Is Lye Soap Safe To Use? Fact vs.Myth

August 28, 2021

Lye-based soaps have been used by humans for centuries. However, during the past 100 years, there have been many advances in the soap-making process used to create soaps with lye. Today, we have much better control over the manufacturing processes, and the safety of using lye in soap has never been better. Nowadays, many small-batch handmade soaps make use of organic materials, but they also include lye!

Many people mistakenly believe that because lye is corrosive, it will damage their skin. This is true to some extent. But its harmful effects on skin can be curtailed by making sure the soap is made with the right balance of ingredients and allowed to cure naturally through the saponification process. In fact, there are many studies that prove using a lye-based handmade soap is actually safer for your skin when made and cured correctly.

The Lye solution itself isn't a safe substance to bathe in. In its original form, it's actually caustic. Even though every natural soap begins with lye, there is no lye left in the finished product. During saponification, the natural chemical process between the lye and other ingredients forms soap. That chemical reaction changes the lye so that it's no longer present.

When you use a bar of soap, you aren't actually touching any lye at all. All the lye has been chemically changed into something harmless and invisible. The same is true of any good bar of handmade soap. The "active" ingredient in a bar of soap is called saponified fatty acids. This is the same stuff that forms the soap bubbles when you take a bar of soap in the tub or shower.

What's In Lye?

Lye is actually sodium hydroxide (NaOH), and it is the chemical reaction of this substance with the oils and fats in the ingredients of the soap that creates the cleaning agent. The amount of lye used to create a bar of soap varies depending on the type of soap being made.

Lye in itself is not safe to use on skin, but once mixed and cured in soap it is safe.

The chemical reaction that changes the lye into something harmless and invisible happens during the curing process. The longer soap is allowed to cure, the milder the lye becomes, so it no longer has irritating and harmful effects on the skin. This chemical reaction is what gives handmade soaps their clean, fresh scent. Lle in soap also reacts with dirt, grease, and other contaminants on the skin to create something called saponification.

This organic chemical reaction changes the grease and oil in the dirt into something called “soap acids,” which are water-soluble and can be rinsed off the body with water. The soap acids neutralize the negative charges on the skin's surface, creating a barrier against bacteria and other microbes.

How Does Lye Affect Your Skin?

Lye is extremely caustic. It can burn, blister or irritate the skin if it comes in contact with it. This is why soap makers and manufacturers add an ingredient called “emulsifier” to soap to ensure the lye does not come into contact with the skin. This is also why homemade soaps and liquid soap, without an emulsifier, can cause an unpleasant reaction when first applied to the skin.

However, once the lye in the bar of soap has reacted with the oils and fats in the ingredients, it becomes something harmless and invisible. It is this reaction that creates the cleaning agent in the soap and allows the soap to remove dirt and grease from the skin. Lye is very important in creating a good bar of soap, but it will not harm the user's skin if used properly.

Why Is Lye Used To Make Handmade Soaps?

Soap without lye is not real soap. In short, you cannot make a good bar of soap without it containing a good amount of lye. There are two reasons why lye is added to the ingredients of a bar of soap:

It makes the soap easier to work with. The lye reacts with the oils and fats in the ingredients to create something called an “emulsifier,” which makes the mixture easy to incorporate into the soap. Without the emulsifier, the mixture would be too stiff and difficult to work with.

Lye is necessary to create a proper cleaning agent in the soap. You can use any type of fat or oil to make homemade soap. However, if you do not add lye to the mixture, the grease and oil will not saponify (react with the lye to create a cleaning agent), and the soap will not clean as well. Saponification is what allows the grease and oil in the ingredients to react with the lye and create a cleaning agent. This is also why it is important for the emulsifier in soap to be an “emulsifier” and not just a “diluent.” A diluent is simply an ingredient that makes the mixture easier to work with but does not actually create a cleaning agent.

Debunking 5 Myths About Lye In Soap

There are many myths surrounding the dangers of using lye. Some of these myths have been perpetrated by the manufacturers of so-called “conventional” soap, who have a financial interest in keeping people ignorant about the safety of their products. But most of these myths are just that, myths. Here we will break down what lye actually is and debunk some of the more common ideas people have about seeing it as an ingredient in their bar soaps.

Myth #1: Lye Is Corrosive! False!

Lye is not corrosive like vinegar or alkali. It is an extremely strong oxidizing agent. When mixed with water, it forms a non-corrosive chemical known as sodium hydroxide (lye). The first thing you should know about lye is that it reacts with water (and oil) to create a much stronger chemical known as lactic acid. This is what gives handmade soaps (with lye) their clean, fresh scent.

Myth #2:Lye Burns Your Skin! False! 

This myth was started by commercialized bar soaps that contain harsh chemicals. Bar soaps do have a very short “shelf life” because they quickly go bad. However, this has nothing to do with the safety of using lye in soap. Lye does not burn your skin. What it does do is create an environment on your skin that is very hostile to harmful bacteria and fungi. This makes your skin much less likely to get infected.

Many myths about lye in soap is exaggerated.

Myth #3: Lye Is Poison! False! 

You can safely use lye in homemade soap. It is not toxic like some other cleaning agents. It is an extremely effective disinfectant and will kill many types of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. However, it will not harm you or your family in the least. In fact, using lye safely in homemade soap is one of the best gifts you can give yourself and your family.

Myth #4: Lye Is Dangerous To Use! False!

Using lye safely in homemade soap is easy. Misusing it can cause a potentially deadly reaction that creates a gas called “hydrogen sulfide” (also known as “rotten egg gas”). Hydrogen sulfide is extremely poisonous and can cause death very quickly. Improper use of lye also includes using it in amounts more significant than what is necessary. This can cause your soap to get very caustic and can damage your skin.

Myth #5: You Have To Use A Lot Of Lye To Get The Job Done! False! 

You can make excellent homemade soap with just a small amount of lye. However, if you don't use enough lye, your soap will not be effective at killing bacteria and fungi. Using too little lye also means you will have to use more water to make your soap suds, which will take longer to drain and leave your sink or tub. Using too little lye also results in a soap that is not as “clean-cutting” on your skin. The goal here is to always use the right balance of soap-making ingredients and natural ingredients to get the best soap base.

What About Organic And Handmade Soaps? Are They Lye Free?

No, even handmade soaps make use of a lye mixture. As mentioned earlier, it is not soap without some amount of lye. But, the process of saponification makes it so the lye is not harmful to your skin as it is balanced with natural products and is allowed to cure for the proper amount of time to "neutralize" its harmful effects on the skin.

In fact, all-natural soaps are even better because they are made without chemicals and are a gentle soap for your skin. This means your skin will be even healthier when you use them. Plus, these kinds of soaps usually contain much higher percentages of “good” oils like olive oil and castor oil. These kinds of oils nourish your skin and give it a protective coating. They also have a much longer-lasting effect than “ordinary” soap. Ordinary soap begins to dry out your skin almost immediately.

On the other hand, using lye in soap making creates an environment on your skin that is very hostile to most bacteria and fungi. This makes your skin much less likely to get infected. Using organic or natural soap also helps prevent the need for harsh chemical cleaners. When you use these kinds of soaps, you also help prevent creating an environment that promotes the growth of mildew and other fungi.

Finally, Is Lye In Handmade Soap Safe?

Yes! Lye in handmade soaps is entirely safe to use on a daily basis. In fact, lye in homemade soap is more “safe” than many commercial products you buy in a store. For example, many commercial products with a high percentage of lye have alcohol in them. This makes the lye combination “inactive” until it comes into contact with water. This means it takes longer for your In handmade soap lye, there is no alcohol present to slow down the reaction. Lye in homemade soap is safer than commercial products. It is also more effective in killing bacteria and fungi. This is because homemade soap is much more “pure” and has much lower percentages of other ingredients that can “dilute” the effects of the lye.

How To Make Sure Your Soap Has A Safe Amount Of Lye

You should only buy natural soaps from a reputable shop like Blue Bison Soapery. It's better to be safe than sorry. Look for a soap business that promotes the use of all-natural and has no harsh chemicals added. These chemicals don't need to be there; they just add to the cost of the product and make more profit for commercial manufacturers.

Lye in soap bars is a necessary ingredient. It is harmless so long as it is properly cured,

Some soaps do not specify that they use lye to make their soap recipes, but as mentioned above: no lye, no soap. If the package doesn't explicitly say lye, it is probably under another name. But, many soaps are made with lye even though the package doesn't say so. Lye is extremely caustic and can cause burns and other severe injuries if it is not balanced and cured properly before use. That's why it's important to always read the ingredient list on the package thoroughly and pay close attention to what's actually inside the package.

  • Sodium palm kernelate: A mixture of palm kernel oil with sodium hydroxide (lye) is the generic name for a product used in many cosmetics to harden the skin.
  • Sodium tallowate: A lye-based caustic mixed with beef fat (tallow).
  • Saponified oils: Oils and butters are combined with an alkali such as sodium hydroxide, and then they are mixed with a liquid such as water.
  • Sodium olivate: When hydrochloric acid is mixed with an oily substance (like olive oil), it causes that oily substance to break down into a different type of molecule (one with a hydrogen atom attached to each of its carbon atoms.) This causes the mixture to become much thinner and more water-soluble.
  • Sodium palmate: A very common ingredient in soaps mixing palm oil and lye. It's used because it's cheap, mild, non-toxic, and it leaves a nice lather.

These ingredients all indicate that lye was mixed with some type of butter or oil. We chose to be honest about our ingredients rather than trying to hide them. So, rest assured that with each purchase of our Blue Bison soaps, you are getting a product that is well-balanced, mild, and cured to ensure it is safe for your skin. 

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