General Question

prioritymail's avatar

What makes a great bath bar soap?

Asked by prioritymail (1630points) January 31st, 2012

Do you go to the drugstore, a local boutique, Etsy? Do you shop by scent, packaging, a friend’s recommendation? Are certain ingredients must-haves or undesirable?

It seems like such a mundane decision to make, and yet it is a product you lather all over yourself every day for weeks. A simple bar of soap can have an ingredient list longer than some packaged food items, and they’re combined in more ways than a super computer could count.

What sets a great soap apart from the run-of-the-mill?

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54 Answers

Pandora's avatar

I like scent and how it leaves my skin feeling. For years I’ve used dove because so many family members have allergies but now its just my husband and myself and I like a soap with a soft flowery scent, that doesn’t make my skin crawl afterward, and leaves it feeling soft and pampered and fresh feeling. Scent is the least important but it does add to the pampered feeling. I’ve recently have tried Oil of Olay Rose scented soap. Only thing I don’t like is it desolves to quickly and leaves a mess.
There is another soap that has a mild rose smell but doesn’t lather too well, and even feels like it may be drying your skin but after a few days of bathing with it you will notice your skin is silky smooth. Aubreys Organic Rosa Mosqueta soap. You can buy it on line or in some organic stores.
Excellent soap. Only wish it lathered a little better and smelled a bit stronger. But for over all health of the skin and smoothness, it is awesome.

jca's avatar

I am a soap connoisseur and I have tons of it in my bathroom cabinet. I am into smells and I like unique ones, like from Whole Foods, or health food stores. I also like stuff like Crabtree and Evelyn. Once in a rare while, a nice hotel will have something unique. I like lavendar, verbena, lemon, the list goes on and on. I like a bar that’s relatively easy to hold – not too big or else it slips out of my hand.

zenvelo's avatar

I get all my bar soap from hotels from business travel. Right now I am using L’Occitane de Provence from the Ritz Carlton in Chicago.

jazmina88's avatar

I use antibacterial liquid soap most of the time.

My newphew had never heard of Irish Spring.

Just a hint, put your bar of soap out in the air a couple of days before you use it, it lasts longer.

Soupy's avatar

I try to keep it simple. I avoid the soaps with long ingredient lists. I generally just buy something animal product and palm oil free with ingredients I can easily identify.

augustlan's avatar

The perfect soap: Dove Unscented for Sensitive Skin.

MollyMcGuire's avatar

I only use Kirk’s Original. It’s simply the best. I’m sure my Granny used it too.

prioritymail's avatar

I sure have enjoyed reading the responses. Thanks for sharing, and keep them coming. I grew up with bar soap, then used liquid soap exclusively, but have transitioned back to bar. There is just something about bar soap that liquid soap can’t provide even though I think liquid soap is more convenient. Plus I travel a lot these days and like not having to worry about getting my liquids confiscated by overzealous TSA workers. Also I like that bar soap has less packaging, sometimes none at all. My default is Sappo Hill because of their short ingredient list, no packaging, and nice scents. Its use has been punctuated with the occasional hotel soap or travel / emergency purchase. Some of the recent memorable hotel soaps have been L’Occitane, Miller Harris (love their packaging prints), and Aveda. I used Dr. Bronner’s for a while but it resulted in too much build up in the shower and on my hair (like brushing chunks out of my hair; hey, they say it can be used for just about everything, and yes I’ve used it to wash clothes). The best bar I’ve used so far has been one that I got from Turkey. I can’t put a finger on exactly what was so fantastic about it—perhaps the unique new scent, or something about the way it made my skin feel afterwards, complex chemical reactions. I have no idea what was in it or what the brand was, and was pretty skeptical about trying it at all so it was a pleasant surprise. This experience set me off on a quest to find something equally good here at home, but it has been like (what i imagine) chasing that first crack high is like. I’ve been confused by all the choices—sea salt, charcoal, tar, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, clay, a laundry list of essential oils and plant parts, the list goes on. I guess it’s hard to know where to start when you don’t know what you’re looking for.

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JaneraSolomon's avatar

I like a soap that feels rich, lathers nicely, smells good, and doesn’t dry my skin, such as “Mistral French Milled Shea Butter & Olive Oil Soap”

cazzie's avatar

My soap, of course! I’m a certified soapmaker who specialises in historic recreations and goat milk soap. I have ranted on Fluther long and hard about what is soap and what is detergent and what is a ‘sidnet’ bar. I opt for as natural as I can get but I love nice fragrances. I love playing with fragrances when I am making soap. I have a beer and akvavit that the men just loved this past Christmas and my heather soap sold out completely.

I like infusing the water with teas like rooibos and chamomile. I tried putting the rooibos tea right in the soap, like I do with my chamomile, but it was a disaster. hahaha… the bits of rooibos were like slivers…. hahaha.. that soap never hit the shelves.

Handmade soaps need to be ‘overfatted’ which means there are more oils than that which the lye can attach to and make soap. It is the only way it will be kind to your skin. When I make soap for hand washing laundry, it isn’t overfatted because it needs more cleaning power.

Salt bars are nice. I need to make more salt bars for spring and my loofah soap with May Chang and Grapefruit is always popular when it is time for bathing suits.

Soapmaking is like an addiction, as you say looking for the perfect soap is, @prioritymail . When I go look at baking supplies, I don’t think about cakes, I think about how I can make soap with it.

A few tips when looking at handmade soaps: Be sure they are well labeled with the ingredients. In the US, soap is NOT considered a cosmetics so they only, legally, need to label it ‘soap’, but proper soapmakers know better and they should have a list. Look for a soap that contains castor oil or sodium castorate (the name for saponified castor oil). It will lather properly. If the soap maker is there, aks if the formula is overfatted and by how much. (between 5 and 8% is good) If it is cold process, ask how long the soap has cured. It doesn’t effect the pH so much as it does the water content. A well cured soap lasts longer. Four – six weeks should be enough. If it looks really white, soft and chalky, they either put too much lye in the formula or they don’t let it go through ‘gel phase’ when they make it. I would stay away from these types of soaps, because you can’t tell which it is. Soap that goes through gel stage feels harder and waxy and lasts much much longer. Hot process soap doesn’t need more than a week to cure, but I find that it cracks and looks dirty.

The soap you got from Turkey; was it one of those greenish with a brownish surface that looks a bit old and wrinkled? if so, it is called Aleppo soap and it is ancient in its formula. The sent comes from a type of Bay Leaf, usually.

I could write a book about soap… and often threaten to do so… but I will leave it at that for now. If you have any specific questions, just ask. I LURVE talking about soap.

marinelife's avatar

I love hard-milled French lavender soap. I get it at Trader Joe’s.

jca's avatar

I used to really love Yardley’s English Lavender, but a few years ago, they decided that Americans wanted a less fragrant soap, so the smell is still pleasant but not as strong as it used to be.

I also found a limited edition Yardley soap this past holiday season, called Vanilla Sugar. It had bits of oatmeal in it, and it smelled so nice, it really was a smell that you could have classified as both “feminine” and “masculine.”

Doubletree Hotels uses Aveda, I think. You can bet I hit up that maid’s cart a few times walking past it, when I was there last.

The Arizona Biltmore Hotel and Resort has soap that has what they describe as a desert fragrance. I can’t describe it, but it’s really pleasant and unique.

Soap for me is something that if I come across a new fragrance at a store, and the price is right, I can’t resist it. Sometimes I get it at Whole Foods, sometimes there’s unique and nice stuff at Costco, sometimes I find stuff from Italy and other countries at Marshalls or T J Maxx.

I would love love love to be able to make it, as a hobby I have known people that made soap that said it was not too hard to do. I would love to be able to do it and give it as gifts to people.

cazzie's avatar

@jca I could walk you through the basics. I would only charge if it ended up taking an inordinate amount of time. ;o) The more people making handmade soaps, the better in my view.

jca's avatar

@cazzie – are there any good links? then I’d just need some tips to practice.

cazzie's avatar

Yes, @jca I can get you some links to get you started. Wait… many of my reference that I used to use are now gone. Here is a pretty decent youtube video for you to get an idea of what the whole process looks like plus a bit of safety info.

Do NOT use aluminium pots. Do not use wooden stirring utensils. I work in grams, so I can’t even begin to think in Imperial measures anymore. Everything is measure by weight and not volume. You can make your own recipes, but you have to remember to put it through a ‘lye calculator’ so you the amount of lye is accurately calculated. Join a soapmaking yahoo group and read the questions and posts. I find the soapmaking communittee in the US a mixed bag. Some are great and very happy to help, and other’s are very secretive and don’t want competition in the market. You are bound to find some helpful people.

Any questions, send me a message.

Hain_roo's avatar

I like Kiss My Face lavender and olive oil soap. You can buy it natural markets. I like that it’s a nice big bar, and it lasts a long time. The smell is terrific but most of all—I have sensitive skin and it doesn’t bother me. :)

HungryGuy's avatar

Ivory Soap. No perfumes. No dyes. No scents.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I like scent and soaps with natural oils so now and then I’ll spoil myself and buy Zum Bar soaps at Sprouts or They last awhile and so far, all scents I’ve gotten have been well appreciated by the Mr. who generally doesn’t like “foo foo” soap.

jca's avatar

I was wrong, up above. Doubletree Hotels use Crabtree and Evelyn, not Aveda.

@cazzie: Thanks – will do.

@HungryGuy: Ivory Soap has a rep for being drying to the skin.

Charles's avatar

Price. Buy one of the cheapest in terms of product weight per dollar. Buy in bulk at Costco. Soap is pretty much soap. Some soaps may be a little easier on your skin but if you don’t have a skin condition, it isn’t necessary to buy those fancy brands.

augustlan's avatar

@HungryGuy Ivory eats my skin alive.

cazzie's avatar

Most commercial bars, like Ivory, go through a process where all the glycerine is removed, making it a bit less ‘skin loving’.

and @Charles don’t make me come over there and wash your mouth out. All soap is not ‘soap’. giggles

wilma's avatar

Ivory irritates my skin too @augustlan , especially my “lady bits”.
@cazzie I am fascinated by your soap knowledge.

cazzie's avatar

@wilma is ‘fascinated’ a euphemism for ‘bored’? People’s eyes usually glaze over when I start in on soap.

wilma's avatar

Nope, I like soap!

cazzie's avatar

Well, if you can make it to Scandinavia, I am organising a soapmaking conference this summer. Just getting dates and details. Going to hold it at a beautiful mountain lodge just over the border near Åre, Sweden. Anyone want to come?

HungryGuy's avatar

@jca and @augustlan – I didn’t know that. I’ve always heard the opposite being true: that perfumes and dyes in most soaps give some people skin rashes. That’s why I use Ivory soap and various “free and clear” laundry detergents.

wilma's avatar

@HungryGuy try some Dove for sensitive skin, I think you might be pleasantly surprised.
Or maybe @cazzie could recommend something even better!

jca's avatar

@HungryGuy: Ivory Soap has a fragrance.

augustlan's avatar

@HungryGuy Ivory is a natural soap, but very harsh. Technically, Dove isn’t actually soap, and it’s much gentler.

cazzie's avatar

Sorry, Dove is horrible. It is a sidnet bar, meaning it is part soap and part detergent. There really is no reason for all those chemicals to be smeared all over your body and then go down the drain into the environment. Man, this topic has just pressed my buttons. Ivory starts out natural soap, but then they machine dry it and take out all the glycerine. You will also, probably find the ingredient… (and I am doing this without looking…) Geraniol in it. Geraniol is a fragrance that smells like roses. It is also an allergen for many people.

Dove’s pH is toyed with in a big way. They bring down the pH, but they increase the bubbles and cleaning properties (the way it strips the skin of natural oils..?) by adding solid detergent to the bar. They make a huge deal about the pH, but skin tolerates pH exposure higher than itself quite well. Water itself has pH, on average, at least 2 points higher. Also, pH on skin differs from person to person and from area to area. They don’t mention THAT in their ads.

wilma's avatar

@cazzie Dove makes my skin feel really good. Is there another kind of soap out there that I can buy (affordably) at my store that you would recommend? Glycerin soap also makes my skin feel good and clean. Is that a better option?
And to also take advantage of your expertise, what is a “sidnet bar”?

cazzie's avatar

‘Glycerin’ soap is a name for the see through soaps, but it is a misnomer. Many many soaps contain glycerine. In fact, glycerine is part of the natural result of the saponification process when an alkalide meets a long chain fatty acid. Those true soaps, left to their own natural properties and not stripped through large scale processes, will have a HUGE amount of glycerine. (like mine… ;o)

In fact, to create a soap that is clear, one needs to add alcohol to the process and ensure that all spare oils are saponified, leaving no extra oil in the bar, because it would then be cloudy. (unseemly for the transparent-loving) We know that alcohol dries the skin. To make up for the fact that they have just created an abomination to saponification and healthy skin, the makers of these clear soaps then put in additives that do not affect the cleaning (stripping) power of the soap, but artificially lower the pH, making the cleaning power a bit less harsh.

For most skin-and-healthy people, these things do not matter and do not cross their minds. For those of us who have allergies and immune system trouble and skin issues and need to read every last ingredient on the label, knowledge is our friend. Crafty marketing is the enemy.

If Dove works for you, use it. I have NO idea where you live or what is on your shelves at your grocery store. If you mention some, I could help. I am sure there must be a simple, imported olive oil soap, wayyyy down on the bottom shelf, that if you read the ingredients list to me, I would be able to say, ‘BINGO! Real soap!’ and it wouldn’t be in the fanciest packaging and it would be a brand name you probably never heard of.

A sidnet bar is one that contains both soap and detergents. Soaps are saponified fatty acids. Detergents come from an array of sources, but contain chemicals and involve processes that can be, but are not exclusive to, the petro-chemical industry.

jca's avatar

I thought I heard that Dove soap is not really soap, it’s really just lotion compressed into a soap-like bar. They say it makes your skin feel really oily. That’s what I heard, anyway. I don’t use it.

@marinelife: I went to Trader Joe’s last night and they do have a great smelling lavender soap. It has such a pure lavender scent! They also have tea tree oil soap and green tea soap. I wonder if any of those would help our Jelly above who wants a soap that’s good for her skin.

cazzie's avatar

@jca there is no ‘lotion’ in dove soap. Marketing bullshit.

Without knowing exactly what is in the ingredients list, the descriptions don’t tell me anything. GreenTea can be just a scent description and usually is. If I made a green tea soap, I would brew a very strong green tea and then use that instead of water in my soapmaking process so that it actually WAS a greet tea soap. Tea tree is a strong extract that is regulated in the cosmetics industry. It contains a toxic chemical that can not be used over a certain percentage in any product.

Lavender is great. I love lavender. Lavandula Angustifolia is beautiful. If it claims to be lavender and has that (Lavandula Angustifoliain) it’s ingredients list, buy it. It is a good one.

There is simply too much bullshit in the soap industry. Large, MASSIVE corporations tryign to sell tonnes of product that is produced super super cheaply as possible (raping and pillaging the developing world for over a century) and pawning it off to the consumers as the be-all and end-all of wonderfulness. Well, think of the palm nut plantation worker who is housed in a hut and paid almost nothing and is beat for even bringing up the idea of a union. Think of the shea butter plantation worker. She leaves her children every day to work for pennies because the plantation owner has to deal with the large corporations who have driven the price so low, he can barely manage to pay his workers.

I work with a Women’s co-op in Ghana where they are paid directly from the market for their product. Screw the fat, corporate middlemen. These women can afford to send their children to school, finally. I wish and hope that the Universe blesses my dear friend, Pearl, who enlightened me to the women from her home country and worked with them to set up the co-op.

There are other additives in personal care products that are having staggering consequences. Silicone is now one of the most common and out of the ordinary contaminates in Arctic mammals. People are using it, unwittingly, in their personal care products and washing it down their drains. Triclosan and triclosan type products are altering not only our immune system, but it is also showing up in animals that are unwitting victims to our water run-off. The shocking stupidity of the industry and its consumers is screwing with the environment. I just want everyone to know the truth of ingredients lists, make informed decisions and maybe we can tell the corporations, ‘This. Ain’t. Good. Enough.’

When you consider your personal care products, your soap and such, consider how it got to you and then consider your conscience.

jca's avatar

@cazzie: do you have a link for your soap sales?

cazzie's avatar

I REALLY don’t want to spam the site. I am just sharing my own view of the industry here. I am not here to make sales. I will absolutely share knowledge and experience, but for integrity sake, I am not going to put any of my own sales links here. I hope that is OK.

jca's avatar

That’s fine with me. If you want to pm me, I’ll give you my email – if you don’t, that’s ok, too.

HungryGuy's avatar

@wilma and @jca and @augustlan – Okay, I’ll try anything once :-0

I’ll try Dove…

jca's avatar

I just went to Shoprite and they had Yardley soap for 88 cents a bar. I bought two vanilla sugar, two cinnamon spice (both were holiday limited editions) and two lavender. This is in addition to a bathroom cabinet that is already loaded up with soap! I have been buying Yardley English Lavender since I was a teen – I know my fellow high schoolers were not into soap and I was probably the only one (this was in the 80’s).

wilma's avatar

I have sort of a soap collection. I’m not sure why, but I do. I think the oldest bar of soap I have is a “Grandpa’s Pine Tar” soap. I have been a bit afraid to use it and I like the paper wrapping.
@cazzie do you know what would be the benefit of Pine tar in a soap?

cazzie's avatar

@wilma pine tar soap is a very old idea. There are substances in pine tar that act as anti-microbials. My mother suffered from psoriasis and tried pine tar soap, but it never helped and it smelled bad. What is important to note, is that the compounds in pine tar that are the active ingredients also happen to be accompanied by known carcinogens. I don’t know about the present products available in the US market, but I know that pine tar and oak moss are two ingredients that are highly regulated here in the EU because of the carcinogenic compounds found in them. I could not get a pine tar soap (using real pine tar) approved for sale here.

We have a product here in Europe called Dettol. I think it would be close to something called Pine-sol in the us. It is a brown liquid and you put it in water and it goes cloudy. Ring any bells? I believe that that cleaner is based on the same pine compounds.

Something that really works for some cases of bad dandruff and psoriasis behind your hairline is the original Listerine. (the yellow coloured stuff that smells medicine-y) Pour some onto a lump of cottonwool and dab it all over the affected area.

Keep the pine tar soap in its wrapper and enjoy the look of it.

prioritymail's avatar

I’ve tried Yardley and I’ve tried pine tar soap. Yardley was okay, but I felt it left a residue. Pine tar did nothing for dandruff and smells horrible. I’ve tried Kiss My Face twice in liquid shampoos, and was disappointed both times. It kind of made my scalp itch after a while. But I was in my local health food store a couple days ago and smelled their Olive Oil and Olive Oil and Aloe soap bars. I have been wanting to try an olive oil-based soap, liked the short ingredient lists of both, and decided to give the one with aloe a try. They both smelled great, and the one without aloe didn’t have any added fragrance.

Was dettol an antiseptic? I have seen it in the South Pacific before.

Agree listerine is good for killing an itch – that is a great tip.

There are so many different oils that soaps are made of it seems. What are the differences?

I’ve also noticed the increasing presence of silicon. I bought Aveeno body lotion and was very disappointed to find out there is some kind of silicon ingredient. It actually had a plastic-y texture. But it is everywhere and in everything and I am stumped as to why it seems to suddenly be so common place.

The turkish soap wasn’t that color…I think it was just a light tan or something, and I think it had little bits of something in it. Not sure what.

I’ve heard that goat milk in soap is very nice….I’ll have to try that one day! Feel free to PM me your website link as well, cazzie. THanks for sharing so much great info.

HungryGuy's avatar

I just bought a couple of bars of Dove along with my usual Ivory. I haven’t used the Dove yet, but I’ll let you know what I think of it. Moisturizing soaps usually leave me feeling all slimy and I don’t like that, but we’ll see…

cazzie's avatar

@prioritymail You ask GREAT questions.

All oils are made up of different types of long chain fatty acids. When you add an alkali, like Sodium Hydroxide, the long chain fatty acids are pulled apart and they become a type of salt called a soap and glycerine. Depending on the type of long chain fatty acid, for example, oleic acids like what olive oil is high in, that will form a type of salt soap that gives an small bubbled soap that almost feels a bit slimy. It will be a softer bar of soap that usually takes a bit longer to dry, or the hardening can be ‘forced’ by adding a small amount of just ordinary table salt. Coconut fats give loads of bubbles and a hard bar, but can be a bit drying to the skin. Castor oil is very unique in it’s fatty acid content and, to my mind, there is no substitute for it if you want a super sudsy bar, but you can’t use more than 15–20% of castor oil or your bar won’t be hard. Palm oil is cheap and has a good balance to give a bar of soap both suds and hardness. You know the company ‘Palmolive’? Palm oil and olive oil where their backbone in the good old days.

I encourage new soap makers to make single oil soaps just to see the property of each once they are saponified.

Balancing the different oils in the right combination with the right amount of Sodium Hydroxide is the task of every soap maker trying to make the perfect bar. Then, you move on to the fragrances and that is a very fun set of lessons to learn once you have the soap chemistry down.

prioritymail's avatar

Thanks @cazzie That is great info! And how fascinating!

HungryGuy's avatar

I don’t think I’ll be using that Dove after all. As soon as I ripped the plastic wrapper off the boxes, before even opening the boxes, the perfume scent knocked me on my @$$.

Sorry, but it just ain’t gonna happen :-(

Anyone want 2 free boxes of Dove soap? Plastic wrapping off, but boxes still closed and sealed…

wilma's avatar

@HungryGuy you should have gotten the unscented kind for sensitive skin.
Sorry you didn’t care for it.

HungryGuy's avatar

@wilma – There was several different varieties on the shelf. I chose the one that was the “plainest” of the lot. I didn’t see one that said anything about sensitive skin (that’s the one I would have chosen if I had seen that).

I’m holding the box right now. On various sides, it says:

beauty bar for deep moisture
¼ moisturizing cream
not for individual sale
(c) UNILEVER, Trumbull, CT 06611

augustlan's avatar

@HungryGuy Yeah, we were talking about unscented for sensitive skin Dove. It comes in a white and light green (sea-foam?) package.

wilma's avatar

@HungryGuy donate it to your local food pantry. They need personal care items and they will appreciate it.

HungryGuy's avatar

@augustlan – Well, I just didn’t see anything like that. Most of the varieties of Dove claimed to have various scents, so I picked up the one that was the least smelly according to the packaging (which I assumed was the one for sensitive skin, because the others definitely were not). Next time I go shopping, I’ll give Dove another chance and I’ll look for one that actually says “for sensitive skin” on the package.

@wilma – Will do…

cazzie's avatar

Hy Vee has a range of goat milk soaps on their website. I would recommend trying one of them, unscented if they have it. Goat milk soap is the best thing for sensitive skin.

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