What Are the Ingredients of Liquid Soap?

hand wash-Automatic soap dispenser
Close-up of a hand underneath a soap dispenser. (Image: Thermchai/iStock/Getty Images)

The ingredients in liquid soap serve a specific purpose, whether to improve the function of the soap or just its appearance. If you have allergies or want to live a more "green" or natural lifestyle, you should know the ingredients that liquid soap may contain before making your purchase.

Water

The primary ingredient in liquid hand soaps is water. Water allows the soap to maintain a liquid form rather than a dry, solid form like bar or powdered soap. The ingredients list of liquid soap may refer to water as "aqua" or "eau," the Spanish and French words for "water."

Triclosan

Antibacterial liquid soaps, such as Dial Gold, contain triclosan as an active ingredient. Triclosan reduces or prevents the spread of bacterial infection. As of April 2010, the United States Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, is reevaluating Triclosan through further studies to determine its effect on human hormones. The FDA is also studying the possibility that triclosan may create strains of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. Pending the results of these studies in the spring of 2011, the FDA has not recommended that consumers stop using products with triclosan.

Detergents

Sodium laureth sulfate and ammonium lauryl sulfate are two common detergents in liquid soaps. Both work by dissolving oil and dirt to clean them from your hands. Sodium laureth sulfate, or SLS, is also an emulsifier that helps to combine all the ingredients in the soap.

Internet rumors list SLS as a carcinogen or cancer-causing substance. The American Cancer Society refutes these rumors, explaining that while SLS can be a skin irritant, it is not a known carcinogen.

Oils

Liquid soap may contain a number of oils. Major brands of liquid soap often contain oils such as cocamide MEA and glycerin. Natural liquid soap brands may contain glycerin as well, but the majority of the oils in natural soaps are essential oils such as jasmine, ylang ylang and olive.

Fragrance and Color

Most natural liquid soaps get their fragrance and color from ingredients already present, such as essential oils. Synthetic liquid soaps add fragrances and colors such as yellow number 5 and red number 4. The addition of these ingredients produces a more brightly colored and strongly scented soap. Synthetic soaps often include dyes to make them match consumers' perception of the scent; for example, an ocean-scented soap may have a blue tint.

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