Monday, September 27, 2010

Choosing Natural

There are plenty of reasons to choose organic products, from environmental and animal rights benefits, to reasons for personal health and safety. But even for people who do not feel strongly about incorportating organic products into all aspects of their life, there are good reasons to choose all natural beauty and skin-care products.

Many soap makers add synthetic compounds to boost lather, create a harder, longer-lasting bar, or to add vibrant colors or scents.  None of these additives contribute any beneficial skincare qualities to the soap. Instead, they are usually added to reduce cost or add sensory appeal and they often contain a number of toxins.

I WILL admit that when it comes to coloring soap,  my artistic side WAS drawn to the vibrant colors and  irredescent shimmer that can be achieved with micas, oxides and lab colors.  It was definitely tempting to play with these and, as many people are quick to point out, these types of colorants are used in nearly everything we encounter, from the food we eat to the clothes we wear. But rather than easing my concerns, it was THAT sentiment... the idea that we are surrounded by artificial colorants and toxins every day... that made me realize that this is the exact reason I shouldn't use them in soap.

It is no secret that many of the things we take for granted in our daily lives do in-fact contain toxins. Many ingredients are recognized by the FDA as toxins, but approved for use in such small quantities that they are deemed "safe." But when you think of everything we consume and use that contains a small quantity of toxins, it really begins to add up. Why should our skincare routines contribute to the unnecessary toxins that are already creeping into all aspects of our lives?

Apart from my concern about unnecessary toxins, I choose not to use synthetic fragrance in my soap for a couple of reasons. For one, I am cursed with hyper-sensitive skin and many synthetic fragrances irritate sensitive skin. This is what got me interested in natural skincare in the first place. I find that the fewer things I put on my skin, the better off I am. Then, when I found out that fragrances are governed by trade secret laws and that nobody really knows what is in them and that many contain pthalates and other harmful ingredients... well, that sealed the deal! I definitely am not going to put something in my soap if I don't know and can't tell others what it is!

In the end, creating soap as an artistic endeavor without the sensory appeal of synthetic fragrances and beautiful bright colors, definitely can be challenging. But, who doesn't love a good challenge?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

What is Fragrance?

Fragrance oils are those delicious smelling, scrumptiously tempting oils that allow you to create a soap that smells like fresh baked bread, strawberry cheesecake or a cool ocean breeze. They are absolutely a treat for the senses… but are they safe?

What are fragrance oils made from?

Fragrance oils may contain a percentage of natural essential oils, but due to cost and availability, most fragrance oil manufacturers use synthetic ingredients. There are more than 3,000 materials that can be used to create fragrance oils, yet because fragrances are protected under “trade secret” laws, manufacturers are not required to disclose those ingredients… so they don’t!

So, what is a fragrance oil made from? Your guess is as good as mine!

What we DO know:

Many fragrance oils contain phthalates.
·    Phthalates are group of synthetic chemicals with many purposes, from making plastics more flexible to creating long lasting fragrances

·         *Phthalates pose the following risks:
o   Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive)
o   Endocrine system
o   Reproduction and fertility
o   Birth or developmental effects
o   Persistent and bioaccumulative
o   Brain and nervous system
o   Immune system (including sensitization and allergies)


·    Since fragrance manufacturers do not need to disclose their ingredients, those lusciously scented soaps may contain phthalates, but you will not see it in the ingredients list.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Are Micas and Oxides Natural?

What is mica?

Online, some soap makers will tell you…

·   “Mica pigments are mineral colors that lend themselves beautifully to any soapmaking process. They are non-toxic.”

·   “Mica is the name of a group of naturally occurring Earth's minerals which are mined from around the world, purified, and crushed into fine powders.”

So… are the micas used in soap making and cosmetics really non-toxic, naturally occurring minerals?

Unfortunately, NO.

Some mica colorants begin with naturally mined mica, but the beautiful colors you see in cosmetics and soaps are created by coating the mica with oxide colorants or FD&C lab colors.

What’s more, many micas have been deemed unsafe for use in cosmetics. However, since the FDA does not consider soap a cosmetic, soap makers are free to use these micas to color soap. With that said, a reputable soap maker is not likely to use non-cosmetic-safe micas in their soap, but a reputable soap maker will not label mica-colored soaps as "all natural" either.

What are iron oxides?

Online, some soap makers will tell you…

·   “These pigments are mined from the earth (inorganic) and approved for use in soap, mineral cosmetics and toiletries.”

·   “…color additives which are derived from the earth would not be considered "Natural". Rather, mineral pigments are called "Inorganic" ("non-living"). There are a number of inorganic color additives used in soap and cosmetics: iron oxides (browns, blacks, reds, etc.), ultramarines, chromium oxide green, and a variety of whites such as titanium dioxide.”

So… are the iron oxides used to color cosmetics and soap mined from the earth, and are they as safe as any natural colorant?

No. Due to high levels of toxic contaminants such as arsenic, mercury, lead and selenium found in naturally occurring iron oxides, the iron oxides used in cosmetics and soap have been manufactured in labs since the 1970’s. The purpose of this was to make these colors safer by manufacturing a product with fewer toxins. As a result, iron oxides may contain fewer toxins, but they are certainly not natural.
What’s more, manufacturing these oxides in a lab does not eliminate the toxins, it merely reduces the toxins to an amount deemed “safe” by the FDA. * The FDA considers the following amount of toxins safe:
·         Arsenic (as As), not more than 3 parts per million.
·         Lead (as Pb), not more than 10 parts per million.
·         Mercury (as Hg), not more than 3 parts per million
Some iron oxides may still be mined naturally, but they are often high in toxic metals and are NOT approved for cosmetic use in the United States. ONLY synthetic iron oxides are approved for cosmetic use in the United States.


Friday, September 24, 2010


I began making soap after a dizzying attempt to navigate the complex world of chemical additives and toxins that make up many soaps in the grocery store and even many of those pretty handmade soaps at the farmers market and online. After making a detailed list of which ingredients are carcinogens and which are xenoestrogens or linked to cancer, then foolhardily comparing my list with various product’s ingredients in the hope of being enlightened… I decided the best and only way for me to really know and feel good about the  soap I use was to make it myself!

I am a grantwriter by trade but an artist at heart and have been a border-line health nut for most of my life. I make all my soap in the kitchen of my little bungalow in Salt Lake City using only natural ingredients to create fun, fancy soap you can feel good about using. I hope this blog can be a resource for soapers, bathers and artists as well. God knows, I make enough mistakes (in soap AND in life)  for us all to learn from!