What Makes a Good Bar Soap? What About Glycerin?

glycerin soap base

Soapmakers differ on what makes the best soap bar. And they should. There comes a point in soapmaking when science becomes art, and art can be as different as the number of artists.

Once they become art, some forms leave the science behind. The art of soapmaking never does. Before a soap can be great – much less best – it has to be fundamentally sound. The chemistry of the base has to be right. It has to be good before it can be great.

Good Isn’t Easy

Soapmaking is also a balancing act. A good bar soap balances hardness, lather quality, and moisturizing. Doing all three is tricky. Each of these properties comes from different fatty acids in the vegetable oils we use. Different oils make different contributions. Some contribute to hardness and durability, some to a fluffy, stable lather, and others to a bar’s moisturizing ability. The balancing of fatty acids and their oils is what determines the balance of bar-soap properties.

More than one person at Botanie has thrown out every other soap they were using once they started working here. The difference can be that dramatic when seen and felt up close. Good soap is something we all deserve, and it’s not as expensive as the makers of bad soap would have you believe.

What About Glycerin?


For those who haven’t been to the Frequently Asked Questions section of the Botanie Soap website recently, here’s the answer to a question that appeared first there: Do our organic soaps contain glycerin?

Yes, our soaps contain glycerin. It’s a natural part of the vegetable oils we use to make our herbal soap. It’s a natural product of saponification, and a natural part of Botanie soaps. Technically, all cold-process soaps – ours included – qualify as “glycerin soaps,” because glycerin accounts for 9-10% of the final product. Unlike big commercial soap companies, we retain all glycerin produced during saponification. Since glycerin is a sellable commodity, commercial soap makers remove it for inclusion in other skincare products, or they keep trace amounts for mention on their labels.

What most people think of as glycerin soap – transparent or opaque bars – is different. That glycerin soap usually takes saponification a couple steps further. A sugar-alcohol solution is added to the saponified mixture along with extra glycerin. The alcohol solution helps maintain transparency, and the extra glycerin balances the drying nature of the alcohol. Taking the process a couple of steps further isn’t necessarily a good thing. Once you start adding ingredients to make up for basic deficiencies in soap, your skin is already paying the price.

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