Monday, April 25, 2011

Is That Glycerin Soap?

That is a question I get asked all the time and usually it ends with a much longer explanation from me than the yes or no the customer was expecting. Maybe the explanation is appreciated and maybe it is just TMI, but nonetheless, it is something I LOVE to talk about.  So.....

Is that glycerin soap?

Short answer, yes.  But the teacher in me wants to pass on to you what I know, so if you ask, I must insist you sit through my little science lesson. And this lesson begins with some high school chemistry. And since I am an English teacher and not a science teacher - I promise to keep it simple!

acid + base = some by-product of the chemical reaction

What happens when you add baking soda (base) to vinegar (acid)? You get the ubiquitous science fair project bubbly volcano.  Well, what happens when you mix lye (base) with oils (acid)? You actually get two by-products, soap and glycerin! Glycerin is a colorless, sweet-tasting liquid, which acts as a humectant.  This means it will draw moisture to your skin and is wonderfully emollient and gentle.

Wait a sec, back up...did I say LYE?  As in that stuff that is used to clear clogged drains?  Yep!  Does that mean there is lye in my soap?  Nope!  My soap recipes have been carefully calculated so that every bit of lye that I have put in, gets used up in the chemical reaction process (also called "saponification").  In fact, if anything, there ends up being a little bit of the oils left over, which makes my soap even more skin loving!

But I digress - we are supposed to be talking about glycerin soap here.  Because the natural by-product of the soap making process is glycerin, technically all soap is glycerin soap - even though I haven't actually added any glycerin to my recipe. However, when people think of glycerin soap, they are usually thinking about soap of the "melt and pour" variety.

Melt and pour soap is the soap I use at the make-it-yourself soap bar.  It is made by the same process that I make my soaps from scratch, but it is specially formulated to be able to melt down smooth and stay transparent.  It does this, in part, with the addition of EXTRA glycerin - hence the "glycerin soap" moniker.

Did I tell you there would be a quiz at the end? No? Lucky for you, this quiz only has one question:

Is that glycerin soap?

Correct answer:
Yes it is!

So ends my science lesson for the day.  I hope that my explanation has been as clear as, well...glycerin!

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