Lye soap is an ancient variety of soap used before the advent of commercial soap products. It is made of three simple ingredients: water, some kind of oil (traditionally lard) and lye.
Despite its origins in the distant past, lye soap is becoming increasingly popular. Consumers want to eschew chemical-laden, commercially-produced soap and return to more natural, wholesome varieties that don’t contain potentially dangerous substances.
It should be pointed out that all soaps – even commercially-produced varieties – are a form of lye soap. Lye is a fundamental part of the saponification (soap-making) process. It is a strong caustic agent which facilitates the chemical reaction that creates soap. Lye chemically transforms the fat and water, disappearing entirely from the finished product.
Throughout history, lye soap has been associated with a range of impressive benefits. In this article, we’re going to ask two critical questions: why use lye soap? And what is lye soap good for?
Lye Soap Is More Energy-Efficient Than Liquid Soaps
Liquid soaps are certainly a popular choice in the modern world, thanks mostly to the fact that they are easily dispensed. But research by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich finds disturbing evidence that liquid soap may be far less environmentally-friendly than previously imagined, especially compared to regular lye soap.
To create a direct comparison between liquid soap and regular lye soap, the researchers decided to investigate how much of each product the average person uses to wash their hands.
The results showed that people need about 0.35 grams of bar soap to wash their hands compared to more than 2.3 grams of liquid soap, implying that, on a functional basis, people need many more times the amount of liquid soap to achieve the same cleaning effect. In addition, the researchers pointed out that liquid soaps embody much more energy per wash because of other factors involved in their production, such as the energy expended making the plastic packaging.
Plain Lye Soap Does Not Contain Harmful Chemicals
Most people believe that their skin is an impermeable layer which keeps toxic substances in the outside world away from the pristine, internal environment of their body. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Research suggests that nearly 60 per cent of the compounds found on our skin eventually get absorbed, entering into the bloodstream and, over time, bioaccumulating in our circulatory system and brain.
Lye soap usually contains just two ingredients: a source of fat, and water, both of which are harmless to your body. But many commercially-available soaps include additional compounds, which may be dangerous.
Take sodium lauryl sulphate, for example. Commercial soap makers include SLS in their products as a lathering agent to help give people the impression that they are giving their bodies an exceptional clean. But new evidence from Natural Essentials suggests that this compound can bind with others in soap to create dangerous nitrosamines which have been linked to cancer. SLS is also implicated in allergic reactions, like eczema, and more generalised skin irritation.
Triclosan is another problem chemical. Research shows that triclosan can impair hormone function, especially of the thyroid. Triclosan on the surface of the skin can be absorbed, make its way to the thyroid gland at the base of the neck, and prevent it from issuing the correct amount of thyroxine, an essential hormone for regulating weight and energy levels.
Finally, many cosmetic soap manufacturers use a chemical called urea in their bars of soap. Manufacturers love urea because of its ability to help soap retain its moisture content, even after multiple uses, extending its shelf life. But urea has a dark secret: the fact that it can chemically transform into the much more dangerous chemical, formaldehyde. A study published in 2010 described formaldehyde as a known “human carcinogen,” meaning that scientists are now pretty confident that exposure to the chemical can lead to cancer.
Lye Soap Can Be Great For Insect Bites
If an insect has ever bitten you, you know how itchy it can be. Lye soap, however, is a traditional home remedy that can relieve annoying itchiness in a non-toxic way.
Lye Soap Is A Great Moisturiser
If you have dry skin, using lye soap may be an excellent way to help improve its moisture content. There’s currently a myth circulating that lye soap is harsh and probably best to use only on clothing, thanks to the lye content. But, as we discussed earlier, the lye is chemically transformed into soap and glycerine during the soap-making process, such that none of the original lye remains.
Contrary to popular belief, natural lye soap is a moisturiser. The high glycerine content prevents the skin from drying out, even after repeated use.
Researchers publishing in the journal, Acta Dema Venereol, found that soaps containing 20 per cent glycerine were more effective moisturisers for people with eczema than the standard, urea-saline cream, and resulted in less adverse side effects (such as the sharp pains often associated with dermatitis).
Lye Soap Can Be Used To Treat Acne
People have used lye soap to treat acne for many years. But why is it so effective?
Researcher Partha Mukhopadhyay reporting in the Indian Journal of Dermatology describes the ideal topical treatment for acne. In her view, it should not encourage the formation of new acne, it should not clog pores, it should not irritate the skin, and it should not produce allergic reactions.
She points out that many soaps on the market today contain a host of ingredients which not only dry out the skin but can actually make acne worse. Lye soap, however, is different. It contains no additional, potentially harmful chemicals, and meets Mukhopadhyay’s criteria as non-irritating, non-allergenic, non-acne-promoting, and non-pore clogging. Lye soap can gently remove surface dirt and excess oil from without drying the skin out or causing an inflammatory reaction.
The main reason lye soap has such huge benefits is that it is natural. Unlike many commercial varieties of soap, lye does not contain any harmful additives, and it retains a high glycerine content, helping to keep the skin soft and supple.