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What is Olive Oil Soap?

By C. K. Lanz
Updated May 21, 2024
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Castile, or olive oil soap, is traditionally a hard white soap made from pure olive oil and originated in the medieval province of Castile in what is today known as Spain. In comparison to other available soaps, olive oil soap became an important export for medieval Castile and was considered to be a great luxury item by 13th-, 14th- and 15th-century European nobility. The key ingredient of Castile soap is pure olive oil that is boiled with sodium carbonate made from the ashes of local Castilian plants instead of the then more common tallow or lard. Olive oil soap is repudiated to be soft and gentile on skin and hair and less likely to irritate those who are sensitive to perfumes and dyes. In addition, olive oil soap is believed to have less of an environmental impact than conventional soaps due to its ingredients and manufacturing process.

Soap made from pure olive oil is a possible option for people with sensitive skin or allergies to perfumes and dyes. Olive oil is believed to be an effective moisturizer for any skin type, and although some manufacturers add perfumes, honey or other oils traditional Castile soap bars are made with few ingredients. These include olive oil, water and an alkali like sodium chloride. Since traditional Castile soap does not contain animal ingredients or synthetic perfumes or dyes, it is often considered to be a sustainable, cruelty-free and environmentally friendly product.

Castile soap bars are sometimes balanced by including palm or coconut oil in addition to olive oil. Palm and coconut oils can produce a lather that is bubblier than the traditional creamy lather produced by bars made exclusively with olive oil. Fragrances or dyes may also be added. Liquid or bar olive oil soap can be made at home and has multiple uses beyond cleansing skin. Olive oil soap can be used as a shampoo while the liquid version is useful as a laundry detergent.

While soap today is commonly made from any animal or vegetable fat that is treated with an alkali-like sodium hydroxide, early medieval soaps were often made with ash as a makeshift alkali and lard resulting in what was called black soap or speckled soap. Olive oil soap produced in Castile was sold throughout medieval Europe at prices at least three times as high as those for common versions. Only a few families controlled olive oil soap production in medieval Castile and the profits bought them privileged social status in some cases. Castile’s monopoly on olive oil soap was eventually broken as the manufacturing process became known and spread throughout Europe beginning in Italy.

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Discussion Comments

By StormyKnight — On Jan 04, 2011

@momothree: Each of the ingredients does serve their own purpose. Eggs are great skin care products for people with larger pores. Eggs are also great for firming the skin and tightening wrinkles. The whites in the egg help to remove oily residue.

The flour is actually just used to thicken the consistency of the mixture. Olive oil is great for moisturizing your skin.

The sea salt helps to stimulate your blood circulation and assist with cell regeneration. Sea salt also work as an exfoliator.

The lactic acid in the milk softens and soothes itchy, dry skin. It also moisturizes the skin while refining pores and tightening wrinkles.

By momothree — On Jan 02, 2011

@stormyknight: That sounds like a pretty good mixture. I was wondering what all of the ingredients do. Do they all have their own purpose?

By StormyKnight — On Jan 01, 2011

@cellmania: I always make my own olive oil masks. Olive oil is great for the skin and this recipe is the best I have ever used. You need an egg, ½ tsp. olive oil, ¼ tsp. sea salt, 1 Tbsp. natural unbleached flour, and 1 Tbsp. whole milk.

Beat the egg in a small bowl. Then, add the flour and olive oil. Stir in your sea salt. Mix in the milk and then stir all of the ingredients together until somewhat smooth. Wash your face with warm water first and then apply the olive oil mixture. Massage it gently to exfoliate your skin well. Leave it on for 20 minutes and then rinse well.

By CellMania — On Dec 30, 2010

Are there any kind of handmade olive oil soap concoctions?

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