Liquid soap is king. Less than 20 per cent of ‘personal cleansers’ sold in Britain are now soap bars. Tests have shown that this change in washing habits has nothing to do with hygiene, with good old fashioned soaps being just as effective than their mutated liquid offspring. 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.
Most liquid soaps are made from petroleum, while many traditional bar soaps are made of ‘saponified’ animal fat and/or plant oils.
A comparison carried out by US website DailyFinance showed that washing with the recommended amount (2 teaspoons) of a branded body wash costs 11p per wash while bathing with a soap bar costs just over 0.07p per wash.
Bars versus liquids
Greater use of liquid soap has been highlighted as a poor direction to be going in from a sustainability point of view for a wide range of reasons. Here are a few:
- 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 stabilizers 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.
Lush are a company that grew out of being a supplier to the Body Shop in its early years, and in many ways they retain the deliberately-unconventional spirit of the Body Shop far better than the current L’Oréal subsidiary. They delight in funding unpopular causes such as Plane Stupid’s anti-flying campaigns and asylum seekers (‘no-one is illegal’ campaign). Although they are industry-leading in some environmental areas (e.g packaging) their lack of formal policies and poor communication over some of these initiatives mean they receive ECRA’s worst rating for environmental reporting.
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(websites viewed July 2012)
This product guide is part of a Special Report on Cosmetics & Toiletries. See what's in the rest of the report.