How safe is your bubble bath?

| 12th October 2011
bubble bath
Thought bubble bath was basically liquid soap? Wrong. Not only is it completely different, it contains a hefty dose of dodgy chemicals to boot. Ruth Styles has more

Whether you use it in the bath or in the shower, most of us wash using shower gel or bubble bath every day. Particularly in the winter months, nothing could be nicer than settling back in a tub overflowing with soothing soapy suds. But when the average bottle of shower gel costs less than £2, it begs the question: what are you really putting onto your skin?

Effervescent bath products have been around for an extremely long time, with the first fizzing bath salts appearing in the early 20th Century. Early bubble bath was made using soap flakes but by the mid-1930s, surfactants had arrived. Surfactants are a chemical compound, mostly made from synthetic materials (although some are derived from palm or coconut oils), which are usually found in industrial detergents, washing power and latterly, bath products. One commonly held misconception about bath and shower gel is that it is little more than a runny type of soap. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only are cheap shower gels made from the same sort of industrial detergent used in your packet of Daz, many also come with a range of different types of detergent compressed into one product. Along with introducing the likes of sodium laureth sulphate (SLS) and cocami-dopropyl betaine into your daily ablutions, it also raises the risk of skin irritation and rashes. Worse still, both shower gel and bubble bath are nearly always fragranced with synthetic chemicals such as persol, making them even more likely to cause skin irritation, allergic skin reactions and headaches. Other nasties commonly found in high street bath products include irritants such as tetrasodium EDTA and the potential mutagen, methylchloroisothiazolinone. 

So where are the green brands in all this? The bath oils and body creams market has long been a tough one to crack, not least because many don’t see why they should shell out upwards of £10 for bubble bath when you can get a perfectly serviceable version for around £3. What’s more, bath and body is also a sector inundated with products – getting a decent face cream for sensitive skin can be challenging whereas acceptable shower gel can be found pretty much anywhere you look. But for the average eco-conscious consumer, there’s more to choosing a body product than price. Yes you can buy a bottle of bubble bath and still have change leftover from a fiver, but chances are, it’s laden with chemicals. At the same time, you don’t want to pay over the odds for a ropey old gimmick – soap nuts spring to mind – that, despite being green, doesn’t actually do the job it’s supposed to. Luckily, there's now a decent array of brands around that have managed to combine eco-credentials with efficacy.

Cleaning brand, Ecover, has recently branched out into beauty and produces no-nonsense refillable shower gels, which are PH neutral, come in bottles made from 100 per cent recyclable materials and cost a very affordable £3.75. Confusion was caused when the presence of a sinister sounding surfactant - sodium lauryl sulfate - was discovered, although unlike the similar sounding sodium laureth sulphate, this one is made from coconut oil. Bentley Organic have a similar product – the Calming and Moisturising Bodywash – which comes in even cheaper at £2.96. After that, things start getting expensive, with Weleda’s range starting at £7.50 and Green People’s at £9.68. Both, however, are based on organic botanicals and are 100 per cent SLS and paraben free. If you have some spare cash to hand though, check out the combined bath and shower gels from eco-luxury brand, Bodhi, whose pared-down range makes getting in the shower a real treat. While at £23 per bottle, it’s admittedly not cheap, the Rosemary Chi is brilliant first thing, while for winding down, the Palmarosa Verde is good enough to give Ren’s cult Moroccan Rose Otto Bath Oil, £45, a run for its money.

Five of the best eco-friendly bath products

Bodhi Rosemary Chi Bath and Shower Gel, £23
A combination of Rosemary, Geranium, Petitgrain and Cedarwood oils, Rosemary Chi has a beautifully green scent that works like a shot of espresso when you use it first thing. None of the big four baddies (petrochemicals, sulphates, parabens, phthalates) are to be found in it, and it’s also free from animal derivatives and palm oil. You don’t need to use much to get the full effect, so a bottle lasts for ages and it also doubles up nicely as a shampoo.
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Faith in Nature Lavender and Geranium Shower Gel and Bath Foam, £5.25
A good choice for families; Faith In Nature’s lavender laced concoction is perfect for bedtime baths thanks to the lavender’s soothing properties. French lavender aside, every other ingredient comes from these shores, with even the Aqua (water) sourced in the Lake District. It’s also made here, is paraben, SLS and petrochemical free, and is totally vegan-friendly.
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Lush Phoenix Rising Bath Ballistic, £2.95
The newest addition to Lush’s extensive range of bath bombs, Phoenix Rising is a fabulous Tyrrhenian purple ball of cocoa and shea butter, organic jojoba oil, and bergamot and cassia essential oils, laced with a little gold powder. Along with turning your bath water violet, it also leaves skin soft and gorgeous, and smelling faintly of cinnamon. What’s more, it’s also a petrochemical, sulphate, paraben and phthalate free zone.
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Ren Moroccan Rose Otto Bath Oil, £45
Without doubt the luxury option, Ren’s cult Moroccan Rose Otto Bath Oil is one to keep on the top shelf in your bathroom where it won’t fall prey to small, searching fingers. Despite the hefty price tag, it’s one product that lasts and lasts, with just a cap full enough to leave your bath tub smelling rosily gorgeous. Not only will you smell fabulous, it also softens and moisturises skin and contains no mineral oil, silicones, synthetic colour or fragrances. It’s also free from the big four.
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Melvita Relaxing Foaming Bath, £8
It might cost triple the price of Radox’ finest but it’s still a budget buy. Why? First of all, the bottle is bigger than Radox’ version, while the contents are both organic and free from chemical nasties. What’s more, the ECOCERT certified bubble bath is packed with gentle botanicals, including coconut oil, olive tree extract and marjoram and clove essential oils. With its stress-busting properties, it’s great for an evening soak and is gentle enough to use in children’s baths.
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