I smell a rat and it smells like handmade soap

Updated: Jan 21


I don’t know where the term , “ I smell a rat” came from but it seems unfair to the rats. My boy had a couple rats when he was young, and although they weren’t my cup of tea, I can’t recall them having an offensive odor. Their tails freaked me out but they weren’t stinky animals. Now, if we went to the underbelly of a big city like New York and found some rats, they’d probably be bigger than T’s goats and not smell so good. That would be a product of their environment and not because they inherently smell bad. As it stands, the term exists and like it or not, I believe I smell a rat. I’m talking about the unnatural sounding ingredients in handmade soap.

Let’s start by looking at the ingredients in one of our most popular soaps, Island Spice. This soap is made with, Vegetable Oil Blend (Olive Oil, Organic Sustainable Palm Oil, Coconut Oil, Shea Butter), Water, Sodium Hydroxide, Fragrance, Luffa, Mica, Titanium Dioxide, Chromium Oxide, Ultramarines. The ingredients that raise my suspicions are sodium hydroxide, titanium dioxide, chromium oxide, mica and ultramarines. Lets take a look at these funky sounding things and make sure they aren’t nasty, like rats.

Sodium hydroxide is also called caustic soda or lye. It is a widely used chemical by handmade soap artists. It is a reagent, which means that it is a substance used in chemical reaction to produce other substances. It causes saponification, what a goofy word. Don’t the scientists already have big enough brains that they don’t have to make up big, weird words. Saponification is the process of converting fat, oil and lipids into soap. Soap is made by mixing liquid fats and oils and adding sodium hydroxide. By the end of the saponification process, sodium hydroxide is no longer present in the soap, it has been completely dissociated and used up in the process, and the liquids are now solid. Handmade soap makers list it as an ingredient to let us know it was used to make the soap even though it is not actually in the finished product.

The next strange sounding thing is titanium dioxide. Titanium dioxide is a colorant used in soap making. It is a naturally occurring mineral that is mined and processed to remove impurities. Soap artisans use it to make their soap white. It is FDA approved to be used in beauty products.

Chromium oxide is another mineral used to color soap. This is the stuff used to make soap green. It too has been approved by the FDA for use in beauty products.

Mica is more of the same, a naturally occurring mineral colorant. It is also FDA approved for use in beauty cosmetics.

What about ultramarines, this sounds like something one might find in the depth of the ocean and when I think ocean, I think fish. Who wants to slab themselves with a big bar of fish stink? Maybe the dude trying to impress the little mermaid, not me. What is this stuff? It is a mineral used to make soap blue and is FDA approved.

The FDA is strict with their rules and regulations, and they require that these oxides and ultramarines be created and not sourced. The oxides and ultramarines used in our soaps are identical to the naturally found minerals, but they were created instead of mined. Some soap makers will list their soap as natural since the man-made version is the exact same as the natural ingredient. I believe this is no big deal either way. You can be sure all oxides and ultramarines used are synthetic because the cost of mining and purifying them is remarkably high in addition to the FDA requirement of using the synthetic versions. If soap makers used mined oxides, a bar would cost a whole lot. The exception to this is mica, most mica found in soap is naturally mined, although a synthetic version is available.

It turns out that I don’t smell a rat after all, these strange sounding ingredients check out. The next time I see a rat, I may have to catch it and give it a good cleaning with a bar of Island Spice, it’ll be my way of saying sorry for perpetuating the cruel term, “I smell a rat.” Or maybe I will shriek and run because of its creepy tail.

It is good to know the ingredients in things we use in or on our bodies. I am learning quite quickly that I know more about the soap I use on my skin than the food I stuff into my face. When I see the ingredients label on some of the food I eat, I think I might be better off eating soap. It sure smells good enough to eat, it doesn’t translate to the sensation on the taste buds though. If I did eat the soap, I would have to use food to shower with, to even things out. If you had to shower with food, what would it be? I would use bone in pork chops. It wouldn’t clean so good, but that bone would be a great exfoliator. Plus I would call my pork soap, “This little piggy” and that name alone would make me happy.

Until next time, stay crazy.

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