Wednesday, 14 December 2011

What Soap?

A few years ago I read on this Israeli blog I follow (Tsifer; warning, Hebrew) about its blogger's adventures with Druze hosts he visited. Amongst other things, he described the olive oil soaps they manufactured to be resold by Oxfam: he claimed they were the best soaps he ever used. I was impressed enough to remember his descriptions.
A while later I stumbled upon Lebanese manufactured olive oil soaps at the closing sale of what had been, at the time, my favorite Lebanese store. Unlike their Oxfam equivalents they were dead cheap; I bought them, and eventually decided I should actually give them a break. Since then I never looked back; when I shower at home I am using olive oil soaps exclusively.
It really is simple: olive oil soaps leave a natural feeling on the skin (as opposed to the dryness most soaps create), they do their cleaning job well, and if you know what you’re doing you can get very good value for money out of them. As in, much better value than what you normally get out of supermarket soaps, and definitely better value than what you get buying high caliber brand names soaps (that is, stuff that comes from companies with vast advertising budgets). But again, it is not the value for money that matters; olive oil soaps do feel better than anything else I’ve tried. It’s a win-win situation.
Of course, not all olive oil soaps are the same. I suspect they all contain some conventional soap matter in addition to the oils, and I know many of them (like the Duru brand pictured here) contain much more palm oil than olive oil (raising further ethical questions). However, these problems can be mitigated through informed shopping.
I find you can get olive oil soaps at speciality shops, where they’re usually prohibitively expensive; online, where the quality is a bit of a hit and miss affair; and at Lebanese shops (or other Middle Eastern shops), where the ingredients are usually not quoted but where prices are cheap and quality tends to be very good. I hope (and I hope I’m not being too na├»ve hoping) that the Middle Eastern sources of these soaps use Middle Eastern derived palm oil rather than orangutan unfriendly stuff from Indonesia.
Interestingly, the blogosphere has been rife with people reporting they stopped using soap altogether and feeling better for it (see an example here from Boing Boing, a very popular blog). I do wonder whether these bloggers checked out more natural alternatives for soap, like the olive oil based ones.

Image: Duru olive oil soap

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