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The Science Of Soap With Lush Product Inventor Dan Campbell

Soap Q&A with Daniel Campbell, Lush Product Inventor and Cosmetic Scientist 

 

How does bar soap work to keep you clean?

Soap is a mixture of oil that is reactive with sodium hydroxide to form a stearate (Sodium Salt, aka a soap), which is an alkaline material. The standard Lush soap base is rapeseed and coconut oil - those two oils get mixed with sodium hydroxide to form a soap base flake. We then melt down that flake with monopropylene glycol (MPG) or glycerin, sorbitol or various other kinds of syrups, add in fruits, infusions, water, fragrance and colour, pour it into moulds, cool it, set it, done.

In terms of how it works to keep you clean, basically soap destroys the integrity of Bacterial, Amoeba cell membranes and Fungi cell walls. Imagine these as little jelly discs,  with an outer layer that is the membrane / wall, which is made of oil. When you apply soap to the membranes / wall, the component of the soap that likes oil grabs hold of the oil in the membrane / wall and breaks it down by forming an emulsion with the water you are washing your hands with, ripping the Bacteria, Amoeba or Fungi apart and destroying them.

 

Bar soap VS hand sanitiser?

Both are effective for different reasons. Firstly, it’s important to understand the difference between bacteria which is a single cell organism and a virus which is an intracellular parasite consisting of DNA or RNA which is encapsulated in a protein coat, which makes them more robust than bacteria. 

Hand sanitisers are based on rubbing-alcohol or isopropyl alcohol, hand sanitisers disrupt the cell membrane and make it difficult for bacteria to procreate. For viruses (such as the Coronavirus), the rubbing alcohol will help to disrupt the protein coat of the virus. This means that the DNA or RNA inside is more likely to be degraded reducing the pathogenic strength of the virus. 

Soaps are physical, they are solid (hand sanitisers aren’t), not only are they highly alkaline which disrupts bacterial cell membranes and fungal cell walls, the alkalinity also creates a hostile biochemical environment for microorganisms. With viruses, the physicality of a soap along with the way in which it is used ensures that the virus can’t stick to your hands (soaps “bashes” the virus off) reducing the risk of transference via contact, hand sanitiser doesn’t have this benefit.

In summary - hand sanitiser on it’s own isn’t as good as soap on its own - but both together make a really powerful partnership!

 

Are soaps antibacterial?

Yes, they are. It’s important to understand the difference between antibacterial - kills bacteria, antiviral - kills viruses and antimicrobial - able to kill viruses, bacteria and fungi.

Soap destroys the integrity of Bacterial, Amoeba cell membranes and Fungi cell walls. Imagine these as little jelly discs, with an outer layer that is the membrane / wall, which is made of oil. When you apply soap to the membranes / wall, the component of the soap that likes oil grabs hold of the oil in the membrane / wall and breaks it down by forming an emulsion with the water you are washing your hands with, ripping the Bacteria, Amoeba or Fungi apart and destroying them.

Regular soap is not expected to kill viruses, because a virus is not a cell with a cell membrane. Instead it is an intracellular parasite, which must infect a host cell or cells. A virus needs to get into something. Viruses have either DNA or RNA encapsulated in a protein coat, some viruses can persist in villerence even on dry surfaces for weeks or longer. With viruses, soap will help to disrupt the viral particles and help to wash the viruses off the hands. 

Soap IS antibacterial, BUT COVID-19 is a virus, not a bacteria.  

 

What are Lush soaps made from?

Soap is a mixture of oil that is reactive with sodium hydroxide to form a stearate (Sodium Salt, aka a soap), which is an alkaline material. The standard Lush soap base is rapeseed and coconut oil - those two oils get mixed with sodium hydroxide to form a soap base flake. We then melt down that flake with monopropylene glycol (MPG) or glycerin, sorbitol or various other kinds of syrups, add in fruits, infusions, water, fragrance and colour, pour it into moulds, cool it, set it, done.

We use the melt and pour method - which allow us to get more lovely ingredients for the skin into our bars compared to a milled soap bar. 

If we were to just react to coconut oil and rapeseed oil with sodium hydroxide and make a pressed or milled bar, (what’s called a hot pour soap), you wouldn’t have the opportunity to get any additional ingredients (including naturals) like honey (which is natural antibacterial) or Sea Salt (which is natural antibacterial) in, because the strength of the sodium hydroxide would destroy them. Instead, we make the soap base first, melt it down, add the lovely natural materials (that we’re known for) into it, and then pour it into moulds, cool it, set it, cut it and send it to shops. Job done!

 

Do Lush soaps have Palm Oil in them?

All of Lush’s hand and body soaps are Palm Oil free. Where we do use a sodium stearate, we use a palm-free version.

(Note: Fresh Farmacy Facial Soap is the only Lush soap with Palm Oil - it has sodium lauryl sulfate) 

 

How are Lush soaps made? 

At Lush, we either use a soap base bought from a supplier, this is made from a combination of  rapeseed oil for a gentle creamy feel and coconut oil which makes the soap lather. We also have an in-house soap base manufacturing facility which allows us to make a soap base from any oils we want, these bases are referred to as gourmet soap base. For these we use a pure argan oil soap base (used in Ro’s Argan Soap), pure olive oil soap base (used in Olive Tree Soap), or a super blend of cocoa butter, castor oil and coconut oil, we call this the ‘universal soap base’, which give a firm, creamy soap that lathers well. We’ve also experimented with sunflower oil and wheatgerm oil. 

 

With whatever base we choose to use, we then mix that with a humectant (a substance that help to retain and preserves moisture in the skin), which is usually either MPG, or glycerin or a sorbitol solution or combinations thereof, along with water, natural ingredients with skin benefits, fragrance and colour. This gets all heated up together, until we get a liquid and then we pour it into moulds, set it, cut it and send it to the shops.

 

How long does a bar of Lush soap last? 

It really depends on how often you use it and on how much you use. The fact that our soaps have a slightly higher humectant and water content, means that they do disappear a little bit quicker than a milled soap, but this is traded off with the nature of being fresh and handmade. At Lush, we like people to use fresh products quickly because we feel it has the most benefits to their skin. 

On estimate,100g should last about 6 weeks if used regularly in a bathroom.  

 

Is there a proper way to wash your hands?

Yes, there absolutely is! Basically, be thorough, make sure you use soap and get a good lather, and use hot water, and wash your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds. Learn more here.

 

How to prevent my hands being so dry?

There are two things that will reduce dry hands from lots of washing - firstly, use soaps that have high humectant, like Honey I Washed The Kids which has loads of honey, or soaps with high amounts of glycerin or agave syrup. One of the benefits of Lush soap is that they lather, they clean your hands but because of the humectant qualities, they are able to maintain moisture in your skin.

Secondly, use hand cream! After you’ve washed your hands, dry them, apply hand cream (not too much!), rub it in straight away and make sure it’s absorbed before you start touching things.

 

What are the benefits of a Lush soap?

They’re Palm Free, they’re self-preserving, which means that they don’t have any synthetic preservatives in them to prevent them going off, they’re antibacterial, they will dislodge viruses from your hands, they don’t require any excess packaging, they have a high humectant and natural ingredient content, which makes them have higher skin benefits, they’re not tested on animals, they smell really good and they’re fun to use!

 

A round pink and green soap being used to wash hands in water
Olive Tree soap
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