In January of this year I wrote this article, exposing a soap product that just didn't add up. A couple months after my article was published, one of the owners wrote to me telling me how I was wrong, and shared her story of her son with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. I told her that I'd be happy to post an update or retraction if they were able to provide further information about the product that addressed my ingredient concerns. I never heard back, but the company quietly changed a few things on their website, in an attempt to answer the concerns that I raised. However, even with those changes, the product still does not add up.
A Quiet Ingredients Listing Change
Previously they claimed that their product was a "100% plant-based cleaning soap" and that it was created using "minerals and enzymes from seed-bearing plants." In my previous article I questioned how "minerals and enzymes" from plants could combine with the coconut oil they listed to create a soap. Unless they were burning the plants to create ash, and then using the purified ash to saponify the coconut oil (like how African Black Soap is made) they weren't truly making a soap.
Ther website now reads "100% Plant & Mineral Based"--note the addition of "and mineral" based. They also started listing baking soda as an addition to their ingredients list. They claim that their product is a true soap (an oil that has been mixed with an alkali) and contains no synthetic detergents, and that the baking soda is what is used as the alkali. They say that through their special process of alcohol, baking soda, and coconut oil and fatty acids is able to create a soap. It seemed like a subtle way that they were admitting their previous labels were omitting something.
There are a couple of problems with the idea of saponifying with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate).
First of all, sodium bicarbonate is a weak alkali, and not likely "strong" enough to tear apart a molecule of oil and turn it in to soap. But, let's say, for a moment, that they somehow developed a special process, maybe through high pressure or heat, that they were able to use sodium bicarbonate as a saponifying agent. The end result would be sodium cocoate, which is a solid. Their product is a liquid.
One big component of coconut oil is stearic acid. Saponified, it becomes sodium stearate. A large portion of sodium cocoate is sodium stearate, which is a solid.
So, that's the first thing that didn't add up to me.
So, I got a hold of the product and put it to the test.
I created a number of different tests that would compare a true soap vs. what I'm going to call "Product X." These are tests that you too can do at home to verify my findings if you're using this product.
If you've ever used a soap before (true soap) like our shower gels or Dr. Bronner's soap, you know that when you add water to it, the formula gets cloudy.
Here you can see side-by-side, pure potassium cocoate (liquid coconut oil soap) added with water, vs. "Product X." The potassium cocoate is cloudy, but the "Product X" is crystal clear.
Any true soap is alkaline. So, I did a simple pH test on the product. Here you can see potassium cocoate (the true soap) on the left, and the "Product X" on the right. The "Product X" was indeed alkaline, so it being a true soap based on pH alone is plausible. One interesting note--in order to get a pH reading, water has to be present (as it is a measure of certain ions in water). The pure potassium cocoate hardly registered a pH because it contained such little water. For a product that's marketed as a "concentrate" it certainly contains water.
When you add an acid to a true soap, the solution neutralizes and is no longer able to act as a soap. It will be milky and lose its cleansing properties. So, I neutralized both my potassium cocoate and "Product X" formulas with citric acid until the overall formula was mildly acidic, at a pH of 6. (It took three times as much citric acid to neutralize the soap, BTW.)
The "Product X" turned slightly cloudy.
Pure potassium cocoate turns very cloudy.
Result: Inconclusive...but it's giving me some thoughts.
If you add common table salt to true liquid soap, the sodium ion will displace the potassium and sodium cocoate will precipitate out of the solution. (Remember, sodium cocoate is a solid.) So, I added 1/4 teaspoon salt to "Product X" and to the pure coconut oil soap to see the difference.
For further testing, I dumped salt in the "Product X" to see what would happen. Small chunks started to form.
The slight cloudiness in the salt and the acid tests made me start to think...what if "Product X" contains a little bit of soap, but also synthetic detergent. With a very small amount of soap to detergent ratio, you could create a formula that stayed clear in the water test, but would show a small amount of cloudiness if salt or acid were added.
So, I made a blend of my own: decyl glucoside with a touch of potassium cocoate, and water. (Decyl glucoside is a synthetic detergent of natural origin that's one of the most gentle detergents available. We use decyl glucoside in our products where we can't use soap. For instance in a salt scrub, where a liquid soap would chunk up in the presence of salt. I don't know if this is what they're using in their product or not, but it was the only one I had on hand to test.)
I took my formula and put it in a foamer bottle. With the small amount of soap present, the formula remained clear in solution.
Check out how clear the formula is, just like "Product X."
At a pH of 6, look how similar the formulas are.
My solution acted just like Product X when salt was added. Got slightly cloudy but no chunks formed.
Product X is most likely a combination of water, a synthetic detergent, and a touch of true soap (likely potassium cocoate). Now, that's not to say that the product is dangerous or "bad." Synthetic detergents can be useful and gentle (as in the case of decyl glucoside.) However, without a full and accurate ingredients listing, there's no way to truly assess the safety of this product.
Now, it's also not to say that the company is intentionally deceiving customers. It may be that they're getting the product made in a contract lab and the lab is misrepresenting the product to them, or the company owners may not have a true understanding of the product they're selling. Either way, from all of the tests I have done, it appears that the ingredients on the label do not match what's in the product.