The more lather, the cleaner the hair, right?

We have come to associate the effectiveness of our cleaning products with the amount of lather they generate while being used. What most people don’t realize, is that soap, shampoo, toothpaste and other cleaning products (both personal and household) don’t need to have a lot of lather to do their job.  Soap lather, which suspends dirt by creating greater surface tension in water, traps dirt for easy removal through rinsing.  But we don’t require a ton of lather to get the job done.

Many personal care products have a foaming agent added to them. That’s how we get that frothy lather we know and love. The most commonly used foaming agents are cocamide DEA, MEA or TEA. These particular chemicals serve no purpose other than to make shampoo thick and foamy.

Most soap lather is artificially created because of customer demand, not because it is needed for cleaning.  Retailers of soaps and shampoos see the opportunity to make their products look better by claiming that more lather equals cleaner body parts.  It’s very inexpensive to put chemicals into soaps to make them lather unnecessarily, and the result is that we end up smearing more toxins onto our bodies than is healthy, all for the misconception of being cleaner.

Not only do commercial soaps contain harsh chemical additives that make them lather, they also contain perfumes and fragrances that are known to cause irritation.  These fragrances aren’t extracted from naturally aromatic sources, like the label wants you to believe.  They’re produced in a factory, using a host of cancer-causing chemicals, which allow them to stay fragrant much longer.  The generic term, “fragrance” or “parfum” on a label can indicate the presence of up to 3,000 separate ingredients.  Studies have shown that some of the chemicals used in soap fragrances can cause skin diseases, birth defects and even liver damage in animal testing.

Then there’s the chemical sodium lauryl sulfate (also known as sodium laureth sulfate).

The reason sodium lauryl sulfate is used in soaps and shampoos is because it is an inexpensive detergent and it makes substances lather.  Studies have indicated that with use, sodium lauryl sulfate actually leaves a residue in the heart, liver, lungs and brain from skin contact.  That means once it enters your body (which it most certainly does before you have time to rinse it off) some of it never leaves, causing a slow build-up of chemicals inside you.

Detergents are one of the most troubling ingredients in products. Many detergents are made from the chemical alkylphenol ethoxylate, which harbours a cancer-causing impurity that’s harmful when absorbed into your body, and released down the drain.

You can recognize shampoo ingredients containing ethoxylated detergents and related ingredients by looking for these words on the bottle: PEG, polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene, eth (as in sodium laureth sulfate), or oxynol.

But wait.  Doesn’t the government regulate products to make sure they’re safe before they can go onto shelves? Nope! Major loopholes in federal laws allow the cosmetics and skincare industries to put as many chemicals as their hearts desire, into the products we use. And there’s no required monitoring of health effects, no required testing, and they don’t even have to list them on the label! Hidden behind the claim that their formulas are trade secrets, manufacturers don’t have to label anything they don’t want to.

Ok, so that’s a lot to think about.  The good news is that there are alternatives.  While they may not be found on your beaten shopping path, they are available, and they cost about the same. I like to shop at Planet Organic.  Unfortunately, you can’t just waltz through the door and be in chemical-free heaven, but they have the right idea, and many of the products they carry have at least a reduction in harmful chemicals.  I’ve gotten really good at reading the labels on everything, and as a result I’ve found some really good products.

  • Burt’s Bees Peppermint & Rosemary Body Bar/Outdoor Poison Ivy Soap
  • Soap Works Liquid Glycerin Soap, Unscented
  • Rocky Mountain Soap Company Bar Soaps (available unscented)/Liquid Soaps/Foaming Wash
  • Aubrey Organics Bath Bars
  • Green Beaver Organic Toothpaste (Canadian company)
  • Burt’s Bees Outdoor Rosemary Mint Shampoo Bar
  • Aubrey Organics Island Naturals Shampoo

If going out of your way just isn’t possible, there are products available in supermarkets that contain more natural ingredients and less chemical compounds.  While these aren’t completely chemical-free, they don’t contain the same toxic cocktail apparent in other commercially created soaps.

  • Dove Sensitive Skin Unscented Bar Soap/Body Wash
  • Canus Goats Milk Moisturizing Soap, Unscented
  • Aveeno Moisturizing Bar, Fragrance Free
  • Neutrogena Transparent Facial Bar Soap, Fragrance Free
  • Arm & Hammer Teeth Whitening Booster Toothpaste
  • Avalon Organics Shampoos
  • Jason Natural Cosmetics Fragrance Free Daily Shampoo

Castille soaps are made using no animal products like tallow or fat.  They tend to be made of plant oils and natural herbal fragrances instead.  It’s possible to buy soaps made from olive oil, nut oils or seed oils too. Not only are castille soaps better for your skin and your health, they’re much kinder on our environment and our delicate aquatic ecosystems because they lack all unnatural ingredients.  You can even make them at home!

So to sum things up, chemicals are bad for us.  Manufacturers fill their skincare products with chemicals and then try to distract the consumer from noticing, by using misleading packaging and language.  There is no regulation. It’s up to us to source products that have fewer chemicals in them for the benefit of our own health.

If switching all your products seems like a daunting task, try cutting one toxic product out of your routine a month.  If you’re female, I’d start with that aluminum-filled antiperspirant.

By altering our consumer habits and continuing to demand chemical-free products, we can greatly diminish and even reverse the damage done to our bodies by exposure to toxins.  We can feel good about putting less toxic chemicals down the drain, too!

3 comments on “the real dirt on soap lather

  1. Awesome article I really enjoyed it! One thing I’d like to mention is that by not using commercial chemical-laden shampoos, you’re also helping save marine life, who get poisoned by the chemicals that go down our drains every time we shower. You’re also helping countless animals who live out miserable lives in laboratories as guinea pigs (testing our horrendous chemical-laden products before they are considered ‘safe to use’ by humans). As we reduce our demand of commercial, animal-tested products, so manufacturers are forced to produce organic, cruelty-free products!

    1. Hey Melissa, thanks for the addition! You’re totally right, and I hadn’t even thought about the animal testing, so great comment! I do want to post a comprehensive list of companies that still test on animals, because there are A LOT of them, and people don’t realize it. Thanks for reading!


  2. Dear enthusiast,
    Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but SEVERAL websites and research papers list Neutrogena as the MOST toxic bar soap in the marketplace! They all do stress that the different varieties (eg dry, oily, acne, etc) however do contain different amounts of said deadly chemicals…Please make note of this, as this particular soap, and brand reputation is that they are healthy choices. Perhaps because the bars are transparent, and reccommended by dermatologists, people trust them as safe. Keep up the great work you are doing!

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