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King of the Castile

March 31, 2009

Dr. Bronner�s Magic Soaps are still going strong after more than 60 years.

King of the Castile

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps are still going strong after more than 60 years.

By Melissa Meisel
Associate Editor

In 1858, Emmanuel Heilbronner started manufacturing soaps in the basement of his home in Laupheim, Germany. A few decades later, Heilbronner and his brothers created the first liquid castile soap and supplied public washrooms across the country. In 1908, a sole male heir the business was born, Emanuel (Emil) Heilbronner; 40 years later, he founded Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps.

Sixty-one years afterward and on the heels of its 151th anniversary of family soapmaking for five generations, the company is now led by Dr. Bronner’s grandson, David, and recently rolled out a new line of USDA organic personal care products.

Today, the iconic brand of peppermint-flavored castile soap is best known for its multi-purpose usage (18-in-1, the brand says) and illustrious printed labels with Dr. Bronner’s “All-One” philosophies. Its customer base has grown by leaps and bounds —what once was a product with a 1970s counterculture following is now attracting the attentions of the burgeoning million-dollar global green market. So, what makes Dr. Bronner’s soaps so magical?

“Quality soap-making consists in great part of choosing the right proportions of the right oils with their different fatty acids. Most commercial and even ‘natural’ brands do not use true soaps versus detergents in their so-called ‘liquid soap’ products,” David Bronner, president of the company, tells “Our soaps are made with certified organic olive, hemp and palm oils instead of tallow, and contain three times more organic coconut oil than commercial soaps.”

According to Bronner—a Harvard graduate who joined the family business in 1998—saponified coconut oil generates high-lather cleansing even in hard water because it has shorter-chain saturated fatty acids. Hemp, olive and palm oil-based soaps make a mild, smooth, creamy lather because these oils contain longer-chain unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fatty acids.

Dr. Bronner’s soaps are also touted for their moisturizing qualities and eco-friendly packaging. According to Bronner, the company “superfats” its soaps with organic hemp and jojoba oils for a milder, smoother lather. Plant-derived vitamin E and citric acid are added to protect freshness.

Also, since the soaps are three times more concentrated than most on the market, the company ecologically saves on packaging materials, according to Bronner. The new plastic cylinder bottles are made from 100% post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic.

The classic castile soaps are available in a variety of sizes in flavors—from 2oz. travel minis ($2.49) to gallons ($52.49), and from classic peppermint to exotic rose or citrus orange. Dr. Bronner’s also recently added its USDA-certified organic personal care line featuring a whole new set of innovative formulations, such as shikakai hand soaps ($8.99) in lemongrass lime, a mild baby balm ($4.99) made with jojoba, avocado and hemp and a lavender hair conditioner and styling crème ($7.99), to name a few.

For 2009 and beyond, the brand is aiming to extend its fair trade supply certification of major ingredients to include minor ingredients used as well—besides the family magic, of course.

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