This week we were confronted twice by the question of sodium hydroxide (Lye) listed as an ingredient in our soaps. This was surprising to us considering it is impossible to make cold process soaps without it and quite truthfully, this is the first time we were questioned about it.
When explaining this to our inquiring customers, they named two companies that they truly believed did not use sodium hydroxide in their soap. As a soap maker, knowing that this is impossible, we set out to investigate. How was it, that companies were making this claim? Were they being deceitful, unlawful, dishonest? The answer is no, none of the above.
As we expected, they are in fact using the lye, but having been at this longer than us, probably having experienced the same questions, they found a way to be truthful in listing their ingredients without scaring people away.
Let me first fill you in on why sodium hydroxide is a key component in soap making, and how it's not as scary as it sounds...
Soap is made by saponifying fats or oils (ie olive, coconut, palm) with an alkali (either sodium hydroxide for bars, or potassium hydroxide for liquid soaps.)
The saponification process separates the glycerin from the fatty acids, and the fatty acids combine with the sodium to create soap. The hydroxide forms water. The important point here is that there is NO sodium hydroxide left in a finished bar of soap. A necessary ingredient that plays it's role and disappears.
We firmly believed when we created our line that we wanted to be very transparent in our labelling, I think that in doing so, we also need to be able to explain the process in an honest and truthful way. We listed sodium hydroxide not because it's in our soap, but because it was used to create it.
What we have found in these other companies who also are very transparent in their labelling is that they list their ingredients as they truly appear in their soaps. "Glycerin" (because that is the byproduct of saponification.) Or simply, saponified oils of olive, coconut, palm....(because that's truly what is left in the bar.)
No dishonesty there, they didn't list lye, simply because like ours, there isn't any left in their soap.
I am not bothered when we are questioned about what we are using in our soaps and why, I think that it's a learning experience for both us and the person asking. I think that allows us all to become more knowledgeable and aware of what we are putting on our bodies. We should always question things that we're unsure of.
I hope that you have found this beneficial, ( I know that we have!)
Sweet Leaf Bath Co.
P.S. We are deeply saddened by the tragedy in Haiti, at the same time, very much uplifted by the outpouring of support and donations made. It truly makes me proud to be a human being when strangers are willing to reach out to help those in need.
Our thoughts and prayers are with them...