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5 Differences Between Natural And Synthetic Soaps

on July 20, 2016

Soaps are considered a type of skin cleanser.  Skin cleansers come in many forms; gels, foams and bars of various scents and appearances.  They are also categorised as either natural or synthetic ones.  A large proportion of commercially mass-produced soaps are synthetic.  Here at Rough Beauty, we whole-heartedly believe in producing quality, natural soaps.  So how is natural soap different from most of the synthetic commercially mass-produced options you find?

You can find the answer by looking at the ingredients list.  Soaps labelled as ‘natural’ may sometimes contain artificial ingredients. Similarly, a commercially mass-produced product does not mean that it does not have natural ingredients.  You can make a more informed decision on what you want to use on your skin by reading the ingredients list.   Here are the 5 major differences between these two kinds of soap:


Cleansing Agent in Soaps

In natural soaps, the cleansing agent itself is the soap.  The word ‘soap’ here actually refers to the sodium salts of fatty acids.  These salts are produced when oil(or fats) are mixed with lye which then undergo a saponification reaction. The resulting product is a combination of soap and glycerin.  It is this soap that lends the natural skin cleanser its cleansing properties.

Your skin produces oil which carries dead skin cells and other pollutants, and allows bacteria to grow.  Because oil is not water-soluble, your skin can accumulate these unwanted compounds.  The sodium salts help by picking up these oils and the resulting mixture is easily washed away with water.

Depending on the oils and fats used, the sodium salts of the fatty acids formed will have differing effects.  These oils and fats are either from plant or animal origins.  Oils from animal origins can be identified by terms such as “tallow” and “sodium tallowate”.  Having animal fat in soap may not necessarily be a bad thing because it is using a by-product of the meat industry and can help reduce wastage.  If you’re not into that, you’d be glad to know that Rough Beauty soap bars are made only with vegetal oils and are vegan-friendly.

In synthetic soaps, the cleansing agents are usually artificially made detergents.  Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS, also known as sodium laureth sulfate) is one such detergent commonly found in synthetic soaps.  The reason why manufacturers use SLS is because it is inexpensive, although it is known to be harsh on the skin and may cause irritation.

Moisturising Agent in Soaps

Glycerin, the other product of the saponification reaction is a natural humectant and moisturiser.  It is colourless, odourless and viscous.  Because of its natural ability to absorb water, it is often extracted by manufacturers to be used in pharmaceuticals such as toners, cleansers and moisturisers.  Naturally made soaps has glycerin that is formed as part of the saponification process.  As for synthetic soaps, some do not contain glycerin at all.  Those that do have glycerin added in as part of the manufacturing process.

Lathering Agent in Soaps

Have you ever wondered why your synthetic soaps lather a lot more than natural soaps?  This is because manufacturers add lathering agents to their skin cleansers.  This effect is purely cosmetic and does not add to the intended use of skin cleansers.  These chemicals include cocamide DEA, MEA and TEA.   SLS, besides its cleansing ability, is also used to create lather.

In natural soaps, lather is formed when the sodium salts of fatty acids pick up the oils and mix in with the air around it.


Smells can be a major deciding factor when you want to use a product on your skin.  Aromatherapy can do wonders for your soul!  Soaps and skin cleansers are typically scented with either fragrance or essential oils. Fragrance oils are made of a blend of mostly synthetic aroma compounds whereas essential oils are natural concentrates pressed or distilled from plants and contain therapeutic properties not found in synthetic oils.

Why do some skin cleansers use fragrance oils if it does not contain the therapeutic benefits then? One of the biggest difference between the two sources of scents is the cost. Fragrance oils are significantly cheaper than essential oils. They can also be used to create very unique scents that are not found in plants.

Soap Colour

Natural bar soaps made using the traditional process are usually a nice cream colour but a little design and added colour can make them more interesting. Some common colourants for bar soaps include micas, herbs, clays and dyes but not all of those are from natural sources.

On the other hand, synthetic soaps may use artificial colouring, usually those referred to as the FD and C (or Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act) colourants.  These colourants are given names and a number, such as Red #40 or Yellow #5.  Once again, these are relatively inexpensive compared to natural colourants.

At Rough Beauty, we steer clear of such artificial colouring and select to use only natural colourants, not only because of its organic & environment-friendly origins, but also because of the positive health properties that many possess.  For example, some of Rough Beauty’s favourite natural colourants are turmeric and activated charcoal for their respective anti-inflammatory and deep cleansing properties and the rich colours they can produce.

Rough Beauty soaps are handcrafted with botanical ingredients with simplicity and sustainability in mind. We source for quality natural ingredients, using only essential oils and herbs and spices for scents and colours. When you purchase a bar of Rough Beauty soap, you are assured of a quality product that has been made with care.



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