My boyfriend, who’s a minimalist when it comes to skincare, recently told me that a toiletry should feel like “a treat”.
“Occasionally after a payday I go up to Brown Thomas and buy the fancy bath soaps,” he said. Apparently he’s a sucker for anything with a citrus scent.
There’s something oddly alluring about a bar of soap. It’s simple, down-to-earth, not masculine or feminine. It doesn’t promise to plump, tighten, reduce or refine, and we don’t expect it to. It’s there to clean – and if it happens to smell like heaven, even better.
It’s cheap, it lasts for ages if you don’t leave it sitting in water, it can replace your body wash and shaving cream and it looks far nicer on a bathroom sink in a pretty dish than the plastic pump alternative (not to mention better for the environment).
And soaps today aren’t as drying as they once were. Quality plant-based oils, rather than animal fats or petrochemicals, both cleanse and moisturise the skin with a creamy, luxurious lather.
With this is mind, I’ve picked out a few great all-natural Irish soaps. They’re all handmade and cruelty free, and they don’t contain parabens, artificial fragrance, palm oil or sulphates – they’ll leave you with clean hands and a clean conscience.
For the quintessential brick of soap, check out Ruth's Soap by Ruth O'Loughlin. Handmade in her workshop in Blackrock, Co Dublin, these perfectly cut, creamy blocks, which come wrapped in simple brown paper, are made with olive and coconut oils and a blend of essential oils for fragrance.
Available in Lemon Mint, Patchouli Mint, Lemon Lavender and Allspice (€5.99), I find they have a slightly stronger scent than the others in this list. And Ruth's is the only one to offer an Unscented (€4.50) version. All are vegan. A list of stockists is available at ruthsnaturalskincare.com. Another vegan option is Palm Free Handmade Irish Soap (€2.50-€2.95, Nourish, select health food shops) from Scariff, Co Clare. Rough cut and marbled, these are the most colourful of the bunch – and the cheapest.
They’re made with coconut, sunflower and olive oils, cocoa and shea butters, filtered Irish rainwater and a blend of essential oils, such as tea tree, lemongrass and rose geranium.
Available in four mild scents – Classic Lavender Cream, Wild Irish Seaweed, Lemon Freesia and Rosewater – they don’t come wrapped or boxed; the name is cut right into the soap in what looks like a handwritten scrawl. Very charming.
For a more rustic soap that blends some distinctly Irish ingredients, there's Sean Phobal Irish Soap (€4.50-€6), made and sold at The Witches Garden Shop in Ballinasloe, Co Galway. These larger slabs often contain bits of herbs and wildflowers grown in the shop's garden and surrounding farm, which adds a unique texture and colour to each.
Sunflower, olive and coconut oils are blended with more unusual ingredients, such as buttermilk, dillisk seaweed, carragheen, Irish heather blossom, white sage, charcoal and peat-infused Irish water. For packaging, expect ribbon and buttons.
For something that feels a bit more polished and luxe, Clarke's of Dublin (€5.95) by Irish sculptor and artist Suzanne Clarke is the whole package: perfectly cut squares of quality soap that come in the cutest powdery pastel boxes you've ever seen.
They look like something you'd pick up along with milk and sugar in the best general store in town. Olive, coconut and essential oils, are combined with seaweeds harvested in Donegal and Galway, goat's milk from Offaly, beeswax from Meath, Atlantic sea salt from Cork and Irish spring water.
Their interesting combinations include Rosemary & Sea Salt, Goat's Milk & Lavender and Seaweed & Benzoin. A list of stockists is available at clarkesofdublin.com. Good enough to gift, and a perfectly reasonable payday treat.