2019 Master List: Liquid Soap & Body Wash

In my post, The Quick and Dirty Guide on how to Clean Yourself Up, we covered a lot of no-gos and pitfalls when trying to shop more ethically. Sadly, there’s so much crap to worry about that it’s hard to be environmentally-responsible even when you’re actually trying.

Consider, for example, the Whole Foods self-care section: when you think Whole Foods, you probably credit them for being a pioneer of turning holistic health into something more mainstream. If you think that way, you’re likely to think that anything you buy from their self-care section is a safe-bet, but that sadly couldn’t be further from the truth.

Among other awful green-washed brands like Mrs. Meyers, Whole Foods carries only “half” good brands like Every Man Jack. Posed as a healthy option (“97% natural, vegan, and certified cruelty-free”), a quick scan of the ingredients in a product like their body washes will reveal a host of icky chemicals like

It’s startling to find out just how easy it is to be lulled into a sense of security when buying products. Moreover, it’s upsetting to realize that the people and institutions you’ve learned to trust help guide you to healthier, better decisions have opted to put their profit margin over your health. It’s no wonder why so many people get overwhelmed, psych themselves out from constantly trying to buy better, and eventually give up.

Enter this list. In the interest of making your life easier, I’ve been coming up with lists of (gender-agnostic) self-care products, in addition to home cleaning products, that you can trust are safe bets for both your health and the planet. You can find all of the 2019 Master Lists here.

For this post, we’re going to be covering liquid soap and body wash. Of course, you can choose to forgo this option if you’re comfortable using bar soaps, which, in almost all cases, is the more environmentally-responsible option (at least from a packaging standpoint).

As always, the products included in the list meet the following criteria:

  • cruelty-free: no animal testing has been done for the product to reach market, and no animal-derived ingredients are included if the harvesting process can cause harm to the animal (e.g., lanolin harvesting).
  • environmentally responsible: the ingredients listed on the label are of nonexistent or relatively low risk to the environment. For soaps, this is critical, as many soaps, especially bar soaps, contain palm oil, which is one of the biggest causes behind deforestation and animal wildlife endangerment, even if it’s “sustainably harvested.”*
  • non-hazardous: the phrase “non-toxic” isn’t a regulated phrase, so we’re sticking with “non-hazardous” to keep a safe distance from meaningless marketing terminology. In this case, you should take “non-hazardous” to mean that the product, when used as intended (don’t eat in it if the label doesn’t tell you to do so), poses overall less risk of experiencing negative side effects associated with exposure to various chemical compounds.
  • consistent results: the product delivers comparable results to conventional products you might currently use, and works the way you want it to work significantly more often than it does not.

Author’s Note:

Please note that this list isn’t sponsored in any way. I personally only use liquid hand soap and not body wash, so the products listed below are products that come from brands with which I have experience or into which I have done extensive research.

Most Environmentally Responsible


Plaine Products Body Wash in Rosemary Mint Vanilla or Citrus Lavender & Hand Wash in Citrus Lavender

Body Wash
$30 for 16oz ($1.88/oz)
$27 for 16oz ($1.69/oz) with 10% off through subscription service

Hand Soap
$25 for 16oz ($1.57/oz)
$22.50 for 16oz ($1.41/oz) with 10% off through subscription service

Pros in a nutshell

  • Palm oil free
  • Non-GMO ingredients
  • Organic ingredients
  • Vegan
  • Cruelty Free, Leaping Bunny certified
  • Free of sulfates, parabens, and phthalates
  • Blended with whole essential oils (instead of synthetic fragrance)
  • Designed to biodegrade
  • Free of single-use plastic
  • Available through a subscription service with 10% off

Cons in a nutshell

  • Still somewhat expensive
  • Return program not available outside the USA
  • Not multipurpose, since Plaine Products offers shampoo, body wash, and hand soap as distinct product offerings

As with their shampoos and conditioners, Plaine Product’s body washes and hand soaps have ridiculously good ingredient lists: not only can you (probably) pronounce everything on their list, they’re also all clean and natural. Their formulations are also vegan and use non-GMO ingredients. If that weren’t good enough, they use metal containers instead of plastic, thereby helping to reduce single-use plastic waste.

One of the major selling points about Plaine Products is that you can visit their website to request a free return labelto send their bottles back to them. This is true even if you buy their product from a 3rd-party retailer like Amazon or the Package Free Shop (although their free-label return program doesn’t exist outside of the United States).

The biggest downside of this pick is obviously the cost. Though the price makes sense when considering the up-front packaging costs and their closed-loop recycling program, it’s still a hefty chunk of change for liquid soap, especially when you can buy bar soap (most likely locally) with the same quality of ingredients.

Top All-Rounder


Green Beaver Sunflower Castile Soaps

$14.99 for 16oz ($0.93/oz)
$22.99 for 33.81oz/1L ($0.67/oz)

Pros in a nutshell

  • Palm oil free
  • Gluten free
  • Vegan
  • Cruelty-free, PETA certified
  • 100% natural ingredients
  • Castile soap tends to be highly concentrated, so you can use a little and dilute with water — a small bottle will last you much longer than you think
  • Not significantly more expensive than Dr. Bronner’s, which uses palm oil
  • Multipurpose — can be used for hands, body, and hair (bonus: you can use it for household cleaning)

Cons in a nutshell

  • Majority of ingredients are not organic (formulas seem to hover around 30% organic)
  • Not easily available in stores or from other distributors (as far as I can tell), so you have to buy direct
  • Limited scent range by comparison to other castile soap lines
  • One scent (Cilantro Mint) not available in larger size

Budget-Friendly


Dr. Wood’s Castile Soap

Roughly $9.25 for 32oz ($0.29/oz) (price varies by purchasing location)

Pros in a nutshell

  • Their liquid castile soap line is palm oil free (note that all of their other products, including solid castile bar soaps, contain palm oil)
  • Vegan
  • Cruelty-free, Leaping Bunny certified
  • The cheapest option on this list by far
  • Multipurpose — suitable for hands, body, possibly hair (also: household uses)

Cons in a nutshell

  • No organic ingredients
  • The rest of the brand’s product lines, including all of their African Black Soaps, use palm and palm derivatives
  • There’s nothing from the brand that indicates that these castile soaps are as concentrated as other castile soaps. Dilution may be ill-advised, in which case the value of $$/oz is actually lower than more concentrated castile soaps

Sensitive Skin


Aleavia body washes

$20 for 16oz ($1.25/oz)
$16.99 for 16oz ($1.07/oz) with 15% off through Amazon Subscribe and Save

Pros in a nutshell

  • Palm oil free
  • Organic ingredients
  • Vegan
  • Cruelty-free
  • Gluten-free
  • Prebiotic formula helps balance and maintain healthy skin pH
  • Minimal ingredient list (max 8 ingredients) is great for virtually all skin types, and especially good for sensitive skin
  • Reportedly good for acne, eczema, and those with allergies
  • Available through Amazon’s Subscribe and Save program

Cons in a nutshell

  • Uses plastic bottles
  • Only three scent options available
  • Not multipurpose — not suitable for hand soap dispensers or hair

Baby-Friendly


Zoe Organics Bath Wash

$12.95 for the 5oz foaming dispenser ($2.59/oz)
$49.95 for the 32oz refill bottle ($1.56/oz)

Pros in a nutshell

  • Palm oil free
  • Non-GMO, non-solvent extracted, and non-irradiated ingredients
  • Vegan (all products except Zoe Organics’ balms and candles, which contain organic beeswax)
  • Cruelty-free
  • Comes in an foaming pump to make lathering easier
  • Comes in a refill 32oz size
  • Per the label, this product is safe to use on newborns
  • Multipurpose formula can be used for hair and body

Cons in a nutshell

  • Fairly expensive, with a small starter volume for the foaming bottle
  • 32oz refillable bottle not currently available from other suppliers (have to buy direct from Zoe Organics)
  • Not certified as cruelty-free
  • Not a tear-free formula, which may be a concern for some considering this as an option
  • Not suitable for/too costly to be used as hand soap


Babo Botanicals

Price varies by product

Pros in a nutshell

  • The products listed below are certified by the EWG as safe to use
  • Gluten-free (even the oat formulas)
  • Vegan (only a select few products from Babo Botanicals are not vegan, including their Lip, Sport Sticks, Diaper Creams and SPF 40 Daily Sheer Sunscreen products)
  • Cruelty-free, PETA certified
  • Generally more budget-friendly
  • Many of the Babo Botanical items are available through Amazon’s Subscribe and Save program, which reduces the cost by up to 15%
  • Somewhat multipurpose — can use for body and hair

Cons in a nutshell

  • Not palm oil free
  • Comes in plastic
  • Not 100% organic
  • Not guaranteed Non-GMO ingredients
  • Not recommended to use as hand soap

Note:
I’ll be honest, this one was a tough one. I nearly didn’t include it because this brand uses palm oil, but it occurred to me that new mothers and families of newborns often may feel an extra cash pinch as they adjust to dealing with a new life. Sadly, in our current state, trying to live an eco-friendly life almost always poses added costs.

If you’re a new mother trying to find cleaner baby-specific washes but can’t afford to spend $1.50/oz to make it happen, you can at least take comfort in the fact that the options below are safer, cleaner, and at least somewhat more environmentally responsible than the alternatives. The three below are also the only (currently) baby-specific washes that are also EWG Verified.

That said, if you can afford to use something else or feel comfortable using something not strictly marketed towards infants but suitable for sensitive/delicate skin, I’d strongly encourage you to skip this and consider using the Aleavia Enzymatic Body Wash instead (Aleavia reports that it’s gentle enough for babies, too!).

Babo Botanicals Shampoo & Wash Sensitive Baby Fragrance Free
$14.36 for 16oz ($0.90/oz)
($12.21 with 15% off through Amazon Subscribe and Save)
Babo Botanicals Sensitive Baby Fragrance Free Newborn Foam Wash
$9.32 for 9oz ($1.04/oz)
($7.92 with 15% off through Amazon Subscribe and Save)
Babo Botanicals Shampoo & Wash Lavender and Meadowsweet
$17.33 for 16oz ($1.08/oz)
($14.73 with 15% off through Amazon Subscribe and Save)

Gift-Worthy


100% Pure body washes

$20 for 8oz ($2.50/oz)

Pros in a nutshell

Cons in a nutshell

  • Using the 100% Pure recycling program is essentially impossible unless you live near one of their physical stores
  • For those of you for whom this matters, most body washes aren’t vegan — yet (100% Pure officially declared this month that they are actively transitioning towards being a completely vegan company)
  • Depending on your showering habits and how much body wash you normally use, getting this for yourself as a staple item can be pretty expensive
  • Not multipurpose — should (probably) only be used as body wash

Splurge


Red Flower body washes

$22 for 8oz ($2.75/oz)

Pros in a nutshell

  • Palm oil free (but read note below)
  • Cruelty-free
  • Vegan

Cons in a nutshell

  • Not certified cruelty-free, meaning their ingredient suppliers could potentially be
  • It’s unclear how much of the brand is palm oil free, but it seems as if their ingredient list isn’t to be trusted for clues (read the note and check out the images below for more information)
    • If considering other products from this brand, consider reaching out to them directly to confirm their palm oil/palm oil derivative use in a formulation (or find a substitute from a different brand)
  • Not multipurpose — should probably only be used for body wash

Initial Response from Red Flower
My Reply to Red Flower
Red Flower’s Second Response

A quick note, here:
Because palm oil wasn’t explicitly listed in the ingredients lists for their body wash, but some potential palm oil derivatives were, I contacted Red Flower directly via email. I received a confirmation from one representative that they do not use palm oil in their formulations.

However, Red Flower does have an ingredients glossary that lists palm oil and caprylyl glycol (a potential palm oil derivative) as an ingredient, and their body washes are listed underneath both ingredients as products that contain them.

Because of this, I reached out a second time explaining my concerns, and a second representative replied and explained that palm oil used to be an ingredient in their body wash formulations, but that the ingredient glossary wasn’t properly updated and shows old information. She assured me that the current formula does not contain palm oil or its derivatives, and said their web team will fix the mistake.

Because they answered me and confirmed that their body washes don’t contain palm oil, I’m including it on this list. That said, it still feels a little “iffy” to me, especially since it’s clear we can’t trust the ingredients glossary. I’d caution you to pause and consider before buying, but it seems as if this product line is (currently) in the clear.


LILFOX Hand Body Cleanse

$53 for 16oz ($3.32/oz)

Pros in a nutshell

  • Palm oil free
  • 100% organic
  • Gluten-free brand
  • Vegan (only two products in their line are not: the Jungle mask and the Honey Beauty mask)
  • Multipurpose — can use for hands and body (maybe even hair?)

Cons in a nutshell

  • LILFOX doesn’t explicitly state as a brand that they are cruelty-free anywhere on their site
  • The most expensive option on this list by far (though somewhat explainable through its inclusion of Neroli, a notoriously expensive essential oil, for fragrance)
  • Ingredient list reads very weirdly (I had to google for a few minutes to decipher that “Citrus uranium var. amaze oil” likely referred to a variety of petitgrain)

Backup option


Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Castile Soap

Roughly $16 for 32oz ($0.50/oz) (price varies per purchasing location)

Pros in a nutshell

  • Biodegradable
  • Vegan
  • Non-GMO ingredients, Non-GMO Project certified
  • Fair trade ingredients, Fair for Life certified
  • Cruelty-free (no animal testing), Leaping Bunny certified
  • Convenient: easy to find and readily available at most grocery stores and virtually all health food stores in the United States
  • Available internationally
  • Several scent options to choose from
  • Highly concentrated, so even a little goes a long way — be sure to follow the dilution instructions to get the most out of your bottle
  • Ability to buy in bulk sizes (up to 128oz gallons)
  • Multipurpose — can be used for face, body, hands, and hair (bonus: even household uses!)

Cons in a nutshell

  • Uses palm oil, which is a major contributor to deforestation and wildlife endangerment*
  • Depending on the purchasing location, this may feel more expensive by comparison to some other, lesser-known-brand liquid castile soaps with comparable ingredient lists

Think I missed something? Want to hear my thoughts on something you’re already using? Let me know!

This issue is obviously more complex than can be treated in a single, small footnote, but it’s worth including some things (below) as food for thought:

  • In 2001, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) begins to explore the idea of a roundtable for establishing sustainable palm oil rules and regulations.
  • In 2003, the first event for sustainable palm oil is held, during which
    some 200 commercial entities in the global palm oil supply chain met and established the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to promote the growth of palm oil in an environmentally friendly manner [by developing] definitions and criteria for the sustainable production of palm oil [and by] facilitating the adoption of more green-friendly practices throughout the industry.
    […]
    Despite progress, many green leaders are skeptical that RSPO [can] make a positive impact on the fast-growing palm oil industry. Greenpeace International considers RSPO to be “little more than greenwash,” pointing out that at least one RSPO-certified producer—United Plantations, a supplier to Nestlé and Unilever—is deforesting Indonesia’s vulnerable peat land forests. And Sinar Mas, another major RSPO player, has cleared tropical rainforest all over the country for its palm oil plantations, and is still expanding rapidly. Greenpeace is calling for a moratorium on deforestation throughout Indonesia so that the RSPO and the government can take stock and then proceed accordingly.
  • In November 2008, five years after the first roundtable, RSPO celebrates its first shipment of “sustainable palm oil” to Europe.
  • In November 2015, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released a report that claimed that RSPO auditors failed to identify violations of its rules and regulations. It also goes on to say that some RSPO auditors even colluded with oil palm plantations to intentionally cover up violations. Consider the following excerpt:
    Auditing firms are fundamentally failing to identify and mitigate unsustainable practices by oil palm firms. Not only are they conducting woefully substandard assessments but the evidence indicates that in some cases they are colluding with plantation companies to disguise violations of the RSPO Standard. The systems put in place to monitor these auditors have utterly failed.

    The consequences of these failings are severe. The destruction of forests and biodiversity, entrenched social conflicts, human trafficking and death threats against environmental defenders are all able to persist because of a dereliction of duty by auditors and the RSPO. Without scrutiny and appropriate action, this will be branded as sustainable. [emphasis own]
  • In February 2016, The Guardian writes on an article describing a growing concern that the RSPO’s initiative will create a two-tier system for palm oil production, rather than ensure every company will participate in better standards.
  • In May 2018, The Guardian releases an op-ed piece about how palm oil production is wiping out orangutans.
  • In June 2018, a video of an orangutan in duress as it faces a bulldozer went viral, demonstrating just how painful palm oil harvesting can be to the native wildlife.
  • One week later in June 2018, an open letter is published that discusses the effectiveness and impacts of RSPO certifcation, within which it states “no evidence was found to suggest that RSPO certified plantations were able to retain populations of orangutan better than non-certified concessions.” It goes on to state that “the estate level focus of RSPO appears to limit the ability of the scheme to deliver broad benefits. For example, the specification to ‘maintain and enhance’ high conservation value species ignores the biology and behavior of many species the scheme is trying to protect, such as the orangutan.” The letter also states that its analysis clearly
    demonstrates that desired goals of the [RSPO] program are not being realised and considerable modifications need to be made to RSPO certification criteria and their monitoring and evaluation, particularly in regards to environmental and social sustainability. The high degree of variation in environmental and social conditions between palm oil concessions prior to certification are poorly accounted for in RSPO policies, conflating participation and performance in the scheme.

Essentially, RSPO has been largely ineffective in curbing deforestation, human rights violations, and minimizing wildlife endangerment. Many argue that all RSPO does is simply “greenwash” (i.e., make something appear more environmentally responsible than it actually is) the palm oil production industry, which only serves to downplay the serious threat that palm oil production poses not just to local human and wildlife rights, but to the globe overall.

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