We talk a lot with our customers, about a lot of things — how much soap to order, how to scent unscented Castile, what you can say on your label to take advantage of our organic status. One thing we don’t talk about enough, though, is the larger picture of organic soap.
Soap that’s made to be compatible with our skin — compared to soap that’s detergent-based, mass-manufactured and made-to-sell — is always a better personal choice. It’s also a more responsible public choice. Organic soap isn’t made just to be good for skin. It’s made to be good for the environment, for the soil and our common water supply. Part of the mission of organic soap is making better soap available to more people, soap that is better on both the personal and public levels.
This is the aspect of organic soap that doesn’t get talked about often enough, which isn’t surprising. Soap is an intimate product that we use mostly by ourselves. The big picture isn’t the most natural place to focus — but it’s an important one. The history of soap in America, or products we call soap that really aren’t, is full of bad ingredient stories that were the result of too close a focus.
Triclosan is the most notorious of these, an ingredient included in antibacterial soaps that went unregulated by the FDA for over a decade, despite having already been classified as a pesticide. It was first marketed by the EPA as exactly that, a pesticide, and was designed specifically to kill germs.
In 1972, that purpose carried it into hospital and healthcare settings to help minimize outbreaks of a particularly virulent form of staph (MSRA). Without much fanfare, though — as general fear of viruses and bacteria grew, very much encouraged by marketing — triclosan found its way into body washes, toothpastes, deodorants, lotions, mouthwash, cosmetics, clothing, kitchenware, furniture, and plastic toys. By 2016 estimates, 45 percent of all soaps on the market (bar and liquid) contained antibacterial ingredients — triclosan being the most common.
Triclosan is an endocrine disputer, meaning it interferes with important hormone functions, including thyroid, testosterone and estrogen production.
Triclosan contributes to the development of specific allergies and to allergic tendencies in general. Beyond the personal, triclosan, in the form of antibacterial soap, gets washed down the drain millions of times a day and is spread as far as waterways can take it. Triclosan finds its way into our soil, our fertilizers and our food. Once it’s loose, it stays in the environment for a long time.
In 2013, the FDA finally got around to assessing the claims and effects of triclosan. By 2016, they concluded, with the all the evidence provided to them, that “antibacterial” soaps do absolutely nothing more than simple soap and water to kill bacteria or make us safer. Given the recognized effects of triclosan, the conclusion was the benefits didn’t justify the effects. Triclosan was banned from antibacterial soap.
It wasn’t banned from everything, though. The FDA concluded that it had seen enough proof of its effectiveness against gum disease that you’ll still find triclosan in Colgate Total toothpaste. You’ll also find it embedded in the handles of disposable razors and the steering wheels of Japanese cars.
The Blessings of Better Soap
The truth is, fear-based marketing works. Claiming that a product has the power to kills germs and keep families safe can be the difference between choosing one product over another. The bigger picture is that antibacterial soaps don’t work and miss the point of hand-washing, to wash germs away rather than kill them on our hands.
The bigger picture is that individual choices have public consequences. What we choose for ourselves and our families affects everyone’s families. Better soap gives us the chance to make better personal and public choices, to control what we wash down the drain and what we contribute to the environment. Better soap is better for us all.