OP-ED

Goat Milk Soaps

Good for you and for your invisible friends

BY JILL BROCKMAN-CUMMINGS

Most of us bathe daily using soap and water because, well, germs are bad, right?

Wrong! According to recent research into the microbiome—the micro-organisms that call our body home—these tiny life-forms are hugely beneficial.

Microbes are our friends!

Although most microbiome studies have focused on our gut’s biome, some scientists are studying the hidden universe of beneficial organisms (bacteria, viruses, and fungi) that live on our skin.  They have found that the vast majority are not virulent “germs” that cause serious infection, but “good” bacteria that promote skin health and our overall health. Evidence further suggests that using harsh anti-bacterial soaps and hand sanitizers does more harm than good. This is because once you kill the good bacteria, you leave your skin vulnerable to the bad ones, and to dryness and irritation.

Becoming a soap-maker

I learned this first-hand in a round-about way. Back in 1998, my family moved from the high desert city of Albuquerque to my grandparent’s farm in Danforth, Illinois. One of the first things I insisted on was that we get two dairy goats so we could indulge in fresh goat milk.  But soon we found another use for that goat milk.

It so happened that our two young daughters had itchy dry skin even though I was bathing them with Johnson & Johnson’s “Gentle” baby soap.  My husband, Will, remembering the story that Grandma Henrietta Brockman had made her own soap for most of her life, bought me a goat milk soap-making kit. I made a few batches, and within days, the girls’ skin was no longer irritated, but soft, smooth, and healthy. The change was almost miraculous, and soon many of my family and friends wanted my homemade goat milk soap and I began making larger batches.

Sanitizer Woes

About 10 years after that, when my youngest child, Celeste, began Kindergarten in 2007, she soon developed red, chapped hands. My second oldest, Tess, also developed a terrible rash on her hands. We were still using only my homemade goat milk soaps, and I wondered what could possibly be wrong.

After volunteering in Celeste’s classroom one morning, I found out.  It turned out that her school, like many others, no longer had the children wash their hands with soap and water before snack or lunch time. Instead, a mandatory glob of hand sanitizer was squirted into each child’s open hands, and they were told to work it in until dry.  Soon, all four of my daughters’ skin rebelled against the harsh sanitizer that was wiping out their skin’s protective microbiome.

After speaking with their teachers, I brought some of my goat milk soap bars to school and placed them next to the classroom sinks. Interestingly, several other students soon asked the teacher if they, too, could wash their hands with the goat milk soap. Within a few days, my girls’ irritated skin was gone, and their natural microbes restored.

 

 

Ingredients Matter

Now, almost 18 years after I made my first bars of soap, there are many goat milk soaps on the market, and my business, Red Barn Farm Soaps, continues to grow. I make dozens of different soaps, from honey oatmeal to luxurious lavender to a pet shampoo bar. Every one of them contains fresh goat’s milk from our growing herd of Nubian and French Alpine dairy goats, which we tend in the same barn that our Great-Grandfather, Herman Brockman, built in 1912.

Along with the goat’s milk, all our soaps contain certified organic oils and butters that are grown and processed without the use of harmful synthetic chemicals. This is important because non-organic ingredients contaminate the soil, air, and water where they are grown, and they are likely to contain pesticide residues that enter your body through your skin as you bathe.

Cleopatra’s Beauty Treatment

It is said that Cleopatra bathed in milk because it softened and beautified her skin, and scientists now know why it worked. Milk is packed with vitamins, essential fatty acids, proteins, and alpha hydroxyl acids that slough off dead skin cells without stripping the skin of its natural lipids.

In addition to the soothing and wholesome goat milk, each bar of soap I make contains organic olive oil and organic coconut oil, which work with the skin’s natural microbiome to foster a healthy environment. I use extra virgin organic coconut oil because it’s a natural moisturizer and skin conditioner, hydrating your skin while leaving a protective film of coconut oil to prevent dryness. It can also improve skin tone and complexion and prevent premature wrinkles.  Coconut oil also makes a smooth and softening lather. And because of its density, a bar of soap made with coconut oil lasts a very long time, and won’t “melt” in the shower.

The second main ingredient in each bar of soap I make is extra virgin organic olive oil, which is an excellent moisturizer and emollient, and is good for relieving eczema and psoriasis. It does not clog the pores, and can help prevent skin cell deterioration. It is also known to have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.  Olive oil creates a softening lather and is full of nutrients such as Vitamins A, K, and E.

Work with your skin’s microbiome instead of against it

Some varieties of soaps I make also contain shea oil and shea butter, organic cocoa butter, organic castor oil, sweet almond oil, and jojoba oil, all of which are moisturizing and healthy for your skin and its microbiome.

Recently, I read an article about AOBiome, a probiotics company that is researching the beneficial organisms living on our skin. Their scientists hypothesize that our skin’s natural microorganisms act as a built-in cleanser, deodorant, anti-inflammatory and immune booster. In fact, using harsh soaps and hand sanitizers that continually kill off the good bacteria naturally found on our skin may be the cause of many skin problems, from dry skin to eczema to psoriasis.  AOBiome has found evidence that by adding good bacteria back to our skin, eczema and other skin ailments are erased, and they see long-term medical advances that will come about by adding “good” skin bacteria rather than eliminating them with anti-bacterial soaps.

Avoid Triclosan, Anti-bacterials, and other harsh chemicals

Of course sometimes, especially during cold and flu season, it’s a good idea to wash your hands regularly with soap and water. But make sure the soap you use does not have chemicals that are bad for you and our environment.  One of the worst culprits found in soaps and hand sanitizers is triclosan. This harmful anti-bacterial disrupts our endocrine systems and confuses our hormones, while also promoting drug resistant infections. Moreover, it washes down your drain and into our streams and rivers, damaging wildlife and ecosystems.

Another harmful ingredient often found in soaps, shampoos, and lotions is sodium lauryl sulfate. This powerful agent can also be found in engine degreasers, car wash soaps and garage floor cleaners. Not surprisingly, sodium lauryl sulfate is a skin irritant that causes dermatitis. The Journal of the American College of Toxicology says that it has “a degenerative effect on the cell membranes because of its protein denaturing properties.” The Journal adds that “high levels of skin penetration may occur at even low use concentration.”  And according to the Environmental Working Group, research on sodium laurel sulfate has linked it to not only skin irritation, but to organ toxicity, developmental and reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption and possible mutations and cancer.

No scent? Good Sign!

In addition to harmful chemicals such as triclosan and sodium laurel sulfate, I never use chemical preservatives or synthetic fragrances in my soaps. The latter is true even though the first thing most people do when they see a bar of soap is lift it to their nose and sniff. I often sense a slight disappointment when they detect little or no scent in my soap. But a strong scent of any sort, even a seemingly “natural” herbal lavender or citrusy lemon scent, if you can smell it from more than a few inches from your nose, is probably a scent made from synthetic chemicals. On the other hand, no scent, or a very mild fragrance is a good sign that the soap is pure and gentle, with no synthetic ingredients. So the next time you lift a bar of soap to your nose and catch a strong scent, put it right back down and walk away!

Peacefully Co-exist

For all the reasons above and many others, it’s important to nurture, not kill, your skin’s biome. By using gentle soaps with all natural and organic ingredients you respect the wisdom of nature, which trained micro-organisms to be good to us and our skin through countless generations of peaceful co-existence.

The next time you wash your hands or bathe, think about all your invisible friends, the beneficial microorganisms living on your skin. You may not be able to fill your tub with milk like Cleopatra, but you can certainly indulge in the next best thing:  lather up with a silky, moisturizing bar of goat milk soap.

Jill Brockman-Cummings



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