natural beauty: bar soap, part two.

September 11, 2017

bar soaps | reading my tea leaves

That I enjoy lathering up with bar soap is hardly news. I could receive bars of freshly cut handmade soap for every birthday from now until the day I die and I’d be happy. Nothing quite so good as unwrapping a fresh bar, working it into a lather, and letting the smells of essential oils fill up the shower.

Still, not all bar soaps are created equal and lately I’ve been particularly determined to find bar soaps that are lovely to use and that are free from palm oil. As the past two weeks have reminded us in no uncertain terms, human impact on the environment is tremendous. There’s not much under the sun that’s blameless in terms of environmental degradation—and this article explains why a global abandonment of palm oil altogether might be more complicated than we’d like to think—but I still wanted to see if I could find great handmade soaps that skip the palm oil in favor of ingredients that are a little gentler on rainforests among other soaps | reading my tea leaves

Below, a few favorite palm-oil-free bar soaps:

Big Sur Country Soap I love the California vibe of these squat soaps made in just right the size to hold in your palm. And I especially love the directive that they’re “best if used in a clawfoot tub.” Clawfoot tub or no, these guys last a long time and smell delicious. (Don’t let the old-school website deter you!) I loved the Cedar Rose, pictured above with the rose petals pressed into the top and the Clove bar (including the good scrubby bits)!

Binu Binu These soaps are inspired by the ritual of Korean public baths—binu means soap in Korean—and they’re exquisitely cut and packaged. All soaps are made from a base of “boricha,” a roasted barley tea and mixed with clays and oils. The Celadon Tea Ceremony Soap (shown above) has a beautiful light green color and understated scent. Made in small batches from 100% natural plant botanical ingredients and essential oils.

Hudson Made Vegan soap made in the Hudson Valley. The Rose Soap is the only palm-oil free soap these folks make, but it’s a lovely facial (or body) soap, the color of rose hips in late fall.

Little Seed Farm Goat milk soap, handmade by goat farmers in Tennessee. If you’ve never tried goat milk soap before, you’ll learn that it’s quite a bit creamier than other bar soaps. I especially like their Activated Charcoal Soap (meant for the face, but great for anywhere!). (And if you’re in the market for a draining soap dish to keep your soap dry, look no further than their Hickory Wood Soap Dish.)bar soaps | reading my tea leaves

Mater Soap This Brooklyn company makes the absolute best smelling soaps. I adore the bright golden colored Geranium Bar, but the (gorgeous) Charcoal Bar and the Sea Bar are also excellent.

Meow Meow Tweet This vegan soap is handmade in the Catskills. These guys have the full range of body, facial, and shampoo soap bars. I especially liked the Black Walnut Sage and the Coconut Cacao Body Soap.

Saipua The Saipua Saltwater bar is a favorite of mine—and lots of other people—and it’s made from salt and nori and a subtle but delicious blend of essential oils. If you’re interested in learning to make soaps yourself, workshops are offered throughout the year in Saipua’s Brooklyn studio. Participants are given the tools to make small batches of soap, learn the Saipua soap recipe, blend fragrances with natural botanicals and essential oils, and discuss what goes into packaging and selling soaps. All class offerings are listed here.

Skipping Goat Farm These simply packaged soaps are handmade in upstate New York. The folks making the soap also raise and milk their own goats. I really love their Peppermint Rosemary Soap and for something backed with a some exfoliation power, their Lemon Lavender Poppy Seed Soap is not to be overlooked. (And while it’s not a soap, I can’t help but to shout out their Organic Calendula Salve. It’s terrific.)

Woodlot This soap is traditionally air-cured for six weeks and handmade in small batches in Vancouver, Canada. The Cascadia bar shown here has a woodsy scent and a bit exfoliating goodness, if you’re into that sort of thing. (Also, just saying: It’s getting to be candle season.) Vegan and gluten soaps | reading my tea leaves

Savon de Marseille The habit isn’t for everyone, but I really love the French tradition of keeping a block of savon de Marseille next to the kitchen sink, smack dab on the countertop, and watching it slowly shrink in size over time. I use it for everything from washing my hands to washing dishes and sudsing up a sponge for wiping down tables and countertops. This green bar, found through RMTL sponsor, Boston General Store, is made from olive oil instead of palm oil like many traditional bars. We just finished our last bar after two years on the counter and we’re excited to give this one the place of soaps | reading my tea leaves

Soap Saver Bag: I get a kind of confounding number of emails asking how I use the bar soaps I claim to love so much. Here’s my best advice: Keep the bars as dry as possible when not using them. In other words, don’t let them slip to the bottom of the tub while the water rains down on them for the duration of the shower, and for heaven’s sake, don’t let your kids play with them in the tub, unless your goal is to use up a bar very quickly as a way to expedite your next fix of getting to open up a new one. Also! A handy pouch like this one can be used either to add some extra exfoliation to your soap scrubbing routine, or as a catchall for the bits of soap that slip out of your hands and down the drain once the bar is nearly finished. bar soaps | reading my tea leaves

What about you guys? Favorite soaps right this minute?

Disclosure: I received samples from a number of these folks in the process of researching soaps to include in this story. All opinions are my own.

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  • Reply Carol September 11, 2017 at 8:16 am

    If you like lovely soap made to order, you can go to He makes reasonably priced small batches of “bespoke soaps.” Of course, it’s still a one man shop….

  • Reply Aubrey September 11, 2017 at 8:51 am

    Osmia Organics makes some of our family’s favorite soaps. Facial and body, they even have an extra gentle soap that can be used for the little ones.

    • Reply Meredith September 25, 2017 at 10:42 am

      Seconding Osmia for soap as well as all types of lotions and potions. Love them, love the strong passionate woman behind them.

  • Reply laura September 11, 2017 at 9:12 am

    I live for my annual soap brick that I buy from the common ground fair – available here!

  • Reply MissEm September 11, 2017 at 10:01 am

    How do you use the Savon de Marseille to wash dishes? Do you use it entirely in place of dish soap?

    • Reply Jamie September 12, 2017 at 10:11 am

      I second that I would love to know how you do it!

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 12, 2017 at 3:58 pm

        I usually just use my savon de marseille to wash any last few dishes in the sink! We have a dishwasher, so it’s rare that I do large dish loads in the sink. In terms of use, I just suds up a cloth or sponge by rubbing it on top of the bar and wash the way I would normally!

    • Reply Noelle September 12, 2017 at 3:47 pm

      I doubt the French would use savon de Marseille to wash dishes… At least not in that form. You can buy liquid form in France though…

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 12, 2017 at 3:56 pm

        Just mentioning my own habit here, Noelle!

  • Reply Kaelie September 11, 2017 at 10:57 am


    Bar soap is my FAVORITE. My aunt makes old fashioned soaps here in Michigan and her company is called Fat Ash (after traditional soap ingredients). Her soaps clean stupendiously and rinse off easily, and smell wonderful. My favorites are the lavendar and balsam scents, but they’re all pretty nice. As far as I know, she doesn’t use palm oil. She’s been sustainable and eco concious before it was an active way of living. 🙂

    • Reply Alix September 11, 2017 at 4:08 pm

      What an AWESOME name for a soap company! I’m looking it up right now!

  • Reply Ali September 11, 2017 at 11:13 am

    I’m loving the soaps made by Formulary 55. I just looked and it seems they use RSPO certified palm (which truthfully I know nothing about). Their lavender and sea salt bar is heavenly though!

  • Reply CIL September 11, 2017 at 11:59 am

    We use only bar glycerin soap as my husband’s shower chest hair doesn’t stick to it (gross I know, but an effective solution I came up with early in our marriage to avoid a cohabitation battle). Apart from my go-to Whole Foods 365 and Clearly Natural soaps any better more interesting alternatives?

  • Reply Megan September 11, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    I also share your love for bar soaps and usually have one or town from Alaffia ( around the house. They have light scents and are very moisturizing, and you can easily pick them up at most Whole Foods stores 🙂

  • Reply Katharine September 11, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    “I could receive bars of freshly cut handmade soap for every birthday from now until the day I die and I’d be happy.” True words! My mother in law always asks me what I want for gifting occasions, and she always seems baffled when I reply, “Pretty homemade soaps!”

  • Reply Annabelle September 11, 2017 at 1:24 pm

    There is a great variety of products from Vermont Soap – we have tried so many and we have loved them all.

  • Reply Lauren September 11, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    Oregon Soap Company! My favorites are French Clay and Geranium or their Forest bar. They also sell 2 lbs of soap “scraps” for $14.

  • Reply Susan Magnolia September 11, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    I like bar soap too. It started when I was a kid and would smell all the bar soaps at the store. My mom only bought zest and my siblings all seemed to have their own brand at their own houses as well. I love the oat and honey scented bars from Trader Joes, a mango vanilla one from a market in Berkeley, the Big Sur one from General Store. These days our family sticks to the peppermint Bronner soap, its simple and practical. I have even tried the hair soap bars to rid myself of plastic bottles. With the soap bars I get excited to try new kinds because they are low impact and will eventually get used up unlike other bottles and jars that you know will be thrown out if it doesn’t suit my needs.

  • Reply Audrey September 11, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    I recently read an article that said Millennials are killing the bar-soap industry, along w/ everything else (apparently). This post made me smirk to myself as a millennial that still loves bar soap!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 11, 2017 at 3:18 pm


  • Reply Alix September 11, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    Just checked out the Binu-Binu site and must have All The Things.

    Erin, how is it that your sustainability blog always makes me want to spend money? 😉

  • Reply Alexis September 11, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    Soaptopia! By far, made in LA all organic one,small bar lasts me 6 months. The scents are like no other soap made.

  • Reply Ariana September 11, 2017 at 4:49 pm

    So happy to have a round up of these to refer to going forward and thrilled you included meow meow tweet. I love so many of their products, and they always deliver with personal touches and thanks. I re-upped my supplies with them the other week then they were donating 100% (!) of their proceeds that particular day to the southern poverty law center. anyway, also very intrigued by your savon de Marseille habits and may just have to try that out. thanks!

  • Reply Bailey September 11, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    Yes to bar soap! I’ve tried many many bar soaps and my absolute favorite is from Floppy Ear Farm in Wisconsin. I buy 5 for $20 at the farmer’s market when I visit my parents in Wisconsin. The shape is a bit awkward at first, but a bar will last me nearly 2 months of showers–stays firm, never turns to a pile of mush. And I mean, just LOOK at that field of goats on their homepage ( Favorite flavors: Cedar & Saffron, Honey ‘n’ Oats, Peppermint Poppyseed, Lavender, and Rosemary Mint.

  • Reply Courtney September 11, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    Little seed farm makes great goatmilk soaps! Their handmade soap comes from their little farm in TN, highly recommended!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 11, 2017 at 7:38 pm

      Yes!! On the list!

  • Reply kate September 11, 2017 at 8:24 pm

    Soap for Sinners! They’re made in Jersey City (where I live) and have shops in Soho and Chelsea Market. I’ve been buying them at local farmer’s markets for years, and have my whole family (who live across the united states) hooked!

    i love the rose with clay, lavender with clay, and peppermint eucalyptus. ALSO – their candles are amazing. all of the scents are lovely!

  • Reply Meredith September 11, 2017 at 10:09 pm

    I love Rocky Top Soap Shop and one Christmas went on a total bender and pretty much bought at least one of everything to give as gifts. They’re unscented, but he has so many awesome clay options that are great and feel really luxurious. (and also on Etsy)

  • Reply Sofia September 12, 2017 at 3:45 am

    If you go back to France, please try ALL Clémence & Vivien Soaps, they’re palm free and full of goodness (and their deodorants are amazing too)!

  • Reply Ashley September 12, 2017 at 8:50 am

    I also LOVE bar soap and have turned my bf into a convert too. I have been buying from Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve Co for years ( They have tons of varieties of shampoo bars and soaps and their salves and lip balms are also wonderful. I have also been using their wooden soap dish for about 6 years and it’s still going strong!

  • Reply Jamie September 12, 2017 at 10:07 am

    This post made me go check the ingredients on my favorite soap – and it has palm oil! I’m sad to learn that but also glad to have been reminded by you. I will use up what I have and then start looking for a new favorite. You’re so right, Erin, that human and environmental aspects of palm oil are disastrous.

  • Reply Britt September 12, 2017 at 10:28 am

    If you’re looking for an “everyday” bar soap that is all natural, gentle, and affordable Grandmas Old Fashioned Lye Soap is family owned, old school soap and you can get it on Amazon. Sometimes you see it in hardware stores too 🙂 Great for sensitive skin.

  • Reply Kris September 12, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    Savon de Marseille! Yes! My go to soap in the kitchen. I too leave it on the counter, on a pretty teacup saucer, it lasted about 2 years with daily use for hands, dishes when I do them (husband not on board with this yet), etc. Funny story-after using it for about a year, it no longer had the imprint on it and was slightly cracked, at a family gathering, my brother placed crackers and a cheese knife around it, put it out with the appetizers, and people almost ate it! #soapnotcheese

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 12, 2017 at 2:21 pm

      HA! Yes: we definitely got a bunch of “What’s that thing on the counter?” after the first year!

  • Reply KTINKA September 12, 2017 at 2:48 pm

    What a great selection. I also just finished a post about soaps I currently covet, but it’s definitely not as extensive as yours.

    Best K

  • Reply Alexa September 12, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    Thank you for reminding your readers to avoid palm oil. This is an issue that is very important to me, so I appreciate your position as a writer with a large readership to look out for where it is hidden.

  • Reply Jay September 12, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    Just ordered the soap saver bag. I think it will actually end up saving me money–I can use the slivers of soap that I had to get rid of before .

  • Reply Sarah September 12, 2017 at 8:08 pm

    Scent House and Mirasol Farm are my absolute favourites. Both are on Etsy, use organic ingredients (no palm oil), and are made in small batches. The bars are a good size and smell amazing. I like the citrus scents best.

  • Reply Natalie September 12, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    Excellent post! I’m in love with bar soaps, so much so that I started making and selling my own! No palm oil whatsoever. I currently make honey oatmeal, charcoal, and salt soaps, each with their own blend of essential oils. Soap really isn’t all that hard to make and it’s so rewarding to not buy soap anymore and to always have a good gift on hand!

    I am absolutely going to purchase one of those soap saver pouches. What a brilliant idea! I always end up with bits of soap and one of those pouches would let me savor every last bubble.

  • Reply Erin September 12, 2017 at 9:45 pm

    What a fun list! I switched to bar soap a couple years ago, and my husband and I recently started making our own. It’s so fun, and then we get all the control over what goes in. Though I’m still a sucker for buying nice soaps, too…

    • Reply La Shell September 14, 2017 at 10:22 pm

      Oh I’d love to make my own, are they fairly difficult to make?

  • Reply Lara September 13, 2017 at 10:17 am

    Love this post, I’m also interested in shampoo bar options, the more aware I become about generating less waste, the more purchasing shampoo bottles is not something I want to do!
    I’m curious about trying Sallye Ander’s shampoo bars/ they sell at my local farmer’s market and source some of their ingredients from a local hudson valley farm!

    • Reply Eli January 12, 2020 at 2:40 pm

      I highly recommend Sallyeander products! They actually manufacture out of my town here in the Hudson Valley. They are AWESOME and I believe 100% palm oil free.
      Recently been using their charcoal bar soap and their Nourish eye stick is a lifesaver in the dry winter months. I basically slather it all over my face and lips, not just under my eyes, haha.

  • Reply Angela September 14, 2017 at 8:07 pm

    Love this post! I make soap like several others in this thread and enjoy reading about other’s experiences with bar soap. Palm oil is a complex subject for makers and consumers–it’s one reason I have a couple of palm oil free formulas.

  • Reply La Shell September 14, 2017 at 10:21 pm

    I have a serious love for handmade soaps. Here in Trinidad & Tobago we have these craft pop up markets every month throughout the island and they are FILLED with soap makers…and I love it! I have many throughout my home and many times people gasp at the prices, but I don’t think twice about supporting local, supporting smaller businesses and knowing that I have great quality products for my skin. I checked out some that you noted here and they look beautiful!

  • Reply Lora Anderson September 15, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    Completely agree that bar soap, without palm oil, is the best! In fact, I love it so much, I make it!

  • Reply Lucia September 17, 2017 at 6:57 pm

    I’ve been using Remy and Rose soaps for a while now and love them. They have such cute packaging too! But thanks for plugging Savon de Marseille! Their history is so interesting. Snagging one now from that retailer!

  • Reply Heidi Lea September 18, 2017 at 11:47 am

    I had a friend visiting me in my own tiny apartment recently and when she popped out of my shower she asked me about my bar of soap and how to use it! (Apparently, she hadn’t given it a go.) I was confounded having grown up with bar soap but I am reassured that you also get emails seeking such information!

  • Reply Erin September 23, 2017 at 5:35 pm

    Trader Joe’s has a really lovely unfragranced camel’s milk/honey/olive oil bar soap fromTurkey right now. It’s super creamy and mild and only $1.99!

  • Reply K Ann October 1, 2017 at 8:33 pm

    Gosh, thank you for the soap saver bag suggestion! I love bar soap but am usually at a loss with what to do with them when they get tiny. The bags are also a money saver especially when using up the last bit of that goats milk soap splurge. I have tried Little Seed Farm’s goat milk soap and loved it. It was especially soothing for a few spots of eczema. For last minute purchases around my small town (which is rather limited in its all natural bar soap), I usually grab Shea Moisture brand.

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