What is Lye Soap?

I recently received a question asking us to consider making “lye soap”. Since every bar of alabu® is actually lye soap, I thought I would take the opportunity to shed some light on this subject. First, I would like to say that nearly all bar soap is lye soap. However, that doesn’t mean when you buy a bar of big-brand x that it’s lye soap. So, what’s the difference?

Soap is the product of a chemical reaction. The equation below represents the soap-making chemical reaction at it’s most basic level. Don’t fret, it’s pretty simple:

LYE + OIL = SOAP (and a little leftover oil)

Now, it’s a lot more complicated than that, but that’s all you need to know for this discussion. Just note that there’s no lye on the right side of the equation—it gets used up completely. This is how we make our soap at alabu®. We also use fantastic nutrient-rich vegetable oils that stay in the finished bar.

This isn’t what you usually purchase in the store though. Most mass-produced commodity “soap” is actually detergent. They aren’t usually made with lye and are not real soap. Detergents are great degreasers, which is why they tend to dry your skin. Even certain bird-themed brands aimed at sensitive skin care are primarily composed of detergents (this is not to say they make terrible products, just that they are in fact detergents).

You might wonder, why don’t we put the phrase “lye soap” anywhere on our packaging? The reason is that many people view lye soap in a negative light. This is because the first lye soaps were made on farms where they made their own lye from wood ash and combined it with animal fat to make soap. They had no way of knowing how strong their lye was, and the soap sometimes had some excess lye left in the finished product. Lye is very caustic and improperly made soap that has lye left in is very harsh on the skin.

If you noticed that there’s no goat milk listed in the equation above, that’s because it’s hidden in that “lye” part. You see lye comes in a solid form, and doesn’t react with oil by itself. You need to dissolve it in something (most people use water) to get it to react with the oil. We dissolve it into goat milk to get the additional benefits and nutrients that are present in goat milk. Each bar of alabu® has nearly an ounce of goat milk in it!

If you have any more questions feel free to drop us a note or search our knowledge base using the help tab on the left.



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