Before explaining what natural soap is, it's a good idea to understand what commercial soap is. Commercial soaps, the kind which are mass-produced and which are typically bought in stores, are not really soaps. What they are is a collection of detergents and petroleum products which, while they will certainly foam up and clean, are far from the healthiest things to be rubbing on your skin. These unnatural soaps tend to contain alkali as well as alcohol and other harsh chemicals, which can give user's skin some very harsh reactions. These ingredients often lead to rashes, dry, tight-feeling skin, and a number of other, negative side effects.
Natural soaps, on the other hand, are made from more natural ingredients. These soaps are formed from the chemical reactions of lye, water and oils such as olive oil, soy bean oil coconut and hemp oils. That's all; a simple, naturally occurring cleaning agent and some fat to keep the cleaning process smooth and gentle. These soaps have been used for hundreds, if not thousands, of years to keep people clean. If it isn't broke, then there's no reason to try to fix it.
Making natural soap is a fairly simple process. A lye solution is made first. Once the lye solution is put together, then the fats and oils are mixed. This mixture is then heated until all of the fats are liquid. Once the fats and oils are melted down and heated (100 degrees Fahrenheit is generally considered a safe temperature), they're poured into the soap pot. The lye mixture is added slowly to the oils, and stirred gently. A stick blender is used in short bursts to help the process along, and during this part of the soap making process any essential oils or fragrances are added to the mixture. Color and exfoliants are added as well if those are desired. Once the process is done, all that's left is to pour the mixture into soap molds, or to pour it into a thick sheet and then to cut that sheet into bars of soap.
The process for making natural soap is certainly a great deal easier today, thanks to tools like stick blenders which can reduce the "cooking" process from an hour or more down to no more than a few minutes. For those who want to make natural soaps at home the process is even simpler with pre-packaged ingredients and mixing instructions.
Most people don't think about their soap; they just get in the shower or turn on the sink and start washing. However, if most people were to take a closer look at the "soap" they're using though, they'd realize that nowhere on the packaging does it actually say soap. The reason for that is because many so-called soaps are in fact detergents. They contain harsh chemicals, alkali, petroleum, and a variety of other things which are simply not good for one's skin. Natural soaps on the other hand, contain ingredients that are gentler on one's skin and which don't have many of the negative side effects of commercial detergents.
Natural soaps are actually simple to make. A lye mixture is added to oil, and then stirred. During the stirring process additional ingredients like essential oils, scents, or even exfoliants are also added. These can change the color, scent, and texture of the soap without adding any chemicals whose names the user can't pronounce.
Perhaps the most important ingredient in natural soap though is glycerin. This naturally-occurring material helps moisturize skin, and to lock in moisture when one is done washing with a natural soap. With commercial detergents glycerin tends to be siphoned off and sold as a separate product to make moisturizers with. This means that many people end up buying two products when one would very easily get the job done.
One of the best things about natural soap is that it's just as effective as getting rid of dirt, grime, and dead skin cells as the detergent that's offered in many stores. However, at the same time that it cleans skin, natural soap can help skin heal by making sure it is cleaned without being scoured. This is particularly advantageous for those with sensitive skin, or who have conditions such as acne, eczema and even psoriasis who need all the help they can get not aggravating their conditions.
To really see the benefits of natural soap, one has to use them for the long term. While there will be certain, immediate benefits of switching from detergent to real soap, such as increased moisture and lessened irritation, many of the true benefits may take weeks or months to really manifest. Skin will need time to repair itself, to lock in regular moisture, and to grow used to the new, more nourishing soap. If someone uses natural soap for a few months though, particularly if it's a natural soap with essential oils, antioxidants, or other beneficial inclusions, then the idea of going back to a harsh detergent might be enough to make his or her skin crawl.
Natural soap has a lot of benefits that start as soon as one begins using it, and which continues long into that relationship. If someone's never used natural soap before then it's entirely possible to mistake the effects for the next best thing to modern magic.