Welcome to Part 2 of our three-part series on the history and relevance of soap in modern times. In this installment, we break down the fascinating history and science behind the art of soapmaking. From ancient Babylonian recipes to the chemical reactions that occur during saponification, we'll take a deep dive into soapmaking’s evolution throughout human history. So sit back, relax, and prepare to learn about one of humanity's oldest and most essential inventions - soap!
The History and Science of Soapmaking
Soapmaking has a long, fascinating history, stretching back thousands of years to when ancient civilizations discovered the cleansing properties of fats, oils, and alkaline substances.
The History of Soapmaking
Ancient Babylonians created the first soap recipe around 5000 years ago using animal fat and wood ash. Soap was initially used for cleaning the wool used to make textiles, but it was also sometimes applied to the skin to treat diseases.
It wasn't until the 19th century that soap became widely used for bathing. Before this time, people typically used water and a cloth or sponge to clean themselves. However, as hygiene practices improved and access to clean water became more widespread, soap quickly gained popularity as an essential component of personal cleanliness.
The Science of Soapmaking
Are you ready to dive into the fascinating chemistry behind soap making? It all starts with a process called saponification.
Saponification is a chemical reaction that occurs between fat and lye, resulting in the formation of glycerin and soap. The process begins when three molecules of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) are dissolved in water (H2O) and split apart, forming three sodium ions (Na) and three hydroxyl groups (OH).
Next, a triglyceride molecule (fat) is split apart through hydrolysis, producing a free glycerol molecule and three fatty acid tails. The hydroxyl groups then bond with the free glycerol to form a glycerin molecule.
Finally, each of the three fatty acids bonds with one of the three sodium ions to create three soap molecules. Once the saponification process is complete, there will be one molecule of glycerin for every three molecules of soap created. No lye (sodium hydroxide) molecules remain in the soap - they have all been split apart and used to form the soap molecules and glycerin.
So there you have it - the science behind making our handcrafted soaps using natural ingredients. It's an intricate process requiring precision and care, but it makes our soaps unique!
The Differences Between Soap and Detergent
Soap and detergent are two common cleaning agents that we use in our daily lives. While they may seem similar, the two have some key differences.
Soap is a natural cleaning agent that has been used for centuries. It is made by combining fats or oils with an alkali substance, resulting in a substance that can effectively remove dirt and grime from surfaces. Unlike detergents made with synthetic ingredients like surfactants, soaps are biodegradable and less environmentally harmful. They also benefit skin health as they do not contain harsh chemicals that can irritate or dry it out.
Now that we understand the saponification process and the differences between soap and detergents, let's look at how adding a superfat to soap can make it even better.
Superfat: What Is It?
Have you ever heard of the term "superfat" when buying handcrafted soap? Superfatting refers to the percentage of oils intentionally left behind in a soap recipe. This results in a milder, more moisturizing soap bar with a more stable lather.
While some soap makers choose not to superfat their soap, others adjust this number to achieve specific qualities in their bars, such as hardness and moisturization.
At Buffalo Gal, we superfat our soaps by 6-10%. This allows for the beneficial properties of each ingredient to be enjoyed in its purest state. By adjusting the superfat percentage, Buffalo Gal can customize each soap formula to provide optimal nourishment and cleansing properties for your skin.
This extra attention to detail ensures you receive a high-quality, personalized experience while using Buffalo Gal's handcrafted soaps.
Cleansing Values/Protecting Skin Biome
The idea that we should never wash our face with soap has been ingrained in us since childhood. However, many soaps of the past were not soap at all! Instead, they were harsh surfactant-based bars that stripped our skin of natural oils and caused irritation.
Skincare products containing oils and butters offer many benefits to the skin, but when they are converted into soap, their properties change entirely. For example, coconut oil is a popular ingredient in skincare and makeup products due to its numerous skin benefits. However, when made into soap, it becomes excessively harsh and strips natural oils from the skin, leading to uneven tone and premature aging.
Soapmakers use a cleansing value to determine how mild or harsh soap is on the skin. According to some calculators, the range for this value is 12 to 22, although experienced soapmakers aim for an even lower number of 3-6 whenever possible.
Animal-based soaps are known to be gentler on human skin because the animal fats used in their production remain compatible with our skin even after they have been transformed into soap. To illustrate this point, pure lard soap has a cleansing value of only 1 with a conditioning number of 52 (desired range is 44-69), while pure coconut oil soap has a cleansing value of 67 with a conditioning number of only 10!
Adding even small amounts of coconut oil can significantly increase a soap's cleansing value, so we exclude it from our soap recipes due to customer sensitivities. On the other hand, pure olive oil soap has a cleansing value of 0 and a conditioning number of 82 - making it an excellent choice for those looking for a gentle yet effective cleanser that protects their skin biome.
Isn't Lye a Dangerous Chemical?
While lye is a caustic material, it is essential to soap-making. According to Wikipedia, lye is an alkali metal hydroxide typically obtained by leaching wood ashes or using a strong alkali that produces highly soluble caustic solutions. Although "lye" usually refers to sodium hydroxide, historically, the term has also been used to refer to potassium hydroxide.
Although lye has potentially dangerous properties by itself, it is replaced by a salt compound during saponification during the soap-making process. As a result, our bars are 100% safe to use. In fact, if lye is not used, the resulting product would be something else entirely- such as a detergent, as mentioned earlier, with harsh surfactants that can strip natural oils from the skin.
And that concludes Part 2 of our three-part series on the history and relevance of soap in modern times. We hope you enjoyed learning about soapmaking's fascinating history and science, including the differences between soap and detergent, superfatting, cleansing values, and the truth about lye. Join us for Part 3 where we offer recommendations for what to look for in natural soap, some crucial info about the skin biome, and how to best enjoy your handcrafted soaps.