Why I started making my own soaps and lotions — Part 1, the culprits

Aug 6, 2015 · 9 min read

The big issues

For starters, I have highly sensitive skin. This has gotten worse as I have gotten older. I’m the guy that wears SPF 90 even if I’m going to be in the sun for 10 minutes. I’m the guy that reads every label on every product on the personal care isle when I can’t find the things that I normally use.

Let’s start with the basics — soap

When you go in to a grocery store or pharmacy, more likely than not, what you are buying is not soap; it’s actually a detergent. What’s the difference you ask? Well…


Lotions really aren’t that much different to soaps. The biggest being is that they do not contain soap/detergents. The ratio is usually kept to >30% oils to water/oils. Oils usually come from butters — shea, almond, coconut, etc. In most commercial products, the oils are mineral and petroleum jelly. As for water — most commercial use just good old distilled water. Liquid aloe is actually a lot better — it’s mostly water and slightly thicker with a ton of natural nutrients. Glycerin is also used as part of the water mixture. It’s a byproduct of soap making and a very thick, oily liquid. When you buy products that are “shear” it’s usually from a higher glycerin content.


This is another huge issue I have. First we need to start with what exactly makes a product “fragrant”. There are four main parts that make up why a product smells the way it does.

  1. Moisturizers: This is another one where in a lot of cases, you’re not really adding scent. But a main ingredient, like coconut oil, can have a very strong scent; even if fractionated. What is fractionated oil you ask? Oils like coconut oil are not stable at room temperature — they’re not going to blow up on you or anything, but they’re kind of this quasi solid/liquid state. Fractionated oils have been processed to make them consistently liquid and generally are extremely high in saturated fats (the solid version is usually referred to as a butter — like coconut butter, shea butter, etc.).
  2. Extracts. This one I debated on. In most cases what they are actually referring to is an essential oil. However! There are many synthetic extractions, and processes for natural ones that are used and it very much depends on the product itself.
  3. Fragrance. This is a very tricky one. Historically, fragrance was added via plant absolutes — or more commonly known as essential oils. These are VERY expensive to make. Generally, several hundreds of pounds of a plant are needed to make only a few ounces of an absolute (I try to avoid using the term essential oil — while they are oily, they are not technically an oil). It depends on the plant. You can usually find 0.5oz of orange absolute for well under $10 USD. But the same 0.5oz of sandalwood absolute will cost you $70+ USD. Most mass produced products contain synthetic fragrances. You can easily tell the difference if the label goes something like this: “Fragrance” << that’s a synthetic. Vs. “Fragrance (essential oil blend)”. Synthetic blends are man-made chemicals that have a similar molecular structure to the real thing.


This one is a real kicker. Soap inherently will go rancid after some time. Not a few days mind you, but within a few months. Most over the counter products have natural and synthetic preservatives added to them. The most commonly used natural one is citric acid and can be found all over the place in nature. The most common synthetic one is the germaben group (I believe there are three of them for different uses — don’t quote me on that though). This is yet another chemical made from… you guessed it… the byproducts of processing crude oil, formaldehyde and contains parabens.


(addition to original article)

  1. They have estrogenic activity (granted a very weak one). The big issue here is that there are a number of known estrogen that can aid in the growth of cancer.
  2. In normal skin types they are do not cause allergic reactions, it’s been pretty well documented that they do cause reactions in people with sensitive skin.
  3. Methylparaben can actually increase the UVB reaction with your body, and can increase skin aging and DNA damage.

Two other natural chemicals commonly found

You’ll also frequently see two other chemicals in most any product (natural or not) but kind of look like they may be synthetic.

  1. Stearic Acid. This is also natural and usually added a thickening agent to liquids. It’s also what gives shampoo it’s “pearly” appearance.

Now we know what we’re working with

I’m not saying that these synthetic chemicals are bad for us, per se. And for the general population, most people do not have issues with them. I do want to point out however this:

But there are natural products out there already

This is true, kind of.

  1. Seventh Generation: synthetic chemicals.
  2. Yes To: many products are 95% natural.
  3. DHC (a popular Japanese brand growing in the US): Uses many chemicals that are known toxins.
  4. Burt’s Bees: many of the products say “99% natural”
  5. (edit/addition) Lush: I forgot about this brand. They’re inexpensive and for the most part are natural. However they use Propylene Glycol which is yet again from the refinement of petroleum. They also use Methylparaben — a paraben.
  1. Arbonne: Again, very expensive
  2. Dr. Bronners: Very inexpensive. Sadly, I do not like their products — they’re always so watery

Moving on to hand making my own stuff

So, I’m left with a rather sad conclusion that I either need to start making my own or really dosh out some cash for products. I like doing things on my own, so I chose that.

  1. My acne is very under control
  2. You’d be amazed at the number of natural ingredients that are also SPFs — shea butter being the biggest (a SPF around 15–30 depending on the processing used and what you read). You can also use natural zinc oxide (which is in most sun screens).
  3. My skin and hair feel amazing.


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    Chicago | XD | Photographer | Drunkard

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