We were selling our soaps, lotions, etc., at a fall festival recently, and a well-meaning lady (at least, I *think* she was well-meaning; let’s give her the benefit of the doubt, shall we?), announced to me that she made all her own soaps, and she was only interested in 100% organic soaps! She picked up one of my soaps, and began reading the ingredients on the label.
She read the list for a few seconds, and said, “I have a problem with the sodium hydroxide you’ve listed in your ingredients.” I politely told her that in soapmaking, there is sodium hydroxide (lye) at the beginning of the process, but there is no lye in the finished product. She shoved the bar in my face, and pointed to the words, “Sodium Hydroxide.” “It’s on your label, see?” I smiled and tried to explain the process of saponification to her (the chemical reaction that occurs between lye and oils, resulting in soap). She shook her head, and said, (again) “I only use 100% organic soaps; no lye; and I make all my own organic soaps, too.” I smiled again, and said, “Oh, are you speaking about soap bases?” She shook her head, and said, “Are you telling me you make your own soap bases?”
At this point, I realized we were speaking on different planes, and I simply took a step back, and told her that she was free to peruse my products, and I wished her well. She eventually left in a huff (I’m still not exactly sure why she was irritated with me). I sighed. It is always difficult when people have just a little information.
So, for the dear lady who insisted that she makes 100% organic soaps, without lye…and for everyone else who says to me, “Oh, my grandmother used to make LYE soap!”
Allow me to gently enlighten you…
You cannot make soap without lye. Let me say this again: You cannot make soap without lye. The soap your grandmother made, and the handcrafted soaps we make today, are basically the same chemical process. [I believe at this point my grandmother would say, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” Amen Grandma.]
Soap is the result of a chemical process (reaction) between an alkali (lye, chemical name: sodium hydroxide), and fats or oils (ex: olive oil, coconut oil, etc.). The resulting chemical substance is a salt. Yes, soap is a salt. It is no longer a fat or an oil, and there is no sodium hydroxide in the soap either. It is soap. It is not lye. It is not fat or oils. It is soap. Got it? When the lye is introduced into the oils, a chemical reaction occurs, and the oils are stripped of their fatty acids. The fatty acids combine with the lye (sodium hydroxide, or alkali), and form a salt, which is soap. Glycerol (glycerin) is liberated from the oils, and becomes part of the final soap product. (Commercial soap companies usually remove the glycerin and sell it separately. That is part of the reason hand made soaps are so much better for your skin.)
We should also address the huffy lady’s claim, that she makes all her own soap, and, “It’s 100% organic!” Well…not so fast.
The hard truth is, most soaps, and certainly the soap bases that you simply melt and pour into molds, began as…fats/oils and lye. And lye, dear readers, is an inorganic chemical. This fact renders all soaps, [whether you make them from scratch (cold/hot process), or purchase a soap base, and reform them] as less than 100% organic. In fact, even if you use oils and ingredients that are certified as 100% organic, the hard truth is that as long as you are using sodium hydroxide (lye, alkali…c’mon, you should know this by now) somewhere in the process, the soap IS NOT organic. You can say that you used 100% organic oils in the production of your soap, but it is not, by its very nature… 100% organic.
So, the next time you are purchasing handmade or handcrafted soap, remember that it IS the same chemical process that Grandma used, and that’s not a bad thing…nor is it 100% organic, either.
And if you ever encounter a manufacturer, that claims their soap is 100% organic…the chances are excellent that the manufacturer is…misinformed. (Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, shall we? 😉 )