Hand Soap Ingredients Explained - The good, bad and ugly

by Tirtyl Team

This article contains our breakdown on common hand soap ingredients. To see the ingredients used in our Tirtyl Foaming Hand Soaps, click here.

No parabens, no triclosan, no sulfates, no fragrance, no preservatives, no soap...NO SOAP? What?

With so many ingredients NOT in soap, it takes a chemistry major to understand the good, the bad and the ugly. As a company that prides itself on transparency, let’s have a look at what you should really avoid, what you should probably avoid and what’s just marketing BS.

Disclaimer. This is not medical advice. If you’ve had problems using soap products in the past, you know yourself best! You can see our full list of ingredients here.


Our Judgement

Triclosan INCONCLUSIVE, but easy to avoid
Parabens SAFE, but you can find other preservatives
Water SAFE, just don't pay for it! Use a Tirtyl Tab and tap water
Phthalates AVOID, swathes of evidence against this
Sulfates SAFE, but be wary if you have sensitive skin
Soap-free SAFER in most cases, depending on the ingredients used
Fragrance VERY SAFE, in most cases if washed off like soap

Triclosan - INCONCLUSIVE, but easy to avoid by not using antibacterial soaps

Triclosan is used to kill bacteria. We’ve already written about why experts believe you should avoid antibacterial soaps. The United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) banned Triclosan’s use in all antibacterial liquid soaps in 2016. However, it can still be found in various personal care products in Australia. The FDA’s decision was based on the inability of the industry to prove that it was safe.

While the jury is still out on Triclosan, you will steer clear of it so long as you avoid antibacterial soaps.

Parabens - SAFE, no conclusive evidence against them but there are other preservatives

Parabens function as a preservative for many personal care products. A 2004 study found traces of parabens in breast cancer tissue but there’s NO evidence that people who use paraben-containing products face an increased risk of cancer. The estrogenic effects of parabens are tiny in comparison to the hormonal effects of using birth control or those experienced premenopause.

Given that there are safer alternative preservatives than parabens, there’s no need to risk it. To preserve our Tirtyl Tabs, we use good-ol’ citric acid which keeps them shelf-stable for at least 3 years.

Phthalates - AVOID

Phthalates are everywhere from household cleaners, to packaging and cosmetics. Of all the bad stuff we should try to avoid, phthalates appear to be top of the list given the increasing amount of research being released each year. Asthma, ADHD, breast cancer, obesity, type II diabetes, low IQ, neurodevelopmental issues, autism and fertility problems have all been linked to phthalates.

Government regulation in various jurisdictions is slowly phasing out phthalates. However, even though the label may say no phthalates, the chances are the ingredients in your products have passed through plastic tubes or glass containing phthalates. At Tirtyl, we performed a long-list of independent third-party tests, one of which showed no traces of phthalates in our Tirtyl Tabs :)

Water - SAFE of course, just don’t pay for it!

When formulating our innovative hand soap tablets, we were shocked to find traditional foaming hand soap contains approximately 95% water. Water is necessary in foaming hand soap but why ship it around the world when most of us have clean water from our taps at home. Not only does it contribute unnecessarily to freight emissions, the plastic packaging required to hold it contributes to the world’s addiction to single-use plastic. Our hand soap kit comes with bespoke glass bottles you can refill forever.

Sulfates - SAFE but be wary if you have sensitive skin

Sulfates are ubiquitous in soaps and detergents. They are used as “surfactants” - that is, they help lift grease and oils off your skin and leave your hands feeling clean. In foaming hands soaps, shampoo and toothpaste, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is the ingredient that creates the foam. SLS has been used since the 1930s and it’s accepted as a safe ingredient for cosmetic use in the E.U., by the United States’ FDA and the Australian Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA).

The reason why sulfates may receive a bad reputation is because in high concentrations, they can wash away too much oil and leave your hands feeling dry. For those with sensitive skin, sulfates can cause itchiness. We use SLS in our foaming hand soap to create our amazing foam and clean the bacteria and dirt from your hands. However our smart soaps are also highly moisturizing thanks to added glycerin. You can easily tell the difference in moisturization between a Tirtyl soap and the regular brands.

For people with known SLS irritations, we’d steer clear of all foaming hand soaps and hundreds of other products. For all others, our Tirtyl products use the smallest percentage of SLS while also providing a safe clean that feels great.

Soap-free - SAFER in most cases depending on the ingredients used

Walk down the soap aisle of the supermarket and chances are you’ll find some “soap-free” or “no soap” products in the soap section.

Without getting too science-y, soap is produced by combining an alkali with an oil/fat. In the past, these fats were typically animal fats but more recently have switched to palm oil. A soap-free product is technically classified as a detergent and does not use animal fats and is far less likely to contain palm oil. Another key difference between soaps and soap-free hand wash is the suitability for sensitive skin.

Tirtyl tablets, perhaps surprisingly, are best classified as “soap-free”. Our R&D team tested a huge variety of formulations and found pure soap formulations triggered more reactions to sensitive skin, and left many hands feeling dry. Selecting a soap-free formulation also makes it easier to avoid palm oil - a controversial ingredient many of our customers prefer not to use.

Fragrance - Very SAFE in most cases if washed off like soap

Remember phthalates...the group we told you to avoid. Yep! Turns out they are the reason some fragrances should be avoided. Phthalates are added to fragrances to help them smell strong for longer. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, fragrances are considered the leading cause of allergic reactions on the skin. However, the leading cause of reactions is from products left on the skin like perfume, toners, serums and sunscreen. Soaps with fragrances are far less likely to cause a reaction because they are quickly washed away.

Some companies are marketing the use of “clean” fragrances. Without any agreed definition or regulation, this is just another marketing gimmick. Even fragrance-free products generally contain some form of fragrance.

Tirtyl happily uses about 0.25% of phthalate-free fragrance in our soaps. This includes lavender oil and vanilla essence. If you’ve had issues using other foaming hand soaps, we would recommend choosing another product. For everyone else, you can look forward to sharing a wide array of safe fragrances for you in the future.

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