Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps: Why You Shouldn't Judge A Cleanser By Its Bizarro Label

I've been using this Castile soap for 15 years because it’s effective but gentle, versatile, and is an incredible value.
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I've been using this Castile soap for 15 years because it’s effective but gentle, versatile, and is an incredible value.

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap isn’t just soap. It’s a religion.

I’m not talking about the two-page rant on the label, written by an eccentric blind man who both escaped from both the Holocaust and an mental institution (three times). While the label--collection of Jewish and Christian scriptures, mixed intermittently with circular, manic language--is utterly fascinating, it doesn’t really scratch the surface of either the soap of the man behind it.

ALL ONE!

ALL ONE!

Dr. Bronner himself is interesting enough on his own, as proven by a completely bonkers documentary about him, but his soap is really what’s made him famous. Emanuel Bronner began making his soaps by hand after emigrating here from Germany, where he learned the trade from his father. And it’s this old-school German recipe that has become a cult classic.

Castile soap is different than most soaps available now in that it’s made with lye and vegetable oils. It’s named for the Castile region in Spain, where the soap was originally made with olive oil. It’s known for its gentle cleansing and emollient qualities, and these days Castile soap is made with hemp, coconut, and almond as well as olive oils.

Most commercially available soaps, cosmetic and otherwise, are made with sulfates. Sulfates are surfactants derived from natural sources such as palm oil, but unlike Castile soap, they have been refined down with the addition of alcohols or acids, changing the charge of the molecules, so that they act like a magnet to dirt and oils. This doesn’t make them evil, just REALLY effective at stripping away organic compounds, including the mantle on your face, which, if you’re like me, you intend to keep. 

So why are they included in so many products we use on skin? It’s that old saying: Fast, Cheap or Good--pick two. It’s cheap and fast, so it’s been the most popular way to make soap since WWII.

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I’ve been using Dr. Bronner’s for about 15 years. Though I no longer use it as toothpaste (because gross), the following the soap enjoys isn’t without merit: it’s effective but gentle, versatile, and is an incredible value considering the quality of their craft and ingredients. A little goes a long way, and I use it for just about everything else in my house, from cleaning the fridge, to washing my knickers, face or makeup brushes!

The secret to the Castile soap is the use of vegetable oils as a main ingredient. Dr. Bronner’s is basically oil, lye and essential oils. Consider the ingredient list of all of your household cleaners, body washes and hand soaps, and be impressed. 

Dr. Bronner’s uses ethically sourced, fair-trade, organic oils, has never tested on animals, and is still handmade after 67 years. Maybe I drank the Kool-Aid, but either way, it’s so versatile and customizable, I wanted to share a few of my favourite recipes using it.

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Face wash: I generally don’t wash my face with soap--instead I stick to oil cleansing--but traveling, I seem to get extra-grubby, especially being on a plane or in a city, so I’ll break out the Bronner’s. I use the baby formula, adding one drop of each clary sage, tea tree, and mint oil to the small two-ounce bottle. It keeps my face clear without drying it out, and it’s super-portable!

Makeup brush cleaner: A few drops of plain Castile soap, some warm water, and you’ve got a hypoallergenic brush cleaner. Make sure to use warm water--too hot and your brushes can start shedding!

Washing delicates: Because I’m a total minx, I’ll hand-wash my delicates with a rose and patchouli-scented Dr. Bronner’s. Make your own by adding 2 TB of Peppermint Dr.Bronner’s to a cup of water, and a few drops of both oils. I started using it after I had one too many itchy flare-ups from regular detergents, and I can certify Dr. Bronner’s as safe for the sweaty underboob!

Body wash: Add 1 TB sweet almond oil, vitamin E, and the essential oils of your choice to undiluted Dr. Bronner’s. I love juniper, grapefruit and cedar essential oils right now--they are really refreshing without being overpowering, and the almond oil makes my skin super silky.

I REALLY need to label all these…

I REALLY need to label all these…

Kitchen cleaner:  In a spray bottle, add about 2 cups water, ¼ cup vinegar,  2 TB of Dr.Bronner’s plain soap, 2 drops both tea tree oil and clove oil. The tea tree oil naturally disinfects, while the clove oil repels beasties, and my cats and child aren’t going to be poisoned by it!

Weed killer: Look at me--of course I garden. Sometimes, I just want to keep certain dandelions at bay, just a little, and Dr. Bronner’s manages to slay leafy weeds without leaving the soil poisoned. I mix 2-3 TB of salt, 2 TB of Bronner’s, to 2 cups water. Spray the plants you wish to murder in the morning, and again in the heat of the day.

Do you love Dr. Bronner’s, or were you scared away by the label? Have you ever used Castile soap on your face? It’s weird at first, because it doesn’t feel tight the way sulfates make your face feel, but I swear by it!