Who would have thought this time last year that soap would be making the headlines?
Strange days indeed and as we lather up a little more often. It’s clear that there’s never been more important to choose our soap wisely. Palm oil, toxic chemicals, and plastics can all creep into our soap. The good news is there are some great brands out there keeping it clean.
Jane Turner from Ethical Consumer Magazine reveals some of the best brands out there. Let’s beat the bugs with good ingredients, minimal packaging, and ethical practices.
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Breaking It Down
The humble bar or splash of liquid soap is our most important weapon in fighting COVID-19. Using science that is thousands of years old, soap works by destroying the outer membranes of the virus. This kills it and stopping it from spreading. Nothing else is more effective in this fight. But although soap has natural origins, some of the soaps available today are far from natural.
Soap doesn’t need complex synthetic chemicals, plastics, or exotic ingredients grown on deforested land. Here are the nasties to look out and the brands that are leading a clean revolution.
Ethical Consumer Recommends…
Following an intensive investigation into over 50 soap brands that are included in our ethical shopping guide to soap, we recommend the following six brands as our Best Buys.
Lucy Bee is a business founded on the humble coconut, providing everything from milk to sugar, skincare, and soap. Their soaps are organic, vegan, and Fairtrade. What’s more, they contain no palm oil or palm oil-derived ingredients or nasties, such as parabens, phthalates, or triclosan.
The whole range carries the Leaping Bunny mark and no ingredients are tested on animals. The bars come in generous 150g chunks in paper packaging with four delicious scents to choose from.
Skincare brand Odylique uses virgin olive oil to create plant glycerine as the basis of its organic, vegan, castile soap bars. Although the bars do have palm oil-derived ingredients, these are present in small quantities. It also from RPSO-assured sources. Ingredients are locally sourced wherever possible and Fairtrade when sourced further afield. The bars are free from synthetic chemicals and come wrapped in non-toxic recyclable packaging.
Friendly Soap* certainly knows how to bring the fun to handwashing. Not only can you find a wide variety of bright, scented soap bars on its website, but also a range of travel soaps, shave, shampoo, and conditioner bars. Friendly Soap uses an ancient cold-press method, pouring, cutting, and stamping the soaps by hand. This helps them to maintain a small carbon footprint.
The ingredients are biodegradable so there’s no waste. Poppy seeds and hemp take the place of microplastics to gently exfoliate the skin. None of the products or ingredients are tested on animals. Meanwhile, the soaps are Vegan certified and contain no palm oil. Shea butter is also sourced from a women’s cooperative in Ghana.
Bio-D* supplies a wide variety of household and personal care products. The brand is sold on the high street, as well as in various independent health food and whole food stores.
Vegan and cruelty-free, Bio-D soap bars and liquids contain no plastics. Although some products contain palm oil derivatives, Bio-D is actively reducing its use and uses only RSPO-accredited supplies. The liquid soap is sold in bulk online at just £18.99 for 5 litres, and is also widely available through refillable liquid soap stations.
Caurnie Soap uses organic herbs and essential oils to produce its rustic, handmade soaps. The bars and liquid soaps are chemical-free, containing only pure vegan ingredients and no palm oil or derivatives. Many of the ingredients are also sourced locally.
ALTER/NATIVE* is the own-brand soap line from wholefood collective Suma. Choose from a huge variety of vegan, cruelty-free bars and liquids and access refillable soap stations in health food stores.
Suma is a vegetarian company and uses only RPSO-accredited palm oil in its products. You won’t find any plastics in these soaps and all packaging is 100% recycled and recyclable. However, we strongly advise the refillable route with the hand wash option.
For more on these companies and to see the full list of brands researched visit Ethical Consumer’s guide to soap.
Make Soap a Hobby
If you’re looking for a new hobby, why not make your own soap bars? Take a base recipe. Once you’ve mastered that you can experiment with different natural fragrances, and drop bars off as gifts for your friends and family.
What Else to Look Out For
If these brands aren’t easily available to you there are some top tips of things you can look for in some of the more widely available brands.
Microplastics have been banned in soap in the UK since 2018. However, companies can still use non-degradable liquid plastic polymers and petroleum-based chemicals. And of course, plastic packaging is a clear problem, especially when it comes to liquid handwash and non-recyclable pumps.
We recommend bars of soap over liquid handwash. Bars work just as well and come in a fraction of the packaging (mostly paper) and some with none at all.
Although plant-based ingredients are just as effective as animal-derived products, some manufacturers continue to use substances like sodium tallowate and stearic acid. Glycerine may also be animal-derived. The good news is that there are loads of vegan brands out there, many from purely vegan companies.
Look out for the Leaping Bunny label endorsing cruelty-free soaps. Some brands carry this label across their entire product range, showing a strong commitment to avoid any ingredient that has been tested on animals.
Although many companies source palm oil sustainably and are members of groups such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), these accreditations have been criticised for not doing enough to break links with deforestation.
Whether to buy or boycott palm oil remains a controversial subject and you can find out more about the issues in our palm oil section. Palm oil-derived ingredients are trickier to identify but there are companies out there who use neither. See our palm oil free soap page for more.
Many ethical brands choose locally sourced ingredients to cut their carbon footprint. For those who use ingredients such as coconut, cocoa or soy, look for the Fairtrade logo to be sure that the farmers are getting a fair price for their crops.
You can find out more about all the companies and issues in our guide to soap on our website. Here you can also find over 130 other ethical shopping guides covering everything from bread to banks.