natural beauty: bar soap.

July 20, 2015

natural beauty: bar soap | reading my tea leaves If a post about bar soap isn’t the most thrilling thing that your Monday has to offer, then I can only imagine that you’re busy lounging on some terrace in Positano instead of sweating it out at home in your skivvies like the rest of us mortals. These days, a cool shower and a refreshing scrub down with a bar of peppermint soap is about as close to luxurious as I’m getting. And I’m not complaining.

I’ve written about my love for bar soap in this space a few times, but it’s fascinatingly something I get a fair number of questions about. In case you’re curious—or in case you have your own strong feelings about bar soap to add to the discussion, here’s the low-down.

For me, using bar soap makes sense because it’s easy to store, it uses significantly less packaging than body washes, it makes easy work of sudsing up the bits that need a little freshening after a long day, and it’s usually a sweet smelling little product made in small batches by people who care. I’m an indie bar soap marketer’s dream come true.
natural beauty: bar soap | reading my tea leaves No surprise, I stay away from soaps with too many ingredients that I can’t pronounce and opt instead for cold-processed soaps made from a base of vegetal oils like olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil or for something extra rich, a soap made with creamy goat’s milk. Where some people (and definitely the folks in the bodywash industry) will tell you that bar soaps are drying, I find that lots of the handmade soaps out there are actually formulated with oils and herbs that are just the opposite. The bar soaps that I use are blended together with healing herbs like calendula, rose, and lavender and might even include gently natural exfoliants like cranberry seeds, oatmeal, lavender, oatbran, even tea leaves. Yes, they get me clean. But they also have me feeling good in the process.
natural beauty: bar soap | reading my tea leaves I try to spread the word liberally that soap is a favorite gift of mine to receive, so I often have an extra bar or two in the bathroom queue and at this stage I’ve used dozens (tens of dozens?!) of different bars. One of my favorite spots to sleuth for soaps is summertime craft fairs and farmer’s markets. Being able to tell someone the story of where I found a soap feels like a nice little souvenir and remembering that I have a bagful of pretty soaps to give as gifts come the holiday season can take some gift giving pressure off. I don’t have one favorite bar, per se, but I do especially love soaps that are long lasting, sudsy but not gooey, and fresh smelling but not overpowering.
natural beauty: bar soap | reading my tea leaves Here are a few that I have used and loved or have had my eyes on from afar. Please share your own favorites if you have them.

Do It Yourself:
Making your own soap at home is certainly possible, but it does require the use of lye—sodium hydroxide—which requires some special handling. You might decide to keep this out of your home kitchens. Or, you might decide to throw caution to the wind and pull on some rubber gloves and find yourself some extra thrift-store pans that you could dedicate to soap-making service. I’ve never made soap, so beyond a “good on ya,” I don’t have many tips in this realm.

Have Someone Else Do It For You:

I love all of Apotheke‘s soap because they’re fresh smelling and longlasting, but the lavender is particularly lovely.

Lately I’ve been using Camamu soap, which our local grocery store keeps in stock. Their Unrepetant Rose Soap is especially wonderful for getting the day off to the right start.

The calendula soap in Portland Apothecary’s New Mom Kit was a recent favorite of mine—it’s mild, and soothing, and compact, but all of their soaps look terrific.

This goat milk soap is scented with bergamot and teak, which sounds woodsy and bright and deserving of an outdoor shower with a view.

I’ve really enjoyed Morning Calm’s cold-processed soaps—best of all, they sell soap samples in case you’re having trouble deciding on just one.

When I’ve found myself soapless and needed to make a quick decision, I’ve opted for the classic, no-nonsense Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap, many, many a time.

Lourdes, who’s been helping me out on some behind-the-scenes blog work this summer, swears by African Black Soap for its skin purifying properties. Nubian Heritage is her favorite.

Other soapy things:

For better or for worse, we use the soap dish that’s built into our 1950’s gem of a grimy shower to stash whatever bar we’re in the middle of using. I try not to let the shower water beat down on it, for fear that half of it will end up down the drain. If you’re looking for something special and have the space to keep your soap out of harm’s way, this Cypress Wood Soap Dish has a simple design and a sweet spa vibe. If you’re more into ceramic dishes, this Tourne Soap Dish has three ridges in the bottom to let the soap dry out. Our dish (which we actually keep in the kitchen and use to keep our coir brush for scrubbing cast iron), is the Izola Great Plains Soap Dish.

More natural beauty musings, HERE.

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  • Reply Georgie July 20, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    I hugely prefer using bar soap to body wash, and mainly for the reasons you've mentioned. We get ours once a year in the south of France at a local market (obnoxious). When I was 18 I travelled around Syria for a couple of months and bought the most beautiful olive oil soap from Aleppo. The problem I have is that where I live (London) the water is so hard that it destroys my lovely Castile soap bars after about two weeks! Any ideas on how to remedy this and I'd be all ears! x

  • Reply Kathleen July 20, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    I'm a big fan of LuSa Organics. Their soap is long-lasting and comes in a lot of wonderful varieties.

  • Reply Jessica July 20, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    I use Dr. Bronner's when I'm out of the soap I buy at craft fairs. Warning, though…once I bought their liquid peppermint soap for traveling, and, well, if you get it in certain body areas, it can burn a bit. Just saying 😉

  • Reply Anonymous July 20, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    I love Dr. Bronner's bar soap as well – my favorite is the eucalyptus variety. I also like 'Kiss My Face' olive oil (unscented) soap – it's richer in texture than Dr. Bronner and is very moisturizing and cheap.

  • Reply Brenna Kinkaid July 20, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    I buy handmade soaps just about any place I see them, but I love Little Seed Farms and Hello Soap when I want to order a few bars!

  • Reply Anonymous July 20, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    We love the soap from Cedar Creek Organics!

  • Reply laura_s July 20, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    dr. woods black soap is the only soap ive used on my face/body for years. i simply can't veery from it.

  • Reply emily July 20, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    I'm a bar soap fan, too. Lately, I'm loving Goat Milk Stuff in sandalwood or luv spell. Incidentally, Kiss My Face olive oil bars get baby poop stains out like nothing else. We just rub directly on the fabric under cool water.

  • Reply astanoch July 20, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    I love bar soap!! A few years ago I discovered soap made by a local company in my grocery store. I bought their tea tree variation and it works wonders on my face. The company is Purple Prairie Botanicals and they make quite a few different personal care products. The soap is amazing!

  • Reply Alexa July 20, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    Great post and thanks for the suggestions! I thought I was on my own in my quest to find a great bar soap and avoid the packaging of body wash. I seem to end up with amazing soaps from markets that I'll never find again, or bars that come without packaging at local shops but melt into mush in my soap dish.

  • Reply Sarah July 20, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    Kiss My Face olive oil soap (or, olive oil and aloe if you want to get fancy) is my choice. It's utterly simple, rated highly by EWG, moisturizing, cheap, and widely available.

    • Reply admin July 20, 2015 at 7:30 pm

      Yes! Have also really enjoyed Kiss My Face—good one!

  • Reply Kari July 20, 2015 at 5:57 pm

    I'd love to switch to bar soaps for the bathroom sink, but my attempts haven't been very successful so far. So I have two questions. How do you keep the soap looking decent after four people have been washing their hands multiple times a day? I'm embarrassed about guests seeing it. Also, I've noticed that bar soaps leave a film on the sink that liquid soaps don't. It makes me wonder what it's doing to the plumbing.

    • Reply admin July 20, 2015 at 7:30 pm

      I've had really good luck cutting my bar soap into quadrants for use by the bathroom sink! The smaller handsoap-sized pieces are a little more manageable and don't last as long so they don't have as much time to get misshapen or unslightly! That being said, the soap dish does require a good cleaning every few weeks or so! (Can't say I've ever worried about bar soap + plumbing!).

  • Reply Ana Mo Shoshin July 20, 2015 at 7:25 pm

    My friend makes my favorite soap, but since she hasn't made any in a while, she gifted us a set of COPA soaps that are very nice. Some of the fragrances are a bit strong for me, and they are not as rich and clean feeling as my BFF's (I'm forever trying to get her to sell her soaps in NYC) but they were a lovely gift and I would get them again!
    My go to gift soaps (and other beauty products) are Meow Meow Tweet. I love them at home, too! The are made in BK, vegan, and lovely! The only trouble is that the packaging is so cute, sometimes I don't want to use them!!

  • Reply Angela July 20, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    Do you use bar soap for just your body? I buy a bar soap for y body made by a man who sells at our local farmer's market, but I would like to also look into bar shampoo. Thoughts?

    • Reply admin July 20, 2015 at 7:34 pm

      I've only ever had limited success with bar shampoo, but lots of people swear by it! (In other bar-soap-product news, we do use a bar soap stain remover that's amazing!)

    • Reply Mandy July 21, 2015 at 7:41 pm

      I've tired a few bar shampoos without any success. They all felt like they stuck to my hair, and I couldn't get enough moisture. I tried all of the varieties from J.R.Liggett's. They would give my hair a weird, squeaky feeling when I was in the shower, and trying to brush my thick, wavy hair after was a disaster. If you find one you like, please share!

  • Reply Kaolee Hoyle July 20, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    I love homemade soap, absolutely beautiful looking and the smells are wonderful. I'm looking into making my own and I can't find to put my own touch on it!

  • Reply Archana July 20, 2015 at 10:36 pm

    I have been trying to go Zero Waste. And a bar soaps are the only way. I try to finding mine in local markets or when I travel.

    I am Indian. My family has been using gram flour for centuries. That is still my fav for body and face. Bar soaps for hands and for guests.

  • Reply Paul and Cathy July 20, 2015 at 11:00 pm

    Please check out lovely handmade soap and much more! Jill is a delightful person and super talented too!

  • Reply Ali July 21, 2015 at 12:28 am

    We love Summer House Natural Soaps. They sell bars and "odds and ends" bags at great prices. They are local to Massachusetts. My skin is very sensitive and these bars are wonderful, much better than any commercial bar I've tried. Also, I like supporting a female-owned, natural, local business.

  • Reply Angela Maria July 21, 2015 at 2:16 am

    Happening upon your blog and other similar blogs has made me want to live a simpler lifestyle. Though making major changes is always hard, the way you capture your life in writing and photography really inspire me to do the same. I always look forward to your posts and I love your photography style!

  • Reply Alex July 21, 2015 at 7:27 am

    Another bar soap fan here in Sydney!

    I love these natural beauty posts – thanks, Erin. But I was surprised to see that every single soap on the list contains palm oil (or 'sustainable' palm oil – an oxymoron if ever there was one). Yes, it's natural, but its production is an environmental disaster. Genuine and non-judgemental question – isn't this yet an issue for Americans interested in sustainable consumption?

  • Reply Doe July 21, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    My favorite soap is Freckled Dragon made in Stony Creek CT by Herb Garden Naturals. It does contain palm oil but also coconut and olive oil. There a great handcrafted soapmakers directory on that consumers can search by state:

  • Reply Margaret Pardue July 22, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    Obsessed with bar soap and also buy it in bulk!! Here are my recommendations –
    – Osmia Organics – This is my favorite favorite favorite to buy in bulk and keep in my sock drawer. It's made in Colorado, and has a bit more woodsy scents, which I adore! I've also loved some of their facial products, like the spot treatment. I'm just now finishing the Cedargrass Soap, love the Juniper Shea, but my absolute favorite is the Lavender Pine!!!!
    – Soapwalla – Rachel gets a ton of press for her deodorant cream, which is fantastic. But her soap is amazing too! I have really liked her Charcoal, Lavender & French Clay Soap, and especially the Saffron & Kaffir Lime Soap for the summer!
    – Filthy Farmgirl – I found this at a Bust Craftacular in Brooklyn a few years ago. It's wonderful soap in a slew of scents – with hilariously cheeky packaging. It's wonderful for gifts.

  • Reply Susannah July 22, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    We swear by bar soap in our household as well! We don't even have a built in soap dish in our grimy gem of a pre-war shower, so the 2-in-1 soap shower storage solution we've hit upon is to store whatever bar of soap we're obsessed with resting on the bristles of the detachable brush of our long handled wooden back brush. Any water that hits the soap drains away from it without making it slimy and any soap residue that does come off of the bar pre-soaps the brush if you need it for a scrub. Double "storage" without bringing in a one-use item like a soap dish to the already cluttered shower ledges. Oh, the little things!

  • Reply Tewshooz July 22, 2015 at 9:56 pm

    Just happened upon your blog; how lovely. I have made our own soaps for about 15 years and sell the overflow, lol. Isn't it wonderful to know what is in your soap? Bar soap from the supermarket is not really soap unless it says "Soap". Beauty bars are not soap and the artificial fragrances are toxic, too. Stick with essential oils for fragrance, especially lovely lavender. Do not be afraid of lye. Just wear the rubber gloves and goggles and you will be fine. There are lots of tutorials out there and many soaper supply houses, too. I also use one of those soap holders for the shower and bath that have suction cups that cling to the walls. Soap drip dries in there and because the soap is vertical, dries much faster.

  • Reply Anonymous July 23, 2015 at 10:57 am

    I've been using bar soap for a year now, for the same reasons (packaging, ingredients). As already suggested in the first comment, I prefer using olive oil based Aleppo soap as well, for body AND for hair. It took a couple of times for my scalp to adjust, feeling a bit dry immediately after washing and drying. But now I'm back to washing it twice, maximum three times a week, and I'm absolutely happy with my routine. This includes, however, a cold apple cider vinegar rinse for my hair, since our water here (Munich, Germany) is very rich in lime. Soap and lime combine to limesoap, which might be the film the commenter Kari noted on her sink. The acidic rinse neutralizes the limescale and prevents a slight film after using soap for my hair (plus: nice smell and shine ;)) I did hear that limescale might get a bit problematic for your plumbing. I'd check with an expert in your area, also in regard of the content of lime in your water. So far (knock on wood) I managed without problems by giving the tub a quick, hot rinse after showering to remove the soap residue and clear it with boiling water every now and then.
    Thank you for this post – and your blog in general!

  • Reply Anonymous July 23, 2015 at 3:14 pm

    I love bar soap in the shower, but at my sink I don't like the constant mess of a slimy soap dish. I use half castille soap (lavender scented) and half water in a liquid soap dispenser (Crate and Barrel makes a nice glass one with a metal spout that doesn't seem to clog up on me). I buy the castille soap in large bottles, and it lasts a long time. I just discovered a store that sells it in bulk so I can get refills without getting a new plastic bottle each time.

    In the shower, when I don't have a built-in soap holder I like those metal caddies that hang over the shower head that really let the soap drain well.

  • Reply Anonymous July 23, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    You should check out soap nuts/berries. They're berries that have natural soap in them! A lot of people use them in their laundry wash or for their hair, face, and body. The one I use is econuts soap.

    • Reply admin July 31, 2015 at 12:49 pm

      Would love to! Thanks for recommendation!

  • Reply Hannah Miller July 31, 2015 at 2:42 am

    What do you find is the best tool to use with bar soap? Bare hands, washcloth, or something else?
    I've been reading deep into your blog archives and loving it! I really appreciate your aesthetic and thoughtfulness.

    • Reply admin July 31, 2015 at 12:49 pm

      All of the above? I usually just use my bare hands, but sometimes I go for a washcloth. We use use little hemp cloths for washcloths which also act as a gentle exfoliant! (Thanks so much for reading!)

  • Reply Jessica December 12, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    I know you, Erin, may not necessarily be interested in this, but for those of you who might want to try making your own soap, the website is very very helpful. I’ve used her instructions and made my own soap several times. Hope this helps!

  • Reply February 8, 2017 at 9:26 pm

    I’ve found a new love for bar soap as well. I make my own cold process soap and definitely agree with you when it comes to how moisturizing and goodness filled they can be.
    Etsy is also such a great place to buy handmade soap and makes supporting other makers very easy.

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