If you know me well, you would be able to tell what season of the year it is by what Dr. Bronner’s soaps are in my shower.
In the summer you’ll see Citrus and Peppermint Castile Liquid Soap, followed in the fall by the Almond Liquid Castile and the Rose Castile Bar Soap, the Lemongrass Lime Organic Sugar Soap and Organic Shaving Soap in the winter, and back to the Liquid Almond and Citrus in the spring.
I didn’t start this cycle intentionally, but over the years, I’ve noticed the pattern to my preferences, and realized there’s a rationale. As my skin reacts to the changes in temperature and humidity throughout the year, I progress through the relative “moisturizingness” of the various soaps.
During the hottest of the humid dog days of summer, I need the cooling and drying of the Peppermint Pure-Castile Liquid Soap. When humidity falls to single digits and the wind whips my skin in late fall and winter, I ultimately land on the Organic Shaving Soap for its most intense hydration. I wash with it from head to toe.
Let’s break it down:
Castile Liquid Soap
Simple, classic and incredibly versatile. If I had to choose only one soap for cleaning it all – from myself to dog to my dishes – that’s the Castile Liquid Soap. It is made with organic vegetable oils, including coconut, olive and palm kernel oils. These uncomplicated and natural ingredients make it ideal for all, including babies and people with sensitive skin.
Of all the scents in the Dr. Bronner’s soaps, those in the Castile Liquid Soaps are the most vivid to me. Perhaps they also tug from my childhood the singular scent of my grandfather’s house in which all the Castile Soap scents intermingled. There’s nothing like the Peppermint pick-me-up or the soothing yet unexpectedly spicy Lavender, but most often I need that mellow Almond or the brightening Citrus. Then there’s the Tea Tree with all its therapeutic, soothing powers for troubled skin, which always will have a home near my sink.
Castile Liquid Soap is exceptionally clean rinsing. It’s few ingredients keep it simple and are especially suited for easily irritated skin. However, as the seasons turn and my skin needs a little more moisture, I kick it up a notch.
Castile Bar Soap
The Castile Bar Soap is not just the liquid dehydrated and wrapped in a bar. Though mostly the same, a few changes give the bar its hardness plus a slight increase in moisture. For starters, palm oil in the bar replaces the palm kernel oil in the liquid to produce a hard soap that doesn’t get soggy in water. Palm oil contains stearic acid, which some people find to be less drying than the lauric acid found in coconut oils. Also, the addition of sodium chloride (aka “table salt”) further hardens the bar and matches the natural salinity of our skin. Read more in my post, Liquid vs. Bar.
But what really nudges the bar soap up on the moisturizingness scale is a process called super-fatting. While that perhaps doesn’t sound great for your diet, it’s a pretty great thing for your skin. In Castile Liquid Soap, the hemp seed and jojoba oils are saponified, i.e. turned into soap, along with the coconut and olive oils. In the Castile Bar soap, the hemp seed and jojoba oils are added after the saponification process. This means they remain as oils in the bar instead of being turned into soap, able to nourish our skin in their original form.
With winter coming, though, I’m going to need a little bit more.
Organic Sugar Soap
The Organic Sugar Soap was designed to fulfill two purposes: to work in a pump (the Castile Soap doesn’t) and to bring more moisture and softness to the skin. It starts with a base of the Unscented Castile Liquid Soap. Organic white grape juice replaces the water content and partners with organic sucrose (sugar) as natural humectants. Humectants bond with water molecules to draw moisture into the skin and hydrate it.
Then there’s the Organic Shikakai powder, which gives the Sugar Soap its distinctive caramel color. Shikakai, which is a natural saponin (i.e. soap), is long known for its ability to condition and nourish skin and hair as it cleans. It gently washes away dirt and grime while leaving the skin’s natural oils in place. (Shikakai’s amazing qualities are highlighted in my post, Benefits of Shikakai Powder for Hair and Body.)
Though the pH of the Castile Soap is already at a mild level of 9.3 ± 0.6, the Shikakai powder lowers Sugar Soap’s pH even further to 8.5 ± 0.5. This makes it extra gentle on dry skin, whether we’re talking face, hands, hair, or body.
But sometimes even that isn’t enough.
Organic Shaving Soap
Don’t let the word “shaving” mislead you. The Organic Shaving Soap is not your dad’s shaving cream. It is a soap. The ingredients are nearly identical to the Organic Sugar Soap, but more concentrated with the Shikakai powder and sugar. Not only do these make the Organic Shaving Soap thicker, but they provide the maximum smoothness and nourishment to skin and hair. This is the most moisturizing soap of the bunch.
When the indoor heaters, low humidity, and general cold suck every last drop of moisture from my skin, I use the Organic Shaving Soap head to toe. It soothes and moisturizes my parched, itchy skin, and restores some life to my dry winter hair. I didn’t figure this out on my own. It was my sister-in-law, Kris, who first mentioned it, and after my initial reaction of, “You wash your hair with shaving soap?!” I realized she was absolutely right! Don’t let that name “Shaving Soap” deter you from washing everywhere with this super soap.
How Essential Oils Impact Moisturizing
The essential oils used to scent Dr. Bronner’s soaps are part of what make the soaps so very unique. However, essential oils are not merely pleasant. They each have properties and benefits. And as counterintuitive as it may sound, some oils are more drying than others.
Mildest of all is the Unscented Castile Soap, produced by my grandfather at the special request of the UCLA Medical Center’s maternity ward when they requested a simple, pure, unscented Castile Soap. It contains no essential oils and double the amount of olive oil in ratio as the other scents. This makes it extra gentle for skin. If you have sensitive or very dry skin – or want to add your own essential oil blend – this is for you.
Almond and Rose come next, gentle on sensitive or dry skin. These two scents are only available in the Castile Soaps. Almond gets a lot of use in our house. Of the Organic Sugar Soaps, I lean towards the milder Lemongrass Lime scent. It seems I’m fond of the color green.
Citrus, Lavender and Tea Tree are great for otherwise normal skin. Tea tree essential oil is accumulating an abudnance of research regarding balancing out combination skin and helping to combat bacteria, fungal infections, and acne.
More Drying Scents:
Peppermint and Eucalyptus – Both of these essential oils contain naturally occurring menthol and eucalyptol, respectively, which means they are great for waking you up in the morning as well as for clearing congestion. Eucalyptus used to be our recommendation to accompany acne treatments before my brother developed the Tea Tree. Peppermint in particular is cooling on a hot day or after working up a sweat because menthol activates the same receptors in our skin that sense cold. However, menthol can increase transepidermal water loss, and so are not best for sensitive or dry skin.
If, despite your best efforts, dry and chapped skin gets you, check out my post on Winter Skin Remedies for tips on quick relief and healing.
While all the soaps have their special place in my heart and home, they meet different needs. I hope this breakdown provides direction for which might work best for you and when. I’d love to hear your stories of when you reach for the different types.