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Natural alternatives to soap and shampoo

In our Green section we ask for your green tips, and one that required more research is the hand soap and shampoo that we use in our home. Dove and Sunlight Soap were specifically mentioned. Are these products all that they are made out to be or are they just more of the same - synthetic products that do more harm than good? Here is what I uncovered...


Ingredients in manufactured soaps:

Sodium Tallowate is the result of combining sodium hydroxide (lye) with beef tallow.  Today, there are many vegetable oils which are better alternatives.

Sodium Cocoate is the result of combining coconut oil with sodium hydroxide (lye).  Coconut oil is a main ingredient in many quality soaps.

Sodium Palm Kernelate results from the combination of palm kernel oil with sodium hydroxide (lye).  This is an excellent soap compound -- white in colour, very hard, and excellent lather.

Stearic Acid is a saturated fatty acid usually derived from tallow or lard and sometimes palm oil.  The use of stearic acid can contribute to a harder, more long-lasting bar of soap.

Titanium Dioxide is a neutral, very white powder used in combination with other colourants. Limited evidence of carcinogenicity

Pentasodium Pentetate - An inorganic salt used as a water softener, emulsifier and dispersing ingredient in cosmetic cleansing creams, lotions and soaps.  Can be an eye irritant.

Tetrasodium EDTA - Synthetic preservative - can be irritating to the eyes/mucous membranes.

Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate - synthetic detergent.  Technically, an anionic surfactant, meaning it reduces surface tension, making water 'wetter'.

Sodium Isethionate - synthetic detergent. Technically, a moisture absorber, surfactant and anti-static agent.

Trisodium Etidronate - A preservative.  Possible irritant.

BHT - (butylhydroxytoluene) Synthetic antioxidant to keep oils in formula from going rancid.  When ingested, implicated in tumor formation and liver enlargement in rodent tests.  Sometimes used as a food preservative.

Disodium Phosphate - Buffering agent, used to adjust pH.


Draw your own conclusions from the extensive list of ingredients above. Take the time to visit the EWG Cosmetic Database ( - clicking on the links to see for yourself the levels of toxicity and concerns about the various compounds.

Are there natural alternatives?

While there are many home made soap alternatives available, Castile Soap appears to be the most recommended. You can buy Castile Soap at select pharmacies and health stores. Alternatively, consider Glycerin Soap for hand wash.


If your local store doesn't stock Castile soap, let's activate a movement to request that they do!

Castile soap is reputed to have originated in Castile Castle as early as 1567 and many soap purists will say that to truly be "Castile" soap, it has to be made from 100% olive oil. Technically, I suppose they are right. And while you certainly can make soap from 100% olive oil, I don't really like the lather it makes. Some will describe it as "smooth and creamy," but most will describe it as "slimy."

Each oil in a soap recipe contributes different qualities to the soap. A one-oil soap (like Castile) will have just the soap qualities of that oil - a blend of oils gives you a blend of qualities. The art of creating a basic soap recipe is the art of balancing the various oils all together.





Uses for Castile soap

Castile soap can be made as a bar, or used in liquid form. Here are some of the benefits of using Castile soap:

- Cleansing soap

- Shampoo

- Used for a shaving lather

- Pet shampoo

- Washing clothes and diapers

- General cleaning, diluted and used in a spray bottle


Saturday, September 24, 2011 8:21 PM

I am currently trying to detox my home and family of all harsh unfriendly cleaners. I have an awesome laundry detergent to share with you (that does not include borax!). But I'm a bit stumped at the moment because I've seen some bad reviews on Sunlight soap and it may not be as pure as I thought? Any tips on other pure soap brands/flakes - that I would imagine don't contain glycerin for laundry/hair (shampoo mission ;).

Hi Mel,

Your reference to Sunlight Soap is definitely worthy of investigation, and it appears that the original Sunlight Soap is now reformulated using synthetic detergents. The Unilever website is very vague on the ingredients - perhaps to cover this up?

My next suggestion would have been Dove soap, which is now also under the Unilever banner, but this product contains tallow (from animals) and is causing quite a furor over the production of its palm oil - another ingredient of the soap.

However, all is not doom and gloom. Castile soap has been around since the 12th century and is still used in many European countries.

Your enquiry has prompted me to dig deeper and look at some friendlier alternatives to soap, and to investigate how easy it would be to make and use a home made product.


Friday, November 25, 2011 10:36 PM

Hi! Do you know if castile soap is available in South Africa (Cape Town?)

Reitzer Pharmaceuticals offer a pure soap alternative that is available at select health shops around the country, or get in touch with them to find your nearest supplier.



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