Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Homemade Soap: The Truth about Lye

At Joybilee Farm we've been making handmade soap since 1982. We specialize in milk soap because of its moisturizing and skin nourishing benefits.

We often receive inquiries about the chemicals that we use in our hand made goat's milk soap. There are a lot of misconceptions about what makes soap mild and moisturizing, as well as the role of sodium hydroxide (lye) and other chemical sounding things -- in soap making.

Only ingredients actually present in the finished soap need to be listed as ingredients on the label. So with most homemade soap, you won't find any "lye" or "sodium hydroxide" on the ingredient list. That's because properly made soap doesn't contain lye.

However, all soap – 100% -- must use sodium or potassium hydroxide in order to transform the fats and oils into soap. Soap is made by a chemical reaction called saponification, through the reaction of lye with fats and oils. Once the saponification is complete and the aging process has been fulfilled – 4 to 6 weeks in our case – there is no sodium hydroxide left in the soap. It has all been transformed into natural soap.

The goat’s milk that we use superfats our soap so that it is moisturizing as well as cleansing. Our soaps also contain all the naturally occurring glycerin, which protects your skin from drying out.

Our most mild soap is our Milk and Honey soap which contains no essential oils. This is the one we recommend for infants and those with sensitive skin. It is more mild than commercial detergent – which denatures DNA and cause your cells to collapse.

There are two kinds of lye that may be used to make soap. Potassium hydroxide is used to make liquid soap and Sodium hydroxide is used to make solid soap – both are “lye”. Sodium hydroxide is the product of the electrolysis of salt (aka sodium chloride) and water (aka dihydrogen oxide – H2O) – the other product is bleach (aka chlorine). Potassium hydroxide comes from water and wood ashes. Most commercial “soap” sold in stores today is actually formed from detergents and has had all the natural glycerin removed – glycerin is more valuable than the bar of “soap”.

We do not use citric acid in our soap. When it is used its role is to neutralize the pH of the soap. It comes from citrus fruit. Natural soap has a pH of 8 or 9 which helps it to cleanse. When citric acid is used it brings the pH to a neutral 7. Our skin is naturally acidic, so our skin to some extent neutralizes the soap as we lather with it.

The choice of oils that are used to make the soap are what determines if a soap is mild or drying. Any soap that is heavy on coconut oil is a very drying soap. When you are shopping for soap for yourself, you would want to avoid a soap that lists coconut oil as the first ingredient. The coconut oil adds lathering, sudsing properties and the best homemade soap will contain some, but mild soap should have no more than 1/3 to ½ coconut oil. You should look for a soap that has a liquid oil as the first ingredient – olive oil, canola oil, caster oil, jojoba oil, hemp seed oil, flax seed oil, for example – there are many options. Then there will be at least one solid oil mentioned either coconut oil, palm oil, or tallow. These are added to increase lathering properties and to make the bar of soap last longer. A person with sensitive skin should read the ingredients and ensure that one of these oils are not the first ingredient on the bar. If it’s the second or third ingredient, the soap should be mild enough.

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