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Soap Free Cleansers for your Skin

DIY Soap Free Cleansers

Janice Cox, author Natural Beauty at Home Handbook


    The practice of using soap and water to cleanse our skin and hair has been around for thousands

of years. Soap is made up of fat and lye and the chemical process that turns these two ingredients into what we know as a bar of soap is called saponification. Creating your own soap can be an enjoyable process and is a craft that requires practice, patience and attention to detail but can also be extremely rewarding. Soap works by breaking down oil and surface debris into smaller particles that can be swept away when rinsed with water. Soap is called a surfactant, but it is not the only product that can be used to attract dirt and get your skin clean. In fact, many natural oils, herbs, plants, and grains can also be used to cleanse your hair, skin, and complexion in place of that traditional bar of soap.

    Non-soap cleansers and products are becoming popular because they help your skin keep its natural pH and healthy acid level. This helps your skin protect itself and combat harmful surface bacteria that can lead to breakouts. When you use a harsh alkaline product like your bar of soap you often alter the pH of your skin. This is why it is often recommended to use a toner or acidic freshener to replace your skin’s natural pH after cleansing.

   Using natural “soap free” cleansers can produce effective results and are often milder on your skin. They can be a simple one-ingredient treatment such as oatmeal or a natural oil or a combination of several all-natural ingredients to create “non soap” cleansers. If you shop the skin care aisles of your favorite store you will see many of these products for sale, as the popularity of using gentler more natural ingredients is a popular trend. When it comes to skin care and cleansing less is more and when choosing a cleansing product this is certainly true. Soap free means made without harsh alkaline additives, but it is important to be a label reader. Look for products with ingredients you recognize and the smaller the list the better. Usually, the first five ingredients listed make up 95% of the overall product. Learn to create your own cleansers and skincare products. You already have many of the ingredients needed right now in your own home. Here are some recipes, treatments, and ideas to get you started.








Lavender Oatmeal Cleanser

The English word for lavender originated from the Latin word “lavare” which means to wash. So, it makes perfect sense that the use of lavender in soap and cleansing products is so popular. Lavender has antibacterial and cleansing properties combined with oatmeal this recipe makes a soothing skin cleanser perfect for all skin types especially sensitive skin.


1 cup warm water

1 /2 cup oatmeal

1 tablespoon vegetable glycerin

1 teaspoon dried lavender buds


Mix all ingredients in a blender or food processor and pour into a clean container. To use:  Massage a small amount into damp skin in a circular motion and then rinse well with warm water. Pat your skin dry.

Yield: 8 ounces


Cleansing Milk

Using dairy products to cleanse the skin and hair has been around since ancient times. Remember Cleopatra and her famous milk baths and treatments? This recipe creates a simple cleanser that is good for dry skin types. The yogurt and oil help to moisturize, and the lemon juice is a natural astringent that restores the skin’s natural acid level.


1 /2 cup plain yogurt or sour cream

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice


Natural Soap Alternatives


If your skin is taut and dry, you may be using too strong a soap or cleanser for your skin type. Many of us grew up using “soap and water” to cleanse our face and body and have not explored non-soap alternatives. There are several natural ingredients that can be used in place of the traditional bath soap to get your skin clean and glowing and with beautiful results. Here are a few to try:


Oatmeal:  This common breakfast grain is the most popular non-soap cleanser around. It is gentle and mild and can be used by all skin types, especially those with dry and sensitive skin. To use, simply grind whole oats in a food processor or blender until you have a fine powder. Mix this with a little water to form a paste and massage this mixture into your skin with a warm washcloth. You may also add 1 /2 cup of ground oatmeal to a warm bath to treat and cleanse your whole body.


Sugar:  Granulated sugar works well as a gentle skin cleanser and scrub. It is not at all dehydrating and is perfect for dry skin types. Mix one teaspoon with a bit of water to form a paste and massage into wet skin with a warm washcloth or your fingertips. Sugar is gentle enough for your face and whole body. Sugar has healing properties. Pioneer women were known to use sugar to help minor cuts and scrapes.


Honey: Used as a skin beautifier since Egyptian times, honey is an excellent skin cleanser. It can be used alone or mixed with a bit of lemon juice for oily skin types and light natural oil for dry skin types. Simply massage into wet skin as you would any liquid soap or cleanser and rinse well. It is a bit sticky when applied but rinses off easily leaving your skin soft and smooth.


Milk:  For clean healthy skin milk is an instant beautifier both inside and out. It is rich in protein, natural fat, and lactic acid, all of which help clean and detoxify your complexion, leaving it soft and smooth. Make sure you rinse your skin well after cleansing, as you do not want to leave the milk on your skin. Other dairy products such as sour cream and plain yogurt also work well as natural cleansers.


Olive Oil:  Natural oils have been used for centuries to cleanse and soften the skin. Massaging in a light oil such as olive or safflower oil into your skin helps loosen surface impurities and deep cleanse your skin without drying it out. Cleansing oils and balms use this principal for removing makeup, environmental dirt, and dead skin cells from your complexion.



Natural “Soap” Plants  


Here are three popular plants that can be used as a substitute for soap. These plants have naturally occurring saponins or soap-like substances that help cleanse your skin and hair. Note:  Before using any new plant or product on your skin it is always best to do a spot test first. Rub a bit inside your arm and wait for a few hours or overnight to make sure there is not a reaction before using as a cleanser.


Soapwort:   Soapwort or “bouncing bet” as it is sometimes called is a lovely garden herb with pale pink flowers. The stems and leaves have a sap that can be used in place of soap for cleansing the skin or cleaning linens. In fact, some museums use a solution made from dried soapwort leaves to laundering precious fabrics. To create a soap solution simply chop up fresh or dried leaves and stems and cover with water. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cool completely. Strain out all solids and use the solution to wash your skin and hair.


Yucca:  Yucca is a popular desert plant with roots that have a saponins. Only harvest and use what you need as cutting up the roots will cause damage to the plant and sometimes even cause it to die back. To use in creating a soap for your skin and hair, chop up the roots into fine pieces and then soak in warm water. You can also blend in a blender and then strain out all solids. You will be left with a solution that can be used in place of soap or mixed with other ingredients to form a natural cleanser.


Clematis:  Clematis is a popular climbing vine with beautiful flowers. The leaves and beautiful flowers can be used in place of soap to cleanse your skin and hair. Simply rub a few leaves or a flower head between your hands with some water to create a natural lather or soap. For a larger quantity of clematis soap, fill a large bowl with crush leaves and flowers and cover with boiling water. Let sit until cool then strain out all solids. Add a teaspoon or two of vegetable glycerin and pour into a clean container. Use as you would any liquid soap or shampoo.


Cleansing Balm

A cleansing balm is an old-fashioned product that is receiving renewed popularity. It is like using natural oils to cleanse the skin but in more of a solid form like a lotion bar full of natural fats and butters. You massage the balm into dry skin. Using a cleansing balm not only cleanses your skin but will also clear your pores, helping to reduce breakouts. Using a solid oil balm will also help boosts circulation and blood flow, helping to detox your complexion and body. If you have made lip balms or lotion bars the process is similar.


2 Tablespoons mango or shea butter

2 Tablespoons coconut oil, can also be infused with dried calendula, lavender, or chamomile daisies

2 teaspoons safflower oil or jojoba oil


In a small heat resistant bowl or container place all the ingredients. In a water bath or using a double boiler, gently heat the mixture until all the ingredients are melted. Stir well to mix and pour into a clean container. To use:  Take a small amount of the balm and warm the balm in your hands. Massage into dry skin in a circular motion. Rinse with warm water and pat your skin dry. You may also take a warm cotton washcloth and place over your face for a few minutes to steam open and deep cleanse your pores, then rinse well with warm water.


Yield: 3 ounces



Natural Oil Cleanser


Castor oil is excellent for removing makeup and surface debris from your skin. It works well or in combination with other cleansing oils such as safflower and olive oil. The use of natural oils to cleanse the skin is a practice that dates back to ancient times. You can find castor oil at most natural food stores in the health care section.


1 tablespoon safflower oil

1 tablespoon castor oil

1 tablespoon olive oil


Mix the three oils and pour into a clean container. To use:  Pour a small amount of oil onto a clean cotton pad and gently wipe over your face and neck. Rinse with warm water and pat your skin dry.


Yield: 1.5 ounces


Spring Strawberry Cleanser


Fresh sweet strawberries make an excellent cleanser and well suited for most skin types. They are rich in vitamins A and C – two vitamins necessary for healthy skin. Strawberries have a neutral pH like that of our skin, which makes them an excellent choice as a cleanser because they are so mild. If you cannot find fresh strawberries, frozen ones may be used. Make sure they do not have any added sugar and allow them to thaw before using.


6 whole strawberries (cleaned; you do not have to remove the hulls0

2 Tablespoons almond oil

3 Tablespoons chamomile tea


Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Pour into a clean jar and cover. You will want to keep this cleanser in the refrigerator because it has real berries. To use:  massage into damp skin and rinse well.


Note:  if you have oily skin, you may want to cut down on the amount of oil in this recipe or leave out.


Yield: 3 ounces


 Olive Oil Cleansing Lotion


In ancient times, when clean water was scarce, olive oil was used to clean the body and protect the skin. It penetrates the skin very effectively to cleanse and moisturize. In the evening, after using this cleanser; you may want to follow up with more oil massaged into your skin as an evening skincare treatment.


1 /2 cup olive oil

2 Tablespoons water

2 Tablespoons vegetable glycerin or raw honey


Mix all ingredients by hand until smooth and creamy. Pour into a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid. To use: Put a small amount in the palm of your hand and massage into your skin. Rinse well with tepid water and pat dry.


Yield: 6 ounces




  For more DIY beauty recipes check out my latest book:

Natural Beauty at Home Handbook (Ogden Publications 2023)

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