This is a Lux soap from the late 40s. The simple paper wrap was the industry standard for soap packaging, a format not much changed since Victorian times or earlier. It was functional, had product branding, and was biodegradable (although that was incidental). Some soaps came in a card box, but essentially the physical designs for soap packaging remained the same until at least the 90s.
So what changed?
What has changed is the (arguably managed) perception of bar soap shifting from being a cleansing essential to a messy, inconvenient, unhygienic product that people have to share. The horror of finding hair on the soap and the inconvenience of having to wipe a soap dish has morphed into a rationale about avoiding bacteria.
It is now very easy to find all sorts of domestic soap products in the supermarket, from shower gels, body washes and foams to pump hand soaps, but one has to seek out block soap, which by now has acquired the inevitable plastic wrap sometimes in addition to a paper wrap.
These new soap products are very different and are sold in plastic bottles, often with pumps, sometimes with hooks, and sometimes in pressurised aluminium cans with large plastic atomisers, for foamy suds. They always hold out the cross fingered promise of recyclability, which may be true, but compared to a bar of soap they are in a different universe. The reality is that creating less packaging is far more important than using energy to inefficiently recycle over-packaged products. In truth elements such as pumps, atomisers and lids are rarely recycled and even bottles can end up being incinerated instead of recycled.
The point? Sometimes packaging is not the problem. Sometimes it is the product itself, and sometimes we are victims of manipulation and our own perceptions. We could quite easily go back to buying bars of soap, even antibacterial ones… if we wanted to.
There is some evidence that soaps are undergoing a renaissance. Unwrapped craft soaps are popular, but perhaps a specialist niche, and there are soap bars for shampooing and face cleansing and exfoliating, so perhaps the de-packaging message is gaining some traction.
As for bacteria and viruses, including Covid-19, there is plenty of evidence that washing your hands with soap is far more effective than using antibacterial hand gels. Arguably antibacterial soaps can be detrimental to skin health, because they kill off the skin's natural bacteria. So soap is still the way to be a Germ-Free Adolescent.
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