Sunday, January 16, 2011

Disecting Dove

Spotted Hippo Soap's "Simply Soap"
People often wonder how handmade soap differs from the type of "soaps" they buy in the grocery store. I thought it would be interesting (if not a bit nerdly) to look at the ingredients of a mass produced "soaps" alongside the ingredients of a typical handmade, cold process soap. I decided to look at Dove for two reasons.  First, I think this particular brand has done an extremely effective job at branding themselves as a very moisturizing cleanser... so much so that when I talk to people about the benefits of cold process soap, often the first question they ask is "How does it compare to Dove?" Second, I happen to have a bar of it in my it is very convenient!  But, fair warning, there are a LOT of ingredients in Dove... so this may take a while ;)

First off. Look on a package of Dove and you will notice the word "soap" is never used to describe the product. That is not an accident. It is because Dove (like many mass produced bars) is not soap. The FDA defines soap in the following way:
  • The bulk of the nonvolatile matter in the product consists of an alkali salt of fatty acids and the product's detergent properties are due to the alkali-fatty acid compounds, and
  • The product is labeled, sold, and represented solely as soap [21 CFR 701.20].
Dove does not meet either of these criteria. So, if it is not soap, lets break down the ingredients in a bar of white Dove and figure out what it is:

  • Sodium Lauryl Isethionate: Well, there is not a lot of information available, but it is basically a synthetic detergent. It  is a synthetic chemical produced in a laboratory. Used as a detergent, wetting agent and/or emulsifier. Products containing synthetic detergents are not considered "soap" under the FDA's guidelines. Instead, it would either fall under the category of  a cosmetic or a drug, depending on how it is marketed.
  • Stearic Acid: This is a fatty acid, usually derived from animal fat. It is created in a laboratory by hydrolyzing the triglycerides in the fat (typically beef fat or tallow). It can also be derived from palm oil and a few other sources, but these types of stearic acid are very limited in the United States.  It is widely used in the soap industry as a hardener.
  • Sodium Tallowate or Sodium Palmitate: Sodium Tallowate simply refers to tallow (animal fat) that has been combined with sodium hydroxide (lye). Likewise, Sodium Palmitate refers to palm oil that has been combined with sodium hydroxide (lye). Many handmade soapers will list their ingredients like this as well. The theory being that no lye actually remains in the final soap, so rather than listing lye separately on the label (which may turn some consumers off)  they simply list the product that results from combining lye with the tallow or palm oil.
  • Lauric Acid: Lauric Acid is the main fatty acid in coconut oil and palm kernal oil. Because of their high lauric acid content, these oils can be used to add hardness to a bar of soap. In addition to these naturally occurring sources, lauric acid can be produced in a laboratory. It would be used to add hardness the "soap".
  • Sodium Isethionate: This is another synthetic detergent. Typically added because of its ability to bind to compounds not readily soluble in water. Also called a surfactant.
  • Water:  I'm going to assume everyone knows what this is ;)
  • Sodium Stearate: This is another synthetic detergent or surfactant. It is typically used as a cleaning agent, an emulsifier and as a way to increase viscosity.
  • Cocamido Propyl Betaine or Sodium C14-C16 Olefin Sulfonate: Cocamido Propyl betain is a synthetic surfactant that is used as a cleansing and foaming agent, but can also be added as a skin conditioning agent. Sodium C14-C16 Olefin Sulfonate is a synthetic surfactant used as a cleaning agent and foam booster.
  • Sodium Cocoate or Sodium Palm Kernelate: This refers to coconut oil or palm kernel oil that has been combined with sodium hydroxide (lye).
  • Fragrance: This refers to synthetic fragrance that has been developed in a lab. There are several thousand ingredients that can be used in fragrance yet because they are governed under trade secret laws, none of the ingredients need to be disclosed. To find out more about fragrance oils, check out my previous post.
  • Sodium Chloride: Common table salt. This is used in commercial manufacturers in a process to separate out and remove the glycerin that naturally forms during saponification. It can also be added to soaps to make a more lotiony feeling lather.
  • Tetrasodium Edta:  A synthetic chelating agent used to improve performance in hard water. (You may notice that soap does not lather as much in hard water... this is basically a synthetic ingredient that addresses that issue).
  •  Tetrasodium Etidronate: Another synthetic chelating agent, again used to minimize the undesirable effects of hard water on lather by locking the calcium and magnesium in the water.
  • Titanium Dioxide: This is a naturally occurring oxide, however it is produced synthetically for the cosmetic industry. It is used as a pigment to create very white colored soap.
Whew, that's a lot of stuff! Although there is indeed soap in Dove, there are several synthetic detergents and other ingredients that fall well outside the FDA's definition of soap. So what is Dove? In industry terms, Dove is considered a synthetic detergent bar, or syndet bar for short. (syndet is combination of the two words: synthetic and detergent). To find out more about syndet bars vs real soap, check out Gingers Garden's blog. (She also has some amazing products to check out while you're there!)

On the other hand, here are the ingredients from Spotted Hippo's "Simply Soap":
  • Organic Coconut Oil- Adds hardness and bubbly lather.
  • Organic Palm Oil- Sustainably sourced from South America, contributes hardness and a creamy, stable lather.
  • Organic Extra Virgin Oil- Used for its moisturizing qualities.
  • Organic Castor Oil- Used for its great moisturizing properties and creamy stable lather.
  • Distilled Water- Good ol' H2O
  • Sodium Hydroxide- This is lye. Although there is not actually any lye in the final product, I choose to list it this way so people know what went into the making of the product.
That's it! Rather than using a variety of synthetic agents and animal byproducts to achieve desirable characteristics, Spotted Hippo uses the natural qualities of simple, familiar vegetable based oils to achieve a balance of hardness, bubbles, cleansing and conditioning. In my opinion, that's the true art of soapmaking!

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