Saponification is the chemical reaction that occurs when fats or oils (fatty acids) come into contact with an alkali (or a base.) and it literally means “soap making” – from a Latin word “sapo” or Celtic word “saipo” which also means soap. Without these 2 main ingredients there is simply no soap.
Remember: no lye, no soap!
In the past soap makers used animal fats and wood ash lye to make soap. Lye soap had a bad reputation as being harsh and damaging to the skin. This was often true since soap makers didn’t have lye of consistent strength and quality or sophisticated instruments to help them determine the perfect ratio between fats and lye, so to ensure that they will get soap at the end of their soap making effort they often used more lye than would be required, resulting in highly alkaline soap.
Today we use sodium hydroxide (for hard soap) and potassium hydroxide (for liquid soap) in combination with variety of plant based oils and butters. Soap made with these oils is more expensive than commercially made soap and soap made from animal fats, but they also contain nutrients and vitamins that other soaps don’t and therefore they are much healthier and gentler for both skin and hair. They also contain glycerin which attracts water and protects your skin and which is a natural by-product of saponification process.
Most commercial soaps do not contain glycerin as manufacturers extract this highly prized component and use it in manufacturing of more expensive cosmetic products. That’s why commercial soap has drying effect on skin and most people can’t get through the day without creams and lotions to reduce damage and discomfort caused by commercial soaps, detergents and shampoos. And let’s not forget the effect of detergents and phosphates contained in commercial soaps on our environment.
To ensure that we have perfectly balanced soap that is gentle on both skin and hair we add Shea butter to our soap once the saponification has happened (this is called super-fating). This ensures that any free lye is neutralized so even though soap is made with lye (sodium or potassium hydroxide) the finished product contains no lye at all. Soap made in this way is wonderfully moisturizing and safe for everyone, from babies to people with any skin conditions.