As you’re reading the ingredients of your soap label, you may come across a few unfamiliar terms that include sodium. Sometimes these terms can be scary and intimidating because we don’t always know what they mean, what their purposes are, or how they will affect us. The purpose of this particular blog post is to decode, and debunk any myths. Power through information!
Sodium Hydroxide is commonly known as lye. Lye, simply, is a chemical form of salt; it is formed by “leaching” ashes. Sodium Hydroxide is a caustic base chemical which, alone, can burn skin, but when reacting with the fats in oils (or triglycerides), creates saponification. Saponification is the name of this chemical reaction where the sodium hydroxide meets with the carbon-oxygen bonds in triglycerides to form glycerin, which is an essential component of soap. Essentially: No Lye = No Soap.
Once saponification has occurred, there is no more lye left in soap, as it has gone through the necessary chemical reaction to change its state. Think of it this way: Imagine you were able to see two hydrogen molecules and an oxygen molecule hanging around. Alone, these are hydrogen and oxygen, but once they have combined, they are now H2O, or water – they are no longer separate entities.
So, in short, do not be afraid of “sodium hydroxide” listed on your ingredient labels. In fact, be glad, that means this soap was made through the same process that soap has been made for thousands of years.
Quoted directly from Brambleberry.com (one of the leading suppliers in the soap-making industry):
Sodium Lactate is a liquid salt that is naturally derived from the natural fermentation of sugars found in corn and beets. In food, Sodium Lactate may be used as a preservative, acting as an inhibitor of bacteria growth. In CP soap, Sodium Lactate helps to produce a harder bar of soap that lasts longer in the shower. Because Sodium Lactate is a salt, it is a natural humectant, providing moisture.
You definitely don’t need to fear sodium lactate in your soaps, either. As Brambleberry explains, soap makers use sodium lactate to create a harder bar of soap. Why would we need to do this? There are several reasons. When trying to create intricate designs, we need to work with a lot of “soft” oils in our soap – that means oils that are liquid at room temperature. When working with so many soft oils, it can make the saponified loaf extremely hard to remove from the mold. Sodium lactate helps to prevent any damage to the loaf as its being removed, or in general, just make it possible to remove. Also, some soaps that are naturally soft, such as Castille (100% olive oil) or Bastille (mostly olive oil), can take up to a full year to cure. The use of sodium lactate can help the curing process by making those particular soaps harder a little faster.
Hopefully this article has explained what some of the ingredients mean in soap (and cosmetic formulations), and to help debunk myths.
The fear of “chemicals” is ludicrous. Everything is comprised of chemicals! Of course, there are some chemicals which are harmful, but the overwhelming majority use in the cosmetic industry have been long-tested. If you’re not sure what something is, go ahead and ask the maker, if that’s not possible, just do a little research and don’t allow fear-mongers to destroy science.