Why safety? Sometimes us seasoned soap makers don't even think about that aspect of our jobs. There are plenty of days that I crank the music and get to blending the various ingredients forgetting to cover my arms up with a long sleeves. There are a few times I forgot to put on my goggles however this doesn't happen often for me. I am often wearing my glasses and eye safety is important so I rarely forget.
Why all the hype about safety? Its just soap! Well to make an old fashioned soap bar you require lye or sodium hydroxide. I realized there are plenty of products out there claiming to be 'lye free' or 'no lye' and lets be honest, this simply isn't true. Cold process soap can not be made without the lye! With that being said, you may ask how is that safe? The short answer is SCIENCE. The longer answer is this, all of my soap loafs go through a process called saponification. When you mix oils, butters or fats with a mixture of lye and water and combine those in your soap pot it starts a chemical reaction which changes the makeup of all the prior ingredients. A well balanced soap recipe that has been weighed correctly will not contain lye and will also not strip the natural oils from your skin.
Now, back to safety. When a soap maker formulates a batch of soap the oils and butters in the recipe all need to be measured accurately. Each oil or butter has what is called a SAP value, this is used to calculate the amount of lye needed to turn those lovely oils and butter to soap. The old time soap makers knew the hardships of calculating all this, now we use calculators that will do the job for us. Every single soap maker, new or old, should have some understanding of this value before going ahead with a batch of soap. You should know and understand why each part of the process is done. Next, that weighed out lye needs a liquid to carry it through the oils. This can be water, milk, beer, or any other ingredient containing liquid. The water addition also allows us to alter parts of the process, this should only be done by a seasoned soaper. Once you mix the lye and liquid it becomes very hot, and it produces a fume that you should NOT be breathing. For this reason I wear a mask. The long sleeves are important to keep the lye or raw soap batter off your skin. The lye will burn your skin and could cause blindness if it splashes into your eyes. The best way to neutralize this reaction is to pour vinegar on the area however not in your eyes, that requires a water rinse and possibly an ER visit. Some keep vinegar in their work area, this isn't something I do. I do however make sure I am soaping alone, I try my best to make soap when my kids aren't around to distract me or sneak up on me(yes, they do that on purpose sometimes).
Ok, that was long winded. I love making soap but I also love talking about it. Each and every batch is fascinating for me. If you would like more information, feel free to ask questions. I promise to keep the answers short:0)