differences handmade and normal soap

What is the difference between artisanal hand-crafted soap and the stuff you buy in the supermarket? They’re both just soap right?

Ask a soapmaker this and watch them decide where to start. Some supermarket soaps are more like detergent bars, that strip away the moisture in your skin, and cause irritation or worse. Of course, this is not a black and white topic. Some conventional soap might be ok, some hand-made soaps are handmade with artificial fragrances, colours and cheap oils that are anything but skin-loving.

But our soaps (and many artisanal soap-makers’ soaps) are formulated with care for our skins, our health and our eco-systems in mind.

So here are the 5 main differences:

  1. Ingredients:

Artisanal hand-made soaps are made using pure natural oils, butters & fats. If we use any fragrances we use pure essential oils. We add in natural clays, charcoal, fruit and vegetable juice and puree, dried herbs, dried flowers, honey and beeswax. Glycerin is a naturally occuring by product of the soapmaking process, and we leave it in the soap where it belongs, which makes a more skin-friendly. bar.

Conventional soap is usually made using the the cheapest oils and fats, which includes petro-chemicals, unsustainable palm oil, animal fats produced with no regard for animal health or welfare. They colour their bars with cheap colourants, and scent them with cheap fragrances, the ingredients of which are known irritants. They are often made with a scent or marketing story in mind, but not with a genuine desire to nourish healthy skin. 

Other chemicals whose purpose is to make the soap lather more, or hold it’s shape better, are added in, and again it’s essentially up to us, as the consumers to check whether these ingredients are really safe for use on our skins, in our bathrooms and waterways. Another point to note is that in commercial soap production, some or all of the glycerin is removed, so it can be added into higher-priced cosmetics, like lotions. So they take the glycerin out of their soap, and then sell it back to us in lotions to moisturise your skin and help it recover from the drying effects of commercial soap. 

  1. How your skin reacts to it

Conventional soap can be drying, or worse, it can irritate and exacerbate already sensitive skin. Artisanal soap is generally made with a high percentage of oils to lye, so it’s more moisturising, and the glycerin remains in the final product which draws moisture to it. 

If you do have a reaction there’s a difference also between trying to find which one of 5-10 (known and identifiable) ingredients is bothering you.  Conventional soap is likely to contain many more ingredients, of which far fewer will be either known or identifiable.

  1. How the environment reacts to it after you’ve washed it off your body. 

We rarely think about what happens to all those bodywash/soap bubbles/shampoo etc etc that we wash down the drain, but the chemicals that make up each product do not just disappear. They move into the waterways, affecting plants and animals, and building up in some populations. Using more natural products means having a less toxic effect on your environment.

4. Where your money goes after you pay for it

Most genuine artisanal handcrafted soap producers are female solo-preneurs, or small family businesses. So your money goes to the individuals who created the recipe, made the soap, sold the soap and cleaned up afterwards. She’ll spend the money on her family, in her community.

Conventional soap manufacturers are often owned by multinational companies who disregard environmental and workplace ethics, they employ people in places where workplace laws are more lax so they can get away with paying them less, and providing less in terms of safety and protection. These same companies will pay minimal tax and the profits will end up in the hands of anonymous shareholders, far from the community where the products are produced or used. 

     5. How long your soap will last

Handmade soap has a lifespan, that is based on the shelf life of the oils in it. Usually it’s about 1-2 years. It won’t be useless after that but it’s best to use it relatively soon after you buy it.

Conventional soap on the other hand is made with so many preservatives it has a much longer shelf life. 


If you’ve never tried a quality handmade soap, that’s 5 good reasons to go try one. If you have we’d love to hear your experience with them in the comments.