2020 was the year of hand-washing and hand-sanitizing. To be completely honest, I’ve never washed my hands as much as I did in 2020. Thanks, Coronavirus. The fun isn’t over though, and most of us are still washing our hands more than ever.
Hand soaps were flying off the shelves in 2020, and they and other cleaning products (like hand sanitizer) are still hard to find sometimes, so to be completely clear before we begin this post, it is safer to use ANY hand soap than to use none at all. If the soaps that I mention below are not available, or have insanely high prices at the time you’re reading this, just get what you can, and stay safe.
This post might contain affiliate links, which means I could be compensated if you decide to make a purchase. This compensation does not affect my opinion of the products, but you can read my full disclosure here.
Why Should I Choose a Natural or Organic Hand Soap?
Some hand soaps can have dangerous chemicals and additives in their ingredients. Some of these ingredients are potential carcinogens or endocrine disruptors (that means they can mess with your hormones), so it’s best to stay clear of them when possible. Companies that make the best natural hand soaps eliminate some (or all) of these chemicals, so they’re safer to use.
How to Choose the Best Natural Hand Soap – Top Ingredients to Avoid
Of course, many ingredients in hand soaps are completely harmless, so what should you be looking out for on those product labels?
The FDA does not require brands to disclose ingredients that they use to make their fragrances (that’s considered a trade secret), and many fragrances include phthalates and other harmful chemicals.
If a hand soap does not list the ingredients in their fragrances or are not marked “phthalate-free” (even if they claim to be “natural”), it’s best to stay away from them.
Some hand soaps have started adding natural fragrances to their ingredients, but there is no evidence to show that these “natural” alternatives are better than synthetics. Researchers have found harmful chemicals in both, and each can trigger allergies, headaches, and even migraines in many people.
Parabens and Other Preservatives
Preservatives are useful in hand soaps because they deter the growth of mold and bacteria and create a more shelf-stable product.
However, parabens may be harmful to our health.
Parabens tend to mimic estrogen, and research shows that they can promote the growth of breast cancer when they combine with heregulin, which is a growth-promoting substance that is naturally in breast tissue.
Avoid ingredients ending in -paraben (e.g. methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, etc.).
Surfactants keep water molecules from sticking together, which makes them more likely to bond with dirt and germs and release them from your hands when you rinse. They’re typically what makes your soap foam.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
When companies process SLES, it may become contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, which is a carcinogen. It’s possible for companies to avoid this contamination, but we can’t know for sure whether companies are taking the extra step to do so.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS or SDS)
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a healthier alternative to SLES because its processing does not contaminate it. However, it can cause skin reactions, so you should avoid this ingredient if you have sensitive skin.
Cocamidopropyl Betaine is made from coconuts, so it is usually found in “natural” products. However, it can cause allergic reactions and eye irritation, so, again, you should not use this ingredient if you have sensitive skin.
How Does Soap Clean Your Hands?
Soap is a simple combination of a base and an fatty acid, which has a polar and a non-polar end. This video has a great animation to show you exactly how it works. Basically soap creates an environment where dirt and germs are attracted to water, and therefore slide right off your skin.
The CDC recommends scrubbing your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds because that’s about how long it takes for all of the germs and microbes to come off. (We like to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” while washing our hands.)
Should I Buy Antibacterial Soap?
Studies show there is little to no difference between using regular soap and using antibacterial soap.
Both are both equally effective in getting rid of germs.
Anti-bacterial soap will not be harmful to your own health in the short-term, but it is possible that they can begin to build antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the environment.
What about Bar Soaps?
Bar soap and liquid soap are both effective when used properly. However, there are certain advantages and disadvantages of both.
Advantages of bar soaps
Bar Soap is More sustainable
Liquid soaps typically come in plastic bottles that are thrown away after each use. Bar soaps, however, are usually boxed in thin cardboard that is biodegradable and recyclable.
Bar soaps have a 25% smaller carbon footprint than liquid soaps, according to a 2009 Swiss study.
Bar soaps may help loosen dirt
The act of rubbing the bar of soap between your hands may easier remove dirt and germs.
Disadvantages of bar soaps
Bacteria can grow on bar soap
Using bar soap improperly can create an environment for bacteria to multiply. When one person washes their hands and then another person comes along, that bacteria can be transferred. This is why liquid soap is probably best for your health in public places, but at home, bar soap will suffice.
Bar soap can break
Unlike liquid soap, which you can easily use every last drop of, bar soap tends to break into small shards when it gets thin. When I was a kid, my family always kept bar soap from breaking by opening a new soap and sticking the smaller piece to the new bar. When used with water, the two bars mold together.
Let’s be honest, bar soap simply isn’t as pretty as the beautiful liquid hand soap containers that we can refill.
6 of the Best Natural Hand Soap
Best Natural Bar Soaps
This bar soap ranks at a 2 on the EWG’s skin deep database, and it may be a bit easier to find at your local grocery store. The ingredient list is very short; however, it does contain an essential oil blend, which as noted earlier, can be just as harmful as “fragrance.” It also contains palm oil, which is harmful to the environment if not sourced properly.
This soap has a mere seven ingredients. It’s made from goat milk, saponified oils (olive, coconut, hemp, and shea), lye, and oatmeal. Since it’s unscented, it’s great for sensitive skin, and the oils and goat’s milk make it incredibly moisturizing. Reviews specifically mention that it’s great for psoriasis and even acne.Purchase on Amazon
Dr. Bronner’s products are made without synthetic preservatives, detergents, and surfactants, and most ingredients are fair trade too (which is better for the planet). Their hemp baby products are unscented, which makes them great for sensitive skin, and they’re multi-use, which means you can use them on your hands, your face, and even your hair. Many people also use this product to make their own laundry detergent.Purchase on Amazon
Castile soap is multi-use, and it’s safer for the environment than many other types of soap. Dr. Bronner’s is the most well-known, and their unscented soap is perfect for those with sensitive skin (and for babies too, of course!). You can use this soap on your hands, on your face, and in your hair. The back of the bottle also lists a multitude of other ways to use it (e.g. as dish soap, as an all-purpose cleaner, and for shaving).
Everyone Soap is EWG-verified, which means the EWG has reviewed the products and verified that they do not contain ingredients from their “unacceptable” list, and they’ve been transparent on the label about ingredients used. This unscented soap is great for sensitive skin, and it can be used on your body and hair as well.
Puracy soaps are easy to find, and you can purchase half-gallon containers of it for refills (which means you’ll be creating less waste). They don’t have an unscented version, but their soaps are all made without sulfates, triclosan, parabens, phosphates, SLS, SLES, MEA, DEA, TEA, animal by-products, petrochemicals, dyes, or caustics.
Make your own hand soap
Of course, you can always make your own hand soap if you’re able. Then you can see the ingredients that are going into the soap and allow you to experiment with different recipes to find what works best for your skin. You should be careful when going the DIY route because it is possible to introduce harmful bi-products into the environment.