Detergents vs Soaps: The Harsh Truth

We use it countless times a day, but we often take for granted a product which seems so simple. Soap has been around for over five thousand years and it’s one of our oldest inventions but, despite its very long history the art of traditional soap making really hasn’t changed in all that time...


Nowadays, most of what we think of as soap; the various shampoos, liquid soaps and washes we use, isn’t soap at all, but rather modern chemical detergents. Read the ingredients list of common shampoo, hand, body washes, kitchen detergents and you’ll see words like ‘sulphate’, ‘betaine’, ‘glycoside’, all indications that what you’re using on your skin isn’t soap at all but a modern chemical detergent, designed to be efficient at cleaning but nowhere near as gentle or nourishing for the skin as a traditional soap and in nearly every documented study, harsh, drying and potentially harmful. Mostly made from petroleum (yes, petrol!) ingredients and by-products, modern detergents are some of the most effective cleaning agents ever created but their effectiveness means they can also remove our skin’s natural protective layer of oils and sebum leaving it dry and damaged.


Traditionally made soap, made simply from the saponification which takes place when oils & fats mix with an alkali substance, contains all the natural by-products of that reaction, including the benefits and features of the oils used, as well as naturally occurring glycerine, which is what adds that rich, moisturising & nourishing feel to traditional soaps. In commercial soaps, glycerine is extracted in order to be used in moisturisers and lotions, leaving behind a harder, harsher soap. That’s probably why the word ‘soap’ sometimes has a bad rep these days as something that strips the skin of moisture! Nothing could be further from the truth. Traditional soaps keep all that lovely glycerine within the soap, making it extremely moisturising and soothing on the skin. Think of traditionally made soaps as cleansers and moisturisers-in-one :)


Today, soap is made from all sorts of different oils. Most commercial soaps are made from palm and coconut oils, both of which are cheap and in abundance, as well as extremely effective at making strong soaps which lather well and cleanse effectively. Many ‘sulphate’ detergents use the very same oils as their base! But the king of soaps; true Castile soaps, are made only from olive oil, for its gentleness and ability to cleanse the skin without stripping it of all its natural protective layer. Four Cow Farm makes traditional true Castile Soaps, made ONLY from extra virgin cold-pressed Australian-grown olive oil, and cooked slowly over weeks to keep as much of the benefits of the oil as possible. 

With only four ingredients in every wash we handcraft, we believe soap is all about bringing together the best ingredients, and keeping it simple. 

Learn more about our handcrafted pure Castile soaps and washes here.

Back to blog