Why Do Some People Eat Soap?

Have you ever encountered the terms “Pica” or “Sapophagia” and become intrigued by the odd phenomenon of soap-eating? According to the National Eating Disorders Association, Pica is a disorder that triggers cravings for non-food substances, leading some individuals down a perilous path of consuming soap.

Various factors contribute to why people eat soap. The leading causes include mental disorders, emotional stress, or a medical condition known as Pica. Additionally, some individuals may be drawn to the texture or smell of soap, while others might be experiencing iron deficiency, which is associated with Sapophagia.

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Pica is not uncommon; some individuals may inherit it, while others may develop it due to familial traits. If peculiar soap-eating behavior is something you or someone close to you is experiencing, delving into the underlying reasons and finding solutions can be enlightening.

For a visual dive into the perplexing world of soap-eating, check out this enlightening video:

Why is soap not edible?

A typical soap formulation contains lye, which renders it inedible. Consuming soap irritates the digestive tract, escalating to more than mere discomfort. Not to mention the appalling taste one is left with post a bite.

While this may not sound severe initially, the repercussions of ingesting soap extend beyond mere discomfort, as we will explore in the following sections.

Also, they taste terrible. If you take a small bite of a bar of soap or even lick liquid soap, it will leave you with an awful taste in your mouth. 

Here are some ingredients that make soap non-edible:

IngredientHarmful Effects
Sodium Or Potassium SaltsCan cause irritation to the digestive tract.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)Can irritate skin and eyes.
Methylisothiazolinone & MethylchloroisothiazolinoneCan cause allergic reactions.
Cocamidopropyl BetaineCan cause skin irritation.
TriclosanLinked to liver fibrosis and cancer.
FragrancesCan cause allergic reactions.
ParabensCan disrupt hormone function.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate (Sles)Can irritate skin and eyes.

Why do some people eat soap?

Stress often drives individuals to find solace in soap-eating, especially when overwhelmed. This behavior could also be rooted in Pica or a nutritional deficit, unveiling a deeper issue. Social and cultural norms can also fuel such traditions, transcending through generations.

Pregnancy sometimes triggers a sudden urge in women to consume soap owing to cravings for specific nutrients or minerals. Thankfully, this phase ebbs away post-pregnancy. Now, let’s delve deeper into identifying and addressing Pica, the core issue behind soap-eating.

Identifying Pica: Beyond the Unusual Eating Habits

Pica extends beyond merely indulging in odd eating habits. The crux lies in the consumption of non-nutritive substances like clay or ash. Although some cultural practices may involve unusual ingestibles, Pica surfaces when this behavior transcends cultural norms.

Signs of Pica are usually related to the following:

  • Eating non-food items that don’t provide any nutritional value.
  • Ingesting non-nutritive substances such as clay or ash is usually considered normal for a two-year-old kid but not for a teenager.
  • Craving for pebbles, charcoal, wool, chalk powder, paint, charcoal, starch, ash, or clay is a typical sign of Pica.
  • Even though there are strange eating practices worldwide, eating substances that are not part of these cultures and practices might be a sign of Pica. Studies reveal that Pica affects 25% to 33% of young children and up to 20% of pregnant women, showcasing the prevalence of this disorder.

Addressing Pica: Tailored Approaches to Treatment

Pica is treated differently based on the underlying causes of the disorder. Pica can cause various symptoms, which vary depending on which nonfood items are ingested. 

Pica patients may experience the following symptoms, which require in-depth treatment:

  • Constipation and diarrhea medications
  • Stomach ulcer treatment
  • Infections are treated with antibiotics
  • Supplemental nutrition is given to people who are deficient in certain nutrients
  • Taking care of other medical issues, such as lead poisoning

This illness primarily affects children, with adults and adolescents being the least affected. Pica has yet to be identified with a cure, while there are strategies to alleviate symptoms and avoid clinical signs from deteriorating. 

Treatment for Pica hinges on its root causes, with symptoms varying based on the non-food items ingested. A blend of medication, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and psychological counseling can significantly alleviate the symptoms and stress associated with Pica.

In addition, psychological counseling can be very beneficial in dealing with stress and is strongly advised. For instance, a case study published by the National Institutes of Health showcased a significant improvement in a Pica patient following cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Treatment Techniques Targeting Pica Behavior:

  • Mental health/behavioral health specialist referral
  • Behavior modification programs
  • Medication for behavioral issues
  • Promoting awareness to curb Pica behavior

Lastly, promoting awareness is just as vital as finding a cure for an illness; therefore, we all have a role to play in doing so. Bulimia, along with trichophagia and obsessive-compulsive disorder, are all symptoms of pica behavior. 

The Health Risks of Soap-Eating: Immediate and Long-Term Consequences

Although edible soap exists, it’s created for external use only, not for consumption. Even these soaps, while made from food-grade ingredients, are not meant to satiate hunger or provide any nutritional value.

Furthermore, eating soap can potentially lead to poisoning due to the chemicals present in the soap. If you ingested soap, you might have pain or swelling in your throat, lips, and tongue. Symptoms of gastric distress may also be present or vomiting frequently and, in worse cases, vomiting blood. 

The following are some more common negative effects:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Low blood pressure
  • Chemical skin burns
  • Loss of vision (if the soap product burns the eye)
  • Severe gastrointestinal symptoms (bloody vomits)
  • Severe burns to the food pipe

Ingesting soap can trigger a plethora of health issues, ranging from gastrointestinal distress to chemical burns. While soap possesses low toxicity, repeated consumption unveils its darker side, potentially escalating to severe health problems or cancer, especially with ingredients like triclosan.

Everyday soap consumption slowly but steadily wreaks havoc on the body, with irreversible damage over time. Although Pica isn’t typically lethal, the nature of substances ingested plays a crucial role in determining the severity of health implications.

Can eating soap harm you?

While soap is characterized by low toxicity, some bar soaps may contain harmful substances,  so a tiny amount of soap in the mouth is unlikely to cause harm. However, continuously eating soap will lead to diarrhea and vomiting.

The dose, not the nature of the chemicals, determines how much they can harm you. In addition to other symptoms, eating a bite or two of soap may cause severe indigestion. Eating soap can cause life-threatening health problems in the long run.

Can eating soap cause cancer?

While some soap constituents are safe when used topically, they can be carcinogenic when ingested regularly In addition, protracted interaction with triclosan, a chemical found in soaps, conditioners, shampoos, toothpaste, and various other products, has been linked to liver fibrosis and cancer. Therefore, there is a chance that soap consumption may increase the chances of developing cancer. 

Continuous exposure to triclosan, a chemical found in soaps, conditioners, shampoos, toothpaste, and other products, has been associated with liver fibrosis and cancer, according to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

What happens if you eat soap every day?

Let’s say that you, for some reason, decide to eat soap every day. A low-toxic compound daily may not harm you immediately. But because these toxins damage the body slowly, the damage will be irreversible as time passes. 

Would eating soap cause death?

In most cases, Pica is not life-threatening. But when not treated quickly and is not under control, it may become lethal. Of course, this depends on the type of substances consumed (meaning fatty acids and salts within the soap). These ingredients are mostly non-toxic and should not cause poisoning directly, and therefore, should also not cause death immediately. 

Is there a soap that you can eat?

While edible soap exists, it’s not intended to satisfy hunger. Transitioning from the hazardous practice of consuming regular soap, let’s explore the realm of edible soap, crafted for safety rather than sustenance.

Edible soap is mainly used as a safe and non-toxic hygiene product for children and animals. 

A good example is Pure aloe vera, organic jojoba, and kosher vegetable glycerin infused with edible food-grade plant extracts that make up the base.

You may make one of these at home as well. Natural and organic soaps contain ingredients that are safe enough to eat. Producing your own edible and safe soap is a simple process that takes little time. This recipe is safe since it uses natural, hypoallergenic ingredients. 

Biodegradable soaps are created entirely of natural components that are gentle on the skin and beneficial to the body when eaten. Only natural oils are utilized in the soap, and waxes such as beeswax are used to give it a creamy texture. Natural exfoliants, natural wax, natural butter, and optional spices are also included.

Below, we have listed some easily available products you can get your hands on to follow this quick recipe:

  1. Natural Oils: Macadamia Oil, Avocado Oil, Coconut Oil, etc.
  2. Natural Wax: Honeycomb
  3. Natural Butter: Cacao Butter, Shea Butter, etc.
  4. Natural Exfoliant: Oat Flour, Fine Grounded Coffee, Cinnamon, Baking Soda, Fine Grounded Sea Salt, etc. 
  5. Additionally, Optional Spices: Vanilla Pod, Marshmallow Root, Calendula, Lemon Balm, Mint, etc.


In conclusion, exploring the unusual practice of soap-eating, rooted in Pica or Sapophagia, unveils a complex interplay of psychological and physiological factors. Awareness and education are paramount in addressing and curbing this dangerous behavior, paving the way towards better understanding and support for affected individuals.

References (in APA format):

  1. Healthline Article: The Dark Side of Eating Soap
  2. NCBI Article: Sapophagia: A rare case of compulsive soap-eating presenting with iron deficiency anemia​​.
  3. McGill Article: Fighting the Urge to Eat Bar Soap​​.

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