I have a secret: I hated soap growing up.
In fact, I hated it most of my adult life.
And actually “hated” is entirely too weak of a word to truly embody the soul deep loathing that I felt for it. Even the thought of those slimy off-white bars with their putrid fragrances made my skin crawl and stomach churn.
Why did I have such disgust for an innocuous thing like soap?
Well, in my formative years my family used Vile soap (obviously not the name of the brand, but I don’t feel like getting sued today and Vile is close enough and a much better descriptor) and, while much of my early childhood has been lost to the mists, I have distinct memories (read: early childhood trauma) of its acrid scent and the… residue… it would leave behind on the skin that just NEVER washed off. Despite Vile being a harsh enough of cleanser that it sometimes BURNED my poor tender flesh I could never feel clean after using it. I found that standing under a searingly hot shower was much more effective; the dirt and body oil would just scald off and I wasn’t covered in that…. Vile substance.
When I was older and I finally had the means to purchase my own toiletries and could try different brands, only to find that they were all equally problematic. Some were so strongly scented they would make me sneeze constantly, some were so slimy they were difficult to hold and disgusting to use, a few even smelled like a dearly departed grandmother (pass), and more than a few left unpleasant residues just like Vile. After working my way through the entirety of the soap aisle, I resigned myself to the scalding showers occasionally enhanced with a shower gel. (Yes, I knew body washes were a thing… they have their own, similar issues. I just found them slightly less objectionable)
Then one day I tried true soap… I would like to say that I heard choirs of angels and organ music and the light in my bathroom went all golden and shimmery buuuuut: life is not a commercial. What did happen though was an entirely pleasant experience. It was nice to touch, the lather was rich and satisfying without being obnoxious, it was scented well enough to enjoy but not enough to trigger an asthma attack (FU Scottish Fall), and after rinsing away my skin felt hydrated and clean!
Why was this such a different creature from all that had come before it? Why had this eluded me for so long? Was was I getting so damn excited about a freaking bar of soap?!?!
After a bit of research I came to discover the answers to all of these questions:
The first was easy: true soap is made from natural sources of fats that have been saponified (more on this in a later post) while commercial bars are typically manmade synthetic detergents. The natural fats are typically gentler on the skin in general and break down better in water than their lab-created counterparts. Detergent bars (as I like to call the supermarket stuff) contain a crap ton of ingredients and some pretty harsh chemicals* that don’t really play as well with one’s skin as they would necessarily like you to believe. Detergent bars get the job done, but that’s about the highest praise I can offer.
The second was also easy: Near-willful ignorance. I had seen true soap in the past but ignorantly assumed it to be the same as the shit I hated or that it was purely decorative.
The third was a bit harder: it would take a while before I found out that I was pregnant with a Dirty Unicorn!
*A note on the use of the word chemicals: damn near everything is a chemical. Water is a chemical. True Soap is the result of a reaction between chemicals. Chemicals are everywhere but the word has gained a bad reputation from advertising in recent years. Synthetic, manmade chemicals are not necessarily bad for you just as naturally occurring ones aren’t necessarily good. On the whole though synthetic detergents are much harder on both the skin and the environment than a true soap.