Is there Lye in your Soap? Won't it harm my skin?

All Natural Soap

 

If you are asking the question:
Do you use lye (sodium hydroxide) to make Chagrin Valley soap? 

The answer is... of course.  No lye . . . No soap! 
All REAL soap is made with lye (sodium hydroxide mixed with liquid). Any skin or hair cleansing product made without sodium hydroxide is not soap, it is detergent. 

If you are asking the question:
Is there lye in a bar of Chagrin Valley soap or shampoo?

The answer is "No." Once the process of saponification is complete, the lye and oil molecules have combined and chemically changed into soap and glycerin. There is no lye present in the finished bars of soap or shampoo. While all real soap must be made with lye, no lye remains in our finished product after saponification (described below).

 

Important! Always Read the Ingredient List on the Label

Commercial "soap" bars and handmade soap bars are also made with lye even though the words "sodium hydroxide" or "lye" do not appear on the labels. Does your bar of "soap" contain ingredients such as...

  • saponified oils: oils and butters are mixed with sodium hydroxide and a liquid (usually water).
  • sodium cocoate: the generic name for the mixture of coconut oil with sodium hydroxide (lye).
  • sodium palmate: the generic name for the mixture of palm oil with sodium hydroxide (lye). 
  • sodium palm kernelate: the generic name for the mixture of palm kernel oil with sodium hydroxide (lye). 
  • sodium tallowate: the generic name for the mixture of beef fat (tallow) with sodium hydroxide (lye).
  • sodium olivate: the generic name for the mixture of olive oil with sodium hydroxide (lye). 

 

We once had a customer who returned a bar of our soap because her dermatologist told her that she should not use a soap made with lye.  What did he recommend?  Dove.

It is true that the words "lye" or "sodium hydroxide" did not appear on the ingredient label.

But, the first ingredients listed were sodium tallowate, sodium cocoate and sodium palm kernelate. So you can guess what I told her!  Yes, Dove is made with lye!

All Natural Soap

 

These words are not usually used to deceive consumers. But soapmakers know that consumers are afraid of the word "lye."  At Chagrin Valley we believe that today's consumers are pretty savvy and the best practice is to educate.

 

 

 

SAPONIFICATION: The Chemical Reaction of Soapmaking

(The Science teacher in me could not resist!)

If you dig deep back to your high school chemistry days, you may remember learning about acid-base reactions. When an acid and a base combine they neutralize each other and make a salt. In simple terms, saponification is the name for a chemical reaction between an acid and a base to form a salt called "soap."

Cold Process Soap

picture from The Soap and Detergent Association website

Sodium hydroxide is an alkali (base) and the acids are the fatty acids present in oils and butters. Once we select the oils and mix them with sodium hydroxide and a liquid (lye), the molecules combine, a chemical reaction occurs, called saponification (pictured below), and a totally different substance is created -- SOAP!


The Reactants (what we start with)                                                The Products (what we end up with)
Triglycerides + Alkali                                                                                            Neat Soap + Glycerin + Water
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Triglycerides are what make up the oils and butters we use.
A triglyceride, is a chemical compound formed from one molecule of glycerol and three fatty acid molecules. 

The alkali is the lye (sodium hydroxide mixed with water, tea, goat milk, juice, etc.).

  

 

 

When mixed together the chemical reaction (saponification) results in...

Neat soap: the saponified oils (simple soap)

Glycerin: Our handmade natural soaps retain the glycerin which occurs naturally in the soap making process.

Water: which evaporates as the soap cures

 

Notice there is no LYE (alkali) on the product side of the equation! No lye remains in our finished product!

 

I hope that it is now evident that once the process of saponification is complete, the lye and oil molecules have combined and have chemically changed into soap and glycerin. Therefore, there is no lye (sodium hydroxide) present in the finished bars of soap.

An additional note: in case of liquid soap, potassium hydroxide is used in place of sodium hydroxide.

All Natural Handmade Soap

 

SUPERFATTING

One special thing to remember...all handmade soap is not created equal!

Superfatting is the process of adding extra fats (oils or butters) when formulating a soap recipe, so there is more fat in the mixture than the lye can react with during the chemical reaction.

We use a lot of extra fats (oils or butters) when formulating a soap recipe. Superfatted soaps have superior moisturizing and emollient qualities.

If you look at the colored picture of the chemical reaction above, in addition to "soap," glycerin, and water, Chagrin Valley Soaps also contain free oils which have been left unchanged by the saponification process and add extra moisturizing properties to our soaps and shampoos!

 

Salt Crock

 

If you are still not convinced here is an example of another chemical reaction. The element sodium (Na) is a highly reactive element that explodes if it touches water. The element chlorine (Cl) is a deadly poisonous gas. But when they come together in a chemical reaction a totally different substance is created -- table salt (NaCl)!

 

 

Pretzel

Interesting Note About Lye!

Lye has many uses in the food industry. The secret to great pretzels is a lye bath! Lye gives pretzels their characteristic flavor, crispiness, and glossy finish. Hominy is dried corn kernels reconstituted by soaking them in lye water until the germ is removed. Lye may also be used in the preparation of olives and pickles.