Slippery Soap

Slippery Soap

No topic on cleansing is complete without understanding what “soap” is and the role it plays.  The use of soaps has existed for a long time in human history.  Too long for us to go back to but needless to say it has gone through amazing developments from the early days.  Humans started off by mixing oils or fats with ash or salt.  We have advanced significantly from that.

Initially, it was used for cleaning objects. The use of soap for hygiene purpose actually started much later.  But once we got in to that, our stores started filling up with a wide variety of soaps such as the traditional bar soap, liquid soap, soap that has a lot of foam, soaps that has no foam, etc.

Before we go in to what soaps are and their variety, let’s spell out how they work.  The reason soaps can be effective in cleaning dirt and grime is because it is a surfactant. 


As we all know, oil and water do not mix.  So when we are taking a shower, water alone is not sufficient to remove the excess oils and grime from the body.  This is where surfactants comes in – they are the ones that create the lather and do the work of cleaning because it is compatible with both oil and water. 

Imagine a head and tail.  The tail loves oil and sticks to it.  The head loves water.  When we rinse with water, the head pulls the tail (already attached to oils) away.  And voila, you have squeaky clean skin!

So what is soap exactly?

Soap is the earliest surfactant that people made.  This was done by mixing fats or oils with sodium hydroxide (also known as lye).  This mix will create a reaction that is known as saponification.  Once this process is complete, no more lye remains and you have your natural bar soap. 

To make liquid soap, we replace sodium hydroxide with potassium hydroxide. 

Generally, the pH level of this kind of soap is somewhere in the range of 8-10.

Since our skin is slightly acidic (between 4.5 -6.5), this kind of soap is too alkaline for our skin and ends up being harsh for our face – I know some of you soapers will disagree with me :D.

Even if we try to reduce the pH level of the soap by using citric acid, we will not able to go below 8 as the product will fall apart.

Green surfactants

Another alternative is the use of green surfactants.  Essentially, these are greener alternatives to the detergents we so commonly hear about, the most controversial one being, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). 

The green surfactants can be derived from coconut, palm and even sugar cane.  Some examples are coco glucoside, decyl glucoside, cocomidopropyl betaine.  These are good options as they are milder and gentler on our bodies and the planet compared to SLS or SLES. 

The personal care products that contain surfactants are face washes, liquid body wash, shampoos etc.  There are also bar soaps that use the detergents in addition to lye.

When using these surfactants, we can balance the pH level as per our needs.  This gives it a strong advantage over lye soap. 

So, is there a soap that is straight out of nature?

Of course! Nature has its own version of soap – Saponins.

Saponins are substances that can be found in plants.  One of its fascinating properties is that it can create lather when in contact with water.  This serves as a great all natural cleansing alternative.

Two popular examples are Yucca extract and Soapnuts.  Because of their natural ability to create foam, they are a great cleaning aid not only for the body but also for the hair.  In fact, several traditional methods of cleansing rely greatly on saponins. For example, in Ayurveda, Soapnuts is a popular ingredient as a shampoo.  Lather can be formed by either boiling it or leaving it infused overnight.

I would definitely recommend experimenting with saponins although if I had to pick, my preference would be a cleanser that is pH balanced and using mild and gentle green surfactants.


What cleansers do you use or which ones have you experimented with? Have you had any positive or negative experiences with certain types of cleanser?  Please feel free to comment.  I would love to hear from you!