Considering how long soap has been around and deemed a necessity, it's not surprising that manufacturers have played with the formula countless times in search of the perfect cleansing product. Today, they understand things like which ingredients will make soap more powerful, or what additives can help soften hard water. They can also mix ingredients to achieve a specific color or desired scent in a cleanser. While the latter qualities may seem unimportant, they're a huge factor when consumers are deciding which product to choose. Those looking for a fresh citrus scent, for example, may want to look for an ingredient called petitgrain on the label.
Petitgrain is an essential oil derived from the leaves of the bitter orange tree, and it often comes from Paraguay [source: NCCAM]. Like many essential oils, petitgrain is collected using steam distillation. Most generally describe petitgrain's fragrance as citrus-like, with hints of woody and floral aromas. It is widely used in colognes and perfumes as well as skin cleansers and other types of soap [source: Jensen, Environmental Working Group].
Petitgrain oil is also found in a wide variety of deodorants, antiperspirants and hair products, so you may have been using petitgrain unknowingly for a long time [source: Environmental Working Group]. Some people also use it to treat fungal conditions on the skin, such as athlete's foot, but there's little scientific evidence that petitgrain actually does any good in these cases. If you take it as a consumable supplement, there are some warnings about using petitgrain -- or any form of bitter orange oil -- for certain people, but as an ingredient in a topical product, you shouldn't have to worry about petitgrain's side effects [source: NCCAM].
To learn more about ingredients in skin cleansers and taking care of your skin, follow the links below.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Environmental Working Group. "CITRUS AURANTIUM AMARA (PETITGRAIN) ESSENTIAL OIL." (Accessed 09/07/2009).http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/ingredient.php?ingred06=726410
- Jensen, Bo M.Sc. "A small guide to Nature's fragrances - Petitgrain." Bojensen. 2009. (Accessed 09/07/2009)http://www.bojensen.net/EssentialOilsEng/EssentialOils02/EssentialOils02.htm
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "Herbs at a glance: Bitter Orange." National Institutes of Health. August 2007. (Accessed 09/07/2009)http://nccam.nih.gov/health/bitterorange/