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  • Michele Spence

Hidden Chemicals Inside Your Soap

Updated: Mar 11, 2021

Did you know, the largest organ of the human body is our skin. Not only does it protect us from germs, it helps us stay cool in hot weather, warm in cold weather, allows us to feel with nerve endings and much more. Our skin also absorbs things all around us, and stuff we put on it whether we mean to or not. In this multi-part series, we’ll take a look at soap, detergent, chemicals, ingredients used to make skincare products and more.

Did you know that most of the soap that you purchase at the store to clean your body is actually a detergent. What’s the difference?

Soap- a compound of natural oils or fats with sodium hydroxide or another strong alkali, and typically having perfume and coloring added.

Detergent- any of a group of synthetic, solid, liquid or water-soluble cleaning agents that, unlike soap, are not prepared from fats and oils, are not inactivated by hard water, and have wetting-agent and emulsifying-agent properties.

So, what does that mean? Since soap is natural, it is biodegradable and less harmful to the environment than detergents. Some soaps, like Glycerin, can actually attract moisture to your skin. Soaps tend not to strip the skin of its sebum also known as our natural oil. Detergents are made by combining chemicals in a slurry mixer. The mixture heats up as a result of chemical reactions, isn’t biodegradable and generally harmful to the environment. Detergents strip our skin of sebum, which can cause dryness or oiliness (because our skin is trying to replace what was lost).

That beauty bar, or facial cleansing bar that you spent a lot of money on, most likely a detergent.

If you read through the ingredients and see any of the following, run the other way!


Triclosan is a pesticide that has antibacterial properties. It is often found in soaps and other personal care products because it helps to get rid of potentially dangerous bacteria that have built up on your skin during the day. Many companies have stopped using triclosan, but you should still be on the lookout for it. Triclosan is one of the worst contributors to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. Triclosan is a known endocrine disruptor. Triclosan’s strong influence on the female sex hormone estrogen can dramatically increase the likelihood of developing breast cancer.


Dioxane is a synthetic derivative of coconut, so folks assume that it must be an innocuous ingredient in personal care products. However, it is actually a carcinogenic chemical that is toxic to the brain, liver and kidneys.

Sodium laurel sulfate (SLS):

Sodium lauryl sulfate (or SLS) is one of the most common toxic ingredients added to soaps and shower gels. When SLS bonds with other common soap ingredients, it becomes a carcinogenic nitrosamine. One of the reasons SLS is so dangerous is that it permeates your skin very easily, and also makes your skin more permeable to all the other chemicals mentioned on this list. Further, tests on animals show that SLS causes skin irritation, leads to organ toxicity, promotes hormonal disruptions and increases your susceptibility to mood disorders.

Diethanolamine (or DEA):

Diethanolamine (or DEA) is also extremely easily absorbed through your skin, and it combines with the nitrate preservatives commonly added to soaps to create nitrosodiethanolamine (or NDEA). A wide range of studies have shown that NDEA is a potent carcinogenic, and it is most strongly linked to the development of kidney and liver cancers. In addition, pregnant women should be especially cautious of DEA, as it is capable of interfering with your body’s ability to absorb a nutrient called choline. Unborn children need choline if their brains are to develop properly. All of these concerns are also likely to apply to triethanolamine (or TEA), which is a derivative of DEA. If you are pregnant or nursing you should definitely avoid this and all other toxic soap ingredients on this list.


Formaldehyde is commonly found in soaps, and so are chemicals that release formaldehyde (e.g. diazolidinyl urea). As would be expected from any of the toxic soap ingredients listed here, Formaldehyde is a chemical to avoid. Formaldehyde weakens the immune system, leading to a reduced resistance to disease, and it can also cause respiratory disorders, chronic fatigue, frequent headaches, and an irregular heartbeat.


Parabens (such as methylparaben and propylparaben) are preservatives that are commonly added to bars of soap. However, scientific studies have repeatedly shown that being exposed to parabens boosts a woman’s risk of developing any form of breast cancer (because parabens mimic the action of the hormone estrogen). Further studies have demonstrated that parabens can also cause neurological problems by way of nervous system toxicity. Thankfully, many companies that make soaps and shower gels will now explicitly advertise the fact that they do not use parabens.

Cocamidopropyl betaine

Cocamidopropyl betaine is a chemical found in many personal care products, including shampoo, toothpaste and body wash. The chemical is derived from coconuts and is used to make products produce more foam. Because cocamidopropyl betaine originates from coconut oil, even some personal care products labeled as natural still contain it. Although the government regards the ingredient as safe, some people do have negative reactions after exposure to it.


Almost all bars of soap contain added fragrances in order to make them more enjoyable to use in the bath or shower. However, printing ‘fragrance’ on a soap label can be extremely misleading, as this often means that up to thousands of different chemicals have been added in order to create the special smell of the soap. Fragrance ingredients increase your risk of developing a wide range of medical problems, including chronic dizziness, nausea, rashes, depression, respiratory distress and severe headaches. On a scale of one to ten, the Environmental Working Group rates fragrance as deserving of an eight.


PEG-6 is another one of these extremely common toxic soap ingredients, and it regularly contains toxic impurities that can cause a wide range of dangerous conditions. Studies show that exposure can cause a large increase in your likelihood of developing breast cancer.

It’s time to go back to basics and start using real soap again. Soap that is made the old fashioned way, with fats, oils and an alkalizing ingredient. Put down that toxic detergent bar and purchase a bar of soap that doesn’t contain any chemical dyes or fragrances, instead opt for natural color pigments and essential oils for fragrance.

Next, do the types of oils matter when making soap?

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