Is soap bad for your skin?

So... my youngest daughter has been using my handmade soap and when she first started using it she came up to me and asked why her skin was so itchy after showering. This wasn't the first time she had noticed it but on this occasion she associated it with my soap and thought that she was having a reaction.

My first thoughts were OMG my soap is bad (bad mum I know!). Then I checked her skin and there was no signs of any reaction or redness other than where she had clearly been scratching so I did a bit of research.

Making handmade soap is like a chemistry session and this continues after the soap is made. The ingredients are different oils like coconut and palm oil and sodium hydroxide. This is more commonly known as caustic soda or lye. Caustic soda is an alkaline and when the saponification process is completed and the soap produced is finished curing the soap is naturally alkaline as well. Handmade soap usually has a pH of around 8-10, my litmus paper strips show pH around 9, although there is some discussion round how accurate that actually is.

Our skins have a very fine slightly acidic film over them. This film is there to act as a barrier against bacteria, viruses and fungus. When we wash we temporarily disturb this acid mantle. Water has a pH of 7, skin has a pH of around 5.5 so even washing in water will disturb your acid mantle. Washing in soap even pH neutral soaps will temporarily disturb your acid base balance as well as the natural oils balance in your skin and hot water makes this worse.

So its not the soap that causes the itching necessarily but the act of washing in hot water, staying in the shower for to long and using to harsh a product can all contribute.

There are some helpful hints to reducing that itchy feeling you may get after a shower.

1) Limit your showers to as short a time as possible. This reduces the amount of hot water that is in contact with your skin and drying it out (sounds bonkers I know but you are stripping away that oil barrier). Having shorter showers is also better for the environment. It saves water and reduces your fuel bills. And try not to have the water so hot that you come out of your shower like a lobster 😂

2) Pat your skin dry instead of rubbing it dry. You don't have to remove every single drop of water to be dry.

3) Apply moisturiser to slightly damp skin

4) If you think it is your soap then change it. We are all different and have different reactions to things and don't keep using it if you think it is the soap.

5) consider the use of essential oils in your routine to help. Peppermint, chamomile and tea tree can all be beneficial to the skin and may sooth skin that is dry and irritated. Please use essential oils sensibly, they should be diluted in a carrier oil before applying to the skin or buy a handmade soap with one of these in.

Sometimes its just about trying different products until you find the one that works for you. It took me about 4 or 5 years to find a shampoo that didn't make my head itch after a few uses. Try the hints above and see how you get on.

Disclaimer: I am not a skin specialist but I have tried to read up objectively. There are some medical conditions that may have the symptom of itchy skin so please seek medical advice if you have symptoms that do not improve if you make changes.

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