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How to Buy Truly Non-Toxic Soap

Written by Irina Webb

When you type the phrase “non-toxic soap” into a search engine, a lot of brands come up, including Mrs. Meyer’s.  But are they non-toxic just because your search engine thinks they might be?  What constitutes toxic free soap?  And what is soap to begin with?  In this post, we will discuss the difference between soap and washes.  In addition, I will tell you about the characteristics of non-toxic soap, so we can decide whether Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Liquid Hand Soap can be considered a safe hand soap.  Also, I will give you some suggestions about chemical free soaps that I use and like a lot.

Non-Toxic Soap Indeed. A photo of hand-made soap bars in colorful wrappings.

The difference between soap and wash

According to the FDA, soap is a product of the process of saponification, which is a chemical reaction of oil and an alkali.  If there are other ingredients in the product, namely, synthetic detergents, we can’t consider it soap, although the label may still carry the word “soap.” 

In addition to soap, there are “washes.”  A wash is like “liquid soap” for washing your body or hands.  There are two types of washes on the market: saponified oil soap and washing detergents.

Saponified oil soap

Traditionally, saponified oil soap is made in a one-step process where lye reacts with plant oil.  This kind of soap is safe for people and the environment.  Depending on the actual ingredients, it has a potential to be called “toxic free soap,” because there is nothing inherently toxic about the product itself or the way it is made.

Washing detergents

Unlike non-toxic soap, washing detergents contain synthetic surfactants (aka cleansing agents) that create lather.  They are normally derived from either coconut oil or petroleum.  Even though coconut oil sounds healthy, the derivation process consists of several steps that involve a few chemicals.  

Some examples of surfactants that you may come across are cocamide DEA and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES).  I talk more about them in my post Are Mrs. Meyer’s Cleaning Products Safe?  Unfortunately, the health data on surfactants in general are not enough to determine whether they are safe or harmful.

Characteristics of non-toxic soap

So far, we have discovered one important characteristic of toxic free soap – it consists of simple ingredients, namely oil and an alkali, that are combined during the saponification process.

Another characteristic of chemical free soaps is the absence of fragrance, and here is why.

Fragrance as an ingredient

The word “fragrance” on a list of ingredients is tricky because it is usually not just one ingredient.  Rather, it is a whole mix of various components that the manufacturer chooses not to disclose to the consumer.  Do you know how many ingredients may create one aroma mix?  About 4,000!

Sadly, many of them are chemicals that may cause allergic reactions, endocrine disruption, and even cancer.  The Skin Deep database used to rate fragrance at 8 (with 10 as most toxic), but they recently started giving it a better rating of 7.  To clarify, for non-toxic soap to be truly non-toxic, it should not have any fragrance with undisclosed ingredients.

What about “natural” fragrance in toxic free soap?

The first thing to remember is that according to the International Fragrance Association (IFRA), there is no official definition for the term “natural” in the fragrance industry (source).  Additionally, it is good to know what so-called “natural scents” are made of.

To make a natural scent compound, chemists extract a single scent compound from the whole plant and call it an “isolate.”  Some examples of isolates are geraniol, linalool, benzyl benzoate, and limonene.  The Environmental Working Group rates isolates between 5 and 7 on a 10 point scale, where 10 indicates the highest degree of toxicity.

Interestingly enough, it seems unimportant if the source of these isolates is a plant, or they are a product of laboratory experiments. Regardless of the origin, they may increase the risk of allergic reactions.

What about fragrance made of essential oils in toxic free soap?

If you prefer scented soap, make sure that the fragrance consists of 100% essential oils and nothing else.  Essential oils have powerful healing properties.  However, some people can still be sensitive to them, especially when there are high concentrations of them (source).  This is why, in my Shampoo Rating List, I marked 100% essential oil blends as 1 out of 10 (with 0 as the safest).

Thus, we can conclude that true non-toxic soap is soap that is made from oil and lye and has neither synthetic fragrance nor natural fragrance with undisclosed ingredients.

Is Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Liquid Hand Soap non-toxic soap?

Mrs. Meyer’s products are an example of hand washing detergents, which are not true soap because they are not made by the process of saponification. 

Instead, Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Liquid Hand Soap has three surfactants: cocamidopyl hydroxysultaine, sodium methyl 2-sulfolaurate, and disodium 2-sulfolaurate.

Surfactants in Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day liquid hand soap

Cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine is commonly used in so-called natural and clean shampoos as an alternative to cocamidopropyl betaine.  Cocamidopropyl betaine may cause an allergic reaction mainly due to its contaminants.  Studies show that its close relative cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine can have the same contaminants.  You can learn more about that in my post called Is Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine Safe?

The other two surfactants, sodium methyl 2-sulfolaurate, and disodium 2-sulfolaurate, like many surfactants, do not have any safety data.  See the Cosmetic Ingredient Review website by searching their database here.  By the way, when some ingredients do not have any safety data, the EWG Skin Deep database gives them the safest rating of 1.  Unlike the EWG, I give the ingredients with no safety data a rating of 3 in my Shampoo Rating List.  Hence, I can’t call Mrs. Meyer’s soap toxic free soap.

Fragrance in Mrs. Meyer’s liquid hand soap

Now let’s talk about fragrance in Mrs. Meyer’s soap.  Mrs. Meyer’s has recently started disclosing their fragrance ingredients.  This is great, and I applaud Mrs. Meyer’s for doing that.  This is another example of consumer power at work.  The law does not require companies to disclose ingredients, but some companies have started doing so voluntarily.  I would like to think it’s because we have been asking them questions.  On this note, I encourage you to continue contacting companies and asking questions.

In short, Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Liquid Hand Soap is one of the better options for washing your hands, but we can’t call it non-toxic soap quite yet.  To learn more about Mrs. Meyer’s fragrance ingredients, please read my post Are Mrs. Meyer’s Cleaning Products Safe?   

Where to find non-toxic soap?

To find toxic free soap, let’s go back in time.  The first soap makers simply used olive oil, lye, and water.  We call this type of soap “castile” soap, because it originated in the Castile region of Spain.  If you have sensitive and problematic skin or a newborn baby, you can learn how to benefit from castile soap in my post Castile Soap for You and Your Baby.  

My recommendations for chemical free soaps

While I think liquid soap is safe, I personally prefer bar soap.  One of the reasons I consider it better than liquid soap is that it doesn’t have water, so there is no need for preservatives.  If you want to learn about the other four reasons, please read my post about why I prefer non-toxic bar soap over liquid.

If you choose to try bar soap, remember to get a soap dish that drains water well to prevent your non-toxic soap from getting soggy.  We’d tried a few different soap dishes before we found this one that we like a lot.  If your soap remains soggy, try emptying the water underneath the soap.  Even though the soap is not sitting in water, it can get soggy because of its proximity to water.  To clarify, water creates a very humid environment as it evaporates.

As for the toxic free soap that I recommend, there are a few brands that I like. 

The first one is MamaSuds liquid castile soap, which you can buy with the coupon IRLFY10 to get 10% off storewide.

Another one is Dr. Bronner’s soap made with organic ingredients, which you can buy in many health food stores.

In addition, By Valenti sells bar soap with organic ingredients and no palm oil.

Furthermore, Meliora Cleans Better does not use any palm oil either.  This is my favorite soap right now because it does not get soggy, is not drying for the skin, and lathers well.

Conclusion about toxic free soap

I have shared with you just a couple of recommendations about safe soap.  However, in my guide to non-toxic hand soap I give more options for non-toxic soap as well as the names of soap brands I don’t recommend.

Plus, you can find lots of non-toxic and healthy personal care product options in my IRLFY shop.

I keep reminding my readers about the importance of reading labels.  It is crucial that as consumers we make our purchasing decisions based not on hype and advertisements but on a clear understanding of what exactly we are putting on our skin.  And the next time you pick up a bottle of liquid soap, you will be able to easily determine whether it is truly non-toxic. 

Your Superpower To Read Ingredients

Imagine looking at the ingredients of any shampoo, conditioner, lotion, or cream and in a matter of seconds being able to decide if it is safe to use!

With this easy unprecendented method, you will be able to spot potentially harmful personal care or skincare products that may cause irritation, an allergic reaction, or increase the risk of endocrine disruption or cancer.

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7 thoughts on “How to Buy Truly Non-Toxic Soap”

  1. For the Everyone Kids Orange Squeeze soap EWG lists Limonene at a 3, not a 5-7.

    I had previously been using another Everyone product and had no issues. After using the Kids Orange Squeeze for a couple of washes I started developing an ugly spotty red rash. There are a few ingredients in the Orange Squeeze that were not in the previous Everyone product and one of those was Limonene. It was also the only one that was different with a score higher than 1 so it makes me wonder if the Limonene caused the rash. EWG does list irritation for Limonene.

    Finding products is difficult even with EWG because I feel like their verified products sometimes still contain ingredients that can irritate in one way or another. *sigh*

  2. I tried the Mrs Meyer hand soap once and I found the fragrance to be so strong and and so artificial and it stayed on my hands. I couldn’t stand it. I tried diluting it into a foaming soap hand wash, but that didn’t help. I tossed it.

  3. No comment. Just seaching for a non-toxic, unscented natural and breathable soap to use as an air filtering liquid to filter viruses from breathable air…

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