What IS soap and what does it do?
These are uncertain times. What we do know is that the role of good old fashioned soap is more important than ever when it comes to our health. But what IS soap and how exactly does it work? First, a little digression. I recently read Jo Baker’s novel, Longbourn. It’s a retelling of Jane's Austen's, Pride and Prejudice, from the perspective of the servants of the affluent Bennett family. The novel takes place in rural England during the Victorian era, perhaps not a period recognized for the highest standards of personal hygiene and yet, one of the most compelling parts was the description of soapmaking:
...Sarah measured the lye into the water with an old cracked cup.
She lit the fire beneath the copper, and set the fat to melt. The
porkiness of it bubbled off a little bit, or she just got used to it,
for it did not seem to smell quite so like Sunday dinner after a while.
She poured out the liquid fat, then lifted down a bunch of lavender,
and tucked it into her apron pocket... She stripped the pale dried
lavender, and dropped the buds into the curdling porridge. The
soap was poured into the mould, the mould wrapped around with
cloths, and the bundle hidden in the cupboard to continue cooking
on its own.
Today, most natural soaps are NOT made from animal fat but rather plant-based oils and butters such as olive oil, coconut oil, or shea butter, each of which possesses their own properties ideal for skincare. The actual soap making process as described in Baker’s novel, however, is very much the same. Soap is created when fat and lye water are combined and saponify. In fact, it’s the oil, (or fat) in the soap that helps lift dirt, bacteria, grease, and grime off your skin through the process of washing with water.
At this current time, when handwashing and hygiene are critical to health and safety, three little birds' natural soaps are an excellent choice to clean skin while restoring moisture. We even make lavender soap like the servant heroine in Longbourn (that is, without the pork fat)!