What animal products are used in skin cleaners?

Unusual Skin Care Ingredients Image Gallery Animal fat is a common soap ingredient. See more pictures of unusual skin care ingredients.
Unusual Skin Care Ingredients Image Gallery Animal fat is a common soap ingredient. See more pictures of unusual skin care ingredients.
©iStockphoto.com/Ali Ender Birer and Erik de Graaf

Ingredients derived from animals have long been used to create skin-cleansing products. In fact, some soaps even contain turtle oil, an ingredient collected from the muscles and genitals of sea turtles [source: Winter]. Although turtle oil isn't a common soap ingredient, you may be surprised to learn that animal fat is a widely used soap ingredient -- it's effective and inexpensive. Other animal products used in soaps and skin cleansers include animal-derived sodium salts and oils [source: Cavitch]. If you take a look at a skin cleanser's label, you may see "stearic acid" and "sodium tallowate" -- both animal products -- listed as ingredients. Stearic acid is derived from the fatty acids of animals and plants, and sodium tallowate is a combination of lye and animal fat [sources: Cavitch, Encyclopedia Britannica]. In fact, tallow is an animal fat that's been used throughout history to make soaps, candles and other products.

There's some debate surrounding the use of animal fats in soap. Some activists and vegans avoid such products because of personal beliefs, and some people don't use skin cleansers that contain tallow because the ingredient can clog pores [source: Cavitch]. If you want to avoid products that contain animal derivatives, look for soaps and skin cleansers that contain sodium isethionate -- a substitute for animal-derived sodium salts that comes from coconuts [source: Cosmetics Safety Database]. But before you throw those alternative products into your shopping cart, be prepared to spend a little more -- these products are often more expensive [source: Cavitch].


Check out the links on the next page for more information on the different animal products used in skin cleansers.

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Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Cavitch, Susan Miller. "The natural soap book: making herbal and vegetable-based soaps." Google Books. 1995. (Accessed 09/08/2009)http://books.google.com/books?id=YvCn3FhY1jYC&pg=PA7&dq=animal+fat+soap&lr=&client=safari#v=onepage&q=animal%20fat%20soap&f=false
  • Cavitch, Susan Miller. "The Soapmaker's Companion" Google Books. 1997. (Accessed 09/08/2009)http://books.google.com/books?id=DO0QRPK-jK4C&pg=PA204&dq=sodium+tallowate#v=onepage&q=sodium%20tallowate&f=false
  • Cosmetic Safety Database. "Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate." (Accessed 09/08/09)http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/ingredient/706048/SODIUM_COCOYL_ISETHIONATE/
  • Encyclopedia Britannica. "Stearic Acid." (Accessed 09/08/09)http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/564584/stearic-acid
  • Merriam-Webster. "Tallow." (Accessed 09/08/2009)http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tallow
  • Winter, Ruth. "A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients." (Accessed 9/22/09)http://books.google.com/books?id=uLytrNztRJkC&pg=PA96&lpg=PA96&dq=A+Consumer%E2%80%99s+Dictionary+of+Cosmetic+Ingredients+%2B+turtle+oil&source=bl&ots=YAIvza4vke&sig=2Zz2yV3_srI43FXsNl19yT8AxAw&hl=en&ei=Oke5SsTjAdXktgeY5rHwDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8#v=onepage&q=&f=false