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I had known about Aleppo soap for some time. I occasionally get a catalogue of an online shop specialised in healthy living. I don't buy much online but I belong to the strange species of people who love thumbing through catalogues and reading product descriptions. I read everything that comes under my eyes. I can't throw an unread catalogue into the bin. I didn't order the soap, however, although what I read sounded good. There are so many wonderful soaps on the market. I live near a Lush and a Body Shop and the weekly local Farmers' Market also has a stall with handmade soap. I don't suffer from ablutomania (compulsion to wash). I can't, or rather don't want to, wash more than I do. The reason why I did order the soap in the end is macabre. It's the constant mentioning of Syria - and especially the city of Aleppo - in the media covering the horrible civil war raging in this country.
When I write something about the history and the production method of this soap, then I'm not doing it to pad my review. Both topics aroused my interest in the first place. Aleppo soap can be seen as the genuine article, it's soap per se and as such. It has been produced in the same way by family run businesses for over 1.300 years. It's made of olive oil, laurel bay oil, caustic soda (pot ash) and water. No animal fat, foam establishers, perfumes or artificial fragrances. There are some types with added natural ingredients like honey, pure essential oils, dead sea salts, argan oil or red clay. I'll stick to the pure thing. How much of the two oils is used may vary from soap bar to soap bar. Generally speaking the quantity of olive oil is between 60 and 98% and laurel bay oil between 2 and 40% (logically). The more laurel bay oil is used, the more valuable and costly the soap becomes. The type I've bought has 25% laurel bay oil. The knowledge about the pure ingredients already moves the soap onto a high tier for me.
But I must also mention the production process. The soap is only made in the cool months from December to March. Olive oil, caustic soda and water are heated up to 200° in enormous cauldrons. At the end of the boiling process laurel bay oil is added. When the liquid has cooled down, the head soap boiler has tasted (!) it and declared it done, the water is drained off. The soapy stuff remains in the cauldron overnight to further cool off. The following day it's spread out on the floor of large halls where it remains to solidify. When this stage is reached, it's cut into cuboids with a hand cutter. Each cuboid is then stamped with the logo of the respective soap works. Like wine the soap has to mature. For this it's stacked into high piles in cool, high vaults in a way that all sides get air and left for six months. During this time the outside of the bars oxidises and acquires a yellow-brown colour. The inside remains olive green. I've found photos on the net and must say that I'm deeply impressed by so much craftsmanship which is the same nowadays as more than a millennium ago. Btw, Aleppo soap became famous in the area round the Mediterranean Sea when Crusaders brought it back with them. In the 12th century it was copied in Spain, later in Italy, and from the 15th century onwards soap from Marseille became known as the European equivalent of Aleppo Soap.
Now to the performance. After all, Aleppo soap isn't made to be admired in a museum but to be used. The first impression is that the bar is big, too big (one star off for this). The average weight is 220g-235g (as the bars dry out the weight reduces). You'd need hands the size of loo lids to roll a bar between your palms. In the beginning the edges aren't rounded and soft, so it's really an inconvenient manoeuvre. This is something I can't understand. Syrian hands are of the same size as ours. Why do the soap boilers produce these brick-like bars? My husband took the meat knife and cut the hard bar in the middle, or kind of. It doesn't cut evenly.
I've wracked my brain but I can't find appropriate terms to describe the smell. I've seen zillions of olive trees in my life but I've never sniffed the green fruit. Why should I? I'm only interested in olives when they're under oil. If I had sniffed the fruit, I could tell you if the soap bars smell of it. Neither do I know the smell of laurel. The smell of the soap isn't pleasant like the one of Lush soaps which make you want to bite into them. Yet it isn't unpleasant, either. Somewhat undetermined. The soap produces little lather which means that it lasts long. You don't wash it away so-to-speak.
Aleppo soap is so mild, gentle, moisturising and natural that it can be used on adults, babies, children and even pets (a claim I found on the net). I don't suffer from skin allergies, irritated skin, eczema, psoriasis, bacterial dermatitis, acne, herpes or rosacea, so I can't tell you if using this soap eases the pain as promised. I have normal skin, my only problem is an itching scalp. I find the idea of using a bar of soap also for washing my hair appealing. Who says that shampoo must be liquid? So I started the experiment. I looked forward to getting rid of my irritating itch. On a Q & A site I found the useful hint to be patient as the hair must get used to the change. How patient? For how long? "It can take several weeks". I lost my patience after three weeks because I looked too scrubby for my liking and went back to the shampoo I used before Aleppo soap came into my life. Pity, I would have liked to only have to take one cleaning product with me when travelling.
If you're a real aficionado, you can clear out your bathroom and throw away other products as well. You can use Aleppo soap as ersatz shaving foam or shaving soap (Can't comment on this, my husband didn't want to test it and I don't [have to] shave). It's recommended to use Aleppo Soap flakes to wash linens, baby clothes, lingerie - anything that may come into contact with the skin. Last, but not least, Aleppo Soap is an effective way to eliminate clothes moths in closets.
I'm content to use it for washing my body and my face. I'm convinced that it's the best soap possible and that it does my skin good. I can't promise that I'm going to use it forever until I 'bite into the grass' (as the Germans say), but for the time being it's the soap I use.
For how long the distributors will have enough bars of soap in stock to satisfy the international demand remains to be seen. Aleppo has been badly destroyed and is still under attack. Who knows how many soap boilers have already been killed, how many of the 60 or so soap works have been destroyed. (from Wikipedia) "The Battle of Aleppo is an ongoing military confrontation . . . between the Free Syrian Army and its allies and the Syrian military. The battle began on 19 July 2012 as a part of the Syrian civil war. Clashes escalated in late July as the Syrian Army and opposition fighters fought in the city, which is the largest in Syria (larger than the capital Damascus) and holds great strategic and economic importance. The scale and importance of the combat has led to combatants calling it 'the mother of all battles'."
Amazon sell a bar of Aleppo soap (approx. 15% Laurel, approx. 230g) for 5.40 GBP. You may also find it in health and beauty shops.