Reading product labels can be pretty confusing at times. There are generally a bunch of complex names on the label, sometimes leaving the reader with little or no idea about what is actually in a particular product. Depending on the product, there is a standard way in which labels should be written. When speaking of handmade cosmetics, which is how I personally categorize soaps, we should use the INCI system of naming ingredients. INCI stands for International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients. These are the scientific names of an ingredient, often times based on the Latin name of the plant it's derived from. You can find these names on any cosmetic label.
Let's take a look at the ingredients in a bar of my soap versus a commercially available soap.
Harmony (Black Raspberry & Vanilla Scented):
Ingredients: Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil, Water, Elaeis guineensis (Palm) Oil, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Sodium Hydroxide, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, Ricinus communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Cera alba (Beeswax), Fragrance, Titanium Dioxide, Iron Oxide, Kaolin, Montmorillonite, Mica
To translate a little bit, this soap is made of olive oil, water, palm oil, coconut oil, lye, cocoa butter, castor oil, beeswax, fragrance, and colorants (specifically white and black pigments, and red brazilian clay).
Ingredients: Soap (sodium tallowate, sodium cocate and/or sodium palm kernelate), Water, Hydrogenated Tallow Acid (skin conditioner), Coconut Acid, Glycerin (skin conditioner), Fragrance, Sodium Chloride, Pentasodium Pentetate, Pentaerythrityl Tetra-di-t-butyl Hydroxyhydrocinnamate, Titanium Dioxide, D&C Green No.8, FD&C Green No.3
Again translating a bit, this one contains tallow, coconut oil, palm kernel oil, water, tallow by-products, coconut oil fatty acids, glycerin (these three are acting as moisturizers), fragrance, table salt, a salt often used to soften water, an antioxidant used to help prevent rancidity, and colorants (specifically white pigment and two types of green).
Surprise, many commercially available soaps use animal products! Tallow is rendered fat, usually beef, although it can be from any animal. It helps to make a nice hard bar of soap. I personally prefer not to use tallow or lard in the soaps that I make, but they are perfectly acceptable ingredients to use, and many soap makers love them. I was a vegetarian for many years, and choose to only use animal products in my soaps that are gathered in a way that is not harmful to the animals (i.e. beeswax and/or tussah silk).
Today's challenge is for you to go look at one of your beauty products (it can be something other than soap), and read the label. What's in it? What names do you now recognize? What's that weird one with a whole bunch of syllables? Post your questions here, and I'll be happy to sort them out for you.