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Let's talk about soapmaking & labeling

Here's the honest truth: neither Wayne nor I are sciency-folks.  We have always been more business-minded people who liked to play creatives on the weekends.  But we aimed to solve a problem for me by making soap and so in the process, we had to learn a bit of science.

And, as things go when you are running a small business, we found out that we then needed to learn about FDA and FTC rules (if nothing else we are rule followers).  Thankfully, we are members of the Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild and the Guild is lucky enough to have a guru when it comes to this stuff; her name is Marie Gale. So, we bought all her books and did lots of reading. 

We thought we'd share a few common questions we get related to the messy business of soap making.

If you're a natural company, why do you use sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide?

Sodium hydroxide & potassium hydroxide are also known as lye.  They are necessary to make soap.  When lye, which is a base, is combined with the fatty acids in oils, a chemical reaction occurs called saponification. Saponification is what creates soap - liquid or bar depending on the lye that you choose.  During this process, the lye is neutralized.  Basically, if the soapmaker has done their job well, there is no lye remaining in the finished product.

If there's no lye left, why is it listed on your labels?

Great question!  According to the FDA, soap can be soap (yep), or soap can be a cosmetic. It depends on how you talk about it.  If you say that your soap does anything other than just clean, you have made it into a cosmetic which means per the rules & regs you need to include ALL the ingredients that went into the pot when you made that product.  As we have already established we are rule followers, we list them all to err on the side of caution. 

Why do other people's labels sometimes say "saponified oils of (xxx)"?

If soap makers choose to talk about their soap only as soap - saying only that it cleans, not that it moisturizers, etc - then, they can use the wording listed above.  They did still use lye to make the product.  They just chose to leave it off the label because, just like ours, the lye doesn't exist in the final product that folks will be using on their skin.


We hope this lesson helps shed some light on what can be a very confusing topic (even for us and we've been doing this for 12 years now!).  Of course, if you have any questions, please reach out to us anytime.

Be well,