How to Make Soap that’s pH Skin-Friendly
How to Make Soap that Sits on the right pH Level?
“Mom, in this day and age, everything has a scientific basis,” my 8-year-old blurted out when I tried answering why peanut butter and jelly is yummy. Adorable, but the kid has a point. This made me think about the science behind how to make soap.
News, natural phenomena, even the existence of ghosts, is coupled with scientific explanations to rule out reason and invoke critical thinking. I deal with science every time I make soap recipes. Like when picking the right soap making supplies to match my oils. I can say I’ve had my fair share of lye burns when I fail to use a lye calculator properly.
Handmade soap can be hazardous to skin if consumers are misinformed and without scientific basis on how to make soap that is a perfect match for the skin’s pH level.
Uhmm… what is a pH again?
I know, it’s been ages since we were in school so, before anything else, let’s have a chemistry review!
pH means “potential of hydrogen” and specifies how basic or acidic a water-soluble substance is. It is measured by a scale from 0 to 14. Starting from 0 to 6 are acids like soda, lemon juice, vinegar, coffee, and milk (shocking, right?).
The golden number 7 is neutral ones such as pure water, river water, tap water and most spring water… yeah, it’s basically just water!
Lastly, numbers 8 to 14 is on the alkaline or basic side. Examples of basic mixtures are ammonia, detergent, lime water (another shocker!), bleach, and lye. Read more about lye here!
This scientific knowledge is used to advance civilization from agriculture, better water supply, not to mention better-tasting beer, and of course, healthcare.
Fact: You are slightly acidic
We hear a lot of people saying they are acidic or on an alkaline diet, refusing to eat specific food and stuff. In reality, some parts of our body is naturally a bit acidic. Did you know that our saliva scores 6.5 to 7.5 in the pH meter? Did you also know that our digestive tract scales from 1.0 to 7 to properly dissolve food? That’s nearly the whole acidic plane!
You know what else is acidic? Our skin.
You read that right, sugar. Our skin has a thin, protective layer on its surface, referred to as the acid mantle. This acid mantle is made up of sebum (yes, the ones you hated as a teen) excreted from the skin’s sebaceous glands, which mixes with lactic and amino acids from sweat to create the skin’s pH, which ideally should be slightly acidic – at about 5.5.
The skin being acidic in nature complements the layer underneath that is our blood, which is slightly alkaline.
Coincidence? I think not!
Knowing your skin pH limits
Normal skin pH ranges from 4.5 to 6.5. Like everything else in the universe, your skin also needs balance. If it gets too much on the alkaline side, your skin becomes dry. If it’s too acidic, you get a bacterial infection. Easy math!
The acid mantle is actually the body’s first line of defense against viruses and bacteria. The mantle is also responsible for restructuring the skin from cuts and laceration.
Certain lifestyle choices like the food we eat, hygiene, our living conditions and the weather disrupt the mantle’s pH balance. With the exception of the weather, these factors are things that we can actually control!
pH and acne, related? *gasps*
Though experts don’t completely understand the cause of acne, a research in Rajasthan, India has revealed some main triggers. One of which is a pH imbalance.
The research involved observing 200 patients with acne and 200 healthy subjects who are 15 to 30 years old within the span of 23 months. Skin pH meters were used to measure pH levels of the test subjects’ chin, nose, cheeks, and forehead. The result showed that acne patients have significantly higher pH levels compared to the healthy subjects.
According to another study, excessive sweating from heavy exercise or being under the hot weather for long periods of time can increase the pH level of the skin. Sweating disrupts the acid mantle hence, bacteria that causes acne starts to thrive and infect the skin.
High levels of testosterone, unhealthy diet and poor cleanser choices are also factors that cause pH imbalance that leads to acne.
Is your skin pH balanced?
There are a couple of ways to know where your skin is on the pH scale:
First off, a pH meter. The study held in India used a skin pH meter. This hand-held device uses electrodes to measure the skin’s pH level. Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt or causes cancer. It’s completely harmless!
Luckily, you don’t need to be in a chemistry lab to find one. Your nearest derma care clinic surely has an access to one like how a doctor has access to a stethoscope.
You can also find out your skin’s pH level with a pH pencil. It kinda looks like your retractable eyeliner but the difference is you buy it at Home Depot.
This pencil is a halochromic chemical compound. That means it changes colors depending on the pH level of the substance you rub it on. It comes with a color chart that shows you where exactly your skin is in the pH spectrum.
But setting all these technologies aside, the best way to really know is to ask your skin! Does it feel rough and dry? Is it a tad bit too oily? Does it feel itchy and appears flaky? Or does it have a burning sensation?
In this case, anything in between the extremes is your best case scenario. It has been demonstrated that skin with pH values below 5.0 are healthier, more hydrated, and have a stronger barrier function than those above 5.0.
Is your soap pH balanced?
Now that you know your skin better, let’s talk soap! Remember, a pH higher than 7 is considered basic or alkaline, and pH level of below 7 is acidic.
Cold process soap basically has a pH of around 9-10. This means they are alkalis. Now, we’ve been talking about how important it is to maintain the skin’s acid mantle. But rubbing alkalis on it will surely destroy that precious barrier! This doesn’t add up, does it?
Before you throw away your soap making supplies and commit to a soap-free lifestyle, let’s explore this topic a bit further.
Myth: Soap is bad… Busted!
As to the soap pH being alkaline… well, if it goes down any further it will cease to be soap.
Soap is made up of an alkali, such as caustic soda and caustic potash, and fatty acids from oils (correct, it is an acid). When they get to know each other, they produce salt and glycerin, both of which are alkalis. Both of them are also good cleaning agents… the very reason why we use soap.
According to FDA, lye + oil = soap. So, any other formula like beauty bars, cleansers, etc. that doesn’t say “soap” is not soap!
However, some liquid soaps and body wash add citric acid to their mix so it can be milder, resulting in a more acidic soap pH level. For best results, use low-level pH soaps and/or soap making supplies!
Not everyone is created equal. We differ from each other and so is our body chemistry. Your skin’s pH level differs from your equally-gorgeous neighbors. That is why it is important to know where is your skin’s current standing on the pH scale.
Once you know, you can start either working your way from there or maintaining your already healthy skin.
To sum it all up…
Now that you know your skin pH level should be slightly acidic, it is only proper that you use low-level pH soaps to match so as to maintain the health and glow of your skin.
But using soap that is slightly alkaline will not completely disturb the pH level as it will be washed off with water.
So why is this sud science mumbo-jumbo important? Because we need this to find and make the best soap for our skin. Hooray for science!
Battlegrounds: Commercial vs Natural soap
There are many speculations and debates on this matter. We’ve provided some pros and cons on both commercial and natural soaps below. Why don’t you take a peek and decide for yourself which one is better? The battle is on!
For starters, let’s weigh the cons.
Commercial soaps contain harsh chemicals. It includes, but are not limited to:
- synthetic perfume made from benzene (carcinogen) to make the fragrance last longer;
- parabens that stop fungus and bacteria when applied to skin linked to breast cancer;
- petroleum that breaks the oil in the skin surface, therefore, stripping it from the natural oils the skin produces;
- artificial dyes that post risks of possible allergens and irritants to the skin; and
- plasticizers that disrupt the endocrine system resulting in a birth defect, cancer tumors, etc.
Commercial soaps are also mass-produced in big factories and that means a lot of environmental waste that makes Mother Earth sick and unhappy. And what about working conditions inside the factories?
These factors cut production costs, therefore, making them less expensive and more readily available at your local stores.
But that doesn’t take away the fact that most of the low pH cleansers and soaps are commercially made. Chemical engineers are modifying the company soap pH in their recipes to get the lowest possible pH levels for safer and skin-friendlier formulas using synthetic ingredients can be a health risk in the long run.
This is a two-faced coin that cannot exist without the other.
Okay, time to knit-pick natural soaps!
Unlike commercial soaps, natural soaps are made of organic and locally-grown ingredients! Every batch of soap is made fresh, guaranteed! Plus, it has no artificial fragrance (because it’s all-natural aroma)!
Natural soaps are handmade so you can also expect high-quality products every time. It also supports local communities by outsourcing soap making supplies, thus providing people jobs without the environmental risk.
Natural soap makers are always happy to entertain questions and concerns consumers have about their handmade soap products. In fact, apothecaries that sell soap making supplies welcome customers to tour their soap making labs to show how to make soap, including freebies like soap making kits after the tour!
However, because natural soaps are organic and chemical-free, pH levels cannot be harnessed and the soaps produced are a little higher than the neutral 7. On the other hand, it has more glycerin that can put your oily skin at bay and more able to fight and treat acne and skin infections.
pH level of soap brands
Not because a soap says it’s “hypoallergenic” or “gentle” on the packaging means it’s safe. Not to mention, you want your soap to be as chemical-free as possible while still being acid mantle-friendly. Here are tips to ensure you’re buying and patronizing the right product.
When buying commercial soaps remember to always read the label and check out the ingredients. It’s best to use paraben-free and fragrance-free ones to decrease your skin’s exposure to chemicals.
When it comes to picking your handmade soap, it’s best to use soaps that are made using the hot process method. It is also good to pick milk-based soaps or with lots of olive oil for better chances of ending up with low pH levels that your skin will surely love!
Myth: Acidic soap exists. Confirmed!
Let’s say you decided on keeping it organic and chose natural soap instead of the commercial one. You may be thinking, “I’ll just make my own pH neutral soap!”
Debates in the soapmaking industry says that it is impossible. There can never be a natural soap made sitting exactly at the pH level of 7 because it will cease to be soap!
Remember, handmade soaps tend to be more alkaline and as an organic soapmaker, you do not and simply cannot have access to emulsifiers and other chemicals the big companies use.
So, how to make soap that is pH neutral?
But thou shalt not fret, my soap-making superstar! It’s not entirely impossible. The secret lies in the process, the ingredients, and the perfect natural soap recipe.
How to make soap pH-neutral?
Let’s set aside soap making kits and do these babies from scratch. Are you ready? Let’s get to it!
First off, the process.
If you want to make soap that has a low-level pH, use the hot process method. It’s basically cooking your lye and oil under a double boiler or a crock pot. This method speeds up saponification.
However, you have to keep an eye out when you’re boiling. Patience is definitely a must when using this process as heating your soap in longer durations will greatly lower the soap’s pH level. If using soap making kits, follow the instructions carefully.
You can also salt out an existing batch of soap you have previously made. This process includes boiling the soap scraps in lye and water, precipitating it in salt, filtering, and then finally drying the resulting product.
The second method requires a lot of effort and mastery. But if you’re up for the challenge then go for it, girl!
Bonus tip: If the soap turns out a bit clear or slightly transparent, it’s a good sign that it’s near to neutral.
Using additives such as powdered goat’s milk, flaxseed oil, olive oil, or sunflower oil will also help lower the pH level.
But, the most important magic tip is to add citric acid. It’s one trick you can use from commercial soap makers. It is more effective if you add it after boiling lye and oil together. Your citric acid can be fresh lemon or lime juice! It also gives a really nice fragrance to your soap… always a good thing!
Next time you go shopping for soap making supplies, make sure to buy these in bulk!
Another bonus tip: The more oil or fatty acid present in the recipe the better the chances of low-level pH.
DIY pH-friendly soap recipes!
We’ve decided to pick out natural, handmade soap recipes that highlight the major factors in making skin pH-friendly soaps. The first recipe is focused mainly on ingredients… the classic castile soap.
Here’s a bit of a history lesson! Castile soap-making is a couple hundreds of years-old tradition that soap historians say to have originated from Castilla, Spain. This handmade soap continues to be produced and sold today centuries later. It’s that effective!
Through the decades, the formulation has only improved, giving castile soap the nickname “100% olive oil soap”.
Wondering why it’s worth a try? Por que no, it’s completely safe for both babies and pets… and of course our vegan-savvy friends and mighty earth warriors alike. It’s organic and environment-friendly because it’s free from artificial foaming agents.
Check out other how-to-make-soap tutorials and handmade soap recipes here!
So, without further ado, the recipe…
Crema de Brotes Castile Soap
600 grams lavender and chamomile-infused olive oil
76 grams Lye
228 grams buttermilk (frozen on ice cube trays)
a handful of our dried lavender and chamomile buds
- Put your buttermilk cubes in a glass bowl then slowly pour lye.
- Wangle-jangle them well until it’s completely liquid. Pro tip: stir it vigorously like your life depended on it! It will give your soap a lower pH level.
- Add the infused oil (that you can also make with these) and mix until it’s heavy.
- Add your lavender and chamomile buds
- Pour the mix into cute little molds like these ones.
- Spray the top with alcohol to prevent ash and cover with plastic wrap.
- Freeze for 3 hours to achieve that creamy white color.
You can cut and unmold it after 24 hours. It needs to cure for 4 to 6 months but it’s absolutely worth the wait.
Notice that we used buttermilk instead of water, hence making the pH level of the soap lower and closer to neutral.
The recipe requires more oil and less lye! That means the salt and glycerin by-product will be less. You can use a lye calculator if you want to add more lye for that deep-cleansing effect!
And I mean… come on! It smells like heaven too!
Another Cool Natural Soap Recipe
This second handmade soap recipe focuses on the process and technique in soap making. Before you begin, a word of safety…
Lye is a very harmful chemical on its own and under heat, it can be an erupting volcano. If you think this recipe has too much lye, use a lye calculator app and modify. We won’t be mad, pinky swear!
Please be careful not to burn yourself or get lye in your eyes. Wear protective clothing and goggles to protect your beautiful eyes. You can get these in a soap making supplies store near you! You may want your work surface covered with newspaper too. Now back to the recipe…
Refreshing Coco Lemonade Soap
453 grams coconut oil
170 grams Lye
1 cup distilled water
453 grams of amaranth oil
13 grams of citric acid
453 grams olive oil
A handful of our dried lemons
- First, mince the dried lemons. Set aside.
- Then, dissolve citric acid into ¼ cup of water. Set aside… prep is everything!
- In a bowl, pour 1 cup of distilled water. Then, slowly pour lye into the water. Mix thoroughly and set aside in a safe spot to cool.
- Next, heat your oils on the stovetop until hot (not boiling). You can also use a crock pot you don’t use anymore instead of a double boiler.
- You can now add the lye water mixture and stir for 5 to 7 minutes using a stick blender until it’s consistency is like pancake batter.
- Then, turn the heat to low and cover it. Do not leave the pot unattended but restrain from stirring. Be patient, again no peeking!
- You will see the mixture puff up after about 15 to 30 minutes under the fire. When this happens, turn the heat off.
- It’s now time to pour in your citric water and dried lemons into the pot. Stir until the mixture is smooth.
- Finally, pour it into your favorite molds and let it sit for 24 hours before cutting them to bars.
Compared to castile soap, the curing period to this one is shorter. Give it one week and it will be ready to use. As you can see, we kept it basic with this recipe and made it fragrance-free. The citric acid in this recipe will lower the pH level of the soap.
Turkish Java Body Wash
Not a fan of soap bars? Here’s another castile-based soap recipe inspired by a famous coffee concoction mixed with rose water. This is a very simple one.
This recipe uses coffee oil that has a moderately acidic pH level. This also has extra pampering points with real rose petals for gentle exfoliation and that natural aroma.
We advise you pick a liquid castile soap that you love that is plain and fragrance-free. If you’re not sure what to buy, ask your favorite soap making supplies shop for their recommended brands. If want to make castile liquid soap from scratch, please use a lye calculator.
2/3 cup liquid castile soap
48 drops of coffee essential oil
13 drops of rose absolute essential oil
¼ cup raw honey (learn how to make DIY honey facial here)
½ tbsp. Vitamin E
2 teaspoons grapeseed oil (because we all need more Vitamin E)
2 tsp. minced rose petals
- Well, just wangle-jangle them up in bowl and store in a pretty mason jar or bottle.
- Shake well before use.
If you’ve already tried our soap making supplies, click here for a freebie!
Take your soap to the test!
After making your first batch of our soap recipe, be sure to test them out. Here are two methods of testing their pH levels:
Use a pH strip! You may remember this one from chemistry class. Like the pH pencil, the pH strip is also made from a halochromic chemical compound and changes colors to indicate the pH level of a substance.
It’s pretty simple to use. First, wet the soap with distilled water and rub your hands on the soap to create bubbles. Place the pH strip on the wet soap to get a pH reading. Compare the reading with the color chart that comes with the packaging.
The second method is the zap test. All you wanna do is to dampen one of your fingers, rub it on the soap and slightly lick your finger.
If you feel a zap or something like a shock or electric sensation or a burn, it means their excess lye is present in your lye and is not very suitable for use. Do you feel just a slight tingling sensation? That means lye concentration is just mild.
What if you don’t feel anything? Then you’re a rookie! Bazinga! You aced your first try.
Pro-tip: Make sure to use top-quality soap making supplies every time you make soap. In the science of soap-making, safety and quality should be first in your list.
What did we learn today
Congratulations! You now have a better understanding of skin pH and the chemistry behind soap.
Remember, pH balance is required for a healthy and glowing skin. Carefully considering the pH levels of the soaps you use will help you achieve that ideal skin pH. Next time you shop or make soap choices for you and your family, you’ll know better.
We’ve shown you how to make soap pH-friendly. If you want more info, find the rest here. Feel free to modify the recipes we have shared and compare them to soap making kits you have. Always use a lye calculator to modify or create new recipes based on ours.
Tell us what you think or what you have discovered by commenting below. We always have a blast responding to you! And… don’t forget to share this site and get a chance to win a free product. Adieu for now!