I may be biased about handmade soap, but I wasn't always that way.
Way back when, I had a thing for Dove soap. Crazy to think now, but I didn't see any relationship between my itchy-yet-oily skin and the "moisturizing" soap I used every day.
I had no idea how bad commercial soaps were until I understood them from a soap maker's point of view.
Mass-produced name-brand soap, the stuff sold in chain grocery markets and drug stores, is incredibly different from handmade soap.
Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate, a chemical detergent and water emulsifier with no known skin benefits, is the primary ingredient in Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar. Detergent...the stuff you wash your clothes with. Dove compresses detergent with a little bit of sodium tallowate (soap made from beef fat), stearic acid (a hardener), and a few other chemicals, and there you go: real beauty. As a longtime Dove user, I felt betrayed to learn what these ingredients really were.
I don't mean to pick on Dove; it's one of the better drugstore soaps. When I realized that most name-brand soaps don't have any actual soap in them, I finally understood how damaging (and misleading) mass-produced soap can be. Detergents can exacerbate the frustrating skin conditions many of us work so hard to improve.
This cycle probably sounds familiar: you have itchy-oily dry skin (yes it can all happen at once), so you buy "moisturizing soap." But unbeknownst to you, the detergents and chemical additives over-strip your skin's natural oil, removing the critical sebum you need for healthy skin function, so the cycle continues: you still have irritated skin, so you buy more "moisturizing soap"...lotion too...and on and on. The cycle won't stop until you quit that soap..but you're convinced the soap is your best solution.
You know the soap campaign for "squeaky clean skin?" Your skin is not supposed to squeak! I'd avoid that soap most of all.
To make matters worse, mass-produced soap removes the good stuff that's healthy for skin. About one quarter of any handmade soap is pure glycerin. Glycerin occurs naturally through the saponification process. Handmade soap makers leave glycerin in soap, both for its valuable skin benefits (it's a proven humectant for skin moisture and it gently helps lift dead skin cells), and also because glycerin is a huge pain to separate from soap by hand. But mass-produced soaps, if made of soap at all, don't leave in the glycerin. It's quite valuable, so it's sold off for extra profit.
I think these are a few reasons why name-brand soap is so much cheaper than handmade soap. It's made with chemicals and inexpensive animal byproducts, and its most valuable ingredient (glycerin) is sold for profit. But you often pay more for that bar in other ways: bottles of lotion for itchy skin, toners and blotters for oily skin, makeup foundation for irritated skin, and for a few of us, the shame and frustration of perpetually bad skin.
John Cleese made a hilarious counterculture documentary about wine, declaring: critics be damned, drink what you like. It's a liberating notion. The same is true for soap: name-brand advertising be damned...use soap that treats your skin with love.
Do what's best for your skin. Our Bare Naked unscented soap is made for sensitive skin, or try Oatmeal, Milk and Honey soap for a sweet soothing blend of goat's milk, organic oats and sustainably-sourced honey. But above all, take a moment to read your ingredient labels, and look for correlations between your skin's health and your soap: you might be surprised.