It is believed that people first discovered soap when washing their clothes in a river, downstream from an animal sacrifice: lye created from the ashes mixed with the fat of the burnt offering, and when mixed with water, became the perfect agent with which to wash clothes. People started making soaps out of scented animal fats mixed with lye, and to this day, many soap products are made from animal tallow.
Those of us who try to live compassionate, cruelty-free lives are naturally quite horrified at the thought of washing ourselves down with something made from the fat of an animal, so we search for plant-based alternatives.
Like most other products, a fair bit of research has to be conducted to find out which products out there are veg-friendly, and which have animal products incorporated into them. Most vegan soaps will be made from a plant-based oil, and infused with various herbs, scents, or plant-derived additives for exfoliating purposes (such as coffee grounds, flax seeds, ground nuts, etc.) One must be on the lookout, however, for soaps containing beeswax or honey. Check the list of ingredients of a soap you like to see if it contains anything on the PETA list of animal ingredients commonly used in personal care products.
Castile soap has existed for thousands of years, and is one of the most multi-purpose vegan soaps available. Usually made from olive oil (sometimes a mixture of olive, laurel, coconut and/or jojoba), it can be used for everything from personal care to laundry, dishes, and household cleaning. One of the most well-known companies that creates castile soap is Dr. Bronner’s: their soap comes in both solid and liquid form, in several different scents, and is wholly and completely cruelty-free/vegan.
Another company that has been cruelty-free right from the beginning is Kiss My Face. This awesomely-names company has a great line of soap, and with the exception of their Olive and Honey bar, the soaps are all vegan. (Do note that some of their moisturizers contain beeswax or honey, so be sure to check the ingredients before purchasing.)
Vegan Essentials has a selection of great vegan soaps in a variety of scents and herbal mixtures, and they’re 100% cruelty-free.
I’ve read some great reviews about the luxury soaps from Rochelle Rose, and with the exception of a couple of soaps that contain honey, their line is entirely vegan as well.
There are many people who create their own vegan soaps and sell them online, and Etsy is a treasure-trove of such delights. Just type “vegan soap” into the search option under “handmade”, and you’ll get over 10,000 results. Whether your tastes range among floral or herb-y scents to lush dessert flavours, in any colour or shape imaginable, you’ll find it on there.
As with the foods we eat and the clothes we wear, a bit of research gives a good idea whether the products we use are cruelty-free. There are so many gorgeous vegan options out there, and compassionate, conscientious shopping is getting more and more commonplace: companies are realising that there are a lot of people who want to ensure that the products they’re buying are cruelty-free, and hopefully they’ll soon find alternatives to any practices that harm animals or insects in the making of their goods.
Products to avoid:
PETA has put together a great list of companies that test on animals (PDF), as well as a comprehensive guide of companies that don’t (PDF). On the “don’t” list, there are some products that still contain animal ingredients, so it once again comes down to doing one’s research, and shopping with as much knowledge and awareness as possible.
What’s your favourite vegan soap? Share the info!