Legend says that Queen Cleopatra, whom many worshipped for her surreal beauty, had a special skin care regime that involved bathing in milk. After ages, in the twenty-first century, humans have once again decided to go back to nature to have flawless, damage-free skin.
A new trend
Almost all of the soap advertisements in the country promise how one bar of soap can make your skin fairer, smoother, and ultimately change your life for better with its irresistible scent.
But soap makers such as Shehna and Wahid decided to snap customers out of that bubble and create products which would actually be skin-friendly.
SoaperStar and Ribana are two of the earliest companies that brought organic soaps to clients in the city. They believe that our skin is designed to be taken care of by natural ingredients.
SoaperStar: Shehna's Holy Grail
Shehna first learned about organic soaps while studying in London. Back then in the UK, there was already a growing market for organic products. "Probably as a result of the industrial revolution, the tendency of relying on chemicals had drastically expanded. The harsher the chemicals used in cosmetics, the more risks they pose to the skin in the long run," she said.
When corporate lawyer Shehna Falila Mulk got diagnosed with Fibromyalgia – a disease which causes severe pain and fatigue – she had no option but to stay in bed all day.
One day, as she was lying in bed and reading about organic soaps, something just clicked in her. She then went out straight to a super shop, and purchased a hand mixer along with all the ingredients it needed to make soaps. The experiment did not go wrong and Shehna found her calling.
Ribana: The beginning
While studying the cosmetology course, Md Wahiduzzaman, a student of Pharmacy, was horrified to learn how commercial soaps can cause irreversible damages to our skin.
He said, "My mother, my sister, we all used these soaps that contain extremely harmful chemicals like sulfate, paraben, triclosan, artificial fragrance and what not!"
He then thought of making soaps without these ingredients. In the beginning, Wahid spent a large amount of money to just experiment with ingredients which would suit Bangladesh's climate. Being a pharmacist, he put in all his knowledge and thus Ribana came into existence.
The real differences
Some might wonder how natural these soaps truly are and why should customers switch from cheaper, commercial soaps to these more expensive, organic ones.
Soaps are basically sodium or potassium salts of fatty acids. The percentage of fatty ingredients in them determine their quality. What matters is whether they are made of animal fat, vegetable oil or synthetic chemicals.
The fatty acids for organic soaps are produced using pure and natural oil. And the regular soaps have fatty ingredients made of harmful chemicals like sulfates and parabens. So, not using sulfates is what fundamentally sets apart organic soaps from commercial ones.
Why not use sulfate and paraben?
Imagine using the same elements for cleansing your body and washing the dirt off your car! Sulfates are essentially detergents and they do clean or disinfect your body. Our skin requires a minimal number of bacteria to keep our immune system active and sulfates in the regular soaps simply kill them off.
SoaperStar and Ribana promise to use only essential oils as cleansing agents. Shehna said, "For thousands of years, humans have cleansed their bodies with natural essences and have survived. They used a distillation process to boil rose, jasmine, lime, and eucalyptus, and made the purest forms of oil. Our endeavor is to go back to the nature. "
SoaperStar has their unique formula of using coconut oil, olive oil, castor oil, avocado oil, and tea-tree oil for acne prone skin. Ribana's soaps have pure goat milk and coconut oil in them that are sourced from their own farm.
Founder and formulator of Ribana, Wahid, said, "Our soaps have 5-7 percent fatty ingredients in them, and this is the right amount to strengthen the cleansing power of soaps without harming the skin."
Both the brands make customised soaps for acne prone, oily, dry and sensitive skin. Ribana's activated carbon soap is always in demand among those who have clogged pores.
Only natural fragrances
When it comes to cosmetic products, their scent is of great importance to many customers. While other companies draw on phthalates for perfuming their soaps, SoaperStar hangs on sprirulina powder – a purely natural ingredient.
Ribana products have no fragrance in them; if you get a sniff of their soaps, the smell of pure coconut or saffron will blow your mind!
Can a soap be 100 percent organic?
On its own, lye is a caustic chemical and needs to be handled carefully. Also, no soaps can be produced without mixing lye with oil. Organic soaps intend to cut down on the harmful effect of lye by mixing it with organic oils. When the right amount is blended with natural oils, it no longer remains harmful.
The expert's take on organic soaps
Dr Imroz Mohid, chief consultant of Aesthetic Skin Laser, cautiously said, "It all depends on the authenticity of the companies that claim to make their soaps organic. Even though the bonding materials in any soap cannot be organic, mixing it up with essential oils can cut down the toxicity. But if a soap is made of antibacterial chemical like triclosan, it is not organic." Dr Imroz also suggested that consumers read out the ingredients in soap packages before using them.
A growing customer base
Needless to say, the price of organic soaps is nowhere close to the mass-produced ones available in the market. Where a regular soap costs less than Tk50, the price range for Ribana soaps is Tk350-Tk950. SoaperStar soaps can cost upto Tk1300.
As both Shehna and Wahid mentioned, only high-end consumers were targeted at the beginning. Gradually they became popular among youngsters, students and other conscious consumers.
The brands manufacture about 2000 pieces of soaps every month, and more than half of the products sell out. Now, many super shops, online market places and even restaurants sell these soaps. Apart from that, people can order through their Facebook pages.