Dr Bronner’s Magic soap is a product with a history and a heritage. It goes back to the days of the hippie movement on the West Coast of the US, and it still has that packaging and image to go with it. We remember the hippies as being idealistic and having their hearts in the right place but maybe not having their heads all that much together.
But time has moved on and Dr Bronners is no longer run by hippies. Far from it in fact.
They are now a big company doing very much corporate things. For example they are very keen on calling the lawyers in to get their own way.
They have taken legal action against competing natural and organic companies, asserting that they cannot claim to be organic unless they are complying with the same organic standards that Dr Bronner’s themselves use.
But they aren’t big fans of organic standards in general. They have got into legal trouble with another organic standard who accuse them of trying to inhibit their freedom of speech by threatening legal action against them.
And while they might well pay attention to organic standards, they aren’t too fastidious about complying with legal requirements, having got their collar felt last year by the FDA for mislabelling a product with inappropriate drug claims
I won’t have to remind regular readers of my blog that the natural cosmetic product sector is big business and behaves as such.
But this doesn’t stop the chemistry of Dr Bronner’s liquid soap from being quite interesting. It is a true soap in the sense that it is created by the reaction of an alkali with a fat.
You might remember this equation from studying chemistry at school
Acid + base forms salt plus water.
If the acid in this equation is a fatty acid, and the base is a metal hydroxide then the resulting salt is called a soap. There are any number of soaps but Magic Soap is a very particular one. Source of the fatty acids is a vegetable oil, which makes it a Castille Soap and the base is potassium hydroxide. This makes the soap very water soluble, and so it can be liquid at room temperature.
It is a very strong soap, so it is a pretty good cleaning agent for a wide range of tasks. But it isn’t generally used to wash the hair. There are good reasons why soap is unsuitable for this purpose.
For a start it has a high pH which tends to make hair shafts stick together
If you use it in hard water it can react with the calcium and magnesium to create insoluble salts which stay on your hair making it look dull.
And the biggest drawback is that it is quite irritating. I have tried washing my hair in soap before and I can confirm that all these problems are very real.
But I thought it might be possible to overcome them simply by using less. I suppose the most scientific thing would have been to measure out a specific dilution, but I just applied a very small amount. I was aiming for about a tenth of my normal shampoo dosage, but the product is very thin and it was probably more like a fifth.
So how did my experience turn out?
Well it certainly foamed very well despite having used so little. It was a rich creamy foam that was more enjoyable than my usual shampoo.
However I got a bit in my eye, and it stung a lot worse than the typical shampoo would. I don’ think this really matters too much, but it was a downside.
Once I dried my hair I noticed that my scalp itched rather badly. This wasn’t too unpleasant, but I don’t think I would want it to get any worse.
The big issue was that it left my hair in slightly poor condition. It wasn’t outrageously so, and I might be prepared to put up with it. It wasn’t as bad as other soaps I have tried. But on the whole, the downsides were enough for me to rule out this as a regular hair washing option.
Colin’s Conclusion – Soap Is Not A Good Choice For Hair Washing
Soap in general not too good a choice to wash your hair with. If for some reason you want to do so, I would say that Dr Bronners soap or something similar used at a very low level is probably your best bet. I have only used it once, and you might be able to achieve an acceptable performance if you try it a few times and particularly if you can get the soap level right down.