Is There an Organic Cleanser (Soap)?

Thought I’d post this very long response I gave to a group I belong to. This concerns the labeling of organic to ingredients that may have been organically farmed, but have been chemically changed from their extracted state. There are companies who claim to have organic soap in their products. This is a confusing and controversial issue in the natural products industry. These companies state in the ingredient list “organic olive oil (saponified)” or something similar. This is not necessarily correct as I write in the following response

to this question:

Ok, I guess I’m a bit confused. How can synthetic anything be labled organic? I stock Bronner’s as well as other brands claiming to be organic. Unfortunately, I know that labeling for HBA is not as regulated compared to grocery in respect to organic claims. So, are you saying that there can not be truely organic in skin care? I personally use Kirks Castile soap. Can you please explain futher?

Jimm’s response:

This is a situation where definitions are being stretched and the term organic is being used liberally in marketing. Castile soap is the oldest known form of soap made from two naturally occurring ingredients; a fatty acid from vegetable or fruit oil source and a base such as potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide. This has been called “natural” soap in the natural products industry.

The name (INCI nomenclature) that would, and by FDA law should, be used on the label is the name that describes the resulting chemical reaction (saponification) of the fat and the base. Instead of “saponified organic olive oil” the correct name would be potassium olivate. Or, if the base is sodium hydroxide, sodium olivate or potassium cocoate if potassium hydroxide and coconut oil are used – and so on.

Like any other synthetic, castile soap is the result of a chemical reaction produced by human intervention with a result that does not occur in nature. Bronner’s attempted to, and for a short time did, get the NOP (the USDA’s National Organic Program) to list this ingredient on the “allowed” synthetic list, allowing the company to list it as an organic ingredient on the label. This has recently been stopped by the NOP and the castile soap ingredients are no longer allowed to be listed organic.

As far as other ingredients in skin care are concerned, at this time, it is difficult to make a 100% organic skin care formula. If there is no water used, it is possible. A typical oil based aromatherapy type serum can be 100% organic. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better, since skin care is about care of the skin, it takes a skilled formulator to develop beneficial, effective skin care using food type and organic ingredients.

To mix oil and water an emulsifier is needed, these are all synthetic similar to castile soap – natural, possibly organic, starting material with a human made synthetic result, such as vegetable emulsifying wax. The only organic preservative effective enough for shelf life is organic grain or grape alcohol, not denatured or SD. Organic preservatives are quickly coming to market though. My preference is organic grape alcohol, though it is quite expensive. Things are changing fast and there may soon be a time for 100% organic skin care – that actually is effective in the care of the skin.

My feeling is to leave “organic” to food and agriculture and bring in a new term and labeling system for skin care. Organic is an environmental concern and there is increased nutrient content in foods grown organically, both are important to skin care, so it is important to use organic ingredients. Organic in skin care is too often about marketing and confuses the consumer to its importance and value to skin care. My goal is to develop highly effective, nutrient rich skin care using as much organic content as possible – and underplaying the organic marketing while highlighting the sustainability, eco-friendly and beneficial harmony with the skin and body – and the environment.



  1. Does saponification of organic cold-pressed virgin coconut oil negate some of its beneficial properties? I’ve been using coconut oil on my skin in the shower (in hopes of hydrating my skin and clearing up my acne and pk), but was wondering if a soap made with saponified coconut oil would be just as good. It would be easier to apply.

    Thanks so much!

    • Quick answer, yes. The coconut, and other saponified oils, go through a chemical process – the interaction of their fatty acid with a base such as potasium or sodium hydroxide with a resulting synthetic ingredient called potasium or sodium cocoate. The compounds and fats in the vegetable oil that give the benefits you are referring to are no longer present. Using coconut or olive oil (small amount) on dry skin then wiping with a cloth or cotton swab is best for the face. The saponified soaps are fine for the hairy parts (underarms and crotch). If soap is prefered for the face and also what I recommend for scalp and hair, are soaps that use decyl glucoside, which I feel is more gentle, as in not over-stripping oils from the skin and hair shaft.