Natural soap contains one ingredient that is sometimes mistaken as a negative: lye.
The truth is though, lye is a natural ingredient – even if it isn’t very trendy!
In fact, although lye isn’t technically organic, it is one of the few non-organic ingredients that the USDA allows within their organic standards.
That means that, even though it isn’t organic, it is used in such a way in soap making, that soaps made with it can still be considered organic.
In fact, there is no true soap that does not contain or use lye somewhere in the process of making it.
The alternative, in fact, is a harsh detergent.
A lot of the fear and negative thought around lye comes from images of frontier women using it in the American West.
This is an outdated image though, and processes have come a long way since those days.
The truth today is that, though you are using lye to make soap, and soap on your skin, you are not using lye on your skin.
Soap products are made using lye, but they don’t contain any lye in the final product.
How Soap is Made - Chemical Reactions using Lye
The chemical reaction that created soap is called saponification.
A triglyceride (a fat or oil) reacts with lye, and what results is glycerine and soap.
Mass-producers of soap then remove the glycerides (a natural moisturiser) to use in moisturising products (which you will need if you use soap without glycerides in it).
Artisan soap makers leave the glycerides in, giving you a great soap-based cleanser which will moisturise your skin.
All of Earthbits soaps are SLS free.
The lye is goneat this point, as are the triglycerides, consumed in the reaction that creates the soap and glycerides.
Modern soap makers understand the chemistry better than those frontier people, and with modern measuring added into the mix, ingredients are combined in a way that makes sure the lye is consumed in the reaction, leaving nothing harmful behind to damage your skin.
Some soap makers add additional oil as well, which not only adds a buffer to ensure complete lye consumption, but it also increases the moisturising properties of the soap itself.
See all of the benefits of natural soap here.
This practice is often called ‘superfatting,’ because the maker is including more fats and/or oils than are needed.
Fake Lye “Alternatives”
Despite the fact that soap does not contain lye, some makers react to the unpopularity of the word or idea of lye, by using what they call lye alternatives.
This is usually glycerine – a natural product of saponification – so they are basically adding something that was created using lye, but they do not add the lye themselves to avoid having to say they use it.
In the end, you are not getting lye on your skin in either case.
Let's Educate People on Soap
It is very unfortunate that a misunderstanding of the chemistry of soap has led so many people into believing that soap is bad for them, and that those mass-produced detergent bars are the healthier choice.
In fact, both liquid and bar soap is made using lye, but the final product does not have any lye in it, and the end result is much better for your skin and health than mass produced detergent bars.
The key to taking the best care of your skin while staying clean and fresh, is to make the best choices when it comes to buying soap.
You put soap on your skin every day, several times in most cases, so it is worth being educated about it, and even paying a bit more for a product you can trust.
Artisan soap makers put a lot of time and expertise into what they make, and often care more for your health and skincare than for making a profit – the same cannot be said for mass-produced, commercial soap makers who remove beneficial ingredients – like moisturising glycerine – in order to sell them to you as a different product.
Factor that in, and handmade soaps might even work out cheaper than detergent soaps plus moisturisers!
The best thing you can do for your skin is to use a natural, perhaps organic, handmade soap from a skilled artisan soap maker.
Did you know you can buy soap on a rope?