Thursday, January 29, 2015

Animal Products in Soap: Fair Game, or Super Lame?

Let me get this out of the way.  I'm not vegan.  Or vegetarian.  In fact, I'm gnawing on a turkey leg while I type this.  Okay, I'm not, but you get the idea.  While I immensely enjoy eating meat (to a fault), the vast majority of my soaps are vegan or vegetarian. I make the distinction clearly in my online product descriptions and in the ingredient listing on the labels.  In fact, the only animal products that I use in soap making are honey, and occasionally, beeswax or milk.  I felt like I needed to examine the duality of not being opposed to (responsible) animal products, but having an aversion to using them in my soaps.

Some soap makers swear by animal fats like lard, beef tallow, and even bacon grease in their soap. The times that I've experimented with animal fats in my soap, they make an excellent bar of soap!  I get a nice hard, white bar that doesn't smell greasy or funky when cured.  Still, I find that customers seem a little bit put off by the idea of animal fats in soap.  Could it be because of the connotation that the "experts" have espoused over the years that eating animal fats is bad for us?

There's a huge segment of the population that is very concerned with animal cruelty, and rightly so. However, as another blogger pointed out, animals generally are killed for meat, not for their fat.  By that estimation, using animal fat for soap seems to reduce the waste produced by the meat industry, not perpetuate it.  Even plant-based sources of fats aren't off the hook in terms of animal cruelty controversy. Palm oil is a hotly debated ingredient in the soap making world, as its cultivation is credited with destroying rainforest land and orangutan habitats.  (For the record, I only purchase palm oil from suppliers who are participants in the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an organization aimed at promoting environmentally sustainable palm oil production.)

Although almost all of my soaps are vegan, I can't say that I really have a moral concern with animal products in soap (so long as they're procured responsibly).  I do however, find that I enjoy working with plant-based oils more, and that my customers seem to prefer them.  What are your thoughts on animal products in soap?  Are you just looking for the best bar of soap possible, regardless of ingredients? Do animal fats in soap go against your values, or just gross you out?  Does it matter one way or the other?  Please comment below!