Soap FAQ

What is soap?

Soap is the compound that forms when fatty acids react with an alkali.  The pure plant oils used in our soaps contain fatty acids.  The lye, or sodium hydroxide, is the natural alkali that reacts with, or neutralizes, the oils.  In nature, acids and alkalis constantly seek to neutralize each other.

Humans might have first discovered soap when animal fats from roasting meat fell into wood ashes, which contain a form of lye.  People would have found that the substance remaining after the ashes cooled created a lather when mixed with water and cleaned their bodies and their clothing.  It was soap!  Over time soap making evolved into a fine craft that has been revived by today’s artisanal soap makers.

The chemical reaction that occurs between oils and lye is called saponification.  It is important to understand that after our natural, cold process soap has been created and cured, the lye (sodium hydroxide) no longer exists.  It has been transformed, along with most of the oils, into soap.  This elimination or “using up” of all the lye during saponification is a hallmark of natural, cold process soap and is one of the characteristics that makes our soap so kind to skin that has been irritated by soap made in industrial processes.  Industrial soaps sometimes retain alkalis in the final product which can dry your skin and encourage you to buy their industrial lotions…(Hmmm…)

In our formulas, we purposely include a percentage of oils that do not become saponified in order to enhance the conditioning qualities of the soap.  Also, we select oils such as avocado oil that have unsaponifiable components including natural vitamin E that further enhance the benefits of our soap.

What are the benefits of handmade, natural cold process soap?

First of all, natural soap is real, whole soap.  Just as in whole foods, it’s all there.  When saponification occurs, a great deal of glycerin is created.  In natural soap, all of this highly conditioning, skin-friendly glycerin remains in the soap.  In contrast, during industrial soap manufacturing, the glycerin is removed.  It is then sold off for use in other products, and only a little is put back into the soap along with chemicals to mimic the missing glycerin.  The high glycerin content of natural soap made from scratch is probably its most important benefit for your skin.  In addition, in the case of our soap, we also know this glycerin is 100% derived from the organic oils listed on the label and not from an unknown source.

Also, our handmade natural soap is made from whole natural oils, not from industrially extracted parts of oils, or fractionated oils.  Like eating an apple instead of popping a vitamin pill, our handmade  cold process soap gives you the whole goodness of natural plant oils that have been used for centuries to care for skin.

As mentioned in the previous section, another benefit of our natural cold process soap is that it does not contain free alkalis, so it is not drying on your skin.  What is does contain is extra unsaponified oils to help the glycerin condition your skin.

Finally, our handmade soap cleans naturally!  Real whole soap binds with dirt, oils, sweat, environmental toxins and whatever else has settled on your skin and rinses it all away.  It does not merely coat dirt with an antibacterial film like many antibacterial “soaps”, it literally removes the dirt.   It’s really not complicated.  Skin is an awesome organ, well designed to protect our bodies from our environment.  All we have to do is clean it naturally and with care.

What is sodium hydroxide and why do you use it? 

Sodium hydroxide is the chemical name for lye.  It is the same well-known, traditional soap ingredient used in “Old Fashioned Lye Soap” still sold in country gift shops.  Lye is the alkaline portion of the chemical reaction (saponification) that creates soap.   Lye reacts with oils, which are acids, to form soap.

Usually sodium hydroxide is used to produce bar soap from scratch, and potassium hydroxide, another form of lye, is used to produce liquid soaps from scratch.

One cannot make soap without some form of lye.  If you see a soap label that does not list sodium hydroxide, or lye, as an ingredient, then that soap was either produced from a purchased soap base (meaning another manufacturer used the sodium hydroxide) and not made from scratch, or it was made by someone who is trying to avoid mentioning sodium hydroxide.

Is sodium hydroxide a natural substance?

Sodium hydroxide is a natural compound, but it occurs only briefly in nature because it will always try to neutralize any acids it encounters in order to create different, more neutral compounds.  For soap making and other manufacturing processes, sodium hydroxide is produced by passing an electrical current through salt water.

What is cold process soap making?

Cold process soap making is the traditional method of making soap in which no external heat is applied to the oil and lye mixture to speed the saponification process.  The oils are heated only enough to melt oils that are solid at room temperature.  Then they are mixed with the lye solution, and the saponification proceeds naturally.  This method preserves the most benefits of the various oils in the formula, because they are not exposed to high temperatures.

Why does the ingredient list on your product label look so complicated?

In Canada, soap is regulated as a cosmetic with strict labeling laws designed both to assist people with allergies in understanding the ingredients and to make the label understandable to people from different cultures.  The ingredients must be described in what is called INCI terminology (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients.)  In our case, since we only use pure plant oils and plant parts, the label is actually quite simple.  It is a list of the botanical names of the plants we use.

Copyright 2011 – 2019  Susan Danko for Free Spirit Farm and Guide Service

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