Potential FDA Interference Has Homemade Soap Makers in Lather

fda regulations handmade soap

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Two Senators have introduced legislation that authorizes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to more aggressively police ingredients used in personal care products.

The proposed law targets homemade soap crafters. This has become a popular stay-at-home business venture known to often provide important supplemental and even primary income for a lot of entrepreneurs.

Major corporations in the consumer soap business support the bill. That only makes sense since the legislation aims to take out the handmade soap makers that pose a growing threat to them.

The bill includes regulations and adds extra costs into the soap-making process that small soap startups fear will have a major impact on them.

And though the bill is not an outright ban on artisanal soap makers, it is viewed as having the potential to raise the cost of doing business so high that it could sink this burgeoning industry.

Sam Bearbower, who offers handmade bath and beauty products on her Etsy site, told Small Business Trends:

“This bill would make it so very difficult for small handmade crafters and business owners like myself. I feel that a large majority of us would not be able to continue offering handmade soaps and such products. I believe major consumer product companies are supporting the bill because of how much momentum the indie handmade industry has gained in recent years and [because of the] profit that smaller handmade companies are taking away from larger companies.”

The bath and beauty products Bearbower sells account for about half her primary income.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) issued a joint statement noting that concerns about the use of some chemicals in personal care products had fueled the debate.

Use of formaldehyde, for example, poses both short-term and long-term risks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But a chorus of criticism has arisen from handcrafted soap makers who have no qualms with the bill’s intent. Rather, they are concerned that the bill penalizes them by levying costs that are too high.

And the fact that the proposed legislation is supported by large corporate soap makers raises further doubts.

Health Impact News noted:

“People who are trying to do good for their families and the planet by living a simple life based on traditional skills are facing yet another assault. Artisanal soap makers say new regulations … will put them out of business. If the industries that back this law are really so concerned about safety, why don’t they voluntarily make healthy products, like the small-time producers already do?”

Among the big corporations supporting the increased regulations are Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Revlon, Esteee Lauder, Unilever and L’Oreal, which distribute soap under the major household brands.

According to the Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild, the handcrafted soap and cosmetic industry is comprised primarily of small and emerging businesses, more than 95 percent of which are own by women and have from one to three employees in total. Around 250,000 of these small enterprises exist nationwide.

The HSCG noted that it supports current cosmetic legislation that makes it illegal to manufacture “unsafe, adulterated or misbranded products,” and notes that handcrafted soap and cosmetic businesses want to know about unsafe ingredients so they can avoid using them in products.

Further, the group noted that handcrafted soap and cosmetic businesses don’t create new ingredients, but rather use ones previously deemed safe in small batches of handcrafted products. Most ingredients used by these artisans are describes as food grade and available in grocery stores, the guild said.

The HSCG also noted:

“We feel strongly that any new legislation aimed at updating the current regulations must take into consideration these small and emerging businesses and provide adequate provisions for them to be able to continue to thrive and be assets to their communities and local economies.”

The group is advocating concessions for smaller artisanal soap makers. These include voluntary registration for cosmetic businesses with less than $2 million in gross annual sales.

Advocates also want cosmetic businesses with less than $2 million in gross annual sales to be exempt from any user fees or other fees from the new legislation. They also want small soap makers exempt from a requirement to file batch reports with the FDA.

Handmade Soaps Photo via Shutterstock


Ed Lieber Ed Lieber is a staff writer for Small Business Trends. He is a journalist and marketing copywriter with 20 years of experience writing, editing and managing for print and digital vehicles.

33 Reactions
  1. Yet another example of large corporations using the hammer of governmental regulation to squash small businesses. Either put an exemption in the bill for small businesses or kill it all together.

  2. It is bad news for small soap crafters but I think it is necessary. There are so many soaps going around already and they have not even tested. It is essential to ensure the safety of the public.

    • lol. wow people with your kind of thinking is a huge part of the problem with our country today. Yes we need more regulations for our safety! Please o holy govt tell us what is ok and what is not, We are too dumb to make up our own mind.

      • I totally concur with your statement!!

      • First of all, let me clear something. I am not the government’s ally here if that’s what you are all thinking. It just so happened that I came from a country that has so many untested Chinese soap products that did not only cause people’s money – it cost their lives. I do understand if my statement is somewhat hurtful for small businesses who have a hard time getting their products out there. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for creativity and for your information, I buy soaps that are crafted by small artisans. But if you are from a country that is obsessed with whitening and unsafe whitening soaps are everywhere. Then you may change your mind.

    • Aira it’s because of people like you that we have so much government in our lives. Don’t you think the consumer will take care of any soap maker who is not making a high quality product. If you have a soap maker burning people the word of something like that would spend like wild fire and he wouldn’t ever sell a bar again. The handcrafted market isn’t about cutting corners it’s about making a high quality product that you can’t get from the big guys, the big corporations are the ones having you rub laundry detergent on your skin because it’s cheaper for them! Get your head out of your ass and stop following big brother down every road he tells you to go down. Just like sheep.

    • Well then, why don’t you just purchase commercially prepared soaps? You don’t have to buy what you don’t want. Artisan soap makers probably don’t really care very much whether or not you buy their products… I certainly don’t care whether or not you purchase mine… what I care about is providing people who want to avoid chemical cocktails on their skin and in their hair — or avoid such products for their families’ use — an opportunity to do that. Heck, I even teach people how to make those products for themselves at no charge. Perhaps you would want think twice about how much governmental interference you really want in all phases of your life before you wind up with NO CHOICE except to give up your freedom to decide for yourself what’s best for you for you.

    • I guess the government and its employees/supporters don’t realize that it’s the cottage industry that keep people from going on the dole. One by one home based business models have been forced to quit. For many years now you can’t sell homemade food without renting an expensive commercial kitchen. (Paula Dean got her start cooking out of her home kitchen.) I used to do medical transcription at home, but now everything must be done digitally–necessitating the purchase of new expensive software. They are pushing for sales tax on internet (Ebay, Etsy) sales. And now this.

    • Point 1: Cosmetics aren’t tested by the FDA. Only prescription drugs must be tested. If the FDA required every cosmetic product ever made to be tested, then the waitlist for testing would be at least 25 years long and hardly any product would ever be manufactured. The FDA approves a gigantic list of ingredients that can be used within a specified concentration range. That’s sufficient. The problem isn’t the ingredients, it’s the general lack of competency of the homemade soapers.

      Point 2: YES. Homemade “natural” products can be more harmful than products purchased at the store. Just because something is homemade doesn’t mean it’s harmless. Just because something is “natural” doesn’t mean it’s harmless. For the record, use of the word “natural” is NOT regulated by the FDA. Anything and everything can be called “natural.” And technically, everything is a chemical. Stop assuming every ingredient with a molecular name is dangerous. Dihydrogen monoxide is just plain ole water.

      Based on my experience at various craft fairs, I think the FDA needs to regulated the homemade soap industry. There are simply too many soapers who don’t have a clue what they’re doing, and their ignorance is putting consumers at risk. Almost every soap vendor I’ve ever encountered makes medical claims about their soap’s ability to treat skin conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis. This is illegal. Making these claims discourages consumers from seeking proper medical diagnosis and treatment, and takes advantage of the general level of ignorance of the average consumer by selling them a product that won’t in anyway treat their affliction. Yes, there are many ingredients that may reduce the symptoms of some of these conditions, but absolutely none of those will treat any of these conditions. Making false medical claims = bad!

      Half the soaps I’ve seen don’t even have all the ingredients listed on the label. I’ve seen soap that didn’t have any form of lye listed on the label made by a soaper who couldn’t explain the process of saponification when I asked how she made soap without lye. The entire purpose of an ingredients label is to put the consumer on notice of what they’re purchasing, especially with respect to allergies. If a soaper lacks the competency and honesty to list all of the ingredients on the label, then how can the consumer know the soaper incorporated enough oils to neutralize all of the lye? Unbound lye molecules is bad news.

      The handmade soap industry shouldn’t be shut down, but soapers should be required to pass an exam proving competence in the manufacturing process as well as awareness of the laws surrounding medical claims. This doesn’t need to be an expensive or tedious process, but given what I’ve seen. It doesn’t matter how sympathetic and well-intentioned handmade soapers are; if they’re putting the public at unnecessary risk or causing harm, then they need to be regulated.

      As to food, guess what happens when you don’t follow proper food safety and handling practices? You kill people, or make them very sick, or create massive outbreaks of contamination and infections. There’s a reason for regulating the production of food. Public health and safety trump your imagined right to make whatever you want and however you want to make it and sell it wherever you want.

      I say this as a homemade soaper and lotion-crafter who is downright tired of vending next to incompetent morons who make medical claims and lie about their ingredients. I’m so tired of spending most of my time trying to undo the untruths perpetuated by my fellow soapers. I would love to take an exam to demonstrate my competency so that I could put a sign on my tent that says “FDA licensed homemade soaper and lotion maker.” Btw, the incompetency in lotion making is about 1,000 times worse than in soaping.

      • The sodium lauryl sulfate in the commercial shampoo you have been using is getting to your brain! “SLS is a “moderate hazard” that has been linked to cancer, neurotoxicity, organ toxicity, skin irritation and endocrine disruption.” But it’s still FDA approved and used in countless cosmetic applications. You sound awfully arrogant for someone that claims to deal in naturally-made cosmetics, who are usually more than willing to share their knowledge and HELP others. If I saw a sign on your tent that proclaimed “FDA licensed homemade soaper and lotion maker,” I would continue walking. The FDA is fast losing credibility. Brought to you by the entity that approves Monsanto’s products and fluoridates the drinking water. NO THANKS.

      • Someone just reposted this article; so though it’s old, I’m just now reading it. I have been researching what I need to do to start a bath products business, so your comment really sparked my attention. I will admit to knowing little at the moment, but I want to learn. I also want to make safe products. Personally, I love the idea of an exam and a license. My sister makes homemade salves and just recently has had them manufactured…and tested…and sent to the FDA. Is that what you do for your lotions and soaps, as well? Please don’t feel like I’m prying and don’t give any more information that you are comfortable providing. I’m just wanting to learn from an experienced person how to get started and what the requirements really are. Thanks!

      • I use melt and pour. The lye disapates after doing its job of breaking down vegetable fats and animal fats, whichever the soaper prefers. Ibthink you need to study a bit more. I write all the ingredients down, also colirants, like mica, thats a mineral. Mine is also glycerine based. I never call anything natural, even if it is.

    • Indeed get your head out of your behind. The cosmetic industry in not required to test the many suspect ingredients they use in soap, lotion, shampoo, hair conditioner, makeup,etc. They police themselves as the Cosmetic Act has no teeth. If you want to be scared google the ingredients on any bottle that comes off the shelf of any store. They are filled with nasty things that I would never even consider putting in my soap or lotion. It’s the reason I began making it for myself in the first place. Penetration enhancers push these ingredients deeper into the blood stream. Every man, woman, and child carries these chemicals around like excess baggage doing who knows what to the body. It is not just individual ingredients we have to worry about, it is the reaction when combined as they sit on the shelves indefinitely thanks to preservatives such as parabens. I use an organic preservative in my lotion, and the refrigerator. I no longer have cracked feet and hands by using the products I make myself, and even though I am not in the soap business, I believe this interference didn’t begin with lawmakers, rather industry lobbyists pushing the lawmakers. If they are so threatened why don’t they clean up their act, and remove harmful chemicals from their products.

  3. Perhaps if the government would sponsor a bill to assist small indie business, like soap makers and cosmetic formulators, with small grants, continued education, assistance with safety regulations, labeling, and compliance they would not only find support but a willingness to work with government. Resource centers, making information concise and searchable or better in an approved reference center, is something many soap makers are looking for in start up businesses. There are a lot of laws on the books right now but they are difficult to source and understand, and trying to get a “contact” person to answer questions is a rare occurrence. It is always better to help people in their upward progression than to tear them down with insurmountable costs and regulations. Indie businesses are all trying to take their talent, passion, and drive and turn it into a profitable and sustainable business that helps fill their families financial needs. Help us achieve our goals!

  4. Just another example of big business using its clout to pass legislation that kills the little guy. Go figure the two who sponsor this are probably in the pockets of these businesses. Sad.

  5. Jo Dee Massanari

    This is a wonderful illustration of how government works – large corporations don’t want the competition so they buy off some politicians to enact laborious and expensive regulations – pay for marketing reports to create “health concerns” to make it sound so sensible and reasonable and behind closed doors do everything they can to squeeze out small business. For centuries people have been making homemade products – and it was fine – but connect money to any product and suddenly it becomes “dangerous” for anyone but surprisingly large companies to do. Wake up people.

  6. joann schlachter

    I wish the FDA would just go away

  7. I would contact Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, https://www.drbronner.com/, for support. If your product is organic than reach out to your organic certifier: http://www.accreditedcertifiers.org/. There are small business supports usually working out of colleges: https://www.sba.gov/category/navigation-structure/contracting/contracting-support-small-businesses for free!!!! And yes it is the government so does this Law make sense? This maybe and independent contractor for the small business administration, I don’t know so process with caution: http://www.score.org. What Feinstein is doing is against all American entrepreneurship.

  8. It still blows my mind that these larger corporations are threatened enough by the small handmade soap and skin care community to try to put many of us out of business.

  9. Wow! Feinstein should just stick to bannning AR firearms…she is definitely in the deep pockets of the big companies who, by the way are selling soaps that has formaldehyde, phthalates and other harsh chemicals which they would like us to continuously use instead of using our homemade soaps….Feinstein you need to create a bill to lower college tuitions, maybe create a bill to improve veterans medical care or fight to bring them home….so sad you are just a puppet.

  10. Vote out the two politician’s that are favoring big corporations to drown small home grown business:

    “U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) issued a joint statement noting that concerns about the use of some chemicals in personal care products had fueled the debate.”

  11. AnnaZ – sorry to hear you have run into some bad soapmakers. I have been luckier. All of the small, handcraft soapmakers I know are very careful about their ingredients and their labeling, and most have worked for several years to develop their recipes.
    It is the big companies that have foisted dangerous chemicals such as triclosan (a supposed antibacterial that has actually led to the development of resistant bacteria) on us, and detergents that are estrogenic, leading to serious declines in some species of fish (fewer males in the populations, less reproduction). Who knows what those chemicals are doing to our kids. I don’t know any small soapmaker who adds formaldehyde to their soaps or other body products.
    I am really disappointed that Feinstein is a co-author, and I am going to let her know. All of us should take the time to let Feinstein, Collins, and our own Representatives and Senators know how we feel about this issue – whichever side you are on. Just cut and paste what you have written here and send them an email.
    It is supposed to be government of the people, for the people, by the people. Time for us to take our government back from the big corporations and the billions of dollars they spend on buying Congress each year.

  12. Angelika Yannuzzi

    While I understand the need for safety I still do not feel as if the FDA needs to be involved in small business owners trying to make a living. I think getting a LLC should be sufficient. And as far as labeling is concerned the FDA refuses to label foods which contain GMO”S, that which we consume. If they are going to preach it they should live it as well!

  13. Have any of you read the proposed legislation? I have and it does not affect small soapmakers at all unless they are using some weird chemicals. I can’t figure out why this article says what it does. I am a soapmaker and this will not affect me at all or most of you either.

  14. The market is filled with products that the fda can go after. The unsafe chemicals that are in skincare, cosmetics and everything we eat. Lets call it what it is. This is nothing but the big companies yet trying to eliminate any and all threat. People need to wake up.. the government is nothing but influenced and bought. Need to vote these people out of office..