Melt & Pour Soap: Soap or Cosmetic?

I’m often asked if melt and pour soap is a soap or a cosmetic. To quote one of my favorite law blogs (The Legal Genealogist) the answer is, “it depends.”


It all comes down to definitions, and the word “soap” has several. Sometimes they overlap, and sometimes they are completely different.

Definitions of Soap:

General (Dictionary) Definition of Soap:

Soap is a product that is used with water to make suds and is used for cleaning.

Chemical Definition of Soap:

Soap is the alkali salt of fatty acids.

By the general definition a wide array of products could be considered soap, including soap (by the chemical definition below) and also synthetic detergents, various surfactants, and even some plants such as soapwort (Saponaria).

The chemical definition is very distinct. It is the result of mixing an alkali (sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide) with animal or vegetable fats or oils (which are triglycerides and contain fatty acids).

For the sake of simplicity, I generally refer to this type of soap as a true soap.

(1) The bulk of the nonvolatile matter in the product consists of an alkali salt of fatty acids and the detergent properties of the article are due to the alkali-fatty acid compounds; and
(2) The product is labeled, sold, and represented only as soap.

FDA Definition

The FDA regulations clarify what they meant when they said “except soap” in the definition of a cosmetic.

In this case, soap must chemically be “soap” AND it must be labeled, sold, and represented only as soap.

Melt and Pour Soap

Melt and pour soap base is used to make products that are used with water to make suds and clean. So it is “soap” by the general definition.

A closer look, though, shows that some melt and pour soaps are “true soaps” and some are detergent based (making them soaps in the general sense, but not in the chemical sense).

Your supplier should be able to provide you with an accurate ingredient declaration and help you determine if the product meets the FDA definition of a true soap or not.

Example 1 offers Stephenson Suspending Melt and Pour Base which has an ingredient listing of:

Water, Propylene Glycol, Sodium Stearate, Glycerin, Sucrose, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sorbitol, Sodium Laurate, Sodium Mysistate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Silica, Sodium Chloride, Stearic Acid, Lauric Acid, Pentasodium Pentetate, Tetrasodium Etidronate.

While it does contain some true soap (sodium stearate, sodium laurate, and sodium mysistate), it also contains detergents (sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate) as well as a number of other non-soap components.

It is a “soap” in the general sense, partially a “true” soap, and NOT a soap (and so a cosmetic) in the FDA definition.

Example 2 also offers SFIC Clear Melt and Pour Soap Base which lists ingredients:

Coconut Oil, Palm Oil, Safflower Oil, Glycerin, Water, Sodium Hydroxide, Sorbitol, Sorbitan oleate, Oat Protein.

Based on that ingredient list1 the product would be a “true soap” because the bulk of the product is the result of the saponification of the coconut, palm, and safflower oils with the sodium hydroxide.

Example 2.5

The explanation of the SFIC Clear Melt and Pour Soap Base includes claims that the sorbitol and oat protein are “moisturizing.” If the soap made from the base were to be touted as “moisturizing,” then the product would be a “moisturizer” and not just a “soap.” So it wouldn’t fit under the FDA definition of a soap. (It would be a cosmetic.)

Soap or Cosmetic?

A melt and pour product that DOES MEET the FDA definition of soap IS NOT a cosmetic and is regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (for safety) and by the Federal Trade Commission (for labeling). The ingredient declaration is not required.

A melt and pour product that DOES NOT MEET the FDA definition of soap IS a cosmetic and is regulated by the FDA. An ingredient declaration is required on the package label.

Chart of Possibilities

In these examples, all of the products fit the GENERAL definition of soap.

In the first column (headed “Soap Type”), “true soap” means it meets the chemical definition of soap and “detergent” means that it contains all or some non-true-soap cleansing ingredients (generally detergents). In the second column (headed “Claims”), “moisturizes” is a cosmetic claim. Any other cosmetic claim would have the same result in the chart.

Soap TypeClaimsCalledIt is a…
True SoapCleansSoapSoap
True SoapMoisturizesSoapCosmetic
True SoapCleansBeauty BarCosmetic
DetergentCleansBeauty BarCosmetic
True SoapConditionsShampooCosmetic

Note that there is only ONE combination of product type, claims and name that is a soap under the FDA definition. All others are cosmetics and fall within the FDA regulations for cosmetics.

For more details on the applicable regulations and how to label soap and cosmetic products, see my books, Soap and Cosmetic Labeling and Navigating the Rules & Regs, both available at using the buttons below.

Soap and Cosmetic Labeling cover

To really be able to create your own labels that comply with the regulations, get my book from Amazon and use it.

Navigating the Rules and Regs book by Marie Gale

Besides labeling, there are many other laws and regulations that apply to handcrafters. To find out which ones apply to you and how to comply with them, buy my book and keep it handy!

  1. The product listing at includes a note saying that the manufacturer uses additional “processing aids” which are not disclosed. ↩︎


74 responses to “Melt & Pour Soap: Soap or Cosmetic?”

  1. Aline Campbell

    Hello, Marie! Thank you for all the free info you have here for us!
    I only work with detergent-free MP soap bases and only advertise them as “soaps”, so I know it’s all legally true soap and I don’t necessarily have to list the ingredients. However, I list all the ingredients anyway. My base supplier is SFIC, and they list their ingredients as the oils plus lye. When I label my finished soaps, is it ok to just copy their list and then add my fragrance and micas at the end?
    Someone was saying I can’t list it like that since my fragrance and micas didn’t go “into the pot” with the other ingredients of the base. They said I have to list them as the saponified salts from the base, (sodium cocoate, sodium palmitate, … for example) and then my additives.
    I don’t know SFIC’s recipe and the purity of the raw materials they used specifically, plus there’s the super fat (I saw your article about that too).
    Sorry, I know I’m overthinking this since I technically don’t even need to list anything. But I’m truly curious and think you’re the best person for me to ask!
    Thank you so much for all the help.

    1. Marie Gale

      If you are following the FDA regulations for cosmetics, you CAN list the ingredients for the SFIC base individually in your ingredient declaration. It’s considered a “blended ingredient,” and as with ALL blended ingredients, you are required to list the individual components in your final ingredient declaration.

      Assuming that your fragrance (listed as “fragrance”) is present at 1% or less, you can add it to the end of the ingredients. (Ingredients present at 1% or less can go in any order following the ingredients present at more than 1%.) If it’s more than 1%, and it looks like there are any ingredients in the SFIC base that are present at a smaller amount, you should place it correctly in descending order of predominance.

      The color additives (ALL the component color additives in each colored mica listed individually) can go at the end of the ingredient declaration, regardless of amount.

  2. I use SFIC melt and pour soap base/ color blocks / mica/ fo from bramble berry to make my soap,
    I live in New York and I’ve been trying to find a way to label my soap, but I’m confused if the soaps that I’m making using those ingredients from bramble berry is going to be called cosmetic or just soap.

    1. Marie Gale

      No matter what, the product needs the name of the product, identity (what is it? “soap”), and the net weight on the front, and the business name and address on the back.

      If you are labeling it as a cosmetic, then it needs the ingredient declaration.

      The EASIEST thing to do is label it as a cosmetic. Just put the ingredient declaration on it and you are good to go. You can make any cosmetic claims for the the soap (moisturizing, etc.). You are, in that case, limited to color additives that are allowed in cosmetics.

      IF your soap meets the definition of an exempt soap per the FDA—that is, it is a lye/oil soap and is only marketed as “soap” (no other claims)—then you don’t need to put the ingredient declaration on it and you have a bit more leeway for your color additives.

      The SFIC bases I looked at on Brambleberry’s website were all oil/lye soaps (but I didn’t check them all).

  3. Elesja Callaghan

    I am just starting out in the soap making business. So, with melt and pour, if it is SLS and SLES free does that make it a “true soap”?

    1. Marie Gale

      In order for soap to be exempt from the definition of a cosmetic:

      1) It must be the alkali salt of fatty acids (lye/oil soap). USUALLY that means it is SLS and SLES free, but there could be other detergents. The key is that the cleansing comes from the alkali salt of fatty acids.

      2) It must be marketed and sold only as “soap”. You can’t make any other claims for the product (such as that it or any of the ingredients “moisturize” or “exfoliate” or any other cosmetic claims).

  4. Linda Poole-Thruston

    Hi,I am newbie soap maker..I use the SFIC bulk,so on the labeling part I would put only the ingredients on the label,and if any essential oil that I add?

    1. Marie Gale

      If you are listing the ingredients in accordance with the cosmetic ingredient declaration regulations, you would list the ingredients in the base AND anything that you add. Anything you add at 1% or less can go in any order at the end of the ingredients (before any color additives). If you add something at more than 1%, it needs to fit in with the ingredients from the base (in the correct order). Normally, I don’t expect that you’d be adding something at more that 1%, but if you do, check with your supplier to make sure you get it in the right order.

  5. Hailey holcomb

    So I understand that If I use a SCIF melt and pour soap base that’s considered true soap.
    Now if I add essential oils and dried out flowers or stuff to exfoliate but don’t make any claims, is that still considered true soap?

    1. Marie Gale

      The soap itself, if it meets the standard, is “true soap.” That is, it is soap exempt from the definition of a cosmetic.

      If you add essential oils, dried flowers, or other ingredients, it is still exempt from the defintion of a cosmetic. HOWEVER, if you state that the flowers are an exfoliant or that the soap is “moisturizing” (or some such), now you are no longer marketing it as “soap,” you are marketing it as a cosmetic. So it’s no longer exempt from the defintion of a cosmetic.

      That said, really the only differences are that you must add the ingredient declaration to the label and you are limited to using color additives that are approved for use in cosmetics.

  6. Hi Marie, I purchased three butter base from Wholesale Supply Plus. The ingredients are as listed sorbitol, sodium coco ate, propylene glycol , sodium stearate, glycerin , butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) seed butter , mangifera indica Mango seed butter, theobroma cacao ( cocoa) seed butter, Titanium Dioxide. I’m just curious would the three butter base ingredients be consider true soap?

    1. Marie Gale

      According to the Wholesale Supplies Plus website, there are two three-butter soap bases: 1) a “premium” and; 2) a “detergent-free.” Based on the list of ingredients you listed, it looks like you are using the detergent-free base. Based on that, I would assume they are promoting it as a “true soap.” It looks like the primary surfactant constituents are both made from lye and oil or fatty acids: sodium stearate (sodium hydroxide and stearic acid) and sodium cocoate (sodium hydroxide and coconut oil).

      Provided you don’t make any claims that the product will have any cosmetic effects, then a soap made from this base would probably be considered exempt from the definition of a cosmetic.

  7. Hi! wow such a good conversation and clarifying so many doubts. I am new here and was planning on starting an etsy shop to sell gift boxes with candles, bath bombs and homemade soaps, but just last night I realized I should look into the law before jumping into it too fast. I have clear now as far as the definition of a true soap and the marketing guidelines so it doesn’t fall under a cosmetic due to regulations for manufacturing soap with cosmetic properties. But I have a question, when it is said that the “bulk” of the soap consists of an alkali salt of fatty acids, is there a percentage of the total weight of the product? I bought some MP bases at Michaels to try out, after reading up on here, I think I should better go through a wholesale supplier, am I right? Thanks for the prior info about the insurance. Do you have any information about a sellers permit in Florida? I am planning on making candles as well, do you know of any regulations about it? Sorry for asking so much, like I said I am a newbie. Thank you for being so good at keeping us informed. 🙂

    1. Good for you for deciding to check the law before jumping in. That’s always sound business practice.

      Florida requires comsetics manufacturers to get a permit from the state. See Florida Regs – 2019 Recap for some details. Candles and “true soap” don’t require a cosmetic manufacturer’s permit, but bath bombs would.

      If you are planning to go into business, then you should definitely get your MP base bulk wholesale. I don’t think you can viably make soap for sale if you are purchasing your ingredients retail at Michaels. Plus, with a wholesale supplier you should be able to get more accurate information about the components of the soap base you are using.

      “Bulk” generally means “a high percentage,” and the cleansing properties need to come from the soap, not from a detergent or botanical based surfactant.

    2. Melanie L Adcock

      Hi Marie, I am new to making MP soap and want to make sure I fully understand before I attempt to sell anything….the MP bases that I bought at my local craft store do not include Sodium hydroxide so that would classify it as a cosmetic and not a true soap…correct? And since it it a cosmetic I am legally required to list all the ingredients on the base label as well as anything I may add to it? Thank you for your time

      1. Marie Gale

        Essentially, you are correct. If what you sell is a cosmetic, then you do need to list all of the ingredients in the base AND anything that you add to it.

        A soap is only exempt from being a cosmetic IF:

        a) the bulk of it is the alkali salts of fatty acids AND

        b) it is only marketed and sold as soap.

        If the soap is made with lye and oils, then it is the alkali salt of fatty acids. You can recognize that on the ingredient label because the ingredients contain oils/butters/fats and sodium hydroxide OR the ingredients contain sodium cocoate, sodium palmate, or other sodium ___ate ingredients which ARE the alkali salts of those oils (coconut = sodium cocoate; palm = palmate; etc.). If there are synthetic detergents, then it doesn’t qualify; such things as sodium laurel sulfate, etc.

        And then, you can only market it as “soap.” If you say it will moisturize or exfoliate or something like that, then it’s more than soap—it’s a cosmetic.

        As an aside, if you are planning to sell, you should look into purchasing bulk MP bases from reputable suppliers. That will keep your costs down to a point where you could actually make some money.

      2. Melanie Adcock

        Thank you so much!!! So Sodium Laurate would make it a true soap base?? I’m sorry if I seem a little lost I am slightly overwhelmed and want to make sure that I understand. I do plan on buying in bulk once I understand better 🙂 the ingredients listed do have some detergents but I do see sodium laureate….thank you for your help!!!

      3. Marie Gale

        Sodium Laurate is the sodium salt of lauric acid—a fatty acid. So that part would be an “alkali salt of fatty acids,” and thus it would be “true soap”.

        However, if the MP base ALSO has detergents then it does NOT qualify as a true soap and is not exempt from the definition of a cosmetic.

      4. Melanie Adcock

        I think I finally get it!! Thank you so much for being patient and explaining it for me. I hope to venture into CP eventually but for the moment Lye scares me….hopefully one day I will make it happen. Thank you again

      5. Nowak Jackalyn


  8. Alisha Adams

    Is the difference between the two just the labeling? Does the FDA need to test the product if it you make a claim on the soap before you can sell it?

    1. Marie Gale

      In the US, cosmetics don’t require testing before being offered for sale; the FDA doesn’t test anything except colors. The only claims claims and statements you can legally make are cosmetic claims; that is, claims that the product will beautify or improve appearance. Any further claims (that it will DO anything like treat acne or clear up poison oak rashes) cause the product to become an unapproved new drug.

      That said, the primary difference between a soap as a soap and a soap as a cosmetic is the labeling. The only other issue is that cosmetics may only use color additives that are approved for use in cosmetics. A color additive is anything that is intended to change the color of the product, so a soap that is a cosmetic shouldn’t be colored using non-approved color additives.

      1. Another relevant difference between a soap and a cosmetic is the regulation requirements for the manufacturing practices. For my area that means no registration/inspections for making a soap in my home kitchen but products that fit the cosmetics definition require expensive yearly fees, inspections and production in a commercial food grade kitchen. I called our state regulatory group to ask about this and it was explained as an environmentally protective measure….requiring industrial level cleaning and disposal of oils. Say what?

      2. Marie Gale

        Yes, it depends on the area. Some states have manufacturer registration. Some states have requirements for all manufacturing to get approvals for water use and disposal of matierals (especially down drains).

  9. Alisha Brown

    If I am making a cp soap, and wish to label ingredients, do I have to follow a specific format? Can I keep my ingredient names simple?

    1. Marie Gale

      A CP soap is exempt from the definition of a cosmetic IF it is only marketed and sold as SOAP. No other claims such as it would moisturize or otherwise improve appearance.

      If it is exempt from the definition of a cosmetic, then the ingredient list is not required. HOWEVER, if you DO choose to put the ingredients on the label, the point you want to cover is that your information is not false or misleading in any way. Make sure that you present the ingredients in a way that either conforms with what consumers expect of an ingredient declaration OR that it is done in a way that they understand it is NOT per the cosmetic ingredient declaration requirements.

  10. Robyn McMullin

    We are having one nasty debate in a M&P page! My next question is… Since SFIC base has oat protein and sorbital (seems every single one I’ve come across has those 2 additives), according to the paragraph, Example 2 1/2.. just having those 2 on the list makes this a cosmetic. Is this correct? Sorry to be a pain about all this..

    1. The determining factor as to whether a soap is exempt from the definition of a cosmetic is:

      (1) The bulk of the nonvolatile matter in the product consists of an alkali salt of fatty acids and the detergent properties of the article are due to the alkali-fatty acid compounds; and

      (2) The product is labeled, sold and represented only as soap.

      Note that is says that the “detergent properties” are due to the alkali-fatty acid compounds. In other words, what causes the product to foam and bubble and clean comes from the lye/oil saponification process.

      Sorbitol (different than sorbitan) is listed as an ingredient in most SFIC MP soaps (see SFIC ingredient lists) is a sugar alcohol (see sorbitol in Wikipedia) and is probably used as either part of the “melt and pour” aspect of the soaps or contributes to the clarity.

      Sorbitan oleate is listed in the SFIC ingredient lists as an emulsifier. It’s probably some sort of surfactant, but likely has little impact on the “detergent properties” of the product, especially since it is so low in the ingredient list.

      Neither oat protein nor wheat protein (used in some of the soaps) create detergent properties.

      So, from what I see in the ingredient declarations for the SFIC MP soaps, vegetable oils, water and sodium hydroxide are the primary ingredients in the ingredient lists. So the bulk of the nonvolatile matter consists of the alkali salts of fatty acids and the detergent properties come from that.

      HOWEVER, at the bottom of the ingredient declaration, there is a statement that “processing aids” may be used in the products. While the statement says they are “not essential for product function” (by which I assume they mean the detergent properties), they are used to provide various features such as remelting and rebatching, final product appearance, etc. The products MAY include cocamidopropylamine oxide (a surfactant/detergent), disodium sulfosuccinate (also called disodium laureth sulfosuccinate, which is a sufactant used for foaming and foam boosting), and cocamidopropyl betaine (a surfactant/detergent).

      In my opinion, the inclusion of these “processing aids” potentially causes the product to no longer be exempt from the definition of a cosmetic. It’s hard to know what impact these ingredients (if used) have on the “detergent properties” of the soap.

      Further, I don’t personally think that these additional ingredients do, in fact, fall under the definition of a “processing aid” to be exempt from the ingredient declaration. In order to be omitted from the ingredient declaration, a processing aid is defined as (from 21 CFR 701.3(l)(2):

      (i) Substances that are added to a cosmetic during the processing of such cosmetic but are removed from the cosmetic in accordance with good manufacturing practices before it is packaged in its finished form.

      (ii) Substances that are added to a cosmetic during processing for their technical or functional effect in the processing, are converted to substances the same as constituents of declared ingredients, and do not significantly increase the concentration of those constituents.

      (iii) Substances that are added to a cosmetic during the processing of such cosmetic for their technical and functional effect in the processing but are present in the finished cosmetic at insignificant levels and do not have any technical or functional effect in that cosmetic.

      SFIC says, “In order to provide our customers with various desired features such as ease of remelting and re-batching, finished product final appearance, etc. we may or may not use small amounts of the following (or similar) materials:” So obviously they are in the finished product for their technical or functional effect.

      You might want to consider asking SFIC for the actual ingredient declaration for the actual product you are using, including the ingredients they have omitted as “processing aids,” so you can make a determination for yourself.

  11. Roxanna Roadarmel

    Pouring over all these blogs, I think I understand most of the ingredient list as the bulk of the product must be alkali salt of fatty acids (that means lye and oil soap) without added detergents. Where it becomes a little murky is with adding an additive like coffee grounds, seeds, etc If I am reading it correctly, adding coffee grounds, poppy seeds, etc would make it a cosmetic due to the exfoliating properties even though I call it soap with no mention to exfoliating properties. Is this the correct interpretation? Appreciate your feedback.

    1. Hi Roxanna –

      When you put an additive into the soap it normally doesn’t change the source of the detergent properties (what causes it to bubble, foam, and clean). That’s still true if the additive is scratchy or not.

      However, once you say that the soap will do more than clean (exfoliate, for example) THEN the soap is most definitely a cosmetic, regardless of anything else.

  12. Robyn McMullin

    I’m still confused about the melt and pour bases. I use Stephenson HCVS M&P clear base. These are the Ingredients: Aqua, Glycerin, Propylene Glycol, Sodium Stearate, Sorbitol, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Laurate, Sodium Chloride, Citric Acid, Sodium Thiosulfate, Pentasodium Pentetate, Tetrasodium Etidronate. So, eventho I only claim this as ‘soap’ and don’t say its moisturizing, I don’t have to list the entire ingredients? I’ve read the descriptions about both types of soap and still aren’t sure which has to list and which doesn’t have to. I always thought my M&P wouldn’t be ‘cosmetic’. I also use the suspension soap. Can u tell me, is Example 1 exempt from ingredient listing? I’m so confused here.

    1. Let’s start from the basics.

      A COSMETIC is anything that is applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, or promoting attractiveness.

      Generally, that would include soap. All soap; any soap.

      BUT, the definition for a cosmetic says “except soap.”

      Since lots of substances can be called “soap” the FDA needed a clear-cut definition of what would be considered “soap” to be exempt from the definition of a cosmetic. Their definition is:

      • The bulk of the product must be alkali salt of fatty acids (that means lye and oil soap) AND
      • The detergent properties of the article are due to the alkali-fatty acid compound AND
      • Marketed and sold only as “soap”

      Some melt & pour soap meets that definition; some does not. Mostly it has to do with what ingredients create the “detergent” (or washing, foaming, cleaning) properties.

      The ingredient list you posted includes sodium stearate, which is the alkali salt of fatty acids, but ALSO does includes detergent properties from sodium laureth sulfate and sodium saurate. So it does NOT meet the requriements of a soap to be exempt from the definition of a cosmetic. So all of the ingredients need to be listed on the label, just like any other cosmetic.

      For a historical perspective, which might help putting it all together:

      Up to the mid-1920s, all soap was made with lye and oil. Soap manufacturing produces glycerin as a byproduct which can be removed and is used in many industries, including munitions (e.g., nitroglycerin). In the mid-1920s, detergents started to be created. They cleaned, but they did not produce glycerin.

      Move forward to the mid-1930’s (and the coming of WW2), and the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act is created. It creates a definition for cosmetic that exempts soap, but only soap that produces glycerin. Personally I think that was because soapmakers were needed for the defense industry. But that’s my opinion.

  13. Shantel Caudill

    I have triple butter melt and pour base from stephensons. Would these ingredients be considered a “true soap” or “cosmetic”?
    qua, Glycerin, Sorbitol, Sodium Stearate, Sodium Laurate, Propylene Glycol, Sodium Oleate, Sodium Myristate, Sodium Chloride, Glyceryl Laurate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Mangifera Indica (Mango) Seed Butter, Sodium Thiosulfate, Sodium Citrate, Titanium Dioxide, Citric Acid, Trisodium Sulfosuccinate, Pentasodium Pentetate, Tetrasodium Etidronate

    1. In order to qualify as a “true soap” the part that cleanses and makes bubbles (the surfactant action) must be the alkali salt of fatty acids (that is, made with lye and oils). The soap you listed there has sodium stearate (which is the sodium salt of stearic acid), but is also contains a large percentage of sodium laurate (a detergent surfactant NOT made from lye and oil). Considering that and the other ingredients, I would consider that MP base to be a cosmetic, not a true soap.

      If you have questions about it, you could contact Stephenson and see if they will give you any additional information.

  14. So on the FDA’s website it says as one of the 3 measures if something is a true soap or not that:

    To be regulated as “soap,” the product must be composed mainly of the “alkali salts of fatty acids,” that is, the material you get when you combine fats or oils with an alkali, such as lye.

    I’m looking to make my own melt and pour base and there are lots of great recipes out there for it. They usually start with making a soap base and then adding solvents such as polypropylene glycol, glycerin, alcohol and sugar to make it remeltable and/or clear. So to make sure mine is mainly of the “alkali salts of fatty acids,” and be classified as true soap ( and not a cosmetic) is there any guidelines on what % of the recipe needs to be the soap and what % can be the solvents?

    1. The key here is that the “bulk” of the product is the alkali salt of fatty acids AND that the detergent properties come from the alkali salt (not additional detergents). Generally speaking, MP soaps made from lye/water/oil are usually considered “soap” even though they have solvents in them. However, if the MP soap is made with a DETERGENT (not lye/water/oil soap) then it IS a cosmetic—regardless of how it is marketed.

  15. If you buy the melt and pour soap and add a fragrance oil do you need to get them tested has with it being a melt and pour would this not already of been tested for them to sell at hobbie craft ext thank you In advanced

    1. Marie Gale

      If you are selling the soap you make, then you need to put the ingredient declaration on the package. If you are purchasing from a hobby or craft store, you’ll need to make sure you have the correct ingredients.

      In the US there are no requirements for getting the product TESTED in order to sell it, so long as you know what the ingredients are and can correctly list them on the label.

      If you are planning to sell MP soap products that you make, I would suggest that you purchase in bulk from a reputable vendor. That way you can not only keep your costs down, you can also be certain what the ingredients are.

      (Also remember that if you add any color additives, those must be approved for cosmetic use and be listed in the ingredient declaration.)

  16. Faith Frisby-Petrusevski

    So I should label my MP as cosmetic cleaner?

    1. Marie Gale

      If your MP soap is made from the combination of lye and oil (NOT a synthetic detergent), then you can label it as soap, exempt from the definition of a cosmetic, if you want.

      To be on the SAFE side, just label your product as a cosmetic (that is, you need to include the ingredients). You can still identify it as “soap.”

  17. Seva Walker

    WOW!! Excellent advice and questions. And I agree…So generous to share your knowledge and educating the newbie soapers like myself. That’s one of the things I’m loving about soaping is it seems like such a sharing online community. Thank you very much????

  18. Thanks again, you are a really good person

    1. Marie Gale

      Thank you—and you are welcome!

  19. Excellent, just one more question, what do you recommend regarding insurance and how could I get them based on your experience?
    Thank you very much for your kind replies

    1. Marie Gale

      Personally, I recommend the insurance you can get through the Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild. The insurance is discounted from what you can normally find for business insurance, has the option to cover personal property (so your stuff is covered, it’s not JUST liability), there are some other perks. You must be a member of the HSCG at the professional level (so there are additional membership dues). But you can get a LOT of value from the membership alone.

  20. Thanks, I appreciate your help
    Although the base contains sorbitol, if in the label it only appears as soap without mentioning its moisturizing properties, it still meets FDA definition of soap?

    1. Marie Gale

      MP soap bases have various ingredients added to make them “meltable” and “pourable.” I believe sorbitol is one of those ingredients. So long as the BULK of the non-volitile portion is the alkali salt of fatty acids, they would still be exempt from the definition of a cosmetic (so long as no cosmetic claims are made about them).

  21. Hi Marie, thanks for your help, it is very useful. Do you know if FDA have a MP bases list for true soap. I would like to be sure that I am using the right base (soap, not cosmetic)
    Most of the detergent free base content sorbitol and for that reason is a cosmetic. That’s why a prefer to find a list of a melt and pour base SOAP (FDA approved)
    Thanks again
    Sorry about my English

    1. Marie Gale

      the FDA doesn’t review or approve cosmetic products or soap bases. If you want a non-cosmetic soap base, the definition is that the “bulk of the non-volatile portion is the alkali salts of fatty acids.” In other words, it is made by the reaction between lye and oil, which causes the alkali salts of fatty acids (and glycerin). Note that it is the BULK, so it could still contain other ingredients. But the cleaning must come from the lye/oil combination.

      Normally you can tell from the MP soap base ingredients; they would include either oils and sodium hydroxide (lye), OR they would include the alkali salts (that is, sodium cocoate, sodium olivate, sodium palmate, etc.) If you have a question about a specific MP base, you should contact the supplier for any additional information they can provide.

      And remember that this is true ONLY IN THE US. All other countries consider soap used on the body to be a cosmetic. There is no soap exemption except in the US.

  22. Marie,
    I realize you’ve explained in detail about Melt and Pour soap bases. I’d just like to confirm this point:

    I only use Wholesale Supplies Plus DETERGENT FREE Melt and Pour soap bases….mainly the 3 Butter, Baby Buttermilk, Goat’s Milk, and Clear. Since none of these Melt and Pour soap bases contain Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS) or Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLES) would all 4 of these soap bases be considered ‘True Soap’ and therefore NOT require an ingredient list – as long as there is no claim other than ‘Cleans’ and there are no other additives except for body safe liquid colors, micas, and glitters?

    Thank you.

    1. Marie Gale

      So long as the soap (whether you make it or buy a base) is the alkali salt of fatty acids (that is, made with oil and lye) AND it is identified as “soap” AND it only claims to clean, then it is exempt from the definition of a cosmetic and is what I call “true soap.”

      The bulk of the product must be true soap. So you can use colors, mica and glitter or other additives.

  23. So technically speaking, if I use a goats milk SFIC and a Clear version of SFIC from Brambleberry, and call it soap, I should be GOOD in Florida I think right? I know my state has strict rules. I like to use mica to color my soaps though would that affect it? Also, could I call it Beard Soap, to clean your beard? I’d be good as long as I don’t call it shave soap or hair softening soap etc?

    Thanks for your help!

    1. Marie Gale

      It looks like both of those are what I would call “true soap.” That is, they are the alkali salt of fatty acids. So long as all they say is that it is soap, you aren’t making a cosmetic. So no registration in Florida.

      Once you start qualifying it as “Beard Soap” you are into a slightly gray area, but it’s probably not TOO likely someone from the state would say you are now selling a cosmetic.

      1. Thank you! I think we’re going to call it Beard and Body Soap. You have helped us immensely, thank you!

  24. Hello,
    Does mica colors and ingredients like turmeric , clays and oatmeal r considered as true soap ? As long as I don’t claim them as cosmetic or drugs??

    1. Marie Gale

      The actual definition of a soap making it exempt the cosmetic regulations is that the “bulk of the non-volatile portion is the alkali salts of fatty acids.” So color or other additives don’t really change the BULK of what it is. So they shouldn’t change it from being “true soap” and being exempt from the definition of a cosmetic.

  25. Thank you for all this invaluable information!

  26. Hello!
    This blog is so helpful! Thank you! So, if I use a ‘true soap’ MP base, call it soap and do not make any claims other than cleaning, it is exempt from the definition of a cosmetic, and an ingredient declaration is not required? However, if I want to provide my customers with information, but do not want to include a lengthy ingredient list of the MP, can I simply say ‘made with: melt and pour soap base (or glycerin soap base), fragrance oil, mica, etc?

    Thank you again!

    1. Marie Gale

      If your MP soap is a “true soap” (that is made with lye/oil/water), the ingredient declaration is not required.

      I wouldn’t recommend putting “made with melt and pour soap base” or “made with glycerine soap base” on the label because that doesn’t really tell your consumers anything. Remember, they probably don’t know the difference between the different kinds of soap. The reason for standardized ingredient declarations is because it helps consumers understand. “MP soap base” or “glycerin soap base” doesn’t help consumer understanding.

      That said, that is MY personal recommendation. Regulation-wise, you can say whatever you want so long as it isn’t false or misleading.

  27. I just posed a question to you about labels for small containers, now I’m curious about soaps. I will only offer 2 soaps, and I suppose they could be described as moisturizing. I’m ok sharing the ingredients, because it shows that they are all natural (nothing synthetic), and many of the ingredients lend themselves to being moisturizing. If I sell these online, I can list the ingredients in the description. However, I’d like to ship them without additional packaging – such as boxes, kraft paper labels, plastic wrap, etc. I hate to create additional waste! Again, is a biz card with a QR code ok to enclose with the shipment? If I sell these in a shop, can the display contain the ingredients?

    Thanks for your time and sharing your knowledge! Your blog has been straight to the point of some of these questions that many of us need answered to comply appropriately!


    1. Marie Gale

      Even if you ship them without “additional packaging” you still need to ensure that you provide the consumer with the identity of the product (what it is), the net contents, and the business name and address.

      If the soaps are cosmetics (i.e., there are any cosmetic claims made for them) then the ingredients are also required.

      If they are sold “naked” in a shop, they should still have the same information provided, both on the display and in a way that the consumer can take the information home with them.

      Besides being per the regulations, it’s good business since the consumer will have some way to know/remember where they got the product and/or to order more!

  28. So if i make a cold process soap that can be used for shaving and do not identify or market it as a shaving soap and maybe naming it something like “Thick & Luxurious Bubble Soap”, it would be considered a soap and not a cosmetic?
    Thanks for the response Marie!

    1. Marie Gale

      So long as the soap is cold process, is labeled and marketed as “soap” that “cleans,” then it is a soap and exempt from the definition of a cosmetic. Note, however, that any disucssion of it being a “shaving soap” ANYWHERE (website, FaceBook, marketing materials, signage) would be considered cosmetic claims in the “labeling” of the product (not just the label itself).

      It’s not that big a deal if it is a cosmetic. You have much more flexibility in what you can say and all you really need to do is put the ingredients on the label. Everything else required for a cosmetic label (identity, business name and address, and net contents) are required on a soap label anyway.

      Of course if it is a cosmetic, you may only use approved color additives.

  29. Is a cold process salt soap bar considered a cosmetic or soap?
    Is a cold process shaving soap bar considered a cosmetic or a soap?

    1. Marie Gale

      A cold process salt bar would qualify as a soap because it is the alkali salt of fatty acids, BUT it would depend on whether it was identified as “soap” and only claimed to clean. If there were claims for moisturizing or exfoliating or something else, then it would be a cosmetic (because of the cosmetic claims).

      A shaving soap is a cosmetic, because it is being identified and marketed as more than just “soap” and “cleansing” (since it’s used for shaving, it has a purpose of improving appearance).

  30. Hi Marie,

    I am confused. ???? So, if it is a soap it is regulated by FDA? And I label my “soaps” as shampoo bars. How bad is that?

    I just relocated and I am starting to sell my batches again in March. But, I want to make sure I am in good standing. I will only offer my shampoo bars and conditioner bars and I sell in small batches. The changes you made to your garage i wouldn’t be able to do because I don’t have a garage. Should I rent a space out? Please help.

    1. Marie Gale

      The definition of a cosmetic is “a product that is applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying or promoting attractiveness … except soap.”

      But in order to qualify for the exemption, the “soap” in question must be 1) the alkali salt of fatty acids (lye/water/oil) AND 2) must be identified and marketed as “soap.”

      So a “shampoo bar” is not being marketed as “soap.” It’s being marketed as a shampoo. Same with a conditioner bar. Or a moisturizing soap.

      If a soap is NOT exempt from the definition of a cosmetic, it must be labeled as a cosmetic. If it IS exempt, it must be labeled in accordance with the FTC regulations (as with all products). Soaps or cosmetics both require the statement of identity (what it is), the net weight, and the business name and address. The only real labeling difference between a soap and a cosmetic, is that a cosmetic requires the ingredient declaration on the label.

      1. Angelique Churilla

        If I make soap and it is considered a cosmetic how do I label it as a cosmetic do I have to put cosmetic on my label or what?

      2. Marie Gale

        You need to label your product in accordance with the cosmetic regulations. That means that the label needs the identity of the product and the net contents on the front, and the ingredients and business name and address on the back.

        A non-cosmetic needs all the same things—except for the ingredient declaration.

  31. Other suppliers sell SFIC-manufactured MP Base which has a similar ingredients list as the Brambleberry bases. Soap Goods, Bulk Apothecary are 2 off the top of my head that I know sell SFIC base.

    1. Is the ultra clear premium soap base from WSP is FDA approved

      1. Marie Gale

        There isn’t an “FDA approval” for soap base.

        I looked online and found two Premium Clear Soap bases at WSP. While the prices differ, the ingredients are essentially the same (shown below). WSP does show two ways to list the ingredient declaration (both appear correct) and one had an “(FDA Approved)” statement. I believe they are referring to the way the ingredients are listed, not the soap itself.

        • Crafter’s Choice™ Premium Crystal Clear Soap Base:
          Sorbitol, Propylene Glycol, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Stearate, Sodium Myristate, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Glycerin.
        • Crafter’s Choice™ Premium Extra Clear MP Soap Base:
          Sorbitol, Propylene Glycol, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Stearate, Sodium Myristate, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate.

        Both contain Sodium Laureth Sulfate (a synthetic detergent), so they are both cosmetics, and must have the ingredient declaration on the package.

  32. Hi again Marie –

    I wanted to know if you know of any other M&P suppliers, besides Brambleberry, who provide “true” M&P soap that would meet the FDA regulations?

    Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge.

    Blessings –

    1. Marie Gale

      I don’t know of any particularly. There are actually just a handful of MP manufacturers, but their products are sold under a few different names. There are probably several different suppliers that provide the different “brands” of MP soap.

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