What is soap? It is derived from a Latin word called SAPOS which is derived from a substance called Saipo, composed of animal fat and plant ash. Soaps were primarily used to treat diseases or as a textile detergent when they were first invented. It was a Greek doctor, Galen (whom we can even call “The Father of Soaps”) who first recommended soaps for routinely cleansing our body.
In olden days, animal fats, that is, fat rendered from pigs, called Lard and fat rendered from sheep or cow called tallow, were added to the plant ash to make soaps. Eventually, vegetable oils were readily available, but soaps were still considered luxurious and not a basic requisite like it is today. Soon, inexpensive soaps derived from soda ash or common salt were introduced to the markets.
Soap making process called saponification changed significantly with the introduction of synthetic detergents. Soap is the salt of a fatty acid. It’s a combination of this with an alkali (Lye, caustic soda or sodium hydroxide). An ideal soap must have appreciable moisturizing, cleansing and conditioning process, titred to the needs of the individuals’ skin with acceptable fragrances and colours.
Unfortunately, many soaps available in today’s markets are not exactly soaps to start with, but merely bath bars (which contain mainly SYNthetic DETergents, thus called SYNDETS). Adding to that they contain higher quantities of alkali as well.
Total fat material (TFM) is an an absolute necessity in a soap. But what makes a soap, good for your skin is how much of the TFM is included and also important is the quality of the TFM present in it. Ideally, TFM is safer when the fat ingredients are naturally occurring.
Preferably, a soap must have naturally occurring ingredients, no animal fat, no sulphate, no alcohol or no other added chemicals except for what is necessary to aid to the saponification process. If you go by these rules, you will end up ruling out most of the commercially available, cheap, syndet bathing bars.
How can you choose from the countless number of soaps available in the markets? You probably shouldn’t choose your soap based on how it looks against an “ideal” beauty model who conforms to the present patriarchal feminine beauty standards. Should you? Rather, it depends on the type of skin you have, must they be oily, dry or combined. No one will fit into one of these categories for their entire lives. It totally depends on your age, the season and mainly to what your skin is exposed to on a daily basis.
Thinking about it, you need not wed your soap, like you would your life partner for the entirety of your lives. Instead, you can switch your bath partner as and what your skin feels comfortable with! Invest in what your skin needs, it deserves the care. Happy bathing!
– Dr. Ashokkumar, Dermatologist.