Marseille Soaps: How to Distinguish Genuine from Counterfeit?

About 95% of the 'Marseille soaps' currently on the market are reportedly counterfeit, according to a study by the French media ConsoGlobe. Let's break down step by step what Marseille soaps actually are and how to distinguish between counterfeit and genuine ones.

Marseille soaps - origin

Marseille soaps (savon de Marseille) originated from Aleppo soaps (containing olive and laurel leaf oil), which appeared in Syria thousands of years ago. During the Crusades, Aleppo soaps spread to Italy, Spain, and Marseille. During the Middle Ages, the Provence region in France became famous for soap production, thanks to readily available raw materials (olive oil, soda, etc.). Therefore, Aleppo soaps that 'settled' in Marseille soon acquired a different composition and properties. Marseille-made soaps - recognizable by their robust green hue - proved to be such a high-quality and effective household and personal hygiene product that they quickly became highly sought-after.

Marseille soaps

In 1688, the French king Louis XIV decided that a sought-after product needed some regulation, and it sounded like this: 'In soap production, it is not permitted to use fats, lard, ashes, or similar substances, only pure olive oil. Otherwise, confiscation of goods is threatened.'

Much later, the collapse of the French Empire, technological advancement, and the sharp competition at the beginning of the 20th century led to a dramatic decline in Marseille soap production. However, as is known, there is currently a growing interest worldwide in a healthy lifestyle, ecology, and natural products, and consequently, Marseille soaps have returned to people's interests.

How to recognize genuine Marseille soap

1. The ingredient list should be short (up to 6 items):

  • Plant oil, at least 72%, typically olive oil (less commonly coconut oil). However, it's worth noting that the original requirement was for pure olive oil, so preference is given to those.
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Natural soda
  • Glycerin
  • Sodium hydroxide (pH regulator)

Marseille soap should not contain anything more or different than listed above. 

2. The color should be green, brown, or beige. The color is produced by plant oil. White or any other colored soaps are usually not genuine Marseille soaps.

3. The scent should be recognizable as olive. If it smells like something else, it's likely not Marseille soap. Genuine Marseille soaps do not contain any added fragrances, neither natural nor synthetic.

4. Made in France. Undoubtedly, these soaps can be made in other countries as well, however, traditionally Marseille soap production has been cultivated specifically in France since medieval times.

Marseille soaps


In our view, 'counterfeit' might be too strong a word, as Marseille soap is not a registered trademark. However, any variation departing from the traditional ingredients listed above no longer allows the use of the name 'Marseille soap.' Since this name represents both naturalness and quality standards, Marseille soaps must be exactly as they were originally made. Even such an innocent ingredient as aromatic essential oil is a reason to label soaps as non-genuine Marseille soap.

The Valuable Properties of Marseille Soaps

In Cosmetics:

  • Effectively cleanse the skin when used in the bath, shower, or for handwashing at the sink
  • Hypoallergenic and fragrance-free
  • Suitable even for the most sensitive skin, including infants' skin
  • Rich in fatty acids, as olive oil deeply moisturizes and nourishes the skin
  • Anti-inflammatory properties, suitable for problematic skin
  • Rich lather, pleasant to the touch

In Household:

  • Dishwashing - Marseille soaps leave no greasy residue on dishes and are gentle on the hands (hypoallergenic, fragrance-free)
  • Laundry - by hand or in the washing machine (grate the soap and mix with water to create liquid laundry detergent)
  • Surface cleaning - for floors, windows, various work surfaces
Marseille soaps

Too good to be true?

Marseille soaps really are a multifunctional product, so for people accustomed to buying dozens of bottles and packets in stores, it may seem strange that one product - simple bar soaps - is enough.

This is indeed one way to reduce the number of purchased items.

Of course, few people today use Marseille soaps for both facial cleansing and kitchen surface cleaning, although it is possible and would yield good results. Mostly, however, they choose one way of use - either for household (mostly) or skincare.

Try 100 grams

In the Villa Mode range, we offer Marseille soaps from the French manufacturer Théophile Berthon made with 100% olive oil. This company has been producing soaps since the second half of the 19th century and has a rich history and cultivated traditions. A 100g soap bar is an economical purchase and large enough to try out this popular, ecological, economical, and skin-friendly product.

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