The Environmental and Health Problems Of Soap

by Owner on March 5, 2009

You may find it surprising to know that soap, the very product we use to keep ourselves clean, actually causes a good deal of damage to the environment and aquatic systems. This is doubly true for anti-bacterial varieties of soap. When we bathe, we lather up and clean away the grime, letting all this soap rinse down the drain–out of sight and out of mind. This keeps us clean and smelling nice,  but unfortunately most soaps are not particularly environmentally friendly or biodegradable.

Most commercial soaps contain harsh chemicals to make them lather properly. They contain perfumes and fragrances that are known to cause irritation in some people. They hold their nice bar-like shape because of ingredients like paraffin wax, animal tallow, and other crude oil derivatives, some of which may be linked to skin diseases or other problems.

Anti-bacterial soap is even worse. In an effort to kill bacteria, soap manufacturers have included a host of chemicals that not only kill bacteria but may also be harmful to ourselves and the environment. Researchers at the University of California, Davis have shown that triclocarbon and triclosan, two primary ingredients in anti-bacterial soaps, may affect sex hormones and interfere with the endocrine system. They’re also suspected as a possible cause of autism.

From an environmental perspective, anti-bacterial soap kills off good bacteria as well as bad wherever the soap suds go. It also encourages the growth of resistant bacteria, since the weaker strains die off while the stronger ones survive and reproduce.

Researchers question whether the marginal benefits of these anti-bacterial soaps outweigh the risks in light of all these problems.

Consider using vegetable-based soap instead. There are some excellent vegetable soaps available in supermarkets that contain more natural ingredients and fewer chemical compounds. While they may not be completely chemical-free, they don’t contain the same toxic cocktail present in other commercially created soaps.

In particular, castile soap is made using no animal products like tallow or animal fat. It tends to be made of plant oils and natural herbal fragrances. It’s also possible to buy gentle soaps made from olive oil, nut oils or seed oils. Not only are these kinds of soaps better for your skin and your health in general, they’re also much kinder on the environment and our delicate ecosystems.

(By the way–shampoos have many of the same issues, so look for a good organic shampoo as well!)

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: