Let's talk saponification!
We are often asked if our soap contains lye. The idea of lye in a body product scares people, and we get that. But the short answer is … no. We use sodium hydroxide (also known as lye) to create our soap, but after the process of saponification, there is no lye that remains.
Soap is made when you combine an alkaline substance (sodium hydroxide) with fatty acids (oils and/or butters). When these ingredients are combined, a chemical reaction occurs that actually changes the molecular structure of both substances. This process is called saponification. The final product has no oils or lye … it’s soap!
Think of it in terms of baking. You would never eat raw eggs … those would make you sick. However, you may combine raw eggs with flour, sugar, etc. and put it in the oven. During the baking process, there is a chemical reaction where the molecules combine and become something else … in this example, it’s cake. At that point, you cannot separate out the individual ingredients. You’re not eating raw eggs.
So yes, while lye is a caustic substance which is very dangerous if handled improperly, the end product of soap is completely safe. Our great great grandmothers actually made their own lye out of wood ash and water, then combined it with animal fats (tallow or lard) and created soap. People have been using soap for generations.
If you see commercial soaps that are sold in grocery stores and the ingredient list doesn’t contain sodium hydroxide, they are either trying to hide it by saying “saponified coconut oil” or “sodium cocoate” which are just other ways to describe the combination of coconut oil with lye. Or, if they don’t use lye, they’re not actually selling soap … it’s technically a detergent. They add synthetic ingredients that create a lather in the product, but it’s not true soap. (We a lot more to say on this topic, but that’s for another blog post.)
So is using lye to make soap dangerous for the soap maker? Well, it could be if you’re not careful. There are sometimes strong fumes, and if you get it on your skin there could be serious burns. But there are definite safety procedures that we take great care in following. We always wear gloves and goggles, and work in a well ventilated area. We use heavy-duty heatproof plastic or stainless steel containers for mixing, and always clearly label our lye solution and hold it in a safe location away from others. And all of our equipment is dedicated for soap making and does not get mixed in with regular household kitchen utensils. Just like driving a car could be dangerous, we take extra precautions, to ensure our safety.
So we hope that this helps to alleviate some concerns about the safety of lye. While you cannot have soap without first having lye, handcrafted soap is completely safe, since the process of saponification ensures us that no lye remains in the product. So go and use that soap!