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Lush vs. Sabon: Suds or Duds?


You can smell both stores at least half a block away, but you can’t judge a store by its wafts. Or can you? We give you the dope on the soaps.
Sabon's SoHo store, www.wellandgoodnyc.com
Sabon's SoHo location has an old-world apothecary vibe

Both Lush and Sabon are stores known for their handmade and scented bars, body washes, and bath bombs. And given the presence and wholesome presentation of these two soap mega-brands around the city, you might get the idea that they’re better for you than they are. Here’s the dope on the soaps.

BACKGROUND

Lush: Born in Britain in 1977 as an Herbal Hair and Beauty Clinic, Lush (renamed in 1995), has built its name as a progressive beauty brand that ethically sources ingredients, doesn’t animal test, and uses minimal packaging. The first New York City location opened in 2004, with three others following in Manhattan.

Sabon: The bath-and body line was born in 1997 in Israel with its handmade lavender soap. The line has an air of luxury, thanks largely to its pretty packaging. It doesn’t test on animals, and also practices green initiatives. The first NYC store opened in 2003, and now there are nine Manhattan locations, which rivals the number of Sephora stores. (Well, almost. There are 15 Sephoras.)

SOAP SELECTION

The cacophony of colors at Lush appeals more to tween girls than their moms

Lush: Bath Bombs, body bars, sliced-on-demand soaps, and anything cosmetic that can be offered in bar form, including a rub-to-activate face serum. Also a bomb? The mélange of scents that hits you like a wall when you enter. You get used it after two minutes.

Sabon: Bath Balls are the focus here, though you can take your pick of bar soaps, soap flakes, soaps-on-a-rope. Did I mention they have soap?

SHOPPING EXPERIENCE

Lush: Bright lights, bright colors, and a perky sales team. Average customer could be tween girls, dragging their moms in to spend. Some of the product-testers seemed like they could have been overly tested—like the face serum bar, offered by a friendly salesperson. The shared bowls of water for washing up did not foster a feeling of well-being.

Sabon: Feels like an old-world apothecary with wood floors, bookcases, and chandeliers. The highlight of a visit? The wishing-well-like sink, where you can try products with running water (and a sanitary foot pedal to switch it on). When I walked in, a salesperson promptly asked me if I’d like to wash my hands, which, to a germophobe like me is like asking an unemployed person if she wants a job.

Sabon Soho
The wishing-well-style sink at Sabon Soho

HANDMADE?

Lush: Everything sold at Lush is handmade, says spokesperson Brandi Halls. With some products, this is quite evident: The Bubble Bars look like the work of a 6th grade art class. That can happen when soaps aren’t milled. Instead, botanicals are stirred into a soap-and-water formulation, which is poured into molds. Halls says this helps “regulate the amount of detergent used, thus reducing the incidence of reaction and easing any burden on the environment.” Even so, the Bubble Bars, like the shower jellies, contain sodium laureth sulfate, a no-no ingredient that can irritate skin and is considered an honorary dirty dozen cosmetic chemical.

Sabon: All the soaps, candles, and pretty ceramics are handmade. The rest of the products are not.

NATURAL?

Lush: Many soaps contain fair-trade cocoa butter and ingredients like herbal or floral infusions and essential oils, explains Halls. And Lush will put anything into bar form to avoid adding unnecessary preservatives, which is smart. But what about the synthetic Smurf-blue soaps? Product creator and co-founder Helen Ambrosen says, “Partly depending on the concept of the product, or the type of product, we will choose to use a color….You couldn’t have Blue Skies Bubble Bar, if it wasn’t blue. Colors do have their place, but not in everything. It’s just that some people love them.”

Sabon: Sabon’s soaps don’t contain sodium lauryl sulfate (a detergent that’s a skin irritant and verboten in natural beauty circles), but the shower gels and bath balls do. And a separate organic skin-care line casts a shadow on the wholesomeness of the regular products. Sabon representative Polina Raygorodskaya says, “The organic line was created in response to customer demand and global trends. The rest of our product line contains natural ingredients but also contains preservatives and colorants.”

COST

Lush: A bar of soap range from $5.95 to $9.95 for 3.5 ounces. www.lushusa.com

Sabon: A 1-ounce bar of soap costs $6.80 to $7. You’re likely paying more for the (prettier) packaging. sabonnyc.com

CONCLUSION

Sabon products are more visually compelling, and easier to maintain because many come encased in pretty containers. While Lush’s come with a “may melt” warning. With both, just make sure to scan the labels for questionable ingredients. —Bora Chang