What Is Soap and Why Choose Natural Soap?

We all (well, hopefully all of us) use soap every day, but we rarely take time to think what soap really is. Chemistry tells us that soap is a salt of a fatty acid. To put it in simpler terms, soap is the product of a strong alkaline solution, such as Lye (Sodium Hydroxide), with animal or vegetable fats.

You can think of fats (or fatty acids) like a tiny three-pronged fork. Each has a glycerol body, with three attached chains called fatty acids. When the lye is added, the prongs of the fork break off, leaving glycerol and fatty acid salts. The process is known as saponification. The fatty acid salts are what does the cleaning. Glycerol, more commonly known as glycerin, is a soft, lubricating substance. Glycerin is what gives the soap its moisturizing properties Yaya Maria’s.

So when you ask what is soap, the simplest answer is that soap is a combination of glycerin and fatty salts.

But what is soap really? How does it work? Well, I’ve already mentioned that the part that does the cleaning is the fatty salts. Fatty salts are a type of surfactant, or a substance that make the surface tension of water lower. Surfactants can also help oil and water to mix together. If you’ve never tried this, try adding a little bit of liquid dish soap to vegetable oil and water. You will find that the two start mixing together.

Surfactants are what makes the soap form a lather, or start to bubble up when used. Many large soap, detergent, and shampoo companies add artificial surfactants to soaps. Check out the back of your shampoo label or handsoap. You will often see Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SDS) or its cousin Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES). These substances make the soap foamier, which feels nice. On the down side though, these artificial chemicals can be dangerous. Many studies now show that these and similar chemicals are harmful to animals.

What is soap good for if getting clean can hurt you?

Salts, like the fatty salts, have two ends. One end is more like water, and one end is more like oil. Fatty salts in soap work because the salts form many little bubbles called micelles. These bubbles are not oil or water, but a combination of both. It’s like they are bubbles with a watery outside and an oily inside. So, when you ask what is soap, the answer is that it is millions of tiny scrubbing bubbles that are working to pull off grease and grime so that water can wash it away.

In fact, one of the big benefits of natural soaps – particularly natural shea butter soaps – is that they do not contain any potentially harmful compounds like SDS and SLES. Instead, we use natural additives to make the soap foamier and more moisturizing. That means that those little scrubbing bubbles are not chemically enhanced, but are made of fats found in nature that can not harm your body.

So if you were wondering what is soap and how does it work, this has been a little primer.

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