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SHOPTALK : Compared to Natural Soaps, Other Bars Are All Washed Up : Upscale grocery stores are the best places to find imported and chemical-free brands at a fair price.

July 14, 1994|JULIE SAWYER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It all started a few years ago with an extended vacation abroad. It wasn't the vacation, though, it was the souvenir. Soap. Lots of little bars pilfered from some of Europe's finest hotels. At first, we were underwhelmed. But when we broke open the wrappers, we were struck by the difference between these precious little bars and our own big bars of soap.

The new bars lasted twice as long as bars three times bigger. They also felt better, smelled better and left our skin softer. What is the difference between the average bar of American-made soap and a bar of natural soap or soap imported from Europe? A truckload of chemicals, that's what.

The typical bar of soap purchased at our local supermarket has artificial scents, dyes, preservatives and even animal fats. A box of unscented Dove listed seven different "sodium" something-or-others, including sodium chloride (hey, isn't salt drying?) and a "Masking Fragrance" (masking what?).

Sixteen or 17 ingredients listed on average compared to the three or four ingredients listed on an imported or natural bar of soap. One of our favorite soaps lists as its ingredients: coconut oil, 98%; lavender, 1.5%; olive oil, .5% That's it.

Unfortunately, buying good soaps can be an expensive habit. Small bars of glycerin soaps (3.5 ounces) were $3.10 each at a chic bath accessory store in The Oaks mall. Another bath emporium, in the same mall, had prices that were even more daunting.

But we have found good soaps at good prices. Upscale grocery stores are the place to buy wonderful natural and imported soaps.

Trader Joe's has soap imported from Greece called Kiss My Face. These soaps are $1.49 for a hefty 8-ounce bar.

We also loved Rovar's Oatmeal soap. This soap is a steal at $.69 for two 3.4-ounce bars.

(Check out the other bath treats at Trader Joe's. The moisturizing lotion called A Midsummer-Night Cream is wonderful. Unscented and with aloe vera, it contains no chemicals, no mineral oil, no animal byproducts. An 18-ounce container costs only $1.99.)

Gelson's Market in Westlake has our favorite soap. Called Le Petit Marseillaiss, this soap--which has a lighter fragrance than a bar of unscented Dove--is imported from France and comes in seven varieties. At $3.59 for a 9-ounce bar that lasts and lasts, this soap just seems extravagant.

Gelson's also has a good selection of glycerin soaps by Clearly Natural. These bars are $.77 for 4 ounces.

Not surprisingly, Mrs. Gooch's Natural Foods Market in Thousand Oaks has the largest selection of natural soaps.

They have more soap by Kiss My Face, including a smaller-size bar. They also charge a bit more. The same 8-ounce bar that's $1.49 at Trader Joe's is $2.25 here, but there is a larger variety from which to choose.

Other interesting soaps were the Sirena coconut-oil soap from Mexico, a bargain at $.89 for 4 ounces. The Reviva Lab's Seaweed Soap is made with a vegetable base and is $2.99 for a 4.5-ounce bar.

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