I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s lacking in nostalgia for a bar of soap. Whether it conjures fond memories of Dove at bathtime or not-so-fond memories of perfume-y Palmolive, soap is intrinsically linked to childhood and to simpler times. In the age of three-step skincare regimes and double cleansing, soap seems to have fallen out of a favour with a generation obsessed with performance and invention. Previous statistics by Mintel show a move away from traditional soap bars by millennials. Apparently this was based on a belief that soap bars were a less hygienic option than liquid soap and scrubs. Hmm.
However at Glasshouse, we believe that a change is in motion. An increased interest in natural and organic skincare, coupled with a desire for uncomplicated ingredients lists, means that the current beauty market is ripe for a soap bar comeback.
It may not be apparent in mainstream beauty halls, but soap is on the up. At the forefront of it are a handful of modern makers who are bringing back soap in a cool, natural and sustainable way - obviously, we are all ears.
The first brand to pique our attention was Binu Binu, a wonderfully understated soap brand inspired by Korean bath houses and based in the US. Founder of the brand Karen Kim has described soap as “Soothing, simple, methodical” and her botanical bars are formulated with an array of natural ingredients: think rose clay, black charcoal, rice milk and Boricha tea. Best of all, Binu Binu’s aesthetic is on point and pared-back. Their Instagram blurs the lines between lifestyle and beauty, making the humble soap bar seem less of a necessity and more of a shower-side design statement. Who wouldn’t lust after one of their concrete grey, cuboid-shaped Sea Woman soaps?
One side of the soap market we’re particularly on board with is its eco-credentials. Produced in the right way, you can’t get much more sustainable than a bar of soap. Most new formulations coming to the market are packaged in cotton, linen or good old-fashioned cardboard. They last forever and wastage is minimal - I remember using up even the smallest slither of a Dove soap bar as a child.
One of our Glasshouse-stocked brands know better than most about ethically-produced soap. Birmingham-based Honest Skincare specialise in sustainable skincare and lifestyle products, but it’s their simple soaps wrapped in black muslin that we love the most. Nourishing and ultra-lathering, their handmade formulas feature olive and shea, rosehip and eucalyptus and charcoal variations. Fairly-priced and aesthetically-pleasing, it’s brands like Binu Binu and Honest who remind us why soap became such a bathroom staple in the first place.
In fact, part of the appeal of soap can be traced back to its historical and cultural significance. African black soap, for example, has been used for decades to treat problem skin. Hackney-based Liha Beauty draw on their West African roots by utilising the rich, botanical ingredients of this region to make high-end organic skincare - and the range includes their very own Ose Gidi Black Soap.
“Black soap is a West African staple, but they tend to be quite harsh and drying on the skin, and often contain harsh chemical dyes” says Abi, co-founder of Liha “We were keen to rework a classic with our own spin and an English aromatherapy influence, which is why we added rose - the queen of essential oils.”
Along with rose, the Liha girls hand-roast plantain skins in the oven (“A great natural source of potassium hydroxide and AHA’s for gentle exfoliation”) and combine it with organic shea butter, coconut and hemp oils and Moringa powder. The result is a moisturising soap bar - packed full of skin-treating ingredients and true to its historical roots.
“It can take a while to get used to not using shower gels, but as with most natural things, once you make the switch you never miss it and wonder why you were using it in the first place” explains Abi, “There is also something mindful and a little nostalgic using a natural bar rather than something from a container.”
Every product has its place when it comes to beauty, but amongst the fussy cleansers and high-tech treatments, soap is sitting stronger than ever. 100% natural formulas and a design-focused aesthetic are propelling soap bars back onto our bathroom cabinet agenda. And when the range of brands is this good, lathering up has become that little bit more exciting.
Words: Lucy Vincent
Feature image: Rosie Herdman