What is soap anyway?

 

 

We all know that soap is used to cleanse our skin, but what is it really made of? 

In the most basic terms, soap is made when acids (oils and butters) are combined with a base (sodium hydroxide, also known as lye). In ancient times, the Phoenicians and to some extent, the ancient Romans suggest that soap was originally discovered when melting tallow (animal fats) and mixed with an alkali (wood ashes). 

 

ancient egypt phoenician history soap

 

The soap that was made was a luxury item, affordable only to the rich until the late 18th century.  In 1790, French chemist Nicholas Leblanc invented a process to create caustic soda (lye) with common table salt. This invention enabled inexpensive soap manufacture! This method was further studied and improved upon. By 1823, soap production changed attitudes and cleanliness of people everywhere and a new industry was born. Today, mass production of lye is a big business. 25 billion pounds are produced each year in the U.S. alone! The method of lye production for the last hundred years, in the most simple terms, is created when an electrical current is passed through a highly salted water "brine". Ordinary table salt is converted into chlorine, hydrogen and sodium hydroxide and is then captured by evaporation. During this process, the chlorine, hydrogen and sodium hydroxide are separated. The chlorine is sold for water purification purposes, the hydrogen is sold for hydrogenated oil production and the lye remaining is used for soap, paper and some food production. Who thought that ordinary table salt can be so useful?

There are 3 main types of soap making: Cold Process, Hot Process and Melt & Pour.  The Cold Process method is the traditional method of soap making, and it's the method we use at coXistence soaps. It involves the basic principles above of “Oils + Lye = Soap”. It is made without any external heat applied, hence the "cold process". In contrast, Hot Process method is most often made in a crockpot so external heat can be applied to speed up the saponification process. 

 

 

This third type of soap, referred to as Melt & Pour (MP), is a pre-made soap base. It allows you to melt the soap in the microwave and pour into molds.  MP contains sugar alcohols and extra glycerin that allow it to be melted, solidify, or melted again – without losing any quality to the soap. The alcohol tends to have a drying effect on the skin which is why extra glycerin is added to the pre-made soap base. The possibilities are endless with your creativity when making MP soaps, even for beginners!  Essential oil, fragrances or colorants are used, usually in themed or novelty shaped molds and can normally be used within minutes. 

Many people are drawn to Melt & Pour soaps, at least at first, because handling lye can be very dangerous! Once you take a few safety precautions such as protective clothing, gloves and eyewear, Hot or Cold Process soap making is not difficult.

With all coXistence soaps, we use the Cold Process method, using only plant based oils such as olive, coconut, hemp, avocado oils or butters like cocoa, shea or mango. At least 70% of every bar is organic content, too! In the “Oils + Lye = Soap” equation, the chemical reaction that occurs is called saponification, described at the molecular level below.

 

 

It’s an exothermic chemical reaction that occurs which is basically the release of heat. During this process, the triglycerides in the oils/fats are broken down into their fatty acids, and neutralized into salts by the base, the sodium hydroxide. In about 24-48 hours, we have soap!  The soap is then taken out of their molds, cut and set to cure for at least 4-6 weeks, which is an industry standard. The cure process allows all the water (liquid) to evaporate out of the soap. This allows the bar to become harder and last longer in the shower! We like to cure our soaps a minimum of 8-10 weeks to ensure a longer lasting bar. During saponification, a natural by-product of glycerin is produced, about 9% to 11% by content. It’s a skin loving humectant that draws moisture from the environment to the skin, leaving your skin hydrated and moisturized!

 glycerin byproduct soap saponification humectant skin moisture

The cleansing property of soap is due to the ability to surround oil and dirt particles, causing them to be dispersed in water which can be rinsed away with ease. What makes natural soaps so great is that one can choose the specific oils that go into it. Each oil has specific properties so some may be better than others for your skin type. For example, sweet almond oil is good for acne due to its ability to get rid of sebum (which clogs pores) or shea butter is good for stretch marks and to super nourish with its high vitamin A & E content. Each oil, butter or fat has its own fatty acid profiles which means that each require a different amount of lye to turn them into soap.

 

 

A good soap recipe will have about 60% hard oils, those which are hard at room temperature and about 40% soft oils. The math makes perfect sense, but we always add a little extra oil, above and beyond what is required to make soap. This practice is called superfatting. With each oil requires a different and  precise amounts of lye to convert to soap, so to keep the math simple, soap makers use an online lye calculator to give exact recipe amounts. A lye calculator example is shown below which may look confusing, but after a couple batches and some understanding of the fatty acid profiles, it's not as daunting as it looks! Too much lye means there is still free floating lye in the soap so it should not be used since it can irritate or burn your skin! Too little lye in the recipe causes a soft soap that won’t last long in the shower, even after months of curing!

 

 

The fatty acid profiles are different for each oil or fat. A proper balance will make a fantastic bar of soap, with experimentation and experience.

 

 

As with any real soap, it should be allowed to dry in between uses.  Do not let the bar sit in a puddle of water when you leave the shower or you will find mushy soap on the bottom of the bar the next day. Don’t waste a good thing! The below "Soap Lift" brand is an excellent eco-friendly choice as they are easy to rinse clean, BPA free, trim to fit and inexpensive!

soap lift soap saver drains dries bar soap

Every one of our soaps are very moisturizing, hydrating and superbly superfatted to ensure you the maximum skin loving goodness!

 

Sources

https://www.grit.com/departments/how-lye-becomes-soap

https://www.modernsoapmaking.com/the-most-popular-fatty-acid-profiles-in-soapmaking/

http://www.soap-making-resource.com/fatty-acids-soap-making.html

http://soapcalc.net/info/soapqualities.asp

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soap

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saponification

 

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