The world of soap — what do we really know about it?

Published: 12-07-2017

Regular and thorough hand washing is the simplest activity that we can do to protect ourselves against numerous diseases and infections. However, washing with water alone is not sufficient to ensure proper hygiene. It is only by adding soap that we can remove the majority of microbes and contaminants from the skin. Shops offer a vast selection of products with various scents and colours, helping us wash our hands and making it a pleasant experience. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the original function of soap was quite different and its use as a personal hygiene item has only recently become widely popular.

Historical sources reveal that soap has been used for several thousand years, but its exact origin is unknown. According to one theory, soap was invented by the Phoenicians approximately five thousand years ago. As their main occupation was trade, this invention became widely popular among the civilisation of the time. Another hypothesis proposes that soap was created in ancient Rome, and its name comes from Mount Sapo, where animals were offered to gods in sacrifice. When it rained, their remains mixed with ashes and flowed into a nearby river. Women, who did their laundry there, noticed that this made washing the dirt from fabrics easier.

The first soaps were produced by mixing tallow, most frequently rendered from beef or mutton fat, with ash derived from specifically selected plants (such as wormwood or beech). However, hygiene was not its original purpose. Soap was mainly used for laundering clothes, washing wounds and cleaning wool. It was not commonly used to wash the body until the 19th century, when a healthy lifestyle and hygiene become a fashion.

What are soaps anyway? From a chemistry point of view, soaps are salts of metals and higher fatty acids, such as palmitic or stearic acid, which are formed as the product of a saponification reaction. Soap solutions in water can remove dirt, which is a mixture of soot, silica, mineral salts, and dusty matter, glued together by the proteins and fats contained in sweat. This dirt cannot easily be removed by mechanical methods, as it stubbornly adheres to  skin, fabric or other surfaces. This ability of soap to remove dirt results from a property which reduces the surface tension of water, which in turn increases water penetration between woven fibres and loosens dirt.

However, the modern definition of soap has very little in common with a conventional soap bar. This term is usually understood as a liquid or foamy preparation with different colours and scents. The primary ingredients of such soaps are surfactants. These substances, thanks to their foam-forming characteristics, ensure effective washing and cleaning properties. A further important group of ingredients are enriching additives. Because of the frequency of hand washing, soaps primarily have to protect and not irritate the skin.

The PCC group offers a range of soaps under the brand name of Roko Hygiene, which comprises preparations for washing hands and body. These soaps are pH-neutral and mild for the skin. All the products in this range have been dermatologically tested and their high quality is ensured by regular microbiological tests. Roko Hygiene soaps are enriched with specifically selected protective substances. The most basic of these is glycerin which penetrates the epidermis and preserves moisture in its deeper layers, smoothing the skin. Aloe Vera extract reduces irritation and stimulates regeneration. Lanolin has conditioning and nourishing properties perfect for the skin, additionally softening the epidermis. Collagen and elastin have regenerative, toning and smoothing properties. In addition, natural lipids from coconut and sunflower oils protect the skin from moisture loss by evaporation and have soothing effects.

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