2019 Master List: Bar Soap

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 easy to get overwhelmed and psych yourself out from doing the research.

Therefore, in the interest of making your life easier, I’m coming up with a list of (gender-agnostic) self-care products, in addition to home cleaning products, for this year. You can find all of the 2019 Master Lists here. Hopefully, by the time you walk away from reading any of these posts, you’ll feel confident that you have a few solid options to explore, try out, and feel good about using.

In the last post, we covered shampoo and conditioner. For this post, we’ll be covering bar soap. There are actually thousands upon thousands of options here, both for clean and conventional options, so trying to find the best out there is a mind-numbing undertaking. In fact, this list got to be so monstrously large at one point, I had to prune it down considerably to make it more manageable. I may come back and provide more brand options down the line, but I think these are good starter options.

The below products meet the following criteria:

  • cruelty-free: no animal testing has been done for the product to reach market. I’m also taking this a step further by stipulating that no animal-derived ingredients are included if the harvesting process can cause harm to the animal (e.g., lanolin harvesting), or if there are animal byproducts that aren’t explicitly called out as farmed humanely (e.g., goats milk).
  • 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 the below list isn’t sponsored by any brand in any way. The products listed below are products I either personally use, have used in the past, or that I’ve spent much of own time researching.

Top picks

Fanciful Fox Soaps

$7 for 5oz ($1.40/oz) or $8 for 6oz ($1.33/oz)

Pros in a nutshell

  • Palm free
  • Organic ingredients
  • Fair trade ingredients
  • Vegan
  • Cruelty-free, but not certified
  • Huge array of scents
  • Decently priced (for palm-free soap) at around $1.40/oz for their 5oz bars, or $1.33/oz for their 6oz bars
  • Broad soap product range, including shampoo bars and facial soaps
  • Offers a soap bar subscription to get one 5oz bar and two sample bars for $12/mo

Cons in a nutshell

  • Limited availability makes buying soap (especially in your favorite scents) challenging
  • Limited distribution channels means that shipping costs for orders below $75 minimum can get pretty hefty
  • Not certified as cruelty-free by a 3rd party

Complexion facial soap
Pumpkin Pie soap
Key Lime Pie soap
Shampoo soap bar
Mermaid Kisses soap
Vegan Bakery soap
Oats I Did it Again soap
Monthly Soap Subscription

Unearth Malee

$6.50 for 4.5-5oz ($1.45-$1.30/oz)

Pros in a nutshell

  • Palm free
  • Certified organic ingredients
  • Many, but not all, soaps are listed as vegan
  • Cruelty-free
  • Packaged with flower seeded paper
  • Tons of exotic scent combinations
  • An unscented olive oil (castile) bar is available
  • Made in small batches

Cons in a nutshell

  • Not certified cruelty-free
  • Not many “typical” soap scents for those looking for an easy swap for something they already use
  • Packaging is inconsistent: many soaps appear to be vegan based on the ingredients list, but aren’t listed as such on the bar

Chai Tea Chocolate
Mocha Java
Cilantro Mint Basil
Neem Black Cumin
Jasmine Sticky Rice Mango
Olive Oil
Kaffir Lime Rosemary
Papaya Ginger Lemongrass

Budget Options

Auromère Ayurvedic Soap

$1.82 for 2.75oz ($0.66/oz)

Pros in a nutshell

  • Palm free
  • Non-GMO
  • Vegan
  • Cruelty free, Leaping Bunny and PETA certified
  • Suitable for sensitive skin
  • Entirely owned and operated by a non-profit Integral Yoga ashram in Northern California
  • Most budget-friendly option on this list

Cons in a nutshell

  • No organic ingredients
  • Neem can be an acquired scent preference (to say the least), so this brand’s bar soap base might not be ideal for all noses
  • Although inexpensive, bars are small, so you’ll want to buy more

Himalayan Rose
Lavender Neem
Sandalwood Turmeric
Tulsi Neem
Vanilla Neem

Saavy Naturals

$6 for 5oz ($1.20/oz) or $10 for 8oz ($1.25/oz)

Pros in a nutshell

  • Palm free
  • Organic ingredients
  • Vegan
  • Cruelty-free, Leaping Bunny certified
  • One of the cheapest palm oil free soaps on this list at $1.20/oz
  • Offers a complete sampler set for $15 to try all the options
  • Comes in 10 scent options

Cons in a nutshell

  • No unscented option
  • Larger 8oz bar size is actually less cost-effective than buying multiple 5oz bars
  • Customer service is apparently hit-or-miss; you may end up waiting a long time for your order to process, or you may get it quickly

Bulgarian Rose
Mango Papaya
Tahitian Vanilla
Green Tea and Lime
Oatmeal Almond
Yuzu and Meyer Lemon
Patchouli Rose
10-Pack Sampler (square)
Lavender Chamomile
Plumeria Violet
10-Pack Sampler (hearts)

Splurge options

100% Pure Butter Soaps

$10 for 4.5oz ($2.22/oz)

Pros in a nutshell

  • Palm free
  • Cruelty-free
  • Vegan
  • Fantastic brand that’s completely dedicated to using science to create the best, all-natural and cruelty-free products (almost all of which are vegan!)
  • Moisturizing and less-stripping than some other soap bars, due to the high content of shea butter and coconut oil
  • Generally available internationally

Cons in a nutshell

  • Expensive compared to other products ($2.22/oz)
  • Wrapped in paper on the outside, but has second, inner wrapping with plastic film
  • No unscented option, may not be suitable for those with high sensitivity to fragrances
  • Not all fragrances have the same potency
  • Not necessarily multipurpose; the high oil content may not work for shampoo and/or face purposes

Apple Butter Soap
Mango Butter Soap
Coconut Butter Soap
Meyer Lemon Butter Soap
Lavender Butter Soap
Peach Butter Soap
Mandarin Butter Soap

Meow Meow Tweet

$10-12 for 4.5oz ($2.22-$2.67/oz)

Pros in a nutshell

  • Palm free
  • Vegan
  • Cruelty-free, Leaping Bunny certified
  • Company avoids plastic packaging as part of its core values, and uses glass or paper wherever possible instead
  • Eight different styles (two shampoo bars, two facial soaps, and four body soaps)
  • Company donates to various environmental charities
  • Available at several retailers, both in Canada and in the USA

Cons in a nutshell

  • The most expensive option on this list, at up to $2.67/oz
  • Not a huge variety of scent options for body/multipurpose bars

Coconut Cocoa body soap (sensitive skin)
Pink Rose Clay face soap
Grapefruit Mint body soap
Rosemary Avocado shampoo bar
Lavender Coconut Milk shampoo bar

Tangerine Basil body soap
Lavender Lemon body soap
Tea Tree Charcoal face soap

Indie Brands

Muddy Mint

$7 for roughly 4.5oz ($1.56/oz)

Pros in a nutshell

  • Palm free
  • 100% natural
  • No added “fragrance”
  • Mostly vegan, although some items contain animal by-products

Cons in a nutshell

  • No organic ingredients
  • Shop doesn’t specify origin of animal byproducts
  • Not certified cruelty-free

Apple Cider (Unscented)
Calming Lavender
Orange & Bergamot
Charcoal & Tea Tree
Lemon Scrub
Peppermint Eucalyptus
Garden Mint
Lemon & Calendula
The Minimalist

Noble Soap Gallery

$8 for 3.5oz ($2.28/oz)

Pros in a nutshell

  • Palm free
  • 100% natural
  • Some organic ingredients
  • No added “fragrance”
  • Vegan company

Cons in a nutshell

  • No unscented option
  • Small volume per bar
  • Cost per bar is pretty high, considering that the bar isn’t completely organic
  • Not all ingredients are organic
  • Not certified cruelty-free
  • There are some outdated listing descriptions that suggest the soaps contain palm (I wrote the owner to confirm, and was told that they are indeed palm free and need to fix the listings)

Blood Orange Cedarwood
Oats & Notes
Eucalyptus Spearmint
Peppermint Cedarwood
Grapefruit Lavender
Lemongrass Ginger Oatmeal

Backup option

Dr. Bronner’s Castile soap

$4.69 (online at Dr. Bronner’s site) for 5oz. ($0.94/oz)

Pros in a nutshell

  • Organic ingredients
  • Non-GMO ingredients — Non-GMO Project certified
  • Fair trade ingredients — Fair for Life certified
  • Vegan
  • Cruelty-free, Leaping Bunny certified
  • Multi-purpose (can be used for face, body, hands, and even shampoo)
  • Convenient; easy to find and readily available at most grocery stores and virtually all health food stores
  • Several scent options to choose from
  • Cheapest option on this list

Cons in a nutshell

  • Uses palm ingredients, which is an issue as palm production is a major contributor to deforestation, human rights violations, and wildlife endangerment*
  • Depending on the purchasing location, this may feel more expensive by comparison to some other natural bars with equivalent ingredients

I initially placed this higher up on my list, but the more research I collected against palm oil, the more I was weary of including this as a great option. While it’s great that they’re using the certified sustainable variety, the fact of the matter is that palm oil, even the sustainable kind, causes too many negative consequences to our world for me to comfortably recommend it as anything better than a backup.

That said, if you can’t reasonably find a means to buy other bar soaps that forgo palm oil, Dr. Bronner’s is, without question, your best bet; their packaging is both made from post-consumer recycled paper and is recyclable/biodegradable, they use organic ingredients, and they maintain a wealth of 3rd-party certifications that ensure you can feel confident about the fact that the company tries to do good while they produce their goods.

That’s all for now on the list! I definitely found several more options than what I listed, so I’ll likely do individual brand updates if/when I get more exposure or try more things out.

Also, I’m sorry for the delay in getting this out; I wanted to take time to make sure I got a good enough collection of options and try a reasonable amount of options before I started sharing these.

Lastly, I invite you to sound off in the comments. Do you think I missed a brand worth including? Do you want to hear my thoughts on something you’re using now and swear is great? 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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