Soap has done more for our health than any medication in history, with the first soaps thought to have been developed in 2,500 BCE from animal fats and burnt wood (potash). The first soaps were made for sale around the 1900s, and helped keep bugs off us.
The first soaps had an alkaline pH, which left a bit of soapy scum on the body if used with bore or hard water. This was very irritating to the skin, and with many people using hard water, an unpleasant experience, while still effective. If you were lucky enough to live on a river, stream, lake or rainwater, the same problems didn’t occur as much.
How cold cream made an entrance – Ponds
This made room for what is now known as cold cream, developed by Theron T. Pond, of Ponds fame. Cold cream contains water, beeswax, borax and mineral oil, dissolving oily skin dirt. Ponds cold cream was used to cleanse the face without leaving a soapy residue. Women were using cold cream as a cleanser and still do today, because it effectively removes oily makeup, particularly in those with dry skin.
Clear soaps – the glycerin bar – Pears and Neutrogena
Glycerin bars were developed by another industry stalwart, Andrew Pears, in 1789. Pears’ soaps contained sodium palmitate, glycerin and soap dissolved in alcohol. This combination of ingredients was poured into moulds and cured for three months to get the classic see-through soaps.
Edmond Fromont made this formulation better by switching out the sodium palmitate for triethanolamine stearate, a switch that lowered the pH to 8-9, making the soap milder. The new and improved soap is now sold as the clear amber Neutrogena Bar by Johnson & Johnson.
Cleansers need to be suited to skin types, since some skin is oily and some dry. Soaps can damage our oily barrier layer, causing skin to dry out too much. Non-foaming cleansers are made from a combination of ingredients – water, glycerin, cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sometimes propylene glycol. The SLS is the cleansing agent, which can bind to both water soluble and fat soluble skin debris, but is also known as an irritant.
In these cleansers, SLS is used in much lower concentrations to get the cleansing effect, but not the irritant effect, though anyone with sensitive skin may find they respond better to a cold cream. The other ingredients leave a thin film of moisture on the skin to act as a barrier. Non-foaming cleansers effectively remove makeup and leave skin moisturised.