Handmade soap (Photo: Malene Thyssen)What they don’t tell you about bath soap
by Murali Chemuturi

Soap is a mixture of vegetable oil with an alkaline solution. The vegetable oils used in making toilet soaps are coconut oil, palm oil and olive oil. The alkaline solutions normally used are Caustic Soda (Sodium Hydroxide) and Caustic Potash (Potassium Hydroxide). Especially coconut oil and palm oil produce excellent lathering properties.

Caustic Soda when applied to a painted metal surface, do you know what happens? The paint is eaten away! When a metal surface (say a car or a coach) is to be repainted, they strip off the old paint using Caustic Soda. Caustic Potash is slightly less caustic. You may also find the chemicals Sodium Tallowate (Caustic Soda plus tallow) and SodiumPalmate (Caustic Soda plus Palm Oil) as ingredients of soap.

Soaps were and perhaps to some extent today, are used as lubricants! Instead of vegetable oils, they use tallow.

The mixture of alkaline solution with vegetable oil contains what are called as micelles. Micelles are cell-like structures that contain a hydrophilic (dissolves in water) and a lipophilic (attaches to fatty substances but doesn’t dissolve in water). That is why when you mix soap with water, it gives a lubricating feeling.

What has this got to do with me, you may ask rightly. Plenty. You soap your body every day at least once and perhaps twice or thrice if you are a cleanliness fanatic.

First, what gives your skin the youthful look? It is the body oils forming a thin film on the surface of the skin that give your skin the smoothness, the glow and the beauty. Now washing them off will do exactly the opposite – reduce the smoothness, the glow and your beauty.

Now when you lather your body with soap during your bath, the lipophilic part attaches itself to your body oils and the hydrophilic part attaches itself to water. When you wash off the soap with water, your body oils are wrenched off from the skin and are washed of with the water. Your skin is deprived of its natural moisture but it gives you a feeling that you are cleaned/scrubbed. This feeling basically comes from the skin reporting the lack of an essential ingredient which we mistakenly feel to be fresh. You feel that you are cleaned off of all the dirt and that you are fresh! What really happened is that your body moisture is washed off and you need to replenish the body moisture. When you are young, that is till you are 40 years old, your body can cope with this depletion of body oils but after that the body’s capacity to fully replenish the moisture depletes. Continuous use of soap depletes the capacity of your body to produce the body oils that give your skin the glow and beauty you desire.

What will happen if the body cannot effectively replenish body oils washed off by soap? Spots starts forming on the skin; skin starts to itch; it stretches and forms wrinkles. Have you ever noticed spots on the back of the palms of old people? They formed because of prolonged use of soap. Because we subject our hands to soap more often than other parts, the effects of prolonged and continuous depletion of oils manifests there first.

When you approach your doctor complaining of dry skin or itchiness, did he ever tell you that it is because you use soap? Not very likely. Even if he tells you, would you believe him? Again, not very likely as it was drilled into you that cleanliness is achieved only by using soap as much as you can. Normally doctors advise you to use moisturizer and moisturizers would relive you of itchiness and dry skin because they supply the moisture your body is not able to replenish.

But why wash off the body oils first and then replenish them?

Now you may question angrily why is everybody saying that soap is healthy? I have not seen an advertisement extolling the virtues of soap recently – have you? Everyone is already brainwashed into believing that soap is equal to healthy skin, just as toddlers believe that it is Santa who brings them gifts on the Christmas Eve.

The soap industry realized what their soaps are doing to people and started adding moisturizer to the soap itself so that what is washed off by the soap part is replenished by the moisturizer.

Does soap really clean the skin? Yes, it does. The dirt and bacteria attach to the thin film of body oils on the skin and when soap washes off the body oils, the dirt and bacteria also gets washed off.

But vigorous rubbing of the skin when taking a bath with the palm of the hand has just the same effect!

Water readily mixes with the body oils and washes off the dirt and bacteria that cling to the thin film of body oil on the skin. Almost all dirt types gets washed off by water coupled with vigorous rubbing, except perhaps mineral oil and its products like grease and lubricating oils. The only difference is that the palm-rubbing washes off only the thin film on the surface of the skin while the soap plucks the body oil from deep within the skin. So, rubbing with the palm doesn’t affect the skin, while soap affects the skin negatively.

When bathing was introduced into Europe, it came with soap nuts that produce a thin lather, and the inventors of soap mimicked the action of soap nuts. Soap is a much more convenient than soap nuts to carry around or use.

Do I advocate eliminating soap?

Modern soaps are using different chemicals to form what is called as surfactants. Surfactants are chemicals that reduce surface tension, among other effects, between water and oil. Its effect is that when surfactant is used with water, it can wash off oil from the body. Basically, it produces the same effect as the mixture of alkaline solution and vegetable oils. I advocate significant reduction in the use of soap. I advocate taking a bath and vigorous rubbing of the skin while washing your body. Use soap occasionally, say once a week or fortnight. If you continuously work with greases and the like, perhaps you need to use soap regularly.

That is the best way to protect your youthful looks and beauty.

New translations of the Ramayana by Dr. Murali Chemuturi!

Sundara Kaanda of Vaalmiki Raamayana

Baala Kaanda of Srimad Raamayana of Maha Rushi Vaalmiki