Sodium olivate – is this soap really natural? May 13, 2016 08:39

Terminology in cosmetic products can be confusing. You might come across a handmade soap described as ‘natural’; you like it, but you happen to glance at the ingredients and one of them is something like ‘sodium olivate’ or ‘sodium cocoate’. What are these and is the soap that contains them really natural?

Handmade soaps usually come in two forms: one type is made with the ‘melt and pour’ method, whilst others are made with the traditional, cold- or hot-process method. The melt and pour handmade soaps can be recognized by their partial transparency. Makers often take advantage of this feature and place various embeds in the soaps, e.g. cute hearts and so on. These soaps are made of substances such as mono propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine, sorbitol solution, stearic or myristic acid.

On the other hand, traditionally made soap is the result of a reaction between sodium hydroxide (lye) and oils (fatty acids). This reaction is called saponification. The end product contains no sodium hydroxide; it has all been neutralized during saponification to create salts of fatty acids (soap). These salts of fatty acids usually have the word ‘sodium’ in their name, plus a word that sounds like the original oils used, e.g. ‘olivate’ for olive oil. So, ‘sodium olivate’ is salt of fatty acids from olive oil, ‘sodium cocoate’ is salt of fatty acids from coconut oil, ‘sodium sheabutterate’ is salt of fatty acids from shea butter and so on. Hence, to answer your question – ‘sodium olivate’ is a perfectly natural substance.

Whilst the finished cold-or hot-process soap contains no lye, or sodium hydroxide, it will contain some natural, unchanged oils used to make them, e.g. olive oil or shea butter. This is because the artisan will use ‘superfatting’ or ‘lye discount’, i.e. they will put more oils in the mixture that is needed to neutralize the lye. At The scent of berries use at least 5% superfatting. In addition, a certain proportion of the fatty acids in the vegetable oils is ‘unsaponifiable’, that is they do not react with sodium hydroxide. Instead, they stay on the skin after you washed it with soap, helping it to maintain its natural protective barrier. Cold pressed, virgin, raw and unrefined oils contain more unsaponifiable fatty acids than oils that have been refined. This is why we use only raw, organic shea butter to make our soaps.

We hope this article made the confusing world of ingredients a little clearer!