Soap FAQs

Ask us a question and we'll answer it here....:o)

Q. I've heard that handmade soap contains lye - is that safe for skin?

A. All soaps are made with oils and a lye (sodium hydroxide) solution. Without it, oils cannot be converted into the lathering cleanser that we call soap.

Soapmakers typically make their soap with a 'lye discount' ie. they use around 5% less lye than is actually required to saponify the oils. Some will also superfat their soap i.e add extra oils to enhance mildness and moisture.

In this way lye is not present in the finished handmade product, even though it was used in its manufacture. Oil and water are also not present in the finished product - just the newly-created soap and whatever additives have gone into the mix.

This is why soapmakers are not required by law to mention the base ingredients for their soap on the product label. When you see the term 'Sodium Olivate' on your bar of castile soap, it means 'olive oil that has been saponified with sodium hydroxide'. So the olive oil, lye and water become a new substance called 'Sodium Olivate'.

UK and EU consumers are also protected by the EU Cosmetics Directive - under this directive, soapmakers are required to submit their formulations to a chartered chemist and may only sell their products when they are in possession of a signed-off safety assessment.

So when you're thinking about buying handmade soap, always check the seller's listing - safety assessments are time-consuming and costly to acquire, so if their products are in compliance with the law, they'll be sure to mention it!

Q. Aren't all handmade soaps Glycerine Soaps?

A. It's true that handcrafted soap made using traditional methods retains the glycerine produced as a by-product of the soap making process, and that this differs from mass-produced soaps, which have had the glycerine extracted. The retention of naturally produced glycerine doesn't mean that the soap can be termed a true glycerine soap, though.

True glycerine soap is soap which has been dissolved with glycerine and other additives i.e. the soap contains the glycerine produced during the soap making process, and then has more added. This makes extra-moisturising mild, bubbly soap. Glycerine soap is usually transparent, however it can be made opaque with the use of pigments, hard fats such as coconut oil or goats milk added at the fat stage.