Soap is one of those necessities that’s been around forever or at least that’s what most of us believe. The truth is soap is really not that old when you compare with other cosmetic products like perfume and mineral salts. The Romans had no clue about soap so when they needed to wash off the cobble street dirt and the grim that floated through the air of the villages and cities they used olive oil. Olive oil was smeared all over the skin and then it was scrapped off and the dirt and grim came off with it.
Mesopotamia was the first society to add soda ash to their olive oil and that mixture became the first olive oil soap. The concept of combining lye and fats with olive oil caught on in those ancient centuries, and the quality of soap kept improving over the years. Different oils were mixed with algae and minerals to create soap, and as new ingredients were added the olive oil soap kept getting better.
By the 6th century, olive oil soap was the accepted way to get rid of body dirt so a group of entrepreneurs got together in Marseilles and started an olive oil soap factory. The factory and the soap were a huge success so soap factories popped up in Genoa, Constantinople, and Lisbon. The quality of the olive soap produced by these early factories was not consistent because each factory used different amounts of olive oil, soda ash, and fats as well as other ingredients.
The government of France finally stepped in and standardized the ingredients used in olive oil soap based on a formula developed by a French chemist. The soap produce by the Marseilles factory became the standard, and all other factories had to conform to that standard. Only the olive oil soap made using that formula earned a certificate of purity.
Olive oil production in France went through a dreadful period during the 17th century due to weather conditions and other natural events. Soap factories had to buy olive oil from the island of Crete, and that changed the quality of the soap. Olive oil from Crete was not regulated by the French government so the oil producers in Crete were shipping oil that was processed incorrectly.
By the 18th century, olive oil from Crete earned a reputation for being soap quality oil, but since the soap industry was the primary user of the oil no standards or regulations were established in Crete to improve the quality. The soap made in Marseilles was still called Marseilles soap even though most of the olive oil came from inferior olive oil refiners.
Olive oil soap use continued to expand around the world during the 19th century, especially with people who had sensitive skin, so Greece became a major producer of olive oil soap. The Greeks as well as other producers used a traditional recipe for olive oil soap, which was 100% olive oil, but that recipe gives the lather a slimy feel. The olive oil produced today is a blend of coconut, palm, and canola oil. Home made olive oil is made by combing 60% olive oil with 20% coconut oil, 10% canola oil and 10% palm oil, which makes the soap hard and firm. Home made olive oil can keep the skin moist and it also helps the skin maintain its elasticity.