Castile Soap – Yes indeedie, it contains chemicals.
Yes I am a chemist and yes I know that everything contains chemicals but I am in the minority here OK?
So earlier this month I got involved in a conversation about Liquid Castile Soap and more specifically about the fact that the ingredient listing for said soap contained a list of ingredients and not just one thing – the other person in the conversation felt uncomfortable with this because they wanted to avoid chemicals and while I understood the nuanced detail behind what was being said, I couldn’t help but feel that this is a bad situation, a real bad situation to be in.
The chemicals in question (on the list) were the saponified oils, glycerin, water and citric acid – as you would expect in a pure castile soap. The ingredient list was rather like this:
Aqua, Glycerine, Potassium Olivate, Potassium Cocoate, Oleic Acid, Citric Acid.
Liquid castile soap is made from the same starting materials as bar soap – vegetable oils, water and an alkali, usually Sodium or Potassium Hydroxide. It was the Potassium Hydroxide that was used in this reaction as you can see from the potasium salts. The oils in this reaction are coconut and olive. The citric acid may be added in very small quantities to just neutralise any left over Potassium Hydroxide and/ or reduce the final pH just a tad although adding too much citric will lead to precipitation of the soap. The water is self-explanatory and the glycerine is released in the reaction that splits the oils (triglycerides) and turns them into soap.
Global Cosmetic labelling law isn’t a thing but most people these days do at least attempt to use INCI nomenclature to represent their ingredients list. In Australia this isn’t a strict requirement but this product would still have to be sold with all of those ingredients listed, you would literally just swap the word ‘aqua’ for water which isn’t too hard.
Saponification is a reaction that is as old as time really and is one that people have been utilising since fire and barbeques were invented. It seems a terrible shame to me that this simple and elegant reaction, a reaction that is the first step in a whole host of chemical synthesis has been deemed ‘too chemical’ or ‘too dangerous’ for some.
The quest for a life less chemical (more simple/ simpler) is a nobel one and one which I fully support BUT if it is driven by ignorance and propelled by a lack of willingness to understand then I’m out.
I would like to think that the conversation I took part in ended in the other person having a bit of a closer look into their concerns but as the old saying goes ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’.