Soap

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.

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)

Lucy Bee soap [F,O,A]

Company Profile: Lucy Bee Ltd
18

Bentley Organics soap [A, O]

Company Profile: Bentley Organic Trading Limited
16

Friendly Soap [A]

Company Profile: Friendly Soap Ltd
16

Neal's Yard soap [A, O]

Company Profile: Neal's Yard Remedies
16

Odylique soap [O]

Company Profile: Essential Care (Organics) Ltd
16

Zaytoun Olive Oil Soap [F]

Company Profile: Zaytoun
16

Bio-D handwash [A]

Company Profile: Bio-D Company
15.5

Caurnie soaps [A]

Company Profile: Caurnie Soap Co
15.5

Faith in Nature soap & handwash [A]

Company Profile: Faith in Nature Ltd
15.5

Green people hand wash [A, O]

Company Profile: Green People Company Ltd
15.5

Earth Friendly Products Hand Soap [A]

Company Profile: Earth Friendly Products
15

Pure Nuff Stuff soap

Company Profile: Pure Nuff Stuff Ltd
14.5

ecoleaf liquid hand soap [A]

Company Profile: Triangle Wholefoods Collective Ltd
14.5

Honesty soap & handwash [A]

Company Profile: Honesty Cosmetics
14

Suma Soap [A]

Company Profile: Triangle Wholefoods Collective Ltd
14

Yaoh soap [A]

Company Profile: Yaoh Ltd
14

Lush Vegan soaps [A]

Company Profile: Lush Cosmetics Ltd
13

Traidcraft Clean & Fair [F,A]

Company Profile: Traidcraft plc
13

Traidcraft Clean & Fair bar soaps [F]

Company Profile: Traidcraft plc
12.5

Urtekram soap [A, O]

Company Profile: Midsona
12.5

Weleda bar soap [A]

Company Profile: Weleda AG
12.5

Astonish handwash [A]

Company Profile: The London Oil Refining Co Ltd
12

Lavera Liquid Soap [A, O]

Company Profile: Laverana GmbH & Co KG
12

Lush soap

Company Profile: Lush Cosmetics Ltd
12

Body Shop soap

Company Profile: Body Shop International plc
10.5

Baylis and Harding Fairtrade handwash [F]

Company Profile: Baylis and Harding plc
10

Aesop Soap

Company Profile: Aesop
9.5

Original Source hand wash [A]

Company Profile: PZ Cussons PLC
9.5

Baylis and Harding soap

Company Profile: Baylis and Harding plc
9

Carex liquid soap

Company Profile: PZ Cussons PLC
8.5

Imperial Leather Soap & handwash

Company Profile: PZ Cussons PLC
8.5

L'Occitane Soap

Company Profile: L'Occitane International SA
8.5

Sanctuary Spa soap

Company Profile: PZ Cussons PLC
8.5

Method hand wash [A]

Company Profile: Method Products Ltd
8

Avalon Organics handsoap [A, O]

Company Profile: Avalon Organics
7.5

Ecover hand soap

Company Profile: Ecover NV
7.5

Molton Brown soap and handwash

Company Profile: Molton Brown Limited
7.5

Avon soap

Company Profile: Avon Products Inc
7

Fa Soap

Company Profile: Henkel AG & Co. KGaA
7

JASÖN soap

Company Profile: JASÖN Natural Products
7

Origins soap and hand wash

Company Profile: Origins Natural Resources Inc
7

Nivea liquid soap

Company Profile: Beiersdorf AG
6.5

Camay Soap

Company Profile: Procter & Gamble Company
5

Dr Organic handwash [O,A]

Company Profile: Holland & Barrett
5

Ivory soap

Company Profile: Procter & Gamble Company
5

Dettol soap and handwash

Company Profile: Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC
4.5

Sante liquid soap [A][O]

Company Profile: Sante Naturkosmetik
4.5

Tom's of Maine Soap Bar [A]

Company Profile: Tom's of Maine
4

Palmolive liquid hand wash

Company Profile: Colgate-Palmolive Co
3.5

Sanex liquid hand soap

Company Profile: Colgate-Palmolive Co
3.5

Superdrug liquid soap

Company Profile: Superdrug Stores Plc
3

Boots soap and handwash

Company Profile: Boots UK Ltd
2

Soap & Glory handwash

Company Profile: Boots UK Ltd
2

Dove soap

Company Profile: Home & Personal Care Division
1.5

Lifebuoy soap

Company Profile: Home & Personal Care Division
1.5

Pears Soap

Company Profile: Home & Personal Care Division
1.5

Radox handwash

Company Profile: Home & Personal Care Division
1.5

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
Politics
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.

Sustainability 

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

Avalon

Bentley

Bio-D

Caurnie

Earth Friendly Products

Faith in Nature

Friendly Soap

Green People

Honesty 

JASON

Lavera

Little Satsuma

L'Occitane

Odylique

Neal's Yard

Pure Nuff

Sabai Soap

Traidcraft

Weleda

Zaytoun

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) 

Atonish 

Avon

Baylis & Harding

Camay

Cidal

Dettol

Dr Organic

Ecoleaf

Ivory

Origins

Molton Brown

Nivea

Simple Soap

Suma 

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: 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.

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, 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.

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.”

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