The evolution of soap

The evolution of soap

When you pick up your bar of Heyland and Whittle traditional soap or use some of our liquid body wash, you probably don't think much about the thousands of years of evolution that have gone into them.  

It goes without saying that our Neroli and Rose handwash didn't come into existence overnight. A lot of experimentation has gone into its creation even before we started making soap.

In fact, soap has undergone numerous changes over the centuries, transforming from something you might not recognise into one of the most readily available products in many countries. 

Here's exactly how soap became the products you know and love today:

The start of soap

There is evidence that soap-like substances were used as early as 2800 BC, with a material found in clay cylinders during the excavation of ancient Babylon. This soap was made from animal fats that were boiled with ashes, creating a product that was effective but not necessarily great smelling. 

Although soap did exist at this time, it wasn't really used for personal cleansing. Instead, it was primarily used for cleaning utensils and to wash wool for the textile industry.

If soap was used on people, it was for medical purposes, with certain soaps being produced to help skin complaints and other ailments. Much later on, soap was used regularly to help clean skin and hair.

Increasing popularity of soap

While soap started to be more common by around 600 AD, it wasn't until the eighth century that it was mass produced. Previously, people would make their own soap or purchase it from small companies, but factories started to be built in Italy, France and Spain.

Soap has undergone numerous changes over the centuries

The demand for soap products increased after this, with it still being fairly expensive to purchase. Even when more companies developed their own recipes - most of which used plant or animal byproducts - the cost stayed quite high.

Soap prices finally started to fall after 1791 when a new process was discovered for soap making. A Frenchman called LeBlanc found that certain alkalines reacted with the fats used in soap making to result in a finished product quicker and easier.

Further advances were made in France when Eugene-Michel Chevreaul found that there were vital relationships between fats, acid and glycerin, changing once again how soap was made and determining exactly how much fat was needed. Following on from this, there was more separation between cosmetic soaps and those used for household tasks, allowing for the production of gentle soaps better suited to using on skin.

The birth of liquid soap

Liquid hand soap appeared on the scene much later than solid soap, with the first attempts being made in the mid-1800s. Several inventors tried to make a usable liquid variety of soap, but it was William Shepphard who patented it in 1865.

However, liquid soap didn't start to become popular for several years, with Palmolive making it more commercial toward the end of the 1800s. In fact, Palmolive soap became so popular so quickly, the company that made it - B.J. Johnson - renamed itself.

Shower gels were also created, which differ from liquid hand soaps as they don't contain saponified oil. Shower gels and body washes also typically contain extra ingredients to ensure they lather better, clean skin easier and don't leave a mineral residue on your bath or sink. Many shower gels also add moisturising ingredients to stop the products from drying skin out. 

Heyland and Whittle's soap

At Heyland and Whittle, we make our solid soaps according to a traditional recipe that includes natural oils, an alkaline and essential oils. This results in lovely soft and gentle soap that smells amazing and is incredibly effective. You can learn more about the process here.

Our liquid soaps also contain natural, mild and gentle ingredients, resulting in a luxurious product. We don't use any ingredients that have been linked to health concerns - such as SLS - instead, we find alternatives that allow us to create a better product that is completely safe. You can shop our full range of liquid soaps here.

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