That I enjoy lathering up with bar soap is hardly news. I could receive bars of freshly cut handmade soap for every birthday from now until the day I die and I’d be happy. Nothing quite so good as unwrapping a fresh bar, working it into a lather, and letting the smells of essential oils fill up the shower.
Still, not all bar soaps are created equal and lately I’ve been particularly determined to find bar soaps that are lovely to use and that are free from palm oil. As the past two weeks have reminded us in no uncertain terms, human impact on the environment is tremendous. There’s not much under the sun that’s blameless in terms of environmental degradation—and this article explains why a global abandonment of palm oil altogether might be more complicated than we’d like to think—but I still wanted to see if I could find great handmade soaps that skip the palm oil in favor of ingredients that are a little gentler on rainforests among other things.
Below, a few favorite palm-oil-free bar soaps:
Big Sur Country Soap I love the California vibe of these squat soaps made in just right the size to hold in your palm. And I especially love the directive that they’re “best if used in a clawfoot tub.” Clawfoot tub or no, these guys last a long time and smell delicious. (Don’t let the old-school website deter you!) I loved the Cedar Rose, pictured above with the rose petals pressed into the top and the Clove bar (including the good scrubby bits)!
Binu Binu These soaps are inspired by the ritual of Korean public baths—binu means soap in Korean—and they’re exquisitely cut and packaged. All soaps are made from a base of “boricha,” a roasted barley tea and mixed with clays and oils. The Celadon Tea Ceremony Soap (shown above) has a beautiful light green color and understated scent. Made in small batches from 100% natural plant botanical ingredients and essential oils.
Little Seed Farm Goat milk soap, handmade by goat farmers in Tennessee. If you’ve never tried goat milk soap before, you’ll learn that it’s quite a bit creamier than other bar soaps. I especially like their Activated Charcoal Soap (meant for the face, but great for anywhere!). (And if you’re in the market for a draining soap dish to keep your soap dry, look no further than their Hickory Wood Soap Dish.)
Meow Meow Tweet This vegan soap is handmade in the Catskills. These guys have the full range of body, facial, and shampoo soap bars. I especially liked the Black Walnut Sage and the Coconut Cacao Body Soap.
Saipua The Saipua Saltwater bar is a favorite of mine—and lots of other people—and it’s made from salt and nori and a subtle but delicious blend of essential oils. If you’re interested in learning to make soaps yourself, workshops are offered throughout the year in Saipua’s Brooklyn studio. Participants are given the tools to make small batches of soap, learn the Saipua soap recipe, blend fragrances with natural botanicals and essential oils, and discuss what goes into packaging and selling soaps. All class offerings are listed here.
Skipping Goat Farm These simply packaged soaps are handmade in upstate New York. The folks making the soap also raise and milk their own goats. I really love their Peppermint Rosemary Soap and for something backed with a some exfoliation power, their Lemon Lavender Poppy Seed Soap is not to be overlooked. (And while it’s not a soap, I can’t help but to shout out their Organic Calendula Salve. It’s terrific.)
Woodlot This soap is traditionally air-cured for six weeks and handmade in small batches in Vancouver, Canada. The Cascadia bar shown here has a woodsy scent and a bit exfoliating goodness, if you’re into that sort of thing. (Also, just saying: It’s getting to be candle season.) Vegan and gluten free.
Savon de Marseille The habit isn’t for everyone, but I really love the French tradition of keeping a block of savon de Marseille next to the kitchen sink, smack dab on the countertop, and watching it slowly shrink in size over time. I use it for everything from washing my hands to washing dishes and sudsing up a sponge for wiping down tables and countertops. This green bar, found through RMTL sponsor, Boston General Store, is made from olive oil instead of palm oil like many traditional bars. We just finished our last bar after two years on the counter and we’re excited to give this one the place of honor.
Soap Saver Bag: I get a kind of confounding number of emails asking how I use the bar soaps I claim to love so much. Here’s my best advice: Keep the bars as dry as possible when not using them. In other words, don’t let them slip to the bottom of the tub while the water rains down on them for the duration of the shower, and for heaven’s sake, don’t let your kids play with them in the tub, unless your goal is to use up a bar very quickly as a way to expedite your next fix of getting to open up a new one. Also! A handy pouch like this one can be used either to add some extra exfoliation to your soap scrubbing routine, or as a catchall for the bits of soap that slip out of your hands and down the drain once the bar is nearly finished.
What about you guys? Favorite soaps right this minute?
Disclosure: I received samples from a number of these folks in the process of researching soaps to include in this story. All opinions are my own.