Marseille soap, Savon de Marseille, is a traditional hard soap made from vegetable oils and produced in Marseille, France, for over 600 years.
Authentic Marseille soap is made with vegetable oils (typically olive oil), soda and saltwater cooked in a cauldron. Marseille is an ideal location for traditional soap making; the Mediterranean climate gives local access olive groves, as well as close access to the sea allowing for the harvesting of soda and saltwater.
Economical, ecological and biodegradable, Marseille soap is a natural product with a recipe that is both gentle on the skin and respectful of the environment. The soap works equally well as a hypoallergenic body soap, and a household product that will effectively clean, degrease, removes stains and whiten. The famous Marseille soap contains no more than seven ingredients with a vegetable oil base; with olive oil being the main vegetable oil. The enscription “72% vegetable oils" printed on the side of the soap confirms the oil composition. Also worth noting, the traditonal Marseille soap recipe is a natural product with no preservatives and no colouring.
The Colour and Scent of Genuine Marseille Soap
Marseille soap comes in different shapes and sizes: cubes, rectangular cuboid shapes, ovals, and large and small soap flakes. The vegetable oil content gives the soap its natural green, brown or beige colour. Any other colour will indicate a deviation from the traditional Marseille soap recipe.
Traditional Marseille soap is unscented, with a distinctive utilitarian olive oil aroma. Toilet soaps are typically scented with honey, lavender, almond, or enriched with nut butters and other ingredients. These are not traditonal Marseille soaps, but rather are a new, modern take on the recipe.
The "green" Marseille soap is known for its nourishing properties and helps to reduce signs of skin dryness or irritation and is recommended by dermatologists.* The "white" Marseille soap is based on copra oil and is ideal for the maintenance of your laundry. It is an ultra-effective stain remover that will take care of your linen on a daily basis, including the most delicate textiles such as wool and silk.
Geographic Origins & the Marseille Soap-Making Process
Traditional Marseille soap is made in a large cauldron, in Marseille or the surrounding area. The special saponification process is known as the “Marseille process”. It takes place in five stages, lasting one week to ten days. Huge cauldrons are used to boil down olive oil and soda, which is then heated for ten days and washed with saltwater daily. The soap is then poured and left to dry for a couple of days before being sliced and hand-stamped and ready for curing.
Because “Savon de Marseille” is not protected by an appellation, the Union des Professionnels du Savon de Marseille felt it important to lay out the features of a genuine “Savon de Marseille":
- Soap must be made in Marseille or the Marseille region
- Traditional process in a cauldron
- Plant oils exclusively
- Fragrance-free, no dyes, no preservatives
The "Union des Professionnels du Savon de Marseille"
The purpose of the Union of Marseille soap makers founded in 2011 is :
To defend, promote and educate about true, genuine Savon de Marseille.
The four founding members are:
- Fer à Cheval soap makers, in Marseille
- Marius Fabre soap makers, in Salon-de-Provence
- Savonnerie du Midi soap makers, in Marseille
- Le Sérail soap makers, in Marseille
In order to protect, promote and raise public awareness about genuine Savon de Marseille, a distinctive sign such as a collective mark was required, which is now found on every bar or label.
The Marseille soap-makers’ alliance logo will help you know at a glance that you’re buying genuine Marseille soap. We highly recommended you check the label before buying. We also do not recommend any products containing palm oil (labelled as 'sodium palmate'), as all palm oil products continue to be a major driver of the aggressive deforestation of some of the world's most biodiverse forests, destroying the habitat of already endangered species.
*Dermatological study SVHO/99, dermatological service CHU de Montpellier.