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Soap Q&A | Daniel Campbell, Product Inventor / Cosmetic Scientist

Daniel Campbell is one of our Product Inventors, and with his Cosmetic Scientist know-how, he’s here to give you the up-to-date low down on all things soap.

How does bar soap work to keep you clean?

Soap is a mixture of oil that is reactive with sodium hydroxide to form a stearate (Sodium Salt, aka a soap), which is an alkaline material. The standard Lush soap base is rapeseed and coconut oil - those two oils get mixed with sodium hydroxide to form a soap base flake. We then melt down that flake with palm-free vegetable MPG (monopropylene glycol) or glycerin, sorbitol or various other kinds of syrups, add in fruits, infusions, water, fragrance and colour, pour it into moulds, cool it, set it, done.

In terms of how it works to keep you clean, soap destroys the integrity of Bacterial, Amoeba cell membranes and Fungi cell walls. Imagine these as little jelly discs,  with an outer layer that is the wall, which is made of oil. When you apply soap to the walls, the component of the soap that likes oil grabs hold of the oil in the wall and breaks it down by forming an emulsion with the water you are washing your hands with, ripping the Bacteria, Amoeba or Fungi apart and destroying them.

TLDR: Our soap bases are specifically formulated to ensure that we’re breaking down all bacteria, viruses and unwanted yeasts on your skin. Keeping you clean and fresh!

Bar soap VS hand sanitiser?

Both are effective for different reasons.

Firstly, it’s important to understand the difference between bacteria, which is a single cell organism, and a virus which is an intracellular parasite consisting of DNA/RNA, which is encapsulated in a protein coat, which makes them more robust than bacteria. Yikes!

Hand sanitisers are based on rubbing-alcohol or isopropyl alcohol and therefore hand sanitisers disrupt the cell membrane and make it difficult for bacteria to procreate. For viruses (such as the Coronavirus), the rubbing alcohol will help to disrupt the protein coat of the virus. This means that the DNA/RNA inside is more likely to be degraded reducing the pathogenic strength of the virus. 

Soaps are physical, they are solid (hand sanitisers aren’t), not only are they highly alkaline which disrupts bacterial cell membranes and fungal cell walls, the alkalinity also creates a hostile biochemical environment for microorganisms. With viruses, the physicality of a soap along with the way in which it is used ensures that the virus can’t stick to your hands (soaps “bashes” the virus off) reducing the risk of transference via contact, hand sanitiser doesn’t have this benefit

In summary - hand sanitiser on its own isn’t as good as soap on its own - but both together make a really powerful partnership!


Are soaps antibacterial?

Yes they are. It’s important to understand the difference between antibacterial - kills bacteria, and antiviral - kills viruses and antimicrobial - and able to kill viruses, bacteria and fungi.

Imagine little jelly discs, with an outer layer that is a wall made of oil (aka Bacterial, Amoeba cell membranes and Fungi cell walls). When applied, soap destroys the integrity of the wall because the part of the soap that likes oil, grabs hold of it. It breaks it down by dispersing very finely in with the water you are washing your hands with, ripping the Bacteria, Amoeba or Fungi apart and destroying them.

Regular soap is not expected to kill viruses, because a virus is not a cell with a cell membrane. Instead it is an intracellular parasite, which must infect a host cell or cells. A virus needs to get into something. Viruses have either DNA or RNA encapsulated in a protein coat, some viruses can persist in villerence even on dry surfaces for weeks or longer. With viruses, soap will help to disrupt the viral particles and help to wash the viruses off the hands. 

In a nutshell: Soap IS antibacterial, BUT COVID-19 is a virus, not a bacteria.
It IS important to wash the bacteria, fungi and yeasts off your skin though.

What are Lush soaps made from?

Soap is a mixture of oil that is reactive with sodium hydroxide to form a stearate (Sodium Salt, aka a soap), which is an alkaline material. The standard Lush soap base is rapeseed and coconut oil - those two oils get mixed with sodium hydroxide to form a soap base flake. We then melt down that flake with palm-free vegetable MPG (monopropylene glycol) or glycerin, sorbitol or various other kinds of syrups, add in fruits, infusions, water, fragrance and colour, pour it into moulds, cool it, set it, done. Depending on which fresh ingredients, infusions or essential oils we add in, we can create everything from Outback Mate, full of menthol-goodness, to the creamy-Rose dream of Ro’s Argan Gourmet Soap

We use the melt and pour method - which allow us to get more effective, beneficial ingredients for the skin into our bars compared to a milled soap bar. 

If we were to just react to coconut oil and rapeseed oil with sodium hydroxide and make a pressed or milled bar, (what’s called a hot pour soap), you wouldn’t have the opportunity to get any additional ingredients (including naturals) like honey (which is natural antibacterial) or Sea Salt (which is natural antibacterial) in, because the strength of the sodium hydroxide would destroy them. Instead, we make the soap base first, melt it down, add the fresh natural materials (that we’re known for) into it, and then pour it into moulds, cool it, set it, cut it and send it to shops. Job done!


Do Lush soaps have Palm Oil in them?

All of Lush’s hand and body soaps are Palm Oil free. Where we do use a sodium stearate, (Sodium Salt), we use a palm-free version. You can read more about our Palm Oil free soap bases, here.

(Note: Fresh Farmacy Facial Soap is the only Lush soap with Palm Oil - it has sodium lauryl sulfate) 


How are Lush soaps made?        

At Lush, we either use a soap base bought from a supplier, this is made from a combination of  rapeseed oil for a gentle creamy feel and coconut oil which makes the soap lather. We also have an in-house soap base manufacturing facility which allows us to make a soap base from any oils we want, these bases are referred to as a gourmet soap base. For these we use a pure argan oil soap (used in Ro’s Argan Soap), pure olive oil soap base (used in Olive Tree Soap), or a super blend of cocoa butter, castor oil and coconut oil, we call this the ‘universal soap base’, which give a firm, creamy soap that lathers well. We’ve also experimented with sunflower oil and wheatgerm oil. 

With whatever base we choose to use, we then mix that with a humectant (a substance that help to retain and preserves moisture in the skin), which is usually either palm-free vegetable MPG, or glycerin or a sorbitol solution or combinations thereof, along with water, natural ingredients with skin benefits, fragrance and colour. This gets all heated up together, until we get a liquid and then we pour it into moulds, set it, cut it and send it to the shops.

Have a look at our How It’s Made | Ro’s Argan Oil Soap, here.
Still interested in how we make our soap? We’ve got you covered.


How long does a bar of Lush soap last? 

It really depends on how often you use it and on how much you use. The fact that our soaps have a slightly higher humectant and water content, means that they do disappear a little bit quicker than a milled soap, but this is traded off with the nature of being fresh and handmade. At Lush, we like people to use fresh products quickly because we feel it has the most benefits to their skin. 

On estimate,100g should last about 6 weeks if used regularly in a bathroom.  

Keep an eye on all of our sudsy-soaps, right here.


Is there a proper way to wash your hands?

Yes, there absolutely is! Basically, be thorough, make sure you use soap and get a good lather, and use hot water. We don’t mind what you sing, but give it at least twenty seconds.


How to prevent my hands being so dry?

There are two things that will reduce dry hands from lots of washing - firstly, use soaps that have high humectant, like Honey I Washed The Kids which has loads of honey, or soaps with high amounts of glycerin or agave syrup. One of the benefits of Lush soap is that they lather, they clean your hands but because of the humectant qualities, they are able to maintain moisture in your skin.

Secondly, use hand cream! After you’ve washed your hands, dry them, apply hand cream (not too much!), rub it in straight away and make sure it’s absorbed before you start touching things.


What are the benefits of a Lush soap?

We can think of one or two…

They’re Palm Free.
They're self-preserving, which means that the product preserves itself creating an environment where bacteria cannot grow, without the need of synthetic preservatives.
They’re antibacterial, they will dislodge viruses from your hands.
They’re solid and naked, which means they don’t require any excess packaging.
They have a high humectant and natural ingredient content, which makes them have higher skin benefits.
They’re never tested on animals, they smell really good and they’re fun to use!

Well, what more could you want?


Comments (6)

about 7 months ago

I'm terms of public /communal toilets the problem with bars of soap has nothing to do with hygiene... Except in the fact that the higher likelyhood of it being missing means you'd be caught short of something to wash with... If you t covered in all sorts then wash your hands and be clean... Or course you can touch a bar of soap then wash and then be clean. Surely there's no difference! You touch a plastic button that dirty hands have touched or a bar of soap... No difference. Bars of soap in public toilets, sadly, would be impossible: soggy soaps in sinks, plug holes and probably all over the floor... I'm pretty sure that's the only reason that much cheaper solid soaps have been replaced with plastic containers hat swpeerate the product and user except for the carefully measured portion. In our house all soaps used by all the family including guests are solid soaps. Soap dishes are popped into the dishwasher every fortnight or so to avoid the water described above but I'm confident in solid soap's superiority in cleaning, moisturing and being better for our budget too. And ohh... They smell so lovely and look so pretty!


about 8 months ago

I agree that bars of soap are not appropriate for use in communal areas, due to the fact that it relies on skin contact. I think liquid soaps are appropriate for that. At home that's entirely up to you; if you live alone, then you can please yourself, but be mindful how you store soap. It should not be left festering in a pool of water. Use a soap dish and allow excess water to drain off after use. Also don't expect house guests to use your soap for handwashing. Again, it's purely based on preference (remember the days we only had bars of soap?) :)

about 9 months ago

When I talk to people about bars of soap they shudder. They would especially not want to find a bar of soap to use in a public place. I would welcome your thoughts on this - bar of soap versus liquid soap.

about 9 months ago

Really interesting and informative article. Thank you. Can I ask shy you use palm oil in the face there not a substitute?

Lush Customer Care

about 9 months ago


Hi there! We're still working on making a version of Fresh Farmacy without palm ingredients that our customers will love just as much as the old recipe :)

hello daniel, thank you for this very informative article. Could I please ask you to have your fellow inventors of body lotions to eliminate allergens from the specials / limited edition products? ( the regular ones - sleepy, dream cream etc., do not cause me to itch). And could you please bring in a similar product to Soak & float foot soak?