What is ‘Real’ Soap?

Reader Contribution by Nicole Wilkey
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What is soap? Real soap, by definition? Let me nerd out for a second and explain: soap is a fatty acid salt. To make soap you must emulsify an alkaline solution {lye} with fats/oils {goat milk, coconut oil, olive oil etc.} to cause saponification. Saponification is just the chemical reaction between the alkali {lye} and the fats {oils}. Saponification results in the salts of fatty acids and a humectant, glycerin. Then you have REAL soap that works by mixing with water to create micelles {tiny spheres that grab dirt} to wash particles away. Sodium Hydroxide lye is used to make hard soap where Potassium Hydroxide lye is used to make liquid soap.

While ‘lye’ is a big scary word to many people, most aren’t aware that lye is actually made from wood ash. So while it can burn you and you do need to take safety precautions when working with lye, it is nice to know that this chemical does have natural origins. Through the saponification process, all of the caustic qualities of lye are eliminated.

Why should this matter to you? I get the question often regarding my goat milk soap “will this actually clean?” Not only will it give you a great cleansing, it will leave your skin in better condition and more hydrated when compared to commercial ‘soap’ from the store.  Why? The big name brands we all know from the store aren’t soap at all, they are almost always detergents!

Detergents are made of synthetic cleaning agents, and tend to be a bit more harsh to hold up to hard water. They rarely contain natural oils or glycerin, or very little of it, and almost never use lye which is required for the chemical reaction. Detergents tend to strip away all traces of oil with synthetic lathering agents. While this may be beneficial if I’m in need of a harsh cleaning agent, it’s not what I want when I’m washing my face.

Speaking of washing your face, how many of you need a makeup remover in addition to your facial cleanser? As ‘detergents’ usually don’t contain oil, they have a hard time dissolving oils in makeup. Why? Because of the chemistry rule ‘like dissolves like’. The real soap contains oil, the makeup contains oil. Therefore, both being non-polar substances, the real soap will dissolve your makeup without requiring any additional solvents. They are ‘like’ each other. So to simplify- when I use real soap, not detergents, I wash with soap only and all traces of makeup are gone. Or face paint, or grease, or most any other type of hard to remove substances.

Benefits to Using Real Soap

1. Decreases your exposure to synthetic chemicals and toxins. Our skin is our biggest organ and acts like a sponge with anything that we put on it. It will also keep your skin in its best condition.

2. Real soap can be used not just for lathering up in the shower, but also as a makeup remover, as a shaving cream/lotion for both men and women. It can simplify your bathroom routine!

3. It’s better for the environment as its production is done with natural ingredients.

4. You can use it to clean your whole house: I like to dilute real liquid soap with water in a spray bottle to clean my counters and mop my floor.

If you are looking to make the switch from detergents to real soap, just as you read food labels, start reading soap labels! Look for ingredients such as fats and oils you are familiar with and can pronounce and don’t be scared away by lye, also listed as either sodium or potassium hydroxide. If you are interested in real soap from our little farm, you can find it here: Flicker Farm Raw Goat Milk Soap.

So there you have it, soap > detergent!

Nicole Wilkey transitioned from a corporate job to small-scale farmer in 2015. Since then she has run California based Flicker Farm to accommodate meat pigs, mini Juliana pigs, pasture based poultry and sells goats milk soap and lotion on Etsy. Connect with Nicole on Instagram and Facebook.


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