Ethical shopping guide to Liquid Soap & Bars of Soap, from Ethical Consumer

Ethical shopping guide to Liquid Soap & Bars of Soap, from Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

This product guide includes:

  • Ethical and environmental ratings for 58 bars of soap, liquid soap and handwash
  • Best Buy recommendations
  • Toxic chemicals
  • Company profile: Unilever



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Our ratings are live updated scores from our primary research database. They are based on primary and secondary research across 23 categories - 17 negative categories and 6 positive ones (Company Ethos and Product Sustainability). Find out more about our ethical ratings


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Best Buys

as of March 2017

As our ratings are constantly updated, it is possible that company ratings on the score table may have changed since this report was written.


Liquid soap – Odylique, Neal’s Yard, Green People, Bentley Organics, Bio-D, Faith in Nature, Earth Friendly, Yaoh, EcoLeaf, Lush, Traidcraft Clean & Fair

Bars of soap – Lucy Bee, Zaytoun, Bentley Organics, Caurnie, Faith in Nature, Friendly Soap, Pure Nuff Stuff, Lush, Suma, Traidcraft Clean & Fair, Weleda

to buy

Image: Green People


Image: Neals Yard


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Ethical Business
Directory Links

  • Caurnie Soap    view ethical directory profile >

    Caurnie Soap has been serving the Scottish natural skin care market since 1922. We specialise in handcrafted cold p...

  • Friendly Soap    view ethical directory profile >

    Friendly Soap handmake natural, vegan Bath Soaps, Shampoo Bars, Facial Cleansing Bars and Shaving Soaps using Coco...

  • Sabai Soaps    view ethical directory profile >

    Sabai Soaps provides luxurious, sustainably produced handmade soap. Our soaps are 100% organic and vegan friendly ...






Related Content

Cosmetics sector report

Last updated: March 2017 




Soap bars


In 2015, the UK’s soap, bath and shower gel market was estimated to be worth around £676 million, with just three brands – Carex, Dove and Imperial Leather – accounting for a 48% share of the market.[1] 

However, as the table above shows there are many companies offering alternatives which are either organic, made without the use of animal ingredients or palm oil free. 

This guide covers soaps in both bar and liquid form, including hand washes. 



image: soap in ethical shopping guide



Bars versus liquids


Soap has been in existence since 2800 BC and was originally made by mixing fat, oils and salts. In the beginning, soap wasn't used for bathing and personal hygiene but was produced for cleaning cooking utensils or it was used for medicine purposes.

It wasn’t until 1865 that William Shepphard patented liquid soap with Palmolive being one of the first brands to bring it to market. Since then its popularity has continued to rise with market research suggesting that 62% of the population now buy liquid soap.

So which is better? Well there appears to be conflicting reports on which type of soap provides a “cleaner” wash. Tests have shown that good old fashioned soaps are just as effective as their liquid offspring.[2]

Instead, some have suggested that this change has come about due to clever marketing and a higher profit margin. The switch from bar soap to liquid has apparently been driven by a fear of other people’s bacteria lurking on bar soap. Companies have encouraged the notion that using liquid soap was more hygienic.



If you are concerned about packaging and the environmental impact of products then buying a soap bar rather then a liquid soap is better. 

The environmental impact of liquid soap is thought to be higher due to the fact it is:

Heavier: Containing lots of water, liquid soaps are likely to be heavier than bar soap, resulting in a higher carbon footprint for transportation. 

More packaging: Packaging for body washes and liquid soaps tend to be plastic bottles that end up in landfill or our oceans. Compared with a thin wrapper or no wrapper for soap bars this is a retrogressive step. 

Petrol: Most liquid soaps are made of petroleum and need emulsifying agents and stabilisers to maintain their consistency.

Damage aquatic life: What you use on your body ends up in the water system. Detergents may contain of harmful substances that can bioaccumulate in living organisms. 


Anti-bacterial soaps

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there isn’t enough science to show that over-the-counter (OTC) antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water. “To date, the benefits of using antibacterial hand soap haven’t been proven. In addition, the wide use of these products over a long time has raised the question of potential negative effects on your health.” In 2016 the US FDA banned the use of triclosan in soaps.

The EU has also classified triclosan as an irritant to the skin and eyes and also noted its negative effects on aquatic organisms. 

In the UK many of the companies have banned or committed to banning the use of triclosan. See table below for individual companies’ toxic policies.


Toxic chemicals

At Ethical Consumer, we have rated all the make-up brands for their toxic chemicals policies. Those companies which received a best rating had a policy which has banned the use of parabens, phthalates and triclosan. We talk more about these chemicals in our wider report into the Cosmetics Industry.

As you can see from the table below, the majority of the brands have either committed to not using any of the three toxics or have committed to banning one or two of them.


Table: toxic chemicals



Vegan and organic soaps

Companies which are suitable for vegans or vegetarians or are made with organic products have been marked on the table using the symbols A and O. 

While its range is all said to be suitable for vegans one of Bentley bars of soap does contain honey.

The following brands were certified by the Vegan Society: Lucy Bee, Faith in Nature, Friendly Soap and Earth Friendly. 

The following brands were certified by the Vegetarian Society: Neal’s Yard, Ecoleaf and Suma.

The following brands were certified organic by the Soil Association: Bentley and Odylique. 

Sante is certified organic by BHID while Weleda is certified by Natrue. 

While Dr Organic markets itself as being organic it does not use external organic verification standards which guarantee products contain a certain percentage of organic ingredients. Find out about organic certification schemes in our wider report. 



Animal testing

Although the testing of cosmetics on animals has been banned in the EU, this is not the case everywhere else in the world.  But the REACH legislation has complicated the issue.  We cover animal testing in our wider report.

Ethical Consumer rates all companies selling cosmetics on their animal testing policy. Companies will score a best rating if they have a policy not to test on animals, have a fixed cut-off date (a date after which none of their products or ingredients will have been tested on animals), and are not selling to markets where animal testing of products is required by law.

The following brands were certified by the Leaping Bunny certification for not using animal tested ingredients: Lucy Bee, Bio-D, Friendly Soap, Earth Friendly, Neal’s Yard; Honesty, Astonish, Method, and Ecover. 


Palm oil

Palm oil and palm oil derivatives have become an important component in many soap products. In particular, it is used for its viscosity and as a skin conditioning agent.

Lucy Bee, Odylique, Caurnie, Friendly Soap, Earth Friendly Soap, Pure Nuff, Zaytoun and Honesty all made soap products without the use of palm oil. Sabai Soap in the process of phasing it out. 

Traidcraft used Fairtrade palm oil in its products.



Company Profile


Unilever owns many of the big names in bodycare products, including Simple soap, Dove and Radox. Unilever lost marks under our new Controversial Technologies column for its support of genetic modification.

It stated on its website: “Our commitment to safety and quality includes all of our food ingredients, whether produced from conventional crops or from GM crops authorised by regulatory bodies. We believe that these GM crops are as safe as their traditional counterparts and fully support regulatory control of the use of GM technology and continued scientific review in this area.”


 Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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1 Mintel Soap, Bath and Shower Products - UK - February 2016 

2 Revision of European Ecolabel Criteria for Soaps, Shampoos and Hair Conditioners. Albert Ferrer et al January 2012 





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