The Divine Blog: “I Can’t use Soap with Lye in it!”

My Sheiks & Shebas!


I Can’t use Soap with Lye in it!

I don’t know how many times this phrase has been uttered to soap makers over the decades since handcrafted soap became popular. I do know that I get this question all the time: “Is There Lye in Your Soap?!

The fact is… lye is indeed used to make all true soap.

Thoughts of early-America lye soap can conjure up all kinds of old-timey images of washing boards and wooden tubs, and memories of grandma’s red, chapped hands. The saying went that lye soap was so strong, “it practically took your skin off”.

In the old days lye was made by pouring water through wood ash. There was no way to control the strength of the lye, so the fresh soap was very caustic. The soap did get milder as the year wore on and the bars continued to cure, and the last few bars were always the mildest.

 Soap was usually made once a year during autumn harvest and slaughter, using wood-ash, water, and lard. For many, lye soap was the only source of personal hygiene available.

Why is old-timey lye soap such a contrast to the soap you make?

Soap making is a very simple chemical reaction between fat and lye, and true soap cannot be made any other way. Lard was used most often in the old days, but today fats can range from Olive and Sunflower Oil to exotic Mango and Shea Butter. Creating soap is a very simple process: powdered lye
1 is dissolved in water and added to a pot of oils & butters.

   Bottom line… No Lye, No Soap!

But What About…

Hang on a sec…” you say, “the stuff I buy in the store doesn’t say lye or sodium hydroxide on the package.

If a store package does happen to say ‘Soap’, but you can’t find lye in the ingredients… look a bit closer and you will find that it is there, listed by a chemical name like ‘sodium olivate’. Sodium Olivate is the end product of combining olive oil and lye – technically, the sodium salts of fatty acids that make up olive oil.

If you look closely, some packages don’t even say ‘Soap’ and that’s because a lot of available cleansing bars are not true soap – they are skin-stripping Synthetic Detergents (Syndets). By law a Syndet cannot be called soap, and so it’s called ‘body bar’ or ‘beauty bar’. Very often when a large manufacturer does produce true Soap, the naturally occurring, highly moisturizing glycerin is removed and sold off at a high profit.

But wait… Does this mean that the soap I’m putting all over my body really does have lye in it?

The simple answer is no. During the chemical soap making process – called ‘Saponification’ – all of the lye is used up! The lye binds itself to the fatty acids in the oil, and together they are turned into something different. ‘Sodium Olivate’ simply means ‘saponified olive oil’.

Why doesn’t your soap “practically take my skin off?!”

If you’ve used my handmade soap, you know it’s wonderfully mild and moisturizing, and that’s because, unlike grandma, I have access to professional-grade lye and measuring equipment. As well, a technique called ‘Super-fatting’ allows me to build in many skin-loving properties. ‘Lye Discount’ is the technical term for super-fatting, which means I put more oil and butter than lye in the mix. Super-fatting allows the leftover free fats to moisturize and condition and soften your skin2. The higher the lye discount, the more moisturizing the soap will be.

So Do Not Fear! Enjoy all of the wonderful benefits when you use my handmade soap & other skin care products!



Feel free to leave a comment or question!

~ Diana

1. The chemical name for lye is Sodium Hydroxide. The name for lye used to make liquid body and hand wash is Potassium Hydroxide.
2. Gently pat your skin dry instead of rubbing roughly with a towel at the end of a shower or bath to retain some of these conditioners! For very dry or damaged skin, use a Star 9 Divine Body Butter Bar while your skin is still damp.


© 2019 Star 9 Divine


Essential Oils?

Thanks for the wonderful post. I have been trying to find ways to make bar soap without the standard Lye method and I really found this to be super interesting. Thank you. I am wondering if you know how essential oils will handle in soaps? will it separate? Thanks in advance!

Thank you Whinny!

Your feedback made my day. I hope you and your family stay well! You really should give soap making a go! If lye causes fears; after a few batches you shouldn’t have much of that left. There are lots of Facebook groups where you can find shared recipes, detailed directions, and tons of support. Essential Oils do very well in bar soap, but you’ll want to carefully follow proper usage rates: you want the soap to be safe for any age group that might use it. Aim for the lowest possible amount.

I do not use a wide range of essential oils in my products because I don’t believe such an extremely concentrated product is good for the liver, and especially not good for people with health issues of any kind. The benefits must be carefully weighed.

Essential and Fragrance Oils can be added to Liquid Soap either up front at trace, or after the soap is diluted. EO & FO can be really naughty in liquid soap, so I highly recommend pre-testing every new scent in 3 to 4 oz of diluted soap. To be certain that a scent won’t cause separation, sequester each test for 3 weeks. If you see separation at any point, you can re-test a scent by adding it at trace instead of after dilution. I have never had an EO separate bar soap batter, although some FO can do that – it’s called “ricing”. The save for a ricing bar soap batter is usually to cook the soap in a crock pot, which is called “rebatching”.

Thanks so much for your comments!

!! Thank You for your comment Amber!!

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