History of Soap

It is believed that as early as 2800 B.C. ancient Babylonians discovered soap when they were boiling animal fat and mixed the hot fat with ashes from the firewood. Ashes are very caustic. When they cooled, they learned the substance left behind cleaned their skin and clothes. We know this because during Babylonian excavations, clay cylinders were found with inscriptions describing the process of boiling fats with ashes. Later, early soap makers used potash, which was leached from wood ashes as their alkali base. Results were often unpredictable. This soap was strictly for cleaning items and not for use on the human body.

Medical documents dated around 1500 B.C., describe the practice of combining alkaline salts with animal and vegetable oils to form soap-like substance for the Egyptians to bathe in.

During the 1800's Belgian chemist, Ernest Solvay discovered a process using ammonia to extract the soda ash from salt. This made soap readily available.

In the 1940s, chemist discovered how to change the molecular structure of some naturally occurring substances which they named detergent. These detergents had multi-purposes from cleaning skin to floors. These synthetic detergents began the commercial bar soap industry which started a new and expanded definition of soap (any product that bubbles and cleans, particularly if in a bar form).

Todays' soap-makers have very-well defined formulas and procedures that take into consideration what oils are used and what the desired results are. An experienced soap-maker first determines what the desired properties and benefits are wanted in their finished product. Is it lather, cleaning ability, or moisturizing properties that are desired? Then they determine what oils are needed to meet those requirements.

Calculations are made to determine the amount of lye, water, heat and time to meet the desired saponification stage. Saponification is where the lye/water mixture reacts with the oils causing the bar to harden and the lye is removed.

Using known characteristics of the ingredients, soap-makers can formulate bars that offer a wide range of benefits to the user. Some examples are soaps for acne, eczema, psoriasis, oily skin, dry skin and sensitive skin etc.

Commonly used oils in the soap-making industry are coconut, olive, castor, soybean, shea butter, and cocoa butter.

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