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Coupon Abbreviations
  • SC = Store Coupon
  • MC = Manufacturer Coupon
  • SS = Smart Source
  • RP = Red Plum
  • PG = Proctor and Gamble
Coupon Terms
  • WYB = When You Buy
  • B1G1 = Buy One Get One Free
  • .75/1 = 75 cents off one item
  • .75/3 = 75 cents off three items
  • EXP = Expiration Date

Going Nuts? I can help you understand coupon terms and abbreviations

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The following is part of an Organic Journey Guest Post Series written by Amy, a long time helper behind the scenes of Southern Savers.

Grab your loofah; it’s soap week! I used to love shopping at the bath product store. (I say “used to” because I stopped a couple years ago. Not so much out of health concerns, but because I got a little freaked out by how many huge bottles of plastic I was throwing away. We switched to good ol’ bar soap.) Today, I’m taking a closer look at the ingredients of soaps and shower gels…

What is soap?

In its most basic form, soap is some kind of fat mixed with some kind of alkali. A Babylonian clay tablet dating back to 2200 B.C. actually contains a recipe for soap: water, alkali (likely ashes), and cassia oil. A basic soap recipe today involves lye, water, and oil. Pretty similar. When you use soap, it emulsifies dirt and oils, washing them away when you rinse.

Of course, if you read the label on the back of your shower gel, I bet you will find a LOT more ingredients. Those extra chemicals are usually added for many different, well-meaning reasons. They affect the look of the product, the texture, the smell, how much lather it makes, how clean it rinses, the shelf life, etc. Millions of dollars are spent in research and development to create soaps and shower gels that people will want to buy, and I’ve bought a lot of them. I kind of love bath products.

As I started researching conventional vs. organic soaps, I began my search with the FDA. When it comes to cosmetics and personal care items, the FDA (The U.S. Food and Drug Administration: “Protecting and Promoting Your Health”, according to their website) states that “cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to FDA premarket approval authority, with the exception of color additives.” Basically, a brand can create whatever concoction it wants, using any legal chemicals it wants. Interesting. So, what are all these chemicals and should I be concerned about using them on my skin?

The Chemicals

We could spend pages and pages talking about all the different chemicals found in soaps. We could, but we won’t. :) Instead, I’m going to focus on a few of the more common chemicals that you may want to consider limiting or omitting from your skin care.

  1. Parabens – used as preservatives in cosmetics and soaps, parabens (methylparaben, ethylparaben, etc.) are absorbed by the skin, enter the bloodstream, and are (supposedly) excreted. However, researchers are finding parabens in breast tumors, suggesting that the body isn’t excreting all these chemicals after all. In addition, parabens have been shown to genetically alter healthy breast tissue. The CDC states that “human health effects from parabens at low environmental doses or at biomonitored levels from low environmental exposures are unknown.” The concern over parabens is low exposure over long periods of time…like that little bit in your soap, lotion, or makeup. On your skin. Everyday. For years.

  2. Sodium Lauryl (Laureth) Sulfate (SLS, SLES) –  is a surfactant to help soap lather up more. I love a good lather. The bummer? When SLS is made, it’s contaminated with 1, 4 dioxane, a known carcinogen. A loophole exists, allowing products to omit labeling 1, 4 dioxane as an ingredient, because it’s not intentionally added. One encounter with 1, 4 dioxane won’t do you in, but, as with parabens, repeated exposure over time adds up to a lot of dioxane hanging out in your body, accumulating over time.

  3. Phthalates – are plasticizers, but in soaps, they help the product hold color and scents over time. I like a pretty, scented soap as much as anyone but not enough to risk damage to myself or kids. Turns out there is a ton of research linking phthalate exposure with a wide range of developmental and fertility complications. We’re talking physical defects in genitalia, male infertility, and miscarriage. I’d like my pregnant friends to take special notice of phthalates in your personal care products and plasticware. It’s one of the big nasties out there. Since phthalates are used to stabilize scents, they are often added to “fragrance” before ever reaching the product. For that reason, phthalates can be omitted from labeling, legally. If you are making an effort to avoid phthalates, keep “fragrance” out of your products as well. [Did you know that “fragrance” may actually contain thousands of different chemicals?]

Ready to clean up your soap’s ingredient list?

What does it take for a soap to be considered organic? As I started looking for soaps with “cleaner” ingredients, I noticed some differences in nomenclature. Here’s a quick run-down of the different labeling you’ll see as you shop around:

-100% Organic – means that 100% of all the ingredients are certified organic, excluding water and salt.

-Organic – means that at least 95% of the ingredients used were certified organic. Water and salt are excluded from these totals as well.

-Made with Organic _____ – means that 70% of the ingredients used were certified organic. They can advertise upto three organic ingredients on the label.

How About “All Natural” Soap?

I wish I could tell you that “all natural” soap is made from 100% natural ingredients, as the name would suggest, but there’s no guarantee. “Natural” is not regulated by the FDA, and it’s up to the consumer to decide whether the ingredients are something you want to use or not. Don’t get me wrong, an “all natural” soap may be a great choice! Just check the label first and know what you’re buying.

Let’s Shop

Being a recovering bath product junkie, I was super happy to see so many choices with cleaner ingredients lists. Here are a few products I’ve tried myself. Please feel free to share any more products with us; I love finding new options!

Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap: I’ve seen this in the grocery stores, Target, Whole Foods, and online. You’ll pay about $4-5 for a 5 ounce bar, and it’s available in several different scents or unscented. The ingredients list is squeaky clean, featuring organic oils and no funky chemicals. One bar will last a very, very long time, and I think it’s a pretty great bargain.

California Baby: I’ve seen this brand at Target for years. I usually look at the price tag, wince, and then move on to something else. I know I’m not the only one, right? Well, I bought a bottle of the Shampoo and Bodywash to try out with the kids. This product is free of sulfates, fragrance, phthalates, and parabens. It also smells wonderful, works beautifully, and lasts FOREVER. I was shocked by how little product I needed to use. A little goes a long way. For that reason, I recommend it. The initial investment is on the steep side ($10-12 for 8.5 ounces), but I got great mileage out of the bottle…or I would have if the kids hadn’t decided to dump the half the bottle in the tub for a bubble bath.

Avalon Organics – I first tried this product in the showers at the local yoga studio, and I’ve bought it a couple times since. It’s clean of the big, bad chemicals (no sulfates, parabens, fragrance, phthalates, etc.) and has 70% organic ingredients. It works well, and is available in large sizes to make it more affordable per ounce (about $21 for 32 ounces). [If you want to try this one out, there is a fabulous $4 off coupon in this month’s Whole Foods booklet.]

Buy Local – a trip to a local farmer’s market practically guarantees an encounter with a soap maker. This past weekend, I enjoyed a girls’ day out to Serenbe- a planned, sustainable community just outside of Atlanta. We strolled around the farmer’s market, and I met Deb, a small-batch soap maker. I bought a fantastic bar soap made with several different oils, and my skin is loving it. When buying a homemade soap, first ask if they use fragrance. Most will use essential oils for scent, but it’s important to ask, just in case. :)

The Skin

I had planned on discussing a bit of the anatomy of skin and how it absorbs everything, but it started sounding too much like a biology lecture, so I’m trimming it down…a lot. [You’re welcome.] The skin is a powerhouse organ- absorbing, expelling, protecting, regenerating, sensing all day long. What you put on your skin can be absorbed, and the absorption varies based on your skin’s health, the chemical type, molecule size, and many other factors. When you consume toxins through your food, your body has some natural defenses (enzymes) that can help break some of them down. Your skin doesn’t. If a chemical is absorbed through the skin, it goes straight to your bloodstream. For that reason, I’m starting to hold my bath and body products to a higher standard.

Have you checked you soap’s ingredient list? What do you think about your soap and shower gel?

Next week…we’re going to talk about shampoos! We’ve already discussed a lot of the questionable chemicals, so we get to focus on finding a quality product with a clean label. I’m also going to (reluctantly) try some homemade hair care options. Wish me luck!

    • Soberkitty

      I’ll tell ya I’m a good old fashioned American capitalist consumer! I’m gonna die from something might as well smell good doing it! Lol. I buy whatever is cheap or free!

      • good laugh

        U r funny.

    • lisa smith

      I love your reports. As someone who suffers from using products with the ingredients you list, I have become serious about reading labels. I am surprised at the products that lead you to believe they are organic but are not. Misleadng labels is a whole different post. I love Alba products and Burts Bees. Although they may not be 100 % free, they serve me well. I love Say Yes to the ******* products but they cause me to have serous reactions. I should have known that anything that smelled that good would be a problem for me. I use Amazon.com and look for groupon type deals to get my products at a discount. The expense is worth my pain free life.

      • Mariana

        Lisa- I used to love the Say Yes To ___ products too! Then I started reading the labels and felt a little deceived. Not much better than the bargain stuff, just better packaging and marketing. Bummer, huh?

    • lisa smith

      I would like to add that plain baking soda works great for washing my hair. After spending top dollar for salon products I was dumbfounded on how soft and beautiful my hair is after using a fifty cent box of Arm & Hammer.

      • Mariana

        Lisa, this is encouraging! I’ve been hearing about the baking soda solution and I’ve been nervous to try it. I’ll have to give it a try tonight.

    • Sheila Floyd Nichols

      thank you for the info!!!! cant wait for the shampoo info!

    • April

      I truly enjoy these posts. Thank you!

    • Betty Cowart

      I checked and you can purchase all three products online for less. If you buy the 8 pack of Dr. Bronner’s on Amazon, the price drops to $3.93 per bar. Vitacost has California Baby for $17.99 for 17.5 oz. Vitacost also has Avalon Organics for $13.29 for 32 oz. You can get free shipping on Amazon (if you spend $25) and Vitacost (if you spend $49; however, the threshold drops to $25 for California Baby products). If anyone finds them cheaper elsewhere, I’d love to know. Thanks for your incredibly helpful research, Amy!

      • Toni

        And when you shop on Vitacost, go through Ebates. I watch Vitacost e-mails for sales and watch Ebates for double cash back, and then I stock up.
        Dr. Woods Castille Soap, with or without shea butter, is around $8 regular price for a 32-oz. bottle of Dr. Woods from Vitacost. Much cheaper per oz. than Dr. Bronners, but the two brands are not exactly the same. Buy both and compare if you like. I like to have the lavender on hand for most uses, but also the peppermint, the baby mild, and the black soap. Black soap is a great help in clearing blemishes from your skin.
        While the liquid castile soaps are my favorites, I also buy Kirk’s castile bar soap sold at Vitacost and at Publix. I use the Kirk’s Castille bar whenever I want something that is a little bit drying and strips body oils better. Kirk’s Castille has been on sale costing 80 cents a bar after Ebates cash back. Comparison shop: often I have found the single bars to be cheaper per bar than the multipacks.

        • Cynthia

          My hubby loves, loves the smell of Dr Woods black soap with Shea Butter! I get it from Vitacost thru ebates, too. :)

      • Toni

        And when you shop on Vitacost, go through Ebates. I watch Vitacost e-mails for sales and watch Ebates for double cash back, and then I stock up.
        Dr. Woods Castille Soap, with or without shea butter, is around $8 regular price for a 32-oz. bottle of Dr. Woods from Vitacost. Much cheaper per oz. than Dr. Bronners, but the two brands are not exactly the same. Buy both and compare if you like. I like to have the lavender on hand for most uses, but also the peppermint, the baby mild, and the black soap. Black soap is a great help in clearing blemishes from your skin.
        While the liquid castile soaps are my favorites, I also buy Kirk’s castile bar soap sold at Vitacost and at Publix. I use the Kirk’s Castille bar whenever I want something that is a little bit drying and strips body oils better. Kirk’s Castille has been on sale costing 80 cents a bar after Ebates cash back. Comparison shop: often I have found the single bars to be cheaper per bar than the multipacks.

      • Mariana

        Thanks for the Vitacost tip! I hadn’t tried them before!

    • I LOVE California Baby. It works so well like you said and only takes a little. I haven’t investigated Burt’s Bees, but that is another that works well and doesn’t take much.

    • I LOVE California Baby. It works so well like you said and only takes a little. I haven’t investigated Burt’s Bees, but that is another that works well and doesn’t take much.

    • Erin

      Love all your posts. I love the Kiss My Face shampoo and right now the Nature’s Gate Henna shampoo is my favorite! Love it so much!! I just bought some Avalon Organics shampoo but haven’t tried it yet. My husband LOVES the Dr. Bronner’s peppermint oil bar soap. I like the Kiss My Face pure olive oil soap. We got rid of all toxic chemicals in our food and body care products and we feel so much better (inside and out). Keep up these posts! Oh! And the brand called Ology (sold at Walgreens) is great. My kids use the baby shampoo and body wash (retails for $4.99 so great price!).

    • Erin

      Love all your posts. I love the Kiss My Face shampoo and right now the Nature’s Gate Henna shampoo is my favorite! Love it so much!! I just bought some Avalon Organics shampoo but haven’t tried it yet. My husband LOVES the Dr. Bronner’s peppermint oil bar soap. I like the Kiss My Face pure olive oil soap. We got rid of all toxic chemicals in our food and body care products and we feel so much better (inside and out). Keep up these posts! Oh! And the brand called Ology (sold at Walgreens) is great. My kids use the baby shampoo and body wash (retails for $4.99 so great price!).

    • katkoupon

      Thank you, really enjoying your posts! My husband and I both like Kiss My Face (Olive or Olive & Aloe) bar soap as well. I buy the huge 8 oz multi-pack bars through Vitacost ($2.50-$3 per bar, depending on sale/coupons), and they last quite a while. Our shower filter and non-oil-stripping soaps help keep our skin looking better than ever. Neither of us use shampoo anymore. I looked up the “No Poo” method, and after a few months of adjustment, my scalp no longer gets oily. I keep a plastic kitchen squeeze bottle with the cap in my shower of 1 TB baking soda to 1 cup filtered water, or sometimes I use a couple drops of Dr Bronner’s liquid peppermint soap, still figuring out what works best, and both seem to work for me. I only need to wash my hair once every 2-3 weeks. I rinse with plain water when needed in between. Huge change from a year ago when I would get embarrassingly greasy after 2 days without a scrubbing from commercial shampoos. For conditioner, which I find I need less and less for even my long hair, I use a similar recipe: 1 TB Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar to 1 cup filtered water. I also keep this bottle in my shower, as the rinse can be left in or rinsed out.

      We find that the more naturally we live, the more we CAN live naturally. We’ve greatly cleaned up our diets, household and personal care products in the last 2 years. We feel so much better, overall better health, and we just don’t stink as much either, lol! We are still finding what works for us, but we are tweaking our homemade recipes for toothpaste, laundry detergents, everything we can, a little at a time. And making these things homemade saves a lot of money as well. Thank you again for helping us become more aware, it is greatly appreciated!

      • Alison_V

        i would love to know how you make your own toothpaste!

        • katkoupon

          This was my first attempt, so it needs a little tweaking, but it gets the job done: 2 TB baking soda, 3 TB coconut oil, 30 drops oil blend, mash with a fork til well blended, store in a small glad container. The Coconut Mama has a recipe I’d like to try next, except I’ll try without the stevia.

          • Alison_V

            Thanks!

    • asali

      I have been trying to avoid Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, but I’ve noticed some of the organic brands will say “sodium lauryl sulfate-free” but will have sodium laureth sulfate. Another I saw said “sulfate free” but had sodium cocoyl glutamate. Are these related? Any of them safe? Tom’s of Maine was one of these, I think.

      • Alison_V

        i know that only one of Tom’s toothpastes says “SLS free”. That is the one we switched to. you can even google it with that term to find it. i don’t know about the other chemical name.

        • Cynthia

          Tom’s still has fluoride, the last time I checked.

    • Alison_V

      We love ECOSTORE USA! nobody seems to know about them. They have safe soaps, hair care, pet care, and household cleaning products. Once a year they have a 50% off sale! you get a bar of soap for under a $1 each! i’m going to try grating a bar to see how it works in our homeade laundry detergent,

    • Leah

      Great info! Thanks!

      I’m working on switching our products over one at a time. I use Avalon Organics face cleanser now and California Baby body wash/shampoo for my son (and it really does last a super long time!) He has eczema and it rarely flares up now that we’re using CA Baby.

      I haven’t switched hair products yet…my latest switch has been deodorant. I am now using this amazing product called Primal Pit Paste! I cannot believe how well it works. I live in Florida and our summers are brutal. This stuff keeps me dry all day and I don’t stink at night either. Love it! Hope you’ll look into it when you do a report on deodorant!!

      My next trip to Chamberlains or Whole Foods, I will pick out a shampoo to try! I’m using Organix now, which is at least free of sulfates and parabens, but I don’t think it’s the best I can do. Baby steps, though! Getting there.

    • dawn

      Trader joes has 32 oz Dr Bronners for $10 …peppermint only