Is there lye in soap?

Is there lye in soap?

Many people don’t realize that cleansing the entire body begins on the outside – with your skin.

As the human body’s largest and only exterior organ, your skin comes into contact with pollutants on the daily. On top of the dirt and bacteria it touches, skin also absorbs any chemicals in the soaps you use to wash yourself. The verdict: maybe commercial soaps aren’t so clean after all?

If you are asking the question: Do you use lye (sodium hydroxide) to make Pacific Coast Soap?

The answer is -- of course                  No lye -- No soap! 

All REAL soap is made with lye
(sodium hydroxide mixed with liquid).

Any skin or hair cleansing product made without sodium hydroxide is not soap, it is detergent.

If you are asking is there lye in the soap when you get it home?

The chemical reaction of making soap, called saponification, is complete, the lye and oil molecules have combined and chemically changed into soap and glycerin.

If the soap is made properly, the lye is used up in the saponification process to turn oil into soap.

There is no lye present in the finished bars of soap or shampoo. While all real soap must be made with lye, no lye remains in our finished product after saponification

 Let’s find out in our showdown of natural soap vs. commercial soap.


It’s important to be educated about harmful ingredients prior to purchasing soap products. You want to refresh your skin, not pollute it with chemicals. If you can’t pronounce the words on the back of the label – put the product down!


Parabens: otherwise known as chemical preservatives, these harmful ingredients are found in majority of commercial soap and beauty products.

Phthalates: known to cause cancer, this additive is often used as a ‘plasticizer’- a fancy word for an ingredient used to produce plastic.

Petrochemicals: made from petroleum, these chemicals should be considered unsafe for humans because little is known about the long-term effects they have on our health.

Synthetic Perfume: artificial perfume scents, although they smell nice, are linked to allergies and hormonal issues. As well, synthetic ingredients such as perfume are likely to cause skin conditions and to aggravate existing issues such as acne.

Artificial Coloring: commercial soaps are packed with artificial dyes that have been known to cause health problems and illnesses in humans.


Healthy Oils: despite common belief – oil is actually an important ingredient in soap, especially if you have oily or acne prone skin. Added oils like coconut oil, grapeseed oil, castor oil or olive oil help to nourish and moisturize skin and bring it back to its natural PH levels.

Essential Oils: scented natural soaps are usually created with an essential oil to produce a natural, harm-free odor.

 natural soaps are made with organic, biodegradable ingredients that are harvested, produced, or sourced in a safe and conscious way. Unlike chemical ingredients, a consumer can easily understand what these ingredients are and how their body will react to them.


The environment, altitude, hard or softness of the water, so many things can drastically affect both the quality and benefits of the soap.


Mass Produced: most commercial soaps are produced by large multinational companies, with factories all over the globe. This mass-production results in copious amounts of environmental waste and degradation as well as poor living conditions for thousands of people worldwide.

Factory-Made: commercial soaps are batch made by machines in large factories – in less than ideal conditions. Most consumers remain oblivious to the working conditions and cleanliness of the factories their soap is made in.


Locally Produced: natural soaps are often locally produced with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. These local soap companies benefit small communities financially and they also have a very minimal carbon footprint.

Hand-Made: hand-made, natural soaps are rising in popularity due to the fact that it’s enjoyable to make, and beneficial to use. When buying handmade, consumers have the opportunity to meet the person who produced their soap and to educate themselves on the ingredients.

Made with Care: if a soap company is only interested in making money, they usually won’t commit themselves to natural soap-making due to higher production costs for mass-producing. For this reason, most natural soap lines are consciously created by people who are passionate about health and the environment.

With these facts, it’s not surprising that people who make the switch from commercial to natural soap almost immediately say they notice a difference in their skin and overall health. By avoiding synthetic ingredients like perfumes, fragrance oils and chemicals with natural soap, you are able to boost your overall health and drastically improve your wellbeing.



Why the Scents of Essential Oils Change or Decrease in Natural Soap?

My new soap bar doesn't smell the same as the last one!

We sometimes receive emails that go like this:

  • I just reordered [some soap]. It is my favorite bar but it does not smell the same. Did you change the recipe?

  • The soap bar says it has more lemon than lavender but I only smell the lavender.

  • This name of this bar is "lavender . . . " but I smell more of the other essential oils than lavender. Why do you call it lavender?

The good news is that when you purchase soap from an organic skin care company, it is scented with only pure essential oils.

The bad news is that when you purchase soap from an organic skin care company, it is scented with only pure essential oil. 

Any of you who regularly follow our blog, know that I have written numerous blogs about pure essential oils (I will place the links to those blogs and the end).


The scent of a pure essential oil in any totally natural product can and will change over time and from batch to batch.

Essential Oils are a Natural Ingredient

Essential oils come from nature. Essential oils come from plants. The quality and scent of essential oils are affected by yearly weather conditions and varies from crop to crop and region to region.

This makes it very difficult to produce finished products in which the scents are always exactly the same. 

Most commercial soaps (and skin care products), even the more "natural" ones that contain some essential oils, are made with at least some synthetic fragrances oils. Why? Because using synthetic fragrance oils ensures a more consistent scent. 

Unrefined Oils and Butters: Many of the virgin unrefined (non-deodorized) butters and oils that we use have a scent of their own which can affect the scent of the final product.

Since these products are unrefined, their natural scent can also vary from one batch to another.

This is why many personal care companies choose refined ingredients. 


Essential oils are temperamental to work under any circumstance. But while a natural essential oil scent blend may change a bit in a cream or oil, these blends are especially unpredictable when natural making cold processed soap.

After all my years of soap making in never ceases to amaze me just how much the actual soap making process changes the scent of an essential oil blend. Temperature

The method we use to make our soaps is called "cold process" because we add no external heat, during the process of soapmaking. However, that does not mean that the "soap batter" stays cool. The soapmaking reaction (saponification) is what chemists call an exothermic chemical reaction. Exothermic describes a reaction that releases heat to its surroundings. 

As the lye water is added to the oils and butters the soap making reaction, called saponification, begins. As saponification continues in the soap molds the soap batter can heat up to over 200° F or higher. 

Some essential oils like, thyme, clove and cinnamon can cause an even greater increase in soap batter temperature. Some natural additives like honey and goat's milk will also cause an increase in the reaction temperature. 

Synthetic fragrances can often be heated to very high temperatures without losing any scent. However, many pure essential oils are greatly affected by these changes in temperature.Some Essential Oils are Changed During Saponification Some essential oils contain components that interact in the chemical process of soap making which means that are actually changed during saponification.

As a result, the natural aroma of these essential oils will be altered a bit. Essential oils like bergamot, clary sage, lavender, petitgrain, thyme and ylang ylang may be chemically changed during saponification. 


In soapmaking, evaporation is our most difficult problem when looking at scent retention. Essential oils are quite volatile. The word volatile comes from the Latin word "volare" which means "to fly," since they quickly evaporate into the air even at room temperature.

Have you ever used an essential blend on your skin and noticed that is has a different scent a few hours later?  That's because each of the essential oils in the blend evaporates at different rates.

The “note” of an essential oil is determined by how quickly the scent of the essential oil fades after being openly exposed to air.

Top Note oils begin to evaporate very quickly, usually within 1-2 hours. They tend to have a light, fresh and uplifting scent. Top notes usually provide the first scent your nose will pick up when smelling an essential oil blend or perfume.

The scents of Middle Note oils are not immediately obvious and it may take a couple of minutes for your nose to recognize them. These warm, soft scents evaporate within 2-4 hours. 

Base Note oils are usually heavy, intense, rich oils (think patchouli) that take the longest time -- some can take several days to evaporate! Their scent is easy to smell but it can change over time.  Base notes can also help slow down the evaporation of the other oils. 

The type of "note" does not indicate whether an essential oil has a strong or weak scent, but a top note oil will have a more immediate impact on your sense of smell since it evaporates more quickly--you usually smell it first. (Picture above:

Essential Oil Note Classification

Although many essential oils to fall nicely into one category or another, the classification of some oils varies quite a bit. I have seen some essential oils, such as nutmeg, described as top, middle, and base notes in different sources.

Since the chemical profile of essential oils is very complex and can contain hundreds of individual constituents, within one individual oil there may be top, middle and base notes.

Citrus soaps unfortunately loose that strong scent after a few months. We use to make a mandarin luffa slice, a grapefruit luffa slice and a lime luffa slice.  We decided to combine all the essential oils in one Citrus Infusion luffa soap. Although once the outer layers of the bar were washed away the delicious citrus aroma is there, customers want to smell the citrus when they opened the box.

When you consider that we allow our soaps to cure for 8 to 12 weeks, the bar often had no scent soon after we began selling it. We tried every natural soapmaking trick to get the citrus scents to stay--with little success. 


There is a problem of scent consistency when using pure essential oils, especially in natural soap:

~some essential oils are chemically altered during the saponification reaction

~many essential oils evaporate quickly during and after the soapmaking process

~each essential oil evaporates at a different rate

~citrus oils can be especially short-lived in soap

~the scent of a pure essential oil is affected by weather and varies from crop to crop and region to region

~quite often the scent of a bar of soap in which the essential oil blend has faded is revived when you use the bar and the outer layers are washed away

We spend months creating a beautiful essential oil scent blend and add it to a soap recipe. The scent in the finished bars is a bit different, but we like it and six months later the scent is still nice and strong. Unfortunately, when we reorder our essential oils for this same recipe it is a different time of year and a new crop.This time the blend smells great before and after the soap is made, but three months later one of the notes in the blend has faded and the exact same soap now has a different scent. What makes the process so difficult is that we literally do not know for months after the soap has been made whether something has changed, it is quite frustrating.Although we work tirelessly to maintain consistency and limit the number of variables in our soapmaking process, since our soaps are handmade we will never be able to control everything as well as a machine. 

 As I said at the beginning of this page, the good news is that when you purchase soap from an organic skin care company, it is scented with only pure essential oils.The bad news is that when you purchase soap from an organic skin care company, it is scented with only pure essential oil. It does not make sense to create natural, handmade products with synthetic fragrance oils that offer nothing but scent and chemicals!

So we will stick with our incredibly beautiful, although incredibly finicky, pure essential oils. 

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