Handmade Soap – Why Lye?

Handmade Soap – Why Lye?

By Diane Longacre

The Truth about Soap…

Most of the cleansing bars that you buy at the store are detergents, not soap at all. In the industry, they are called “syndet bars”, or synthetic detergent bars. They are made from synthesized chemicals, fillers, petrochemicals, synthetic dyes and artificial fragrances.

On the other hand, real soap is made from plant oils (such as olive, coconut and palm) and is a gentle cleansing product more appropriate for use on skin than detergent. Animal fats, such as lard and tallow, can also be used to make soap.

Real soap is made by combining sodium hydroxide (lye), oils and water in a process known as “saponification”. Some people may question the use of lye in handcrafted soap. The fact is, all soap is made with lye. Yes, ALL soap. Once the process of saponification is complete, the lye and oil molecules have combined and chemically changed into soap and glycerin. There is no lye present in the finished bars of soap.

Saponification simply explained:
Water (or milks, herbal teas) + Fat (oils/butters) + Lye (sodium hydroxide) = Soap with glycerin retained.
 

Important! Always Read the Ingredient Label

Just because the ingredients do not include the word lye (or sodium hydroxide) – doesn’t mean it wasn’t used. Soap ingredients can legally be listed three ways. Each example is the same bar of soap:

* Ingredients: Water, Olive Oil, Tallow and Lye
* Ingredients: Saponified Oils of Olive and Tallow
* Ingredients: Sodium Olivate and Sodium Tallowate

Make certain you purchase soap from a soap maker or company that discloses the list of ingredients on the package. If the soap label states, “Vegetable Glycerin Soap”, there are other ingredients in that product that are not being disclosed.

The clear type of soap that is commonly referred to as “glycerin soap” or “melt and pour” is often mislabeled or not labeled at all. Here is a common ingredient list for this product:

  • Ingredients: Water, Glycerin, Sodium Stearate , Sorbitol, Propylene Glycol, Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES), Stearic Acid, Lauric Acid and Sodium Chloride.

And another (these folks get points for listing sodium hydroxide!):

  • Ingredients: Coconut Oil, Palm Oil, Castor Oil, Safflower Oil, Glycerine, Water, Sodium Hydroxide, Sorbitol, Sorbitan oleate, Titanium Dioxide.

This ingredient list is a collection of surfactants (synthetic foamers) and other chemicals I’d encourage you to look up. Often time’s alcohol is added to make this product meltable when heat is applied. Real soap does not melt in hot weather or direct sunlight.

Here’s another “soap” ingredient list, it’s for Dove’s sydnet bar:

  • Ingredients: Sodium tallowate, sodium cocoate or sodium palm kernelate, water, sodium chloride, sodium silicate, magnesium sulfate, and fragrance.

Here we have saponified beef fat, some vegetable oils, sodium silicate is a water glass or liquid glass (from Wikipedia), magnesium sulfate is more commonly known as epsom salt, and a synthetic fragrance. There is lye in this bar, they just choose to label their product to disguise this fact.

Compare these ingredient lists to real soap (in this example, Frontier Angel’s Soap formula):

  • Ingredients: olive oil, water, palm oil, coconut oil, palm kernel oil, sodium hydroxide, rice bran oil, cocoa butter, shea butter, essential oils.

Real soap labels are much more pure and contain more natural ingredients than sydnet bars or clear “glycerin” bars, not to mention, they are easier to understand.

Last word of advice about ingredient labels…*always* ask the soap maker what’s in their soap if it’s not listed. You wouldn’t eat something without knowing what’s in it (how much sodium/fat/preservatives), right? The same concern over ingredients should apply to soap as well.

 

There is no such thing as 100% glycerin soap

Sorry, it’s true – there is not one on the market today. Glycerin is a clear thick liquid, similar in texture to corn syrup. It doesn’t produce any lather or cleansing properties whatsoever. It is simply chemically impossible to make soap using only glycerin.

Bio-diesel soap is not made from 100% glycerin, contrary to what the makers of this product usually claim. Bio-diesel soap should never be used as a cleanser for the body due to trace quantities of methane, food particles and other undesirable waste products. This type of soap should be reserved for industrial use only.

Diane Longacre – Soap Maker
Frontier Angel Soap
Grass Valley, California http://www.frontierangel.com

Article Source: Handmade Soap – Why Lye?

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