The History of Soap


history of soap

Bar soaps can be so pretty- but are they safe?

I was washing my hands one day and I began to wonder, what’s the history of soap? Yes, I tend to think of weird stuff while in the bathroom. And sometimes I get my best ideas when in the shower! But I digress, I wanted to write a post about soap because many people think all soaps are created equal. I mean, soap is soap, right? Not really, soap is NOT soap. Before I start to overwhelm you, let’s begin with a short history of soap.

The History of Soap, Part 1

The first soap recipe goes as far back as ancient Babylon. Back then, soap consisted of a combination of ashes, cypress, and sesame oil. Then our friends the Egyptians used a soap made of animal and vegetable oils and alkaline salts to create a soap like substance to bathe in. The next appearance of soap in the history of the world was in Roman times, where it was looked down upon to bathe with soap. Eventually it became more accepted and soap was made with lye as a way to carry away impurities from the body and clothes.

 The History of Soap, Part 2

In the Middle Ages, soap making became a real industry and soap makers were in the company of carpenters, blacksmiths and bakers. Later in the 16th century, soap was made with vegetable oils, such as olive, instead of animal fats and began it’s more industrialized production. Manufactured soaps became more available in the late 1800s and soap went mainstream as people realized the importance of hygiene to kill harmful bacteria.

This leads us to present day, where we now have all sorts of soap varieties and concoctions. Soap has undergone quite a transformation from bygone days. We have liquid soap, foam soap, anti-bacterial soap, not to mention plain old bar soap. So many options…how do you know how to pick the right one? Maybe you use the one your mom used? Maybe you use a highly scented one that makes you smell like roses for days? No matter which soap you choose, it’s important to know the dangers commercial soaps hold.

history of soap

Olive oil soap

What Does Soap Do?

The Dangers of Commercial Soaps

Soap is a surfactant designed to cleanse and kill germs but regular soap can contain artificial ingredients that irritate the skin. It also kills much of the beneficial bacteria that we need. Yes, bacteria can be good for us! Most soaps contains a compound called SLS or sodium laurel sulfate. This ingredient strips the skin of its natural moisture and can also cause some serious skin conditions, even cancer.

What about antibacterial soap? Many people use it because they think it’s helping to kill even more germs. Well it does, but it also kills the good bacteria and causes microbes to become resistant to it, creating even worse strains of bacteria. In addition, they contain triclosan, a pesticide which enters into blood and skin tissue. Tricolsan has been proven to interfere with the body’s thyroid function, causing a host of other problems. It also has allergenic effects and can be contaminated with dioxin, which causes health problems as severe as weakening of the immune system, decreased fertility, altered sex hormones, miscarriage, birth defects, and cancer.

So next time you reach for the antibacterial soap, you may want to think twice. Don’t despair, many other safe options for soap exists. If we look back at the history of soap, our predecessors had it right. If we revert to the old fashioned soaps of yesterday, such as olive and coconut oil soap (often called castile soap- my favorite!) we will do alright.

What do you use for soap? Have any recommendations? Share them in the comment section!

Stay natural…stay beautiful…go green!



Robin started her career as an educator of children and has now become an educator for adults everywhere who want to know the truth about what they put into their bodies through the skin. She is passionate about educating people to make better health and beauty choices.
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  • JessicaTup

    I really liked this post. Can I copy it to my site? Thank you in advance.

  • ArianaDivE

    That was nice. Thank you for sharing this one.

  • Organicgirl6

    Thank you for your comment, Jessica. What type of web site do you have? I’d love to see it!

  • Best Natural Soap

    I like this blog. i really appreciate your expertise in skin care and natural products. I shall follow your posts.

  • Regena

    Great post Robin. I like the fun and informative reads:-) I personally use liquid soap, and definitely after reading your post will give good ol’ bar soap another shot. Thanks for putting the details together and helping me get another perspective.

  • Natural Organics

    Thanks, Regena! I appreciate you taking the time to comment! I’ve rediscovered my love for bar soap too! I actually bring one to work with me so I don’t have to use the yucky green slime liquid soap they supply! :)

  • sue burness

    Hi Robin, great post, we use soap every day so it must certainly have an impact on our physical well-being! I believe the cosmetics we choose ought to also have a positive effect on our emotional health. I’ve been using a naturally rose-scented bar (with no nasty chemicals). It’s just part of allowing a little more pleasure into daily life :)

  • Natural Organics

    Sue, that you took the time to comment means a lot! You’re right! That natural rose soap does so much for our bodies and spirits! That’s why I love using products with essential oils that benefit mind and body! I love the rose scent too! I just found an awesome brand on etsy called French Girl Organics (thanks to my friend at Dragonfly Beauty Blog.) I got the body powder and perfume solid in rose scent and it’s fabulous! You should check it out.

  • Renee

    Thanks Robin. I found it very informative and well written. I have a presentation in August to some insurance health educators and would love to use the photos in my presentation ( citing you of course)

  • Renee

    I forgot to mention I love goat’s milk soap. It is great for moisturizing ethnic hair as well. There are a lot of people making homemade soap now so people should try looking in their home state. I just found a goat’s milk soap supplier only 5 miles from my neighborhood!

  • Natural Organics

    Hi Renee,

    Thanks for your comments! Of course, you may use them! I’ve received wonderful responses from sending out your natural beauty recipes from the Bible packet. Thanks so much for that!

    I also love goat’s milk soap…very moisturizing as you say and quite luxurious! I am going to be posting soon about a favorite indie cosmetics brand and she just happens to make her own goat’s milk soaps in the most incredible varieties!


  • Ashley

    Hi Robin,

    Wonderful blog/site you have! Extremely informative always. To answer, I actually make my own vegan cold processed soaps right at home in my kitchen. I use mainly organic ingredients, no-animal testing and cruelty free. I am currently working on getting my business online and up and running. As a busy mom of 2 smalll kids with limited finances it’s taking time, but I am determined to pull it all together. Thank you so much for educating people with this article. Many people don’t know much about soaps, as I’ve found. A little schooling is great in order to make wiser choices as consumers : )