What’s the difference between ‘glycerin’ and ‘real’ soap?

I will also predictably go into why you can’t make either ‘glycerin’ or ‘real soap’ without starting with lye. That may reach rant proportions, but I’ll try to keep it low level.

Glycerin Soap – Soap Crafting

I call it glycerin soap because it’s something people understand, and I really like the word ‘Glycerin’.

The real term for this is actually melt and pour (MP) soap, because you buy a block of base, chop it up, melt it and use it for craft soap projects by adding an endless number of additives – colour, fragrance, glitter, exfoliants, mica, jojoba beads, herbs, spices, essential oils, ground coffee, plastic fish, the list goes on. And on and on. It’s AWEsome. I’m a huge melt and pour fan.

There are so many kinds of melt and pour – transparent (clear, think jelly), opaque (white, think panna cotta*), goat’s milk, olive oil, shea butter, hemp, aloe vera, honey, shaving, organic, low sweat… keep in mind that the companies who make these bases available to crafters use LYE in their recipe. The resulting product has no lye in it, as the saponification process brings the lye water and oils/butters together into a chemical romance, magically creating SOAP.

So, you don’t have to handle lye when using melt and pour, it’s pre-saponified for you. You can use it in amazing molds, you can make a rainbow of different pyrex jugs full of stunning colours of melted MP and layer it, or double pour it from opposite ends with different colours or make look-a-like cake slices, or a million other clever things.

Head here for some examples www.intl.co.nz/shop or Google melt and pour soap for some inspiration. There are some seriously talented MP artists out there.

Traditional Cold Process Soap – Soap Making

This is the stuff that makes me go weak at the knees, when I consider how different the lather feels to your average soap. Cold Process soaping is often called CP.

It’s truly luxurious, all the goodness is left in while store-bought soap has likely had the glycerin removed. Glycerin being a humectant and giving that lovely moisturising effect, these can be drying to the skin. But, of course, it can be sold as a separate product and so there are more profits to be made in removing and selling it.

So, when you try the real stuff for the first time and realise what you’ve been missing out on? You’ll be surprised.

Yes, lye (sodium hydroxide or caustic soda) is an ingredient in cold process soap, as it was in the base above. But again, it is saponified until no trace is left in the finished product.

You cannot make soap without lye. CAN NOT. Don’t argue with the woman with the science degree, she can argue this stuff for hours. With demonstrations and flow charts. And yet, some people on the internet will still argue. And I will sigh and gently inhale lavender or something.


Simple chemistry and used for centuries.

This soap is cured for 4+ weeks following removal from mold/tray, to allow for the removal of water. If this process doesn’t occur, you have a soft bar of soap which will be used up in about 6 showers. The longer the soap sits on the curing shelf, the more spectacular it becomes.

Google cold process soap for some inspiration. Again, there are some amazingly talented traditional soap artisans out there.

Beauty Bars – Not actually soap

Beauty bars are another version I won’t go into now. But, be aware that they are likely to be a synthetic detergent product, despite the marketing. Not a soap.

*NOTE: there is a distinct connection between soaping and food. Half the tools we use we ‘borrowed’ from the kitchen at some stage and a good percentage of the soaps some of us make end up looking like cake. And, when looking at a kitchen shop catalogue, all we’re thinking about is how useful that would be for making soap.

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