Decoding Soap Ingredient Labels

Decoding Soap Ingredient Labels

Did you know that soap, sold in the US with no claims other than being soap and made from oil plus alkali does not have to legally list its ingredients?  Now, say the soap is moisturizing or exfoliating and now you do have to label the ingredients, since now the soap is considered a cosmetic.  Strange laws, but regardless, how do you read an ingredient label on a bar of soap?

I’m sure you have seen a few different kinds of labels on soaps.  When creating a soap or cosmetic product label, there are 2 approved ways of doing so in the US.  The first is to list all of the raw materials that went into making the product and the second is to list the resultant product of those raw materials.

For example, let’s take a look at the ingredients for very basic unscented olive oil soap.

Option #1 - You can list the ingredients by raw materials in descending order of amount used:

Ingredients: Olive Oil, Water, Sodium Hydroxide

Option #2 - You can list the ingredients by resultant product in descending order of amount present:

Ingredients: Sodium Olivate, Water, Glycerin, Olive Oil

These are the only legal ways of labeling soap.  You may see labels that list ingredients like this, for that same bar of super basic soap:

Ingredients:  Saponified Olive Oil.

This is not a legally correct way of labeling soap.  It’s a true statement of what is in the soap, don’t get me wrong, it’s just not a correct way of labeling.

Some folks use Option #2 or the “Saponified” way to avoid listing lye as an ingredient in their soap.  Don’t be fooled though, ALL soaps contain lye.   No Lye = No Soap.

We choose to list our ingredients using Option #1 because for one, we believe it’s easier to understand, so you know that we aren't hiding anything and two, we trust that you know that the lye we use as a raw ingredient is no longer present in the finished product.

Now in most soaps, you’ll also see some sort of Fragrance listed.  We know synthetic fragrances are bad so it can be scary to see that in an ingredient listing.  Our “fragrances” are all essential oils and natural botanical extracts.  However, unless we were to list each essential oil and botanical extract in our ingredients listing, we legally have to call it “fragrance.”  We don't use synthetic fragrances, but we always do our best to comply with the Federal Trade Commission and Food and Drug Administration’s Fair Packaging and Labeling Act.


Back to blog