From our blog post Basic Handcrafted Soap Facts
BAR SOAP IS MADE WITH LYE or something very similar
If it is made correctly, there is NO LYE remaining in the final bar of soap. This includes every major, popular cosmetic soap and every made from scratch, handcrafted soap. Soap is made by adding water and oils together, along with something to form them into soap. That ingredient is Sodium Hydroxide which is lye. For liquid soaps, it is Potassium Hydroxide. Wood ashes, burnt palm leaves do not create a gentler soap either. Those ingredients naturally form chemical compounds similar to lye, which makes oils and water turn into soap.
What produces the naturally forming glycerin that is retained in handcrafted soap?
The chemical reaction called saponification.
Water (or milks, herbal teas) + Fat (oils) + Lye = Soap with glycerin retained.
The soap maker must calculate the correct amount of lye for the specific oils used in each recipe. This controls the amount of "super-fat" or remaining oil in a soap to make it moisturizing to the skin. If too much lye is used, the bar may be hard and crumbly. If too little, the bar becomes soft and will become rancid faster.
The soap maker should always mention the style of soap you are purchasing. The reason people think of "lye soap" as being harsh is because grandma didn't have a digital scale to measure ingredients perfectly and was many times making her own lye. It is a difficult, time consuming process and being able to acutely gauge lye strength can be difficult. Errors were made at times with this process.
Learn how to read the ingredients
Just because the ingredients do not include the word lye - doesn't mean it wasn't used. Soap ingredients can be listed three ways. Each example is the same bar of soap.
Ingredients: Water, Olive Oil, Beef Fat and Lye
Saponified Oils of Olive and Tallow
Ingredients: Sodium Olivate and Sodium Tallowate (Lye is a salt which is sodium).
Make certain you purchase soap from a soap maker or company that discloses the list of ingredients on the package. Soap is sometimes considered a cosmetic and must be labeled by FDA standards and sometimes it is not - and no ingredients are required. If the soap just says, Vegetable Glycerin Soap - there are other ingredients used to make it than just glycerin and you are not being told - ASK!
There's no such thing as 100% Glycerin Soap
Sorry, it's true - there is not one on the market today. Now, the maker added 100% glycerin to the soap and you have no idea how much always, but the soap is not made of 100% glycerin. Read the ingredients! If is was, it would be the MOST disgusting non-lathering, mushy soap one could imagine - I know because I make it every time I teach a class on natural care products to prove my point.
Clear soap is not superior to all others
It has nothing to do with purity. Guess what makes soap clear most of the time? Alcohol - from corn grain alcohol to petroleum rubbing alcohols.
Many times, clear soap - thought of by many consumers as "glycerin soap" - is made with a variety of foaming agents, wetting formulas (makes the water wet to lift dirt and oil) and alcohol along with the standard mix of oils, water and lye. The "feel" that many people like from this clear soap is from synthetic ingredients.
If you like the feel - great that's really all that matters - but at least know what you are using.Made from scratch, handmade soap contains the natural forming ingredient glycerin. In order to make the extremely hard French Milled soaps, the glycerin must be removed or the soap would be too soft. More glycerin may be added later, but never at the original level of the soap making process. Companies may extract the glycerin through a variety of methods and then add a percentage back to say it contains glycerin.
MP or Melt & Pour Style Soap
The white or clear soap base that is usually purchased at craft stores is known as melt and pour. It can be melted in a microwave or over the stove and can include a variety of ingredients both naturally sourced and synthetically reproduced. This style soap is fantastic for creating some of the most beautiful works of art in soap making! Colors, fragrances and intricate molds can be used that are very difficult to use in simple Cold Process style of made from scratch soap. One can purchase it premade at a store, melted it in a microwave, added fragrance, clays and herbs, then hand pour into a mold in their kitchen at home. That certainly sounds handmade or homemade for sure. For me to say “handcrafted” it must be made from scratch starting with all the ingredients to make soap.
Handmilled Soap is not the same as Melt & Pour
Handmilled or rebatched soap is soap that has been made using the cold or hot process method of made from scratch soap, then shredded after setting up and cooked again. This style of soap is perfect for working with expensive essential oils. Some people consider it a way to take care of excess soap or “save a bad batch”. I love making soap using the rebatched method as it has a different feel than cold process soaps in general. So while you can shred the soap just like melt and pour, it is made from scratch soap.
So there you have it – the short and condensed versus of basic soap information. When you love doing something as much as I do making soap, then you want people to understand. Always feel free to ask questions.
Thanks for reading!