Frequently asked questions
These are a bunch of the questions we get. If you have any others please shoot us a note.
Questions about soap in general:
Q: What if I have allergies?
A: Some people have allergies and/or sensitivities to any of a variety of oils and/or scenting agents. If you have had problems with other skin care products in the past, you should be careful of any product you use in the future. Our soaps are not tested to be hypoallergenic, and any sensitivities would be most likely to occur with scented soaps, in particular the synthetic fragrance oils (which we don't use). If you are not sure, we recommend that you first try our unscented soap on a limited skin area (such as your arm).
Q: How does soap work?
A: The cleansing effect of soap is a chemical reaction. Soap is a fatty acid. This means that soap molecules consist of two parts linked together: an acid and an oily chain (fat). The acid part is charged and dissolves in water while the oily chain is essentially neutral and binds to oils in dirt. Effectively, the oil and water are mixing. When you wash the water away, the oils (and fatty dirt) go with it.
Q: How do natural soaps differ from commercially-produced soaps?
A: The answer can drag on, depending on what aspect of production or marketing you want to address. We'll stick to the basics. Many natural soap makers (including us) "superfat" their soap, meaning that they reduce the amount of hydroxide salt used in the reaction. This results in excess oil (fat) that is left unreacted. These oils have conditioning qualities. Also, commercial producers extract glycerin, a product of the soap making reaction, leaving the soap without this conditioning agent (glyceryn can then be resold as a major component of lotions and "transparent soaps"). Our soaps retain all their natural glycerin content. Most commercial manufacturers also use chemicals for scenting and preserving. We only use natural essential oils for scenting.
Q: Do natural soaps have a definite shelf life?
A: Yes. As explained above ("How do natural soaps differ from commercially-produced soaps?") most natural soaps contain unreacted fats. While unreacted fats add beneficial qualities to the soap, fat can spoil over time. Commercially-produced soaps typically minimize the extra fat in their soaps and include preservatives. Many natural soap makers also include a natural preservative but ultimately the oils will still go rancid. We don't use any preservative at Bryn Mawr Soap because the bars hold out well on their own. In fact, our bars become milder with age. Some shrinkage in the size of the bars should be expected as they cure, due to continued evaporation of water. We recommend that you use the bars within a eight to twelve months.
Questions about our Bryn Mawr Soap and us:
Q: What is in your soap?
A: Soap is produced by the reaction of fat with hydroxide salt. Upon reaction, the result is a fatty acid. We use only vegetable oils in our soaps, and not animal fats. The primary ingredients are palm oil, olive oil and coconut oil. We also add cocoa butter and castor oil for conditioning qualities. These oils are mixed together, melted, and combined with sodium hydroxide solution (lye) to initiate the reaction. The lye is neutralized during the course of the reaction - long before the soap is ready for market.
Finally, we add the scenting agent (except on the unscented and unscented oatmeal bars). We use essential oils and organic botanicals. We DO NOT use artificial fragrances.
Q: Is your soap biodegradable?
A: Yes!!! However, it is not hypoallergenic. Please review the ingredients shown on our Products page to verify that you do not have allergies to these products.
Q: What types of molds do you use?
A: We pour each batch into one big "brick" mold. Then we cut the brick down into the bars (each about 3.25" x 2.5" x 1") using a wire cutter. This accounts for the variation in size on the bars. We don't plan to make bars out of molds that have designs. We just don't like them. That may change someday, but for now we only offer the hand-cut bars.
Q: What color is your soap?
A: The base color is a beige/manilla color. It's the color of the oils - we don't add any coloration other than what the essential oils and botanical provide. The gardener bar is a pale green due to the kelp. Peppermint bars have flecks of peppermint leaves. Tangerine clove and oatmeal tangerine are slightly more orange due to the bright orange of the tangerine essential oil.
Q: What makes your soap different from other natural soaps?
A: From what we can tell, natural soaps tend to vary by ingredients. Every soap maker has his/her own recipes, and most use a combination of oils for their various qualities (lather, hardness, conditioning, etc.). Some soap makers emphasize their scenting or packaging, or maybe offer lots of accessories. We don't because we want to keep the cost down to encourage more people to use natural soap on a regular basis. See our mission statement for more on this.
Q: Why don't you offer other scents?
A: We're always open to new scent ideas, but choose them carefully. We restrict our options to natural essential oils (NOT artificial fragrance oils, as used by many soap makers), and furthermore we...
- avoid plants that are in danger of deforestation or extinction.
- do not use highly expensive essential and precious oils, such as sandalwood, verbena, frankincense, myrrh. This allows us to keep our prices reasonable.
- do not use essential oils that are known skin irritants.
- limit our options in order to keep production efficient and keep costs under control.
If you have a scent idea, you are welcome to tell us all about it.
Q: Is Bryn Mawr Soap antibacterial?
A: No. Handmade soaps in general are not antibacterial. It's our opinion that antibacterial soaps in general are a marketing gimmick. The effectiveness of antibacterial soap has been researched and found to show no real from non-antibacterial soaps, except for situations like surgical prep washing. Our soap is fine for surgeons, but maybe not the best choice during surgery.
Q: Why the name?
A: Bryn Mawr (pronounced "brin-mar") is the name of the neighborhood we live in, on the western edge of Minneapolis. It's a great neighborhood, so the name is sort of a tribute to our community. There are other Bryn Mawr communities in the United States - we're told that they're all named for a farm in Wales and it translates to "high hill." That makes sense - we have some nice hills near us.
Q: What is your logo?
A: It's Karen's crude drawing of a purple coneflower (echinacea). We don't use echinacea in the soap - we just like the flower because it is native to this area (at least some variations are) and it's a pretty plant. And it exemplifies the limits of Karen's artistic talents.