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By Leslie Ball


A growing awareness of the unnecessary cruelties many domesticated animals endure on their way to becoming packaged supermarket products has caused a surge of interest in following vegetarian principles. Although soap is not food, is usually contains fats rendered from animals, in addition to some form of lye. Organic vegan soap contains no animal byproducts, and safety testing does not involve living creatures.

Animal fat has traditionally been a primary ingredient in many widely-used personal care formulas. Unless contradicted by the label, there are also additional chemicals commonly incorporated to enhance both smell and appearance, as well as to improve lathering. Some products also contain residual traces of hormones and antibiotics originally placed in feed to maximize growth prior to slaughter.

Beef fat and coconut oil are the two most common ingredient in most commercial brands, in combination with mixtures derived from other fat sources commonly including palm oils. While those ingredients are abundant, soap can be made from any type of fat in combination with ash or alkali. Animal fat is not really needed, but is widely used because of its easy availability and low cost.

Products advertised as organically produced may not qualify as truly vegan. Natural ingredients such as lanolin, beeswax, honey, royal jelly, fish, emu, and mink oil, and others are made by or from creatures that may have enjoyed life on a humane, sustainable farm, with no additional pesticide use or chemical growth additives. They are still organic, but are not considered vegetarian.

Rather than combing stores or websites to find products not containing any trace of beef tallow or lard, many people have begun to make their own personal soaps. There are many recipes available online, and any type of vegetable fat will work, although some are preferable to others. Cocoa butter is a popular ingredient with a reputation as an excellent moisturizer. When firm bars are needed, coconut oils hold their shape while producing abundant lather.

Olive oil is the prime ingredient in making the mild variety widely known as Castile, which generally produces fewer allergic reactions or skin irritations. Shea butter comes from an African tree, is is touted for its moisture-retaining properties, and is also manufactured for use as a product by itself. Sweet almond oil adds a feeling of lightness, and conditions the skin. Many oils are blended for use as more effective combinations.

Palm oils are a vegetarian product by definition, but are increasingly produced on massive plantations in South Asian nations. They displace natural vegetation, destroy the irreplaceable habitats of many endangered species, and generate a host of environmental problems common to deforested regions. Small amounts are produced using sound, sustainable practices, and the label usually states that fact.

Organic does not mean vegan, and the avoidance of animal products does not necessary make a brand superior. People interested in opting out of animal cruelty by buying, using and eating vegan products must become aware of the real meaning behind labeling. Simply calling a product natural does not guarantee that it is made humanely, or does not contain unnecessary chemicals.




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