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How To Choose a Real Handmade Soapmaker


In the last few years, there has been a virtual avalanche of so-called "handmade soap" in the marketplace.  Unfortunately many of the offerings are not real, handmade soap from scratch.  Often these bars are simply "Melt & Pour" bases that have been melted down, dyed, scented and/or decorated.  These bars are usually transparent but, to further confuse the matter, they can also be opaque.  To make matters worse, the consumer is often misled by advertising hype, from the salesperson or from text on a website, that that these bars are gentle on the skin because they "contain no lye" or that the base was made by "boiling vegetables" or that some of the ingredients in the base come from "pure mountain berries," etc., etc..  These statements are misinformation.

In our opinion, the most serious misinformation is the "my soap contains no lye" statement, inferring that other soap does contain lye.  The truth is that NO superfatted bar of handmade soap CONTAINS lye. Lye, or sodium hydroxide, is the catalyst that causes saponification -- the chemical reaction that turns fats and oils into soap and glycerin -- but the sodium hydroxide does not remain in the bar because it has reacted with the oils and fats to be chemically changed into soap and glycerin.

 Another important thing of which to be aware is that  -- if a product is soap and/or if it contains glycerin, then, by the chemical nature of soap and glycerin, it has definitely been made by using sodium hydroxide or another strong alkali.  If the salesperson or advertising material on a website infers that there has been no lye used in the manufacture of their product, then you can be assured that what you are purchasing is a detergent bar -- which, for many people, is extremely drying.  If the vendor declares that they are selling a true soap but that they did not use lye, it only means that they are selling you a product that they produced by simply melting down a pre-made commercial base.  They most definitely did not make the bar from scratch.

With so much misinformation in the marketplace, how then can a consumer be certain that they are actually buying skin-loving handmade soap from scratch?  The best way is to question your potential vendor.  I can guarantee that a real handmade soap from scratch soapmaker will be more then happy to describe their process to you.  Here a few possible questions to get you started:

1.  Did you make this bar completely from scratch?

2.  Did you make this bar completely from scratch or did you use a commercial Melt & Pour base to produce your product?

3.  Can you describe the saponification process to me?

If your vendor starts exclaiming that they "used no lye" then run the other way.  You are not getting a real handmade soap from scratch.  Although the bar they are vending may be pretty or smell nicely, you will probably find that for skin care, you will prefer a real "handmade from scratch" bar of handmade soap.

~~Leslie Plant, Leslie's Garden Handcrafted Soaps

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Last updated: 05/25/07