“Cleanliness is next to godliness”
As the old saying implies, at some point we decided that apart from worshipping God, being clean was the most important thing in life. The heathen in me balks at the language, but I can’t help but agree with the sentiment. There is almost nothing that a good soak can’t fix.
Despite living in a largely secular society, the vast majority of Brits still – on a deep subconscious level – clearly believe that bathing is a sacred act. When we make time for it – on Friday nights with a glass of wine and a book, on pamper nights with friends or on trips to expensive spas – it is heavily ritualised. In this context, washing is about much more than simply removing grime, it’s about purity and goodness. And one look at the plethora of products out there tells us the marketeers understand this very well.
This month’s blog is about getting clean, the natural way. Specifically, it’s about the stuff we’ve been using to clean body and soul since time immemorial: soap. For such an everyday item, soap generates more than it’s fair share of hand-wringing. Back in the day all we seemed to care about was whether the soap did the trick and smelled nice. Now it’s a minefield. Do I care that Imperial Leather is made almost entirely from unsustainable palm oil? Yes I do (poor orang-utans…). And what about the fact that Dove’s unscented beauty bar is based on Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate, a de-greasing, synthetic detergent which can dry and irritate the skin? Er… yes. And what about the brands marketing themselves as natural, that very clearly aren’t, such as Aveda, Nivea and Jurlique? It’s misleading at best.
Back to the idea of sacred vs profane, it might be fun to categorise soaps on a spectrum – holy to unholy. At one end, the naughty soaps containing detergents (SLS, SLES), alcohols, preservatives, petroleum, parabens and palm oil. Soaps tested on animals or containing animal products also gets the thumbs down. At the other end, the holiest holy ones made for people looking for all natural products, meaning no synthetic additives at all, including colours and chemicals to help with lathering or hardening. I’m really not that extreme, but I do believe my skin deserves respect. As the largest organ in the body it works hard for me – protecting, air conditioning, making vitamin D and the like. Put something on it, and some say it absorbs up to 60% of the ingredients into the bloodstream. No wonder people are a bit iffy about potentially toxic chemicals in commercial brands.
Also, have you noticed that soap-free cleansers are having a moment? They’re being marketed as the next big thing with the makers talking about soap’s alkalinity altering the PH of the skin and wotnot. This is seen as Not Good. However, they are basically detergents. And while some people’s skin probably likes being washed with detergent, mine doesn’t. Detergents, I believe, stop the skin doing its job. The glands in our skin secrete natural oils – these oils contain essential bacteria that defend us against disease. As this Huffington Post article on skin mentions, the harsh chemical detergents in the vast majority of our soap and skin care products strip away these natural oils, and in doing so, remove our protection.
In short, choosing a soap – if you care about such things – is easier said than done. I must admit, on a recent trip to Sainsbury’s I found the whole thing so baffling that I vowed to try making my own. But where to begin?
Initial research suggests the best soaps – that is, the most effective ones that clean without stripping the skin – are based on vegetable (not mineral) oil blends, with the natural glycerine from the saponification process still intact. These soaps can be liquid or solid, created by traditional cold process methods. So this month I’m going to try my hand at both. This first recipe is a bit of a cheat – I’m going to use pre-made liquid castile soap to make a foaming facial cleanser. The second recipe – coming soon – will be a proper hardcore attempt to make a cold process salt bar. Much trickier, more dangerous (yes, I’ll be donning a very fetching mask and goggles to deal with a super caustic solution…) and probably much more fun.
RECIPE: FOAMING FACIAL CLEANSER
Based on a recipe from blog Simple Homemade. Makes 130ml (ish).
60ml liquid castile soap (- a vegetable soap originally made in the Castile region of Spain, castile soap is traditionally made from a simple blend of 100% olive oil, water and lye, the alkali used to catalyse the saponification process. True castile will never contain synthetic detergents or artificial colour, fragrance or preservatives that can cause irritation)
60ml rose water (- soothing, toning and all round lovely stuff. You can also use cooled chamomile tea or just plain old water)
2 tsp sweet almond oil (- moisturising, easily absorbed and useful for all skin types. This helps to counter the drying effect of the soap)
2 tsp aloe vera gel (-moisturises the skin without making it greasy)
2 tsp vegetable glycerin (-a thick, colourless liquid useful in skincare products. It attracts moisture to the skin, and also has healing and protective properties)
A few drops of liquid preservative (NOTE: Because the recipe contains water, this product will go rancid without it. I don’t believe all preservatives are bad. The one I use is an approved paraben-free formula that protects against microbial growth and also gives the formula a nice feel).
Essential oil blend:
8-12 drops essential oil (NOTE: The skin on the face is very sensitive, and essential oils are powerful. Make sure you choose the right oils to suit your skin type. I went for lavender and rosewood).
- Blend all the ingredients – apart from the soap – in a blender (… you don’t want it to foam up yet).
- Check you like the smell, and adjust if required. But go easy on the oils.
- Now add the liquid soap and blend gently, just to mix it up properly. A couple of pulses should to do the trick.
- Pour into a foaming pump dispenser like this one.
- Try it out! Pump 1-2 little clouds into your palm and gently massage onto face and neck, taking care to avoid the eyes (it can sting…). Remove with a warm, damp flannel and gently towel dry. Moisturise as normal – I would recommend a simple oil such as sweet almond, but use whatever you usually use.
After a few weeks using it, my skin appears to like it. It removes make-up nicely (not mascara – don’t get it near the eyes!), and will be pretty cheap to re-create once I run out.
Coming later this month: cold process soap. Watch this space…