Nowadays synthetic chemicals are everywhere, even in the soap we use on our bodies. When you start to examine some of the ingredients present in common brands of soap, it can leave you confused and with many questions. 

So, is soap eco-friendly? Many common commercial soaps are not completely eco-friendly. They may contain synthetic chemicals that can be harmful to the health of your skin. When rinsed down the drain, they can pollute waterways and be harmful to aquatic ecosystems. 

The more you can understand the ingredients in your soap, the more informed and environmentally conscious consumer you can be. There are also a few things you should look out for when looking for an eco-friendly soap. 

How Eco-Friendly Is Your Soap?

We trust our soap to get rid of harmful bacteria while nourishing our skin, leaving us clean and fully refreshed. It’s also nice to believe that when we rinse our soap down the drain, it won’t end up polluting our waterways. 

Unfortunately, common commercial soaps often contain a cocktail of synthetic chemicals that can cause harm to your health and the environment. Take a closer look at your label of commercial brand soap, and you will be met with a flurry of ingredients all with a chemical-based name you probably will have trouble pronouncing.

But what do all these ingredients mean? Are they safe? 

The truth is, certain synthetic ingredients present in commercial soap brands have been linked to less than desirable health traits. And when they get rinsed down the drain, some are also hazardous to the environment.

Here are six synthetic ingredients you should watch out for:

1. Triclosan

Many soaps or sanitizers with anti-bacterial properties contain triclosan. It has been loosely linked to the potential development of antibiotic-resistant germs resulting in impaired immune system functioning. On top of that, it also causes impaired thyroid hormone functioning in rats. Now, we aren’t rodents, but that’s definitely not a risk I would like to take for myself! It has also been found to be highly toxic to different types of algae and can disrupt complex aquatic ecosystems.

Long story short: there’s no evidence that antibacterial soaps containing triclosan are more effective at killing germs than natural soap. The good news is that in 2016, the US Food and Drug Administration put a ban on companies marketing triclosan, however, this may not be the case in other parts of the world.

2. Parabens

Maybe you have heard of them, parabens are common in many beauty products including deodorants, lotions, shampoo, and soaps. Studies have proven that parabens can mimic the activity of the hormone estrogen. Estrogenic activity has been linked to certain forms of breast cancer while parabens have also been found present in breast cancer tumors. Now there has not been evidence of a direct link between parabens and cancer, but many people now choose to be safe, rather than sorry.

Look to avoid common paraben ingredients with “paraben” in their name: butylparaben, propylparaben, and methylparaben. Parabens are just a risk to humans but have also been found in the bodies of marine mammals after having entered waterways and become ingested. 

3. Sulfates

Sulfates are a very effective cleansing and foaming agent found in common brands of toothpaste, shampoo, soap, and body wash. They are of concern because they can break down proteins and cause a degenerative effect on cell membranes.

It’s easy to tell if your soap or body wash has sulfates. If it lathers up easily, chances are it contains sulfates. SLS or Sodium Laureth Sulfate is one of the most common. Sulfates are great at cleansing the skin but can also strip the skin of its natural oils which is not great for those with sensitive skin or eczema. SLS also has a moderate aquatic toxicity level in the environment. 

4. Synthetic Fragrances

Often derived from petrochemicals such as phthalates, they have been linked to an increase in allergies, skin irritation, and eczema in infants and early childhood. They also have a dangerous concern for disrupting hormone activity, reproductive activity, and even birth defects.

The fragrance industry is largely unregulated so brands are not required to list ingredients on their product labels. This means any synthetic fragrance included in a soap could contain an unknown number of toxic chemicals at any time. Those which are rare exotic fragrances could be sourced from animals in a cruel and inhumane way. Always look to see where the scent of your soap is derived from. 

5. Artificial Dyes & Colorants

Just like fragrances, many artificial dyes are also derived from petroleum and contain impurities that can increase the risk of skin irritation, breakouts, blocked pores, and sensitivity. If your bar or liquid soap is a bold and bright color, chances are it contains an artificial dye or colorant. 

6. Microbeads

These tiny manufactured solid plastic particles are less than 1mm in diameter.  Maybe you have seen them in facial scrubs or body washes. Due to their ability to absorb toxins, these have a damaging effect on marine ecosystems and are also ingested by marine life. Since 2018, microbeads have been banned by many national governments but still may be legal in some countries 

How to Tell If Your Soap Is Eco-Friendly

With all these scary synthetic chemicals, you may be thinking, how can I avoid these? The goods news is that are many eco-friendly alternatives. A truly eco-friendly brand will be open and transparent about what they put into their soap. When looking at a label of an eco-friendly soap, here is a list of keywords you should be able to clearly identify and understand: 

  • All-natural – this signifies the ingredients are not synthetic or chemical-based but also carries no guarantees. Look for a seal of approval from a reputable organization. 
  • Organic – often synonymously used with “all-natural”, the ingredients contain no additives, preservatives, or synthetic chemicals. Look for an official trademarked seal such as “USDA certified organic” or “Fair Trade Certified”. 
  • Sulfate-free – contains no SLS (Sodium Laureth Sulfate) or other potentially toxic sulfates.
  • Paraben-free – free from preservatives known as parabens which used for their antifungal and antibacterial functions. 
  • Phthalate-free – free from these nasty potential endocrine disruptors
  • Microbead-free – does not contain any microbeads or microplastics that contaminate waterways.
  • Fragrance-free – contains no synthetic fragrances and is naturally scented. Usually derived from plants or oils.
  • No added dyes – only natural coloring and no artificial dyes/colorants or whiteners.
  • Preservative-free – this refers to synthetic preservatives such as parabens (see above).
  • Vegan – ingredients are not derived from any animal source, but may have been tested on animals. 
  • Cruelty-free – no animal testing or harm. The ingredients, however, could still be animal-sourced. Look for both vegan and cruelty-free for a more eco-friendly product. 
  • Urea-free – a synthetic chemical for moisturizing the skin, it has been linked to skin sensitivity and dermatitis. 
  • Glycerin-free – glycerin is a moisturizing chemical found in many soaps and skincare products that can be found in both synthetic or natural form. Its synthetic form is not harmful but can cause irritation to those with sensitive skin.

The Best Eco-Friendly Soap

The best eco-friendly soaps are sold in solid bar form. This eliminates the need for a plastic bottle and keeps the packaging to a minimum. There are many eco-friendly brands that are growing in popularity amongst the environmentally-conscious community. 

Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Bar Soap

Hands down, Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Bar Soap (link to read reviews on Amazon) is the “go-to” eco-friendly soap of choice. It’s a fantastic multi-purpose solution that’s gentle enough for everything including your face, body, and hair. The ingredients are clearly labeled, which are made from certified plant-based oils including coconut, palm, olive, and hemp which are certified fair-trade ingredients. Zero synthetic fragrances, zero preservatives, zero dyes, zero whiteners, and absolutely zero foaming agents. 

Available in a variety of different natural but not overpowering scents including almond, lavender, citrus, rose, and peppermint. Each soap bar is fully biodegradable and poses no threat to the environment or the health of your skin. If you are looking for an eco-friendly liquid soap, Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap (link to read reviews on Amazon) is a concentrated solution and perfect bulk-buy option that works great for multi-purpose cleaning as well. 

Keep it Clean

Although you may love your current soap, maybe it’s time you give it a second thought. There are many benefits of using eco-friendly soaps which include going beyond just your skin health.  They extend into supporting a sustainable environment through ethical ingredient sourcing, production, and full-transparency in the marketing of products.

If you are curious about trying out an eco-friendly soap for the first time, give it a shot! I speak for myself along with many others in that making important health and an environmentally-conscious switch has convinced me to never go back to my old soap again.