Soap has a lot of things going for it. It’s inexpensive, keeps you clean, there are some lovely handmade ones around and it doesn’t require plastic packaging, all good so far. But is it good for your skin and hair? The short answer is, not especially. This is why we make NueBar using a completely different process, a process that has more in common with the shampoo and body wash traditionally found in plastic bottles than with bars of soap.
What is soap?
Soap uses a manufacturing process called saponification. It basically involves getting a whole bunch of fats and oils and mixing them with lye (also known as Sodium hydroxide or caustic soda). The Sodium hydroxide gets completely used up during the soap making process, and for this reason including it on the ingredient list is optional.
The thing about soap and the saponification process is that the final outcome is always alkaline (generally around a range of pH 9-10).
Some shampoo bars are actually soap
Many of the shampoo bars currently on the market are made using the soap making process. These shampoo bars often have extra oils added after the saponification process is complete to make the soap more moisturising, this is called ‘super fatting’. You can spot a soap based shampoo or facial bar from the ingredient list, which will primarily be a list of various fats and oils. It may or may not include sodium hydroxide in the ingredient list and occasionally it will have some little extras added like clay, salt, honey or whatever is currently trendy.
Nuebar is pH balanced
NueBar on the other hand uses plant-based surfactants to create the washing effect. By using surfactants rather than soap we are able to alter the pH of the final product so that it matches the range of the hair and skin, which is slightly acidic (covering a range from about 4, for the hair shaft, to between 5-6 for the skin).
pH and the skin
Our skin, just like our gut, is ‘acid loving’, (this is why acidophilus, literal meaning ‘acid loving’, is so good for the gut). The uppermost layer of the skin, sometimes referred to as the acid mantle, plays an important role in maintaining the skin's health.* When you wash with something alkaline like soap, you disrupt the acid mantle of the skin. You can feel this as the tightness/dryness that washing with soap causes. For most of us this isn't a problem, as it is only a temporary state and the body has an innate ability to return to balance. However if you are doing this frequently, have compromised skin health or are super sensitive, then repeated insults to the acid mantle can be problematic
pH and the hair
When it comes to the hair, using an alkaline substance like soap will increase the negative charge of the hair fibre, making the cuticles cells stick out. This increases friction between fibres, causing tangling and breakage.** Soap also has a tendency to leave behind a residue (soap scum) which is worse in hard water, and when those cuticles are sticking out it has plenty of places to cling on to!
Some people actually love this effect. I have a friend with short spiky hair who just loves washing her hair with a soap based shampoo bar because the residue gives her hair volume and makes it stick up so she doesn’t need any product. I say, more power to her, and if that is the effect she is after she has found a perfect solution.
However, not all of us are fine with this result and that is why with shampoo bars that are made from soap it is often recommended to use an apple cider vinegar rinse afterwards, this will neutralise the alkalinity, smooth down the fibres and rinse away the residue, again another good solution and if this works for you then go for it.
A personal decision
It really is a matter of personal preference, but if you are after a shampoo bar that washes more like the stuff that you are used to getting out of a plastic bottle, one that is already pH balanced and will not require a cider vinegar rinse to remove the soap scum, then NueBar is the go to bar.