In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 58 soap brands

We also look at toxic chemicals, animal testing, palm oil, shine a spotlight on the ethics of Unilever and give our recommended buys.

About 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.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying soap:

  • Is it a solid bar? Bars of soap are less likely to contain petroleum, use less plastic packaging and have lower emissions from transportation than liquid soap. Opt for a bar over a bottle if you want a more environmentally-friendly choice.

  • Is it organic? This is a fail-safe way to avoid most of the nasty, artificial chemicals that are in so many products. And thereby also help to protect the environment.

  • Is it vegan? Soap sometimes use animal fats, as well as other animal products such as honey or milk. Look for a vegan brand.

Best Buys

We recommend brands that are organic and/or vegan. The following brands offer liquid (L) and/or bars of soap: (B)

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying soap:

  • Does it contain palm oil? At its most unsustainable, palm oil is linked to mass deforestation and serious violations of human rights. Look for brands that commit to sourcing palm oil sustainably.

  • Is it  tested on animals? 80% of the world still permits animal testing for cosmetics, although it is banned in the UK. Look for the Cruelty-Free logo to guarantee that the company is not animal testing anywhere in the world.

  • Is it packaged in plastic? Soap doesn’t need to come in a plastic bottle: choosing a bar rather than liquid soap cuts down on packaging, as well as emissions from transportation.

Companies to avoid

The following companies score worst for supply chain management and animal testing:

  • Soap & Glory
  • Boots
  • Superdrug
  • Sanex
  • Palmolive
  • Tom's of Maine

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Lucy Bee soap [F,O,A]

Company Profile: Lucy Bee Ltd

Friendly Soap bar soap [A]

Company Profile: Friendly Soap Ltd

Neal's Yard soap [A][O]

Company Profile: Neal's Yard (Natural Remedies) Limited

Odylique soap [O]

Company Profile: Essential Care (Organics) Ltd

Bentley Organics soap [A, O]

Company Profile: Bentley Organic Trading Limited

Bio-D soap & handwash [A]

Company Profile: Bio-D Company

Conscious Skincare handwash [A]

Company Profile: Conscious Skincare Ltd

Green people hand wash [A, O]

Company Profile: Green People Company Ltd

Zaytoun Olive Oil Soap [F]

Company Profile: Zaytoun

Caurnie soaps [A]

Company Profile: Caurnie Soap Co

Faith in Nature soap & handwash [A]

Company Profile: Faith in Nature Ltd

Honesty soap & handwash [A]

Company Profile: Honesty Cosmetics

ecoleaf liquid hand soap [A]

Company Profile: Triangle Wholefoods Collective Ltd (t/a Suma Wholefoods)

Traidcraft Clean & Fair [F,A]

Company Profile: Traidcraft plc

Pure Nuff Stuff soap

Company Profile: Pure Nuff Stuff Ltd

Traidcraft Clean & Fair bar soaps [F]

Company Profile: Traidcraft plc

Weleda vegan bar soap [A]

Company Profile: Weleda AG

Lush Vegan soaps [A]

Company Profile: Lush Cosmetics Ltd

Earth Friendly Products Hand Soap [A]

Company Profile: Earth Friendly Products

Lavera Liquid Soap [A, O]

Company Profile: Laverana GmbH & Co KG

Yaoh soap [A]

Company Profile: Yaoh Ltd

Astonish handwash [A]

Company Profile: The London Oil Refining Co Ltd

Lush soap

Company Profile: Lush Cosmetics Ltd

Urtekram bar soap & handwash [A, O]

Company Profile: Midsona

Baylis and Harding Fairtrade handwash [F]

Company Profile: Baylis and Harding PLC

Baylis and Harding soap [A]

Company Profile: Baylis and Harding PLC

Aesop Soap

Company Profile: Aesop

L'Occitane Soap

Company Profile: L'Occitane International SA

Nivea bar & liquid soap

Company Profile: Beiersdorf AG

Original Source hand wash [A]

Company Profile: PZ Cussons PLC

Avon soap

Company Profile: Avon Products Inc

Body Shop soap

Company Profile: Body Shop International Limited

Carex liquid soap

Company Profile: PZ Cussons PLC

Imperial Leather bar soap & handwash

Company Profile: PZ Cussons PLC

Molton Brown soap and handwash

Company Profile: Molton Brown Limited

Sanctuary Spa soap

Company Profile: PZ Cussons PLC

Dr Organic handwash [O,A]

Company Profile: Holland & Barrett

Ecover hand soap

Company Profile: Ecover NV

Method hand wash [A]

Company Profile: Method Products Ltd

Avalon Organics handsoap [A, O]

Company Profile: Avalon Organics

Fa Soap

Company Profile: Henkel AG & Co. KGaA

JASÖN soap

Company Profile: JASÖN Natural Products

Origins soap and hand wash

Company Profile: Origins Natural Resources Inc

Cidal soap

Company Profile: Lornamead UK Ltd

Dettol soap and handwash

Company Profile: Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC

Sante liquid soap [A][O]

Company Profile: Sante Naturkosmetik

Wright's soap

Company Profile: Lornamead UK Ltd

Camay Soap

Company Profile: Procter & Gamble Company

Ivory soap

Company Profile: Procter & Gamble Company

Palmolive liquid hand wash

Company Profile: Colgate-Palmolive Co

Sanex bar & liquid soap

Company Profile: Colgate-Palmolive Co

Tom's of Maine Soap Bar [A]

Company Profile: Tom's of Maine

Simple soap

Company Profile: Lornamead UK Ltd

Dove soap

Company Profile: Unilever Home & Personal Care Division

Lifebuoy soap

Company Profile: Unilever Home & Personal Care Division

Pears Soap

Company Profile: Unilever Home & Personal Care Division

Radox handwash

Company Profile: Unilever Home & Personal Care Division

Superdrug bar & liquid soap

Company Profile: Superdrug Stores Plc

Boots soap and handwash

Company Profile: Boots UK Ltd

Soap & Glory handwash

Company Profile: Boots UK Ltd

What is most important to you?

Product sustainability

Our Analysis

In 2015, the UK’s soap, bath and shower gel market was estimated to be worth around £676 million, with just three brands – CarexDove 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 bars

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 feature Toxic Beauty.

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.

Best Middle (which chemicals banned)  Worst





Conscious Skincare

Earth Friendly Products

Faith in Nature

Friendly Soap

Green People




Little Satsuma



Neal's Yard

Pure Nuff

Sabai Soap




Aesop (parabens)

Body Shop (parabens and phthalates)

Boots (phthalates / triciosan)

Carex (triclosan)

Dove (parabens with date for ending triciosan)

Friendly Soap (parabens)

Imperial Leather (triciosan)

Lifebouy (parabens with date for ending triciosan)

Lush (triciosan and phthalates)

Original Source (triclosan)

Method/ Ecover (triclosan)

Palmolive (parabens)

Pears (parabens)

Sanctury (triclosan and parabens)

Sanex (parabens with date for ending triclosan)

Sante (paraben)

Soap & Glory (phthalates / triclosan)

Tom's of Maine (parabens)

Urtekram (parabens)

Yaoh (parabens) 



Baylis & Harding




Dr Organic




Molton Brown


Simple Soap


Wrights Soap


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: Conscious Skincare (as Vegan), 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.

Full online access to our unique shopping guides, ethical rankings and company profiles. The essential ethical print magazine.

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.  

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: Bio-D, Conscious Skincare, Lucy Bee, 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, Conscious Skincare, 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. This information is reserved for subscribers only. Don't miss out, become a subscriber today.