By Christa Adams
Fist bump if, after a pandemic that saw everyone packing sanitizer and scrubbing skin, you’d rather not think about how to wash your hands. We understand — after all, handwashing was, until then, just one of those automatic tasks we’d hardly think about.
But if you want to make a holistic life change to benefit both your health and the wellbeing of the planet, there’s no better place to start than at the sink. After all, our skin is our largest organ. And while you may already be careful about germs and bacteria — especially after the last three years — you may not be applying the same mindset to the harmful chemicals and irritants you’re exposing yourself to.
Here’s what you need to know about natural alternatives and why it’s probably worth the switch from traditional, ordinary soaps.
What is natural soap?
Natural hand soap is made from — you guessed it — natural ingredients. Specifically, they pose no risk to human health. They are typically formulated with minerals and plant-based or organic components, including such essential oils and extracts as shea butter, coconut oil, and olive oil.
So how does it kill germs and bacteria?
That’s a good question because we presume it’s the main reason you use hand soap. Soap itself — that combination of fats/oils, alkali, and water — doesn’t kill viruses because viruses aren’t alive. Some bacteria and viruses — such as coronaviruses and influenza viruses — have lipid membranes which allow viruses to infect cells and keep bacteria alive.
So, this is what soap does. When you make a good lather, soap covers every inch of your hands with its pin-shaped molecules. When these molecules encounter germs or dirt, they wedge themselves into the lipid membranes, killing bacteria and deactivating viruses. Then, the remains get scooped into soap bubbles called micelles and are washed away down the drain when you rinse. That’s why it’s recommended to scrub your hands for 20 seconds to allow this process to complete.
What is the problem with traditional soap?
Traditional soaps manufacturers use harsh chemicals that are known to damage skin. As a result, your skin becomes dry and loses its natural moisture and elasticity. Some ordinary soap brands try to counteract this by adding “moisturizing benefits” to their hand soaps, but that simply means more harmful chemicals coming into contact with the skin.
Synthetic fragrances are another issue with ordinary hand soap. Chemical soaps contain artificial fragrances that can increase allergies, skin irritation and eczema, among other conditions. What’s worse is that “fragrance” is a word used to encapsulate hundreds of chemicals into a simple name.
Parabens and sodium lauryl sulfates (SLS) are other terms to look out. Parabens can cause skin cancer and harm reproductive health. SLS is a foaming agent commonly found in soaps, face wash, shampoos, and even toothpaste. It is a known skin irritant and is often contaminated with potent carcinogens.
Why is natural soap the best alternative?
Natural soap does not contain harmful chemicals and uses kind, healthy ingredients instead. Plus, the minimal processing of these ingredients allows them to retain their natural, soothing benefits.
Your skin naturally produces oil which prevents dryness. However, these oils combined with the natural shedding of dead skin cells can increase the growth of bacteria. But that’s not a problem for natural soaps. These formulas clean the skin while controlling the growth of harmful bacteria. Plus, these soaps contain some combination of glycerin, coconut oil, olive oil, or almond oil which are excellent moisturizing agents.
The basic, natural ingredients of soap form a good lather already, so there is never any need to introduce chemicals that strip away your skin’s natural functions. That’s why natural soap is a microbiome-friendly choice, unlike antibacterial or ordinary soaps. It provides all the goodness you need: a nice lather, clean and healthy hands, and moisturization. All this — without harmful chemicals.
How to find natural hand soap
So now you know why you should choose natural soap. But it doesn’t do you much good if you can’t find it. What to look for? “Natural hand soap” or words to that effect will be written somewhere on the label. Also expect the packaging to boast that it’s paraben/SLS free. You can visit your local health or organic shop, the natural/organic skincare section of pharmacies or stores or use this guide to some of the best natural hand soaps.
Don’t just stop with natural hand soap
Have you also made the natural switch in other aspects of your life? From your overall skincare routine to what you wash your laundry with, there are many ways to keep harmful chemicals out of your daily life.
Check out these eco-friendly laundry strips to get started on your clean, clean laundry journey. They have many of the benefits of natural soap — no parabens, SLS, or irritating chemicals — and are a great step toward sustainable, holistic living.