So, you’re afraid to make soap bars because you don’t want to handle lye, aka caustic soda, sodium hydroxide. Either that, or you were warned of the evils of lye in handmade soap. Yet you want to make something like the beautiful photos you see of handmade soap that smells wonderful and treats your skin like gold, and you are looking for directions for making it.
Just one problem. You cannot make real soap without using lye. Why? Because soap is the result of mixing oil (fatty acids) with alkali. A chemical reaction takes place and voila, you get soap. In fact, the FDA defines soap, in part as, “the bulk of the nonvolatile matter in the product consists of an alkali salt of fatty acids and the product’s detergent properties are due to the alkali-fatty acid compounds,. . .” Read it for yourself here.
If you’re worried about lye, keep in mind people have been using soap since ancient times to clean themselves. Moreover, famous soaps such as Marseille and Aleppo have been known for their skin qualities for almost as long.
All the lye is reacted in a correctly made soap, so you need not worry about harming your skin. As a matter of fact, some of the soap you purchase in the store is likely made in part, of real soap. Most are synthetic detergents; others are part soap and part synthetic detergent.
Still don’t want to handle lye? Purchase soap base where the manufacturer has already used sodium hydroxide so you can make soap without using it yourself. Look for melt and pour base at Glory Bee or Mold Market.
You can also purchase already made soap, called soap noodles or shreds, and add your own colors and scents. They were made with lye, but it is reacted so you don’t have to work with it.
If, after reading this, you’d like to learn to make soap using lye, perhaps you’d like to attend classes such as: Bath Alchemy Lab or Blue Ridge Soap Shed. Another option is to find a teacher through the HSCG (Handcrafted Soap & Cosmetic Guild) or our events and classes page.
As you can see, if you do not care to handle lye, you can find other products to use. Make no mistake, however, lye is essential in making real soap.
Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.
Beth Byrne for Making Soap, Cosmetics and Candles