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Your Natural Soap Questions Answered

What is Soap?

Soap is made by mixing fats (an acid) and sodium hydroxide (lye). The resulting chemical reaction produces soap and glycerine. When the fats and oils come into contact with the lye they are saponifying, or turning into soap. The two most critical components of the chemical reaction are mixing between the acid and the alkali and heat. Once the soap begins to harden, glycerine is created as a by-product of the reaction.

A Brief History of Soap

Early soap was made by mixing fat – often tallow or lard – with a caustic (high pH) liquid made by filtering water through hard wood ash. If you’ve ever visited a historic village, you may see some modern-day examples of this pioneer-style soap.

Prior to World War II (WWII), soaps were actually soap. During WWII, the fats and oils traditionally used for soap making were diverted to making explosives, and so new ingredients were needed to make cleaners and bars. At the time, petroleum oil was everywhere, and inexpensive, so petroleum derivatives were used to replace the natural oils and fats previously used to make soap. Because petroleum chemicals were incredibly inexpensive, soap making companies continued to use these ingredients long after the demand for explosives ended.

Petroleum derivatives in commercially available detergent bars are NOT the product of an oil/lye reaction and cannot technically be classified as soap.

Detergents will strip the natural oils from your skin, leaving your skin dry and flaky. Soaps, containing natural oils, and glycerine, are milder and do not remove the natural oils from your skin in the same way.

How Anointment Soap is Made

We’ve been making soap using the same recipe since 2002. Thousands of bars of soap!

Soap is made by mixing a fat with an alkali to produce a chemical reaction. Anointment soap is a castile soap made from 50% olive oil and a combination of solid fats in combination with lye (sodium hydroxide). Traditional Castile soap originates in Aleppo, Syria. The recipe and technique were brought to Europe in the 11th century as a result of the Crusades.

The oils are heated to liquid and allowed to react with the lye at a controlled temperature, which causes them to saponify. At this stage, the mixture begins to thicken to a yogurt consistency and continues to thicken as the reaction continues. It is at this stage that our essential oils, herbs, and botanicals are added.

The chemical reaction taking place generates heat. The soaps must be allowed to cool at a controlled rate, and kept reasonably warm (room temperature), or cracking may occur in the mixture. After approximately a day, the chemical reaction has slowed and heat generation has stopped, allowing the soap to be removed from the molds, and cut into bars. The saponification process, however, continues for several weeks, until the lye has been completely consumed in the chemical reaction.

What Does Superfatted Mean?

Anointment soaps are superfatted. When the lye has reacted with the oil, there remains fat that was not involved in the chemical reaction. This creates a greater lather when the soap is used, but also provides a smoother skin feel and ensures that there remains a balance between fat and lye – meaning that the soap will be gentle to your skin.

Saponification results in approximately three-quarters soap and one-quarter glycerine. In handmade soaps, including Anointment soaps, the glycerine is retained in the bar, acting as an emollient (skin softener) and adds a luxurious feel to the soap. In commercial soap, the glycerine is often removed and sold separately, often showing up in moisturizing products that help to remedy the dryness caused by commercial soaps. Because soaps are alkaline, with a pH of approximately 9-9.5, they don’t require extra “stuff”, like antibacterial agents and harsh antiseptics.

The soap is poured into molds, where it continues to generate heat over the next number of hours as the chemical reaction continues. In 24 hours, the soap is hardened enough that it can be gently removed from the molds, cut into bars, stamped with our logo, inspected for quality, and placed into storage for curing.

During the curing process, the chemical reaction will continue to take place, ensuring the lye has completely reacted and has been “used up”, creating a mild, luxurious soap that is gentle on your skin. The curing process requires 3-6 weeks.

Anointment soaps are best stored in a cool, dark place if not in use. For best results, we recommend a slotted soap dish that allows your soap to drain. This will extend the life of your soap while in use.