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How to determine the authenticity of a Savon de Marseille.

Pile of light green Savon de Marseille cube soaps in packaging paper

Imagine bright summer sunshine illuminating a crisp blue sky and strolling through a bustling outdoor marché along the Mediterranean Sea with cobblestone alleys lined with wooden carts laden with displays of fresh produce, wraps of delicate lavender stems, piles of crusty breads and neatly stacked chunky blocks of powdery cream and olive green soaps.

As a country with an abundance of products used and recognized around the world - from brie and camembert, baguettes and croissants to champagne, wines, perfumes and iconic fashion houses - the various parts of France delight with exclusive contributions to the food, home and luxury lifestyle sectors.

Over the course of centuries, French artisans perfected skills to master exceptional craftsmanship of inimitable quality on a multitude of goods and the Savon de Marseille marks one of those many heritages of a classic French ware loved for more than 700 years.

Stack of cream colored Savon de Marseille soaps with stamped logos

A little history...

Dating as far back as the 12th century, the soaps were exclusively made in the south of France in Provence and the surrounding areas of Marseille where the ingredients needed could be found and the climate conditions optimal for the drying process.

Production of the soaps began in 1150 and flourished up until World War II with a steady refinement of manufacturing methods increasing on a large scale in the 14th century. Under Louis XIV, Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert proclaimed a royal Edict in 1688 protecting the name and location of production, setting standards requiring soaps be fabricated in cauldrons and main ingredients be composed of natural vegetable oils with a minimum of 72% oils, no coloring, no preservatives and no perfume. By 1786, 48 savonneries were open and business was exploding.

After World War I, Marseille's strategic geographical position by the Mediterranean Sea and near the Rhône River allowed the import of raw materials and export of its production overseas through its railroad network and harbor. Coconut, palm and peanut oils arrived from Africa and the Middle East. In 1936 and after World War II, foreign cleaning brands appeared and washing machines gained popularity. In the 1950s, the distribution of detergents, industrial soaps and shower gels in supermarkets led to the sharp decline of the Savon de Marseille.

However in 1970, the industry experienced a rebound when ecologists decried the chemical effects of detergent powders to both the environment and the skin creating a movement to restore the traditional artisanal method of the Savon de Marseille as an ecological, effective and natural choice in the 2000s.

Today, only four soap factories remain within the Marseille area - La Savonnerie Fer à Cheval (founded in 1856), La Savonnerie du Midi (founded in 1894), La Savonnerie Marius Fabre (founded in 1900) and Le Sérail (founded in 1949).

Display of green and cream Savon de Marseille cube soaps in a zinc tray

Production of the Savon de Marseille...

Like the delicate steps needed to produce a fine wine or champagne, the Savon de Marseille also passes through a series of stages overseen by a maître-savonnier before the soap is ready for the market. While the traditional Savon de Marseille recipe is simple, the ingredients are of the highest quality. Primarily made with olive oil, there are recipes that combine the olive oil with coconut, palm, rapeseed or sunflower oils. To be considered an authentic Savon de Marseille, each soap must contain at least 72% vegetable oil. The process to make a soap involves five precise steps called Procédé Marseillais and takes fourteen days to achieve perfection.

L'Empâtage - Mashing

The vegetable oils and soda lye are poured into a cauldron and brought to a boil where the mixture transforms and emulsifies into a thick paste consistency.

Le Relargage - Salting out

Water and sea salt are added to remove the salty glycerine impurities. The soap loses part of its water content in this stage.

La Cuisson - Boiling

Once the previous stages are complete, the soap paste is boiled for hours. This step characterizes the saponification and leads to the transformation of the vegetable fats into soap.

Le Lavage - Washing

The soap paste is refined by washing it to remove the glycerol, any remaining impurities and fatty acids that may have not turned into soap.

La Liquidation - Liquidation

Water is added to cause the crystalline structure of the soap to transition to a smooth surface.

The soap is then pressed into cube or bar molds to dry and cut into blocks while still soft. Once hardened, each soap is stamped with the manufacturer's name, the size in grams and the EXTRA PUR 72% D'HUILE logo and packaged in paper for shipment.

Large and small brown cube Savon de Marseille soaps with distinctive logos

Authenticity of the Savon de Marseille...

After the French Revolution, protection of the Savon de Marseille ended when the royal Edict was dropped. Similar looking soap copies - some colored with scented versions - were mass produced outside of France using animal fats and chemical additives and widely marketed.

In 2011, the four savonneries left teamed up to implement the "Union des Professionnels du Savon de Marseille" to defend, promote and educate the public about the true, genuine Savon de Marseille. The group filed a collective mark that certifies that the product is an authentic soap from Marseille and meets the criteria of a hard, homogenous soap cooked in a cauldron over a period of 7 to 10 days following the original five-step technique and offered in traditional geometric shapes - blocks, oval and bars - of different sizes.

Piles of green and cream colored Savon de Marseille cube soaps

Identifying a genuine Savon de Marseille...

Three key ingredients

100% vegetable oils - mostly olive oil, lye and salt water without the presence of animal oils, preservatives, synthetic substances, additives, parabens or artificial chemicals. An authentic Savon de Marseille is biodegradable, pure and natural.

Color and shape

The Savon de Marseille is only made in three colors - olive green, beige or brown - no coloring added and found in a cube or rectangular/sliced form, bars or flakes.


A Savon de Marseille will always have an EXTRA PUR 72% D'HUILE stamp on one of the sides indicating it contains the standard ratio of 72% oils. A "Savon de Marseille" logo has also been added by the union as a feature to ensure a genuine soap.


None - some consumers may detect a light olive oil or earthy scent.


An authentic Savon de Marseille is extra fine and feels soft and soothing without any irritation, allergic reactions or burning sensations on the skin.

Stack of creamy Savon de Marseille soaps

Developed for the skin and hair with its moisturizing and hypoallergenic properties, the soap also gained wide usage as a non-toxic cleanser for the home, for laundry purposes and a disinfectant for small wounds. In our modern age, dermatologists recommend it to treat eczema and psoriasis and it endures as an ecological alternative to cleaning products in plastic packaging.

If traveling to Marseille, stop by to tour Le Musée du Savon de Marseille within the Savonnerie du Midi's factory to learn more about the history of the soap, view a private soap collection and see the cauldrons.

An authentic block of Savon de Marseille is a distinctive piece of traditional French history - a cultural symbol of expert artisanship shared over generations and appreciated around the world.


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