Reviewing Store-Bought Soap Labels

There are a lot of soap options out there when you're shopping. Our CEO and founder, Anne-Marie, has been making soap for more than 20 years. In the video below, she walks you through information on soap, soap ingredients, and soap labels. 


Beauty bar vs soap

A lot of major brands have verbaige on their label or packaging like "beauty bar," or "cleansing bar." This is because there are regulations through the FDA on what can be labeled soap and what can't.

To be soap, the product must:

  • Be made by combining lye and oils.
  • Not contain other cleansers.
  • Only be marketed as a cleansing soap.

Beauty bars and cleansing bars contain other cleansing agents, like surfactants, that help clean your skin. These are usually mild surfactants that are gentle to skin. Some examples include sodium laroyl isethionate, a surfactant derived from coconuts, and sodium cocoyl isethionate. These types of products often do not include oils or lye at all.

Contrasted with a soap bar, in this case a bar of Dr. Bronner's soap, you can easily see the difference. The soap label shows a variety of oils, like coconut and oil, with sodium hydroxide. This bar can legally label itself as soap!

Reviewing Store-bought Soap | Bramble Berry
This bar of Dr. Bronner's can call itself soap, beccause it's made with sodium hydroxide and oils.

You may not see sodium hydroxide lye listed on soap labels. Some manufacturers prefer to label the ingredients as saponified oils, which are the oils after the lye has been added to them. Sodium olivate for example is saponified olive oil. Don't worry, they're still soap.


Antibacterial soap

Products that are labeled as antibacterial soap or deodorant soap usually contain an antibacterial agent, such as tricloclorbean. While it may sound great to have antibacterial agents, the FDA states that there's no scientific evidence that antibacterial soap is more effective at preventing disease.



We love scented soap! If you see "fragrance," "perfume," or "parfume" on the label, that soap contains a fragrance oil.

Fragrance oils are made up of hundreds of aroma chemicals, which can be artificial or natural. The ingredients used to make these fragrance oils fall under Trade Secret law, so manufacturers don't have to reveal the ingredients on the label. Here's some more information about trade secrets. Some of the chemicals used to make fragrance oils can have long, scary names, but fragrance is regulated by a government body with rules regarding safety and testing. To learn more, check out

If you prefer an unscented soap, check the label to make sure fragrance isn't listed in the ingredients. If you prefer an essential oil, these don't fall under trade secrets, and will be listed on the label. 

Reviewing Store-bought Soap | Bramble Berry
This bar clearly states that it is fragrance-free. For some consumers, that is a selling point.


Specialty ingredients

Some soaps contain specialty ingredients, like beneficial oils and extracts. You'll see these called out on the label. In order to see how much of these ingredients is in these bars, check the label. The ingredients are listed on the label are from highest percentage in the bar to lowest. Typically, these specialty ingredients appear lower on the ingredients list because very little of them are used in the bar. So the higher they are in the list they are, the better.


Soap vs. cosmetics vs. drugs

Brands of soap will call out characteristics of the bar to tell you why you should buy it. Things like moisturizing, calming, smoothing, and hydrating are common ones. Once these claims are made, the regulatory category of this bar changes. Because these bars are no longer just cleansing but also beautifying, they are regulated as a cosmetic.

Bars that claim to treat health problems, such as acne, are regulated as drugs. Drugs must be approved by the FDA, and while large manufacturers can afford this process, smaller makers often can't. If a bar of soap from a small maker claims to treat acne, it has probably not gone through that approval process. We have an article about Drug vs. Cosmetic Claims if you'd like to learn more! You can also check out the website.

These are the most important things to know about buying soap and reading soap labels. This information is important, because it allows you to make informed choices as a consumer, and we believe in your right to choose. When you can, we recommend checking out soap from makers and small businesses on Etsy or at markets. These bars are the most likely to have the best quality ingredients. The best way to make sure you have exactly the soap you want is by making your own! We have lots of wonderful soap making kits to help you get started.

Crafting Kits