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Soap Me Up!

So, I’m probably the only one who is going to get excited about soap, but we’re all already aware that I’m more than a little strange. I was in Port Hedland for work most of the last week, and stayed in one of the many ‘camps’ in the area that provides accommodation to the FIFO and transient workforce. Having been given my key, I scrutinised the map to work out where my room was (I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in the same room twice…!), clomped on over in my steel cap boots, and unlocked my door. Apart from the fact it was an unusually large room (win!), the first thing I noticed was the soap, sitting atop my allocated two towels at the foot of the bed.

Two, hotel-sized rounds of Country Life soap. With the magical words ‘No Palm Oil’ written just under ‘Australian Made’. Winner!

Yes, that sneaky palm oil is in soap too… If I try really hard I can remember learning about soap production at uni – don’t ask me why, I guess it was a relatively simple process to use an example for something – and it goes a bit like this; oil/fat is treated with an alkali/base to create soap and glycerol/glycerin (roughly – I am stretching the memory banks a bit here).

Back in ye olde times, the fat was commonly an animal fat – beef, lamb and even whale (!) fat were all regularly used for soap production. But as consumers have started to ask more questions about the origin of their products, and we’ve become more squeamish about using animal products, ‘plant based’ soaps have become increasingly common. Some of these, such as Castille soap, successfully use liquid vegetable oils (olive oil, in the case of Castille), to make a firm soap that lathers well. However, in my search for a palm oil free soap, I have tried A LOT of squishy slimy soap that just does not hold up when it gets wet – a pretty crummy property for a soap if you ask me! Enter palm oil. Since it is a more solid vegetable fat, it slots well into existing soap production methods, so as far as most manufacturers are concerned, it’s a win-win. They don’t really have to change much, and they get to put things like ‘plant derived’ and ‘vegan friendly’ on their labels.

Apart from the palm oil thing, in my opinion, tallow is by far the more sustainable option. It is primarily available as a by product from the meat industry, and not using it is just plain wasteful. The animal has been killed for a fillet steak (or some other prime cut), so we should do our best to use as much of the rest of it as possible. Marie at Humblebee & Me has a pretty good article addressing this - ‘Why I Use Lard or Tallow in My Soap (And Why You Should, Too)’.

So, with all that in mind, which soap should you buy??

My first choice is Wildthyme Natural Soaps, after meeting the lovely Judy at the Kalamunda markets a few months ago. While they’re not 100% palm oil free, the palm oil that is used is certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO), and Judy tells me she only uses the minimum amount she needs to get a solid bar. However, I can’t always get to the Kalamunda Markets when we’re running low on soap, so Coles branded soap is my supermarket backup (100% palm oil free). There used to be a range of these to choose from (shea butter was my favourite), but it now seems they only stock the 'Revitalising Citrus Fresh’ scent, which, in my opinion, is a bit OTT on the ‘citrus fresh’ and consequently reminds me of disinfectant.

These ones are also palm oil free;

  • Wrights Traditional Soap
  • Woolworths Homebrand (NOT Woolworths Select)
  • Scrumpy Soap Co (available at selected gift & health shops around South West WA, and online)
  • Pompadour soaps (available at selected gift shops and spas, and online)
  • Sally’s Soap Shoppe (available at markets around Melbourne, and online)
  • Lush have some 100% palm oil free soaps, but I am not sure which ones they are, and all Lush soaps use a palm oil free base (i.e. they don’t use palm oil as the oil base for the soap, but some derivatives of palm are used elsewhere in the process)

And the following list all contain palm oil;

  • Palmolive
  • Country Life [Yes – I know this is the one I am raving about above, they used to be palm oil free, but they have recently switched to a palm oil base. I guess the camp has old stock they were working through.]
  • Lux
  • Dove
  • Pears
  • Imperial Leather
  • Eco Store
  • Just to name a few…!

For a more exhaustive list of palm oil free soaps, check out my Palm Oil Free Directory.