How Clean Are You?
Body wash, cleansing bar, and hand soap. We expect these products to clean us but are we actually cleaning or harming our largest organ; our skin.
Let's take a look at what the FDA defines as "soap." If you'd like to skip past some dense reading go ahead and jump to the leaf emoji!
How the FDA Defines Soap
"To meet the definition of soap in FDA’s regulations, a product has to meet three conditions:
- What it’s made of: To be regulated as “soap,” the product must be composed mainly of the “alkali salts of fatty acids,” that is, the material you get when you combine fats or oils with an alkali.
- What ingredients cause its cleaning action: To be regulated as “soap,” those “alkali salts of fatty acids” must be the only material that results in the product’s cleaning action. If the product contains synthetic detergents, it’s a cosmetic, not a soap. You still can use the word “soap” on the label.
- How it's intended to be used: To be regulated as soap, it must be labeled and marketed only for use as soap. If it is intended for purposes such as moisturizing the skin, making the user smell nice, or deodorizing the user’s body, it’s a cosmetic. Or, if the product is intended to treat or prevent disease, such as by killing germs, or treating skin conditions, such as acne or eczema, it’s a drug. You still can use the word “soap” on the label."
If you skipped ahead, hi! If you just read those confusing statements, don't worry, we're here. Now, let's get through this together.
Making sense of what the FDA just said:
1. Regulatory (true soap according to the FDA) is made of fatty acids (like Lauric Acid found in Coconut Oil) and basic (meaning basic PH) salts. Sodium hydroxide or "Lye" is a very common salt added to these fatty acids to create a reaction called "saponification". Soap must be made of only these ingredients to be defined as "soap." This super simple combination is not regulated by the FDA.
2. Cosmetic Soap: To be defined as "soap" by the FDA, ingredients within the product must be those that attribute to the "saponification" process. So you added some fragrance? Not soap! You added moisturizers so your skin isn't sad and dry? Not soap! It's now considered a "cosmetic" according to the FDA. Even adding something like a "detergent" (which we'll talk about soon) turns the product into a cosmetic. These cosmetics can still be labeled as "soap" but are still not regulated by the FDA.
3. Drug Soap: We make the jump from "cosmetic" to "drug" when claims are added for preventing disease or treating conditions like acne or eczema. So finally, the FDA will monitor and regulate what the company creates due to these claims of treating the body.
So what does this all mean?
It means the FDA isn't paying attention to a LOT of products out there. It's a little scary considering companies can add almost whatever they want to these soaps; including synthetic fragrances and detergents. These detergents are mostly synthetic cleansing agents that help break down dirt. They aren't always the same chemicals that are in your laundry detergent but since the FDA isn't watching, they could be.
Also, the FDA recommends avoiding antibacterial soaps. These soaps are only equally as effective as regular soap and do have concern for the ingredient Triclosan!
For now, it's up to the consumer to decide what is safe and unsafe. To help you out, here are some ingredients you might want to avoid.
1,4 Dioxane: On the label as Sodium laureth sulfate, PEG compounds, -xynol, -ceteareth and -oleth. Added to create suds and added to other chemicals to make them less harsh. Linked to possible cancer or birth defects.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS): A foaming agent. Can cause skin irritation, allergic reactions and can combine with other soap ingredients changing the chemical makeup into a possible carcinogen.
Triclosan: On the label Triclosan (TSC) and triclocarban (TCC). Used as an antimicrobial agent. Endocrine disruptor.
Parabens: On the label butylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, methylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben or -paraben. Added as a preservative. Endocrine disruptor, reproductive toxicity, and possible carcinogen.
Urea (not all types): On the label Diazolidinyl Urea, Imidazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, Sodium hyroxymethylglycinate. Can slowly release formaldehyde when combined with other ingredients. Added to extend shelf life. Skin irritant, respiratory toxin, environment toxin and carcinogen.
Fragrance: Added for smell. Can contain hidden chemicals. Allergies, sensitivities, possible carcinogens, reproductive toxicity.
P.S. Don't put soap in your eyes.