“An educated consumer is our best customer.”

Anyone who grew up in WNY in the late 1970s knows that slogan, from Sy Syms and  his TV ads for his off-price clothing chain.  It’s a philosophy that I try to follow – if you’ve ever asked me a question about any of my products, you’ll probably recall me talking your ear off about how it’s made, what’s in it, and why you should use it.

Which is why I was so perplexed when I received this message on Etsy about my Shower Gel:

I came across your products during a search for ALL NATURAL body wash…ie: NO additives. I am very surprised at the list of chemicals in your product. I guess I have to keep looking.

Now honestly, I double checked the listing in question, and nowhere in the listing does the word “natural” even appear. Anywhere. Not in the tags, not in the title, not in the description. As close as that specific listing gets is that in that particular case, I use a lavender essential oil, which by its nature is “all natural”. (Keeping in mind that there is NO legal FDA definition for the word “natural”.)

I’m sure that’s *totally* natural, because you can get an essential oil out of cupcakes, right?

So why did my listing show up for her? Most likely, knowing what I know about how Etsy’s search works, is because she was searching for the phrase “body wash”. And that’s where a little education can go a long way – because “body wash” isn’t always the same as “liquid soap”, and it helps if you know the difference.

Products labeled “shower gel” and “body wash” are much more likely to be detergents, not true soaps, especially given that the word “soap” isn’t on the label. And detergents, even though they might be derived from natural ingredients like vegetable oils, really aren’t natural because they have been processed somehow to make them soap-like. Our shower gel is made up of ingredients like that, because it’s not a true soap.

I made liquid soap once. I hated doing it – the potassium hydroxide that is used is much more caustic than the sodium hydroxide that’s used in making bar soap that it irritated my lungs just by opening the container of the dry flakes. Imagine licking a 9 volt battery with your lungs – that’s sort of what it felt like. After you combine this hyper-caustic liquid with your oils, you then have to cook that still-caustic paste. Never mind it’s already pretty hot just by combining the oils and caustic (saponification is an exothermic reaction – it gives off heat) but now you have to make it hotter. At least when it’s done cooking it’s no longer caustic, it’s just really freaking hot. Then you dilute the paste, and you have liquid soap.

Like I said, I did it once.

There are tradeoffs to every choice. If you are looking for something “all natural”, you really do need to know what you’re looking for, and not just what you think it’s called. If you want an “all natural body wash”, you’re really looking for an “all natural liquid soap” – and using that search string, I was able to find over 200 items that would fit that customer’s set of requirements.*

Where you’re not going to find them is in my shop. Aside from a very few items, my products are not “all natural”, and I have never labeled them as such. And I’m OK with that – as are my customers. I wouldn’t still be doing this after 12 years if people didn’t enjoy what I make.

I truly do hope that I helped that person, even though she won’t be one of my customers. I would certainly love to have her as one of my super savvy, educated consumers, but I’m just as happy if she finds what she’s really looking for.



*We’ll leave the argument about how “natural” the lab-made potassium hydroxide used to make liquid soap is for another day, because let’s face it, this customer is never going to find a 100% “all natural” anything unless she finds some hyper-realistic historical reenactor making his/her own lye water with wood ashes and water. Personally, I’d pass on that, thanks.