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What is Transparent Soap?

By J.S. Metzker Erdemir
Updated May 21, 2024
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Transparent soap is clear soap with a high glycerin content. Often referred to as “glycerin soap,” transparent soap is less drying than opaque soap, and can have additional emollient oils added to it, such as shea butter or jojoba oil. The first mass produced clear soap was Pears® brand, introduced in 1807 and still available as of 2010.

Glycerin is a humectant, which means that it attracts moisture. This property of glycerin soap is what makes it more moisturizing than opaque soaps that contain less glycerin. Referring to transparent soap as glycerin soap is slightly misleading because all soap contains glycerin, a sugar-based compound found in all animal and vegetable fats. Whether it's clear or opaque, homemade and handmade soap usually has all the glycerin in it. In commercial soap-making, the glycerin is extracted and used in more expensive soaps and creams.

Transparent soap is so gentle that it is often recommended for people with very sensitive skin, such as babies, small children, and people with allergies or dermatitis. Soap with a high glycerin content rinses more easily from the skin and doesn't leave a film that could cause irritation. Additionally, glycerin soap is generally less expensive than other moisturizing or anti-aging beauty bars.

Soap is made from lye mixed with an animal or vegetable fat, such as tallow or olive oil. This is called cold-process soap-making, where the fatty acids in the soap react with the alkali in the lye. The oils become hard in a process called saponification. To extract glycerin, hardened soap is shaved and melted again. Salt is added, which causes the soap to curdle and separate from the glycerin. Glycerin can be added to soap to make the bar clearer and more moisturizing. To do this, the soap-maker melts soap shavings, then adds high-proof alcohol, sugar, and glycerin. The soap is allowed to harden, and then is melted several more times to remove any extra water that causes the bar to look cloudy.

It can be challenging to learn how to make soap with the cold-process method, so many craft stores sell blocks of “melt-and-pour” soap. These blocks contain varying amounts of glycerin, and some are already transparent. Melt-and-pour products are cold-process soaps that can be re-melted to add additional ingredients, such as essential oil, coloring, or other decorations before pouring them into attractive molds. Glycerin can also be added to melt-and-pour soap to make it even more transparent.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1003613 — On Jul 31, 2020

Can I use palm oil,shea butter, stearic acid and palm kernel oil as the only oil in the production of transparent soap?

By anon336395 — On May 28, 2013

How can I make my soap transparent after drying to the soap noddles stage?

By anon260680 — On Apr 11, 2012

What happens when ethyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol is heated?

By candyquilt — On Jul 24, 2011

I'm interested in soap making too. I want to make transparent soap but I'm confused about the proportions of the ingredients.

There seem to be different variations on making transparent soap. Some people use rubbing alcohol to make it, others actually use vodka! I've also run into different proportions of sugar and the glycerin added to it.

I'm kind of confused. I want a very basic recipe to start out because I'm just a beginner. I can worry about adding color and scent later. I want to make a simple but non-drying clear soap.

Does anyone have a simple and standard recipe I can use? And what kind of alcohol would you recommend me to use?

By ddljohn — On Jul 24, 2011

I didn't know that transparent soap and glycerin soap were one and the same!

I use transparent soap all the time in the bath. I have extremely sensitive skin. I can't use regular soaps or body washes because of the cleansers and perfumes in them. My skin becomes red and irritated and sometimes itches too.

I have completely switched to organic transparent soap for the past three years. My favorite is the all natural olive oil soap. It has olive oil, glycerin and some other essential oils in it. It is very moisturizing and never irritates my skin. I love it!

By discographer — On Jul 24, 2011

My dad's close friend was interested in making homemade soaps as a hobby. Whenever we went over to their house and I used the bathroom, I would see tens of different colored and shaped transparent soaps.

They would gift some to us often too. What I remember from those soaps is that they were really soft and moisturizing, just as the article said. They also had a mild but pleasant scent to them.

I never thought of using glycerine soaps regularly though because they looked so luxurious. I thought that they were meant to be a decoration for the bath because they were so pretty to look at.

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