some kind of social revolution. At the very least, I think everyone sees that what our world has become is unacceptable and a change is needed. I see this blog as a way to motivate people to step up to the challenge, and encourage others to do the right thing. The solutions to our societal and environmental problems do not come from the government – they come from each and every one of us. And when you speak of problems with the environment or with society, you must remember that YOU, too, are a part of that.

      As for measuring life performance, I take a holistic approach to that, too. There is no scientific basis or standard unit for measuring life performance, and I think you know that. Instead, I would say you are performing well in life when you are doing your best. So your obvious question now is, “What if sucking at life IS my best, Frank?” The good news (for you) is that within the confines of my argument thus far, I can’t really say anything to that. However, I feel very comfortable in asserting that the vast majority of peoples’ “best” is WORLDS better than what each and every one of us are doing now. Furthermore, if it truly is your mission in life to suck horribly and not be a productive member of society, I at least offer this blog in hopes that it will help you improve whatever your “best” is. The point of the title of the blog is to say “I know you can do better.” We can all do better.

      Where the society in which we live and the media that feeds us shit have told us there simply is no way to live in harmony with the world, get bigger without steroids or be happy without cheating on your wife, I hope to make a difference. I hope to show others that there ARE answers out there. And most of all, the best answers are those that lie inside of each and every one of us – not in fucking drugs, government-run health care, wars over oil, Wal-Mart or any of that other bullshit. As I see it, we live in a dark age and only time will tell if we are strong enough as a civilization to see it through to better times, and if I can do one thing to motivate one person to do something better to that end, then I think this entire effort was worth it.


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