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A Lesson in Lye Safety

March 22, 2020 19 min read

Guest post by Amber Beltran of A Squirrel & A Scholar Soap Co.

A Squirrel & A Scholar Soap Co.


WARNING!

This guest blog includes two closeup pictures of my eyes (both in and out of a medical setting), which feature mild injury/chemical burns Sodium Hydroxide (lye) can cause to the eye. I felt it was important to share these photos with my fellow soap makers as a reminder of just how crucial it is to wear personal protection equipment (PPE) at ALL times during the soap making process, not just exclusively during those steps and/or processes when one might feel at higher risk for possible injury. I also felt it was important to share these pictures for educational purposes, should anyone ever find themselves in a similar situation (I truly hope not though.). If pictures of the eye(s) and/or mild eye injuries are disturbing for you, it is kindly recommended you avoid this portion of the blog, or this specific blog post in its entirety. In loving respect and consideration for those who feel these pictures may be too graphic to view, I have included the recipe and a list of products used for this specific soap project at the very beginning of this blog post, rather than at the end. Thank you, my fellow soap artists, and HAPPY & SAFE SOAP MAKING TO EVERYONE!


  • Soap Recipe
  • Frosting Recipe
  • Lye @ 5% Superfat
  • Aloe Juice OR Distilled Water @ 33.33% Lye Concentration (2:1/ Liquid: Lye) *See Pre-Prepared Sugar Solution Below
  • 40% Olive Oil
  • 30% Coconut Oil
  • 10% Castor Oil
  • 10% Cocoa Butter (Deodorized)
  • 10% Shea Butter
  • 6% “8th & Ocean” Fragrance Oil
  • 3% Sodium Lactate (Added to Cooled Lye Solution)
  • 3% Hydrolyzed Oat Protein (Added to Cooled Lye Solution)
  • 1/2TBS/PPO Kaolin Clay (Blended Directly into Fragrance Oil)
  • 1.5 - 2Tsps/PPO: “Winter White” Mica
  • 1Tsp/PPO: “Hello Spring!”, Jade Green”, “Synergy” & “Sea Green” Micas
  • *Pre-Prepared Sugar Solution (Use as Recipe’s Full Liquid Amount): 1/2TBS Raw Cane Sugar Per Every 8oz (1 Cup) Liquid. *Warm the liquid on stovetop. Stir in raw cane sugar until completely dissolved. Transfer liquid to a container and place in fridge or freezer until chilled or slushy.
  • Lye @ 5% Superfat
  • Distilled Water @ 33.33% Lye Concentration (2:1/Water: Lye)
  • 40% Olive Oil
  • 30% Coconut Oil
  • 10% Castor Oil
  • 10% Cocoa Butter (Deodorized)
  • 10% Shea Butter
  • 1.5 - 2Tsps/PPO: “Winter White” Mica
  • “Shamrock Gold” Enviroglitter (Dusted on Top)
  • 2 Qty: 1” Diameter Round Column Melt & Pour Embeds in “New Leaf” Mica
  • Melt & Pour “Sugarcane Leaf” embeds in “Jade Green” Mica
  • Melt & Pour Pineapple Embeds in “Yellow Vibrance” & “Jade Green” Micas
  • Melt & Pour 7/8” Ball Embeds in “Hello Spring!” Mica
  • Wilton #1A Round Piping Tip

NURTURE PRODUCTS USED FOR THIS PROJECT


SUGARY LYE SOLUTIONS & STICKY SITUATIONS!

This week’s blog post was going to be all about sugar! While it still very much is, I had an extra surprise in store for this particular batch of soap (That even I didn’t know about!), and if I left that part out, I wouldn’t be telling the whole story of how this batch of “Sugarcane Lane” handmade soap came to be! I guess I should just tell it from the very beginning, as it unfolded, and take you all on the ride with me! While I’m absolutely honored to share this recipe and sugary soap making tips with you, I truly hope that the experience I had while making it never happens to you.

My biggest hope in sharing where I went wrong (And things I did right when things went wrong.), is that maybe I’ll be able to spare another crafter from a similar experience. If my epic screw-up helps to prevent this from ever happening to another soap maker, well, then in a very weird and twisted way, it was worth it! If, fate forbidding, you do ever find yourself in the same, or similar, situation though, I hope my experience at least helps you to remember what to do, and what actions to take right away.


WHY SUGAR?

Sugar is a very popular soap making additive, and for good reason... Sugar makes for one heck of a lather-booster in cold process soap! If you’ve ever wanted to bump up the bubbles in your own soapy formulations, adding sugar to your soap recipe is a great way to do just that! Many soap makers find it frustrating when, in boosting the lathering capabilities of their soap formulations, a sacrifice in conditioning properties is often made (and vice versa). By incorporating sugar as an additive into your cold process recipes, you can keep the recipe’s awesome conditioning/moisturizing properties and increase those big, copious bubbles too!

I positively love adding sugar to my cold process soap recipes, and I do so by dissolving it directly into the liquid I’ll be using, which is usually aloe juice. There are a few things to keep in mind when incorporating sugar into your soap recipes though. First, lye loves scorching any kind of sugar it comes into contact with. This means that a lye solution with added sugar is going to get very hot, and may also cause your soap batches to heat up more during saponification as well. You’ll want to make sure your sugar-added liquid is very cold (or even slushy, if you’d like) before adding the lye to it. I insulate almost all of my soap batches under a towel-draped cardboard box, and have never experienced any problems with my batches overheating. If overheating is a concern for you though, you can certainly skip insulating your soap batches, or even pop them in the fridge if you prefer.

Going hand-in-hand with heat, incorporating sugar into your soap recipes can also cause your soap batter to thicken or move faster than normal. This is just something to be aware of, especially when working with a faster-moving fragrance oil or recipe, or creating a more intricate soap design. You’ll want to allow yourself a little more time, either by working at cooler temperatures (I like to begin when both my lye solution and oils are between 76°F to 83°F), increasing the amount of liquid in your recipe, working when your soap batter is just past emulsion (or at a very light trace), or all of the above.

I’ve personally found it to be so totally worth it to incorporate sugar into my soap recipes, but I’m also a lazy soap maker too! When I first began adding sugar to my recipes, I did so, batch by batch, adding the appropriate amount of sugar to my liquid after it was already weighed out for the particular batch I was making. Have you ever noticed how long it takes for sugar crystals to completely dissolve in chilled liquid though? It takes a while, and I began growing impatient with all the stirring I was having to do before I could even get my lye added. Once, I made the mistake of adding the sugar after I added the lye to my liquid, thinking the heat of the solution would dissolve the sugar super-fast. I was wrong! I’m no chemist, so unfortunately, I can’t explain why this happened, but when added to the lye solution, those sugar crystals only became harder! I stirred and I stirred and I stirred, and that darn sugar took twice as long to fully dissolve had I not tried to cheat, and just stirred the sugar into my chilled aloe juice before adding the lye!

MAKING YOUR SUGAR SOLUTION AHEAD OF TIME

Knowing there had to be a faster, easier way, I decided that instead of incorporating my sugar, batch by batch, into my soap recipes, I’d just take my entire jug of aloe juice and prepare the whole thing ahead of time by making a simple sugar solution with it! Now when I go to make a batch of soap, I just grab my jug of aloe juice from out of the fridge and it’s ready to go! The sugar has already been added and fully dissolved; all I need to do is just weigh it out and get the lye stirred in! Here’s how I go about getting my recipe’s liquid prepared ahead of time, with the sugar already added. As previously mentioned, I use aloe juice, but you can do this with distilled water as well...

Emptying my entire jug of aloe juice into a large pot on my stovetop, I make sure to take note of how many fluid ounces I have in total. For every 8 fluid ounces (1 cup) of liquid, I’ll incorporate 1/2TBS of raw cane sugar into it. You can use up to 1TBS of sugar per every cup of liquid if you’d like- it’s completely personal preference. Over medium heat, I warm my aloe until it’s just barely warm enough to dissolve the sugar. I worry about destroying any volatile properties within the aloe, so I’m careful not to allow it to get hot. Slightly warmed is warm enough. Once warm, I remove the pot from the heat, and stir the raw cane sugar in (It dissolves very quickly!). Why raw cane sugar though? Well, I’m glad you asked!


If interested in adding sugar to your cold process soap recipes, but keeping your recipes vegan-friendly is important to you as well, you’ll want to make sure to use raw sugarcane, or cane sugar, as it doesn’t contain any bone char. White sugar is made that color because of bone char, which as its name implies, comes from animal bones. I don’t mind one little bit if my sugar isn’t pristinely white, so Zulka brand Pure Cane Sugar is my favorite to use. Once you’ve completely dissolved the sugar into your liquid, all that’s left to do is transfer the liquid to a lidded container, then place it in the fridge or freezer to get it chilled. You’ve now got yourself a simple sugar solution, ready and waiting for the next time you feel like making a batch of soap!


OCEANS OF GREEN!

My inspiration for this soapy project came from a fragrance oil I’ve already featured in a guest blog post before, but it’s such an incredible fragrance, there’s just no such thing as making too many batches of soap with it, in my opinion! It’s Nurture Soap’s “8th & Ocean” fragrance oil, and without a shred of hesitancy, it’s one of my personal top 10 favorite fragrance oils of ALL TIME! There just isn’t anyone who doesn’t love this scent (That I’ve met at least!). The funny thing is that for the longest time, I actually avoided this fragrance oil, as I don’t particularly care for “tropical-type” aromas, and I mistook it as being such. I was indeed sorely mistaken, as the very same day a wonderful friend of mine sent me a cotton ball soaked in this fragrance oil in the mail, I immediately went to Nurture Soap’s website and ordered a bottle myself!

This scent is anything but typical! “8th & Ocean” fragrance oil is an aromatic masterpiece! A pure aromatherapeutic delight of the senses that makes my heart giddy, my nose happy, and my eyes involuntarily roll back in my head! It’s fresh, it’s clean, it’s breezy and botanical! It’s fruity, fun and alluringly sweet, with kisses of lush greenery, whimsical florals, clean ocean air, and (Drumroll please!) REFRESHINGLY SWEET SUGARCANE!! I actually didn’t recognize the note until my husband and I drove down to Key West one weekend. Practically any mixed drink you order in Key West is going to come with a stick of fresh sugarcane in it as well. In its pure state, sugarcane is a little chewy and woody in texture, so the best way to enjoy it is to chew on it as you sip your beachside beverage, sucking the refreshing, natural, sugary-sweet juices it produces with each bite. The exact botanically-sweet taste of freshly peeled, chopped sugarcane is the very same sweet note that “8th & Ocean” fragrance oil has! It’s FANTASTIC!! Equally fantastic is this fragrance's marvelous potency and longevity in cold process soap too!

Because “8th & Ocean” is such a versatile scent, it works amazing in a myriad of different soap designs and themes! I’ve made a “gemstone” batch of soap with it before, as well as a classic beach landscape design, and both turned out aptly awesome! Because of those gorgeous notes of naturally sweet sugarcane, I felt that embracing a green, sugarcane theme for this soap batch would also go great with the scent, along with our pure, raw cane sugar additive! To get started on what would end up being a “high-top” design, complete with soap frosting, I started by making some decorative melt & pour embeds.


Sugarcane has a round stalk (the look of it reminds me of bamboo), and when peeled and chopped, ranges in color from white to pale-yellow, or a pale-yellow/light-green color. Using a 1” diameter round column mold, I wanted to create the look of cut sugarcane stalks (two in total), embedded within the soap itself. Without question, the absolute perfect mica color for that task was none other than Nurture Soap’s “New Leaf” mica! For the melt & pour embeds which would adorn the top of this batch, 7/8” spheres, made with Nurture’s Small 9 Ball Silicone Mold and “Hello Spring!” mica looked so sprightly and fresh; while “sugarcane leaf” embeds, made with “Jade Green” mica, looked lush and botanical! For the final embellishment, pineapple embeds in “Yellow Vibrance” and “Jade Green” micas made for some fabulously fun and fruity accents!


The design for this sudsy, sugary creation is actually quite simple, but oh so fresh, clean, green and breezy! If you’re a soap artist who sells your handmade creations, “8th & Ocean” fragrance oil is one of those aromas which truly sells itself! Customers need only pick up a bar to smell it before you’re surrounded by exclamations of “Ooh!” and “Ahh!”. It certainly doesn’t' hurt to incorporate some stunning mica colors though, so that’s exactly what I did with this project! In a classic, but always beautiful drop-swirl design, Nurture Soap’s “Hello Spring!”, “Jade Green”, “Synergy”, “Sea Green” and “Winter White” micas were chosen to compliment the sensational aromatic bouquet of this fragrance oil!


All was going great and according to plan with this soapy project... My aloe/sugar lye solution had cooled down to room temperature; my batch oils had cooled to around 80°F as well; my beautiful mica colors had been dispersed in a bit of olive oil; my soap frosting recipe was ready and waiting; and my melt & pour embeds were looking adorably cheerful... It was time to get to soap making!

Splitting my soap batter into smaller accent portions; as well as a larger portion, colored in “Winter White” mica; I got busy incorporating those vibrant and fresh accent colors into each designated portion of soap. Common for many of my cold process recipes, both “Hello Spring!” and “Jade Green” micas did turn a little murky when first incorporated into the soap batter, but this is completely normal for green micas, and absolutely nothing to worry about! If you’re a new soap maker and notice that your green micas have turned a bit olive-toned when first added to your soap batter, DON’T PANIC! I promise those gorgeous greens will return to their original green glory once saponification is complete!


As I incorporated “8th & Ocean” fragrance oil into each portion of soap, and began pouring my drop-swirl design, my whole world smelled fabulous! I did notice I had some ever-so-slight acceleration with this particular recipe, but that’s not uncommon for recipes containing added sugars, and it wasn’t anything that had me rushing to get the batch poured. After filling my mold about 1/4th of the way, I went ahead and gently placed the first column of “sugarcane” down into the soap batter, then continued pouring my drop swirl design. Once my mold was about 3/4th of the way filled, I gently laid the second “sugarcane” column-embed down into the soap, only this time, on the opposite side of the mold from where I had placed the first one.


Everything was going smoothly and smelling heavenly, as I finished up my drop-swirl by filling the mold up the rest of the way with the soap batter. When I got to the very, very top, I smoothed the soap batter with a swipe of my spatula. I was all done pouring my soap, and would need to wait a few minutes for the top of the batch to firm up a little more before continuing on to the soap frosting. I took my safety glasses off, and set them to the side.


About two years ago, a previous brush with what could have been a soaping disaster (if I hadn’t been lucky) resulted in me never taking the risk again, and always wearing my safety glasses. Before that, I had been way too lax about wearing them (Which most of the time, I didn’t.). After making soap for a while, it can be easy to let your guard down, and allow a few safety precautions to slide. Making soap starts to feel like second nature, and in becoming comfortable with old habits, you almost forget just how dangerous lye can be when not handled properly, or dressed for the part. While I don’t condone it, I’ve definitely been guilty of letting my guard down. In the last two years though, wearing my safety glasses hasn’t been a safety measure I skip anymore. Murphey’s Law, however, was definitely in effect with what happened next.

It hadn’t even been 30 seconds from when I removed my safety glasses when I looked over and noticed a bit of extra soap batter remaining. Instead of letting it go to waste, I decided I wanted to pour the leftover batter on top of the batch, then take a bamboo skewer and practice my swirls. Keep in mind, this was all within seconds of me deciding I was “done” with this part of the project, and removing my safety glasses! I picked up a cup of leftover soap batter, grabbed a small spatula to give it a quick stir before adding it to the top of my soap, and BAM!...

I GOT LYE IN MY EYE!

The action of stirring the soap batter caused a glob of soap to literally sling-shot off the spatula and make a direct hit to my open eye. My first reaction was 100% instinct. A sharp, stinging pain was immediate, and as a result, my eye shut faster and harder than a group of clams hiding from a hungry lobster! An instant of panic shot through me until rational thought creeped into my mind. “I’ve read about what to do if this happens.”, I thought. “I need to stay calm and get my contact lens out.”. That wasn’t possible though. My eye was filled with caustic soap batter, and it had closed over it tight.

“Calming down will get my eye to relax and open.”, I thought; so that’s exactly what I did. I just took a deep breath, pushed the pain aside for a moment and calmed down. It worked! I was able to get my eye open just enough to tilt my head sideways over the sink, and allow cool water to flow into it. This washed the glob of soap batter out that had been trapped under my eyelid, and allowed me to quickly remove the contact lens from my eye. Next step was to continue flushing and irrigating the eye under cool, running water. I once read this needed to be done for at least 15 minutes.


After 15 minuets, the more severe pain had subsided, and I was left with a feeling I can only describe as having a toothpick, or some other sharp object stuck in my eye. My vision was blurry, and it was painful to open the eye all the way, but I knew I’d taken the right steps so far. Now what though? I really didn’t know. I so badly wanted to finish my batch of soap, but couldn’t remember what to do next... If I needed to do anything at all.


When in doubt, call Poison Control! And I mean this, not just for myself and this situation, but for anyone reading this blog. Poison Control is available to answer your questions and give instruction 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. While on the phone with a Poison Control representative, the woman I spoke with confirmed that removing the contact lens and irrigating/flushing the eye with cool water was the correct action to take. Next step was to go to my nearest emergency room. When I asked why I needed to go to the emergency room, I was told that lye is corrosive, and can continue to cause damage to the eye many hours after the eye has been flushed. Damage to the cornea is the biggest concern, so instead of finishing this batch of soap, I ended up in the emergency room- BOO!


WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?


While at the emergency room, the PH level of my eye was tested with a PH strip, after which, a special dye that reacts to UV light was put into my eye so that the doctor could see the extent of the damage. The area that glows is where the eye received injury. In my situation, the doctor expressed pleasant surprise when she explained that it appeared as if my contact lens had actually shielded my cornea from receiving any damage (That’s a WIN for us contact lens wearers!). The cornea of the eye is what medical professionals are most concerned about when it comes to chemical burns. The area where my eye received the most severe chemical burns (where it pooled above and under my contact lens), is not at risk for any permanent damage (WOOHOO!). My eye was irrigated with sterile eyewash solution, and I was sent home with instructions to not wear a contact lens in that eye for 72 hours. I was also instructed to make a follow up appointment with my Ophthalmologist.


I got really lucky. It could’ve been a lot worse had I not treated it properly and immediately, and had my contact lens not shielded chemical exposure to my cornea. Regardless of luck though, this is still pretty painful, and I wouldn’t wish this experience or pain on anyone. My eye has responded by becoming swollen, puffy and red, and tearing-up constantly. It still stings, my vision in that eye is completely blurry, and the whole eye area is very tender. That initial sharp pain has been traded for a deep, throbbing headache, that Advil only takes the edge off of... And this was a non-serious burn! I can’t even imagine how painful a serious burn would be, which is why I felt it was so very important that I share this experience with my fellow crafters. I took my safety glasses off because I was finished pouring the batch, and thought it would be perfectly safe to add a little leftover soap batter to the top of my soap. It was within seconds of removing the glasses when this happened. Please, please, please learn from my mistake and keep those safety glasses on at ALL times! If you don’t own a pair of safety glasses (reading glasses or large sunglasses DO NOT count!), I plead with you to purchase a pair, so that a situation like this never happens to you.

I truly hope you never have to count on this information, but if you ever do find yourself in the same, or similar, situation, here are some things I learned from personal experience, as well as information I was given by Poison Control and medical staff at my local emergency room (I have an appointment with my Ophthalmologist on Monday)...


EYE HEALTH AND LYE EXPOSURE

  • ALWAYS wear safety glasses specifically made and designed for eye protection. DO NOT remove safety eyewear until you are completely finished with your soap making project.
  • If soap batter/lye does get into your eye, DO NOT PANIC! Remaining calm will help you to be able to think clearly, as well as help you relax if you are having a difficulty opening the eye.
  • If wearing contact lenses, remove the lens with clean hands as soon as you are able to. Immediately flush the eye with cool water for at least 15 minutes.
  • Go to your local emergency room. Have a friend, family member or neighbor drive you there. Contact your Ophthalmologist for a follow up appointment. Follow all medical advice and/or ongoing treatment (if applicable) given to you by Emergency Room staff and/or your Ophthalmologist.
  • If applicable, avoid wearing a contact lens in the affected eye for as long as instructed by a medical professional. A warm (Not hot!) compress, applied over the eye for a few minutes, really helps to reduce pain while the eye is healing. Get your doctor’s approval before applying any home remedy to your eye.
  • If applicable, discard the contact lens or lenses you were wearing during the time of the incident. Do not put the same contact lens/lenses back into your eye(s). When your doctor has told you it’s safe to resume contact lens wear, use a new pair.
  • Remember that this is information I was given per my own personal experience. Information you may be given might differ per your unique situation, and I am not a medical professional. Please contact your local Emergency Room or Poison Control Center for further information, guidance and/or instruction. Poison Control can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling: 1 (800) 222–1222.

GETTING BACK TO IT!

Well, I know this blog post is getting crazy-long, and as soap makers, I also know all too well how busy the days can be, so I’ll quickly explain how I finished this DIVINE-smelling batch of soap, since there was no way I wasn’t going to finish it! I love this fragrance oil too much to let a pesky lye-in-the-eye situation stop me from completing this batch... Regardless of if I could see or not!


As soon as my husband and I returned home from the Emergency Room, I jumped right back into my sugarcane soap project! Using “Winter White” mica to color the batch, I put my safety glasses back on and whipped up some soap frosting. Using a round piping tip, I blindly frosted the top of my soap, then thoroughly coated it in one of my absolute favorite Enviroglitters- “Shamrock Gold”! To be honest, I actually didn’t mean to dust the top of my soap frosting with quite that much Enviroglitter, but I couldn’t really see if I had left any bare spots, so I decided I’d just go all out and create a metallic-colored blanket of golden shamrock brilliance to the top of the soap frosting!




Once I felt the top of my soap had an adequate dusting of “Shamrock Gold” Enviroglitter, I carefully placed the remaining decorative embeds on top (cutting the batch proved I was a little off in their placement, but that’s okay!) and called it a day- both for myself and this batch of soap... My eyeball felt like it was trying to rip itself out from my head, so putting myself to bed didn’t seem like such a bad idea. I insulated the batch under a cardboard box and light blanket, then hoped I’d be able to actually see what it looked like the next day, once cut!


Even typing up this blog has been a series of squinting and going back to fix a ridiculous number of typos and errors, but from what I can tell, I think the soaps came out very pretty! One thing I do know for certain is that this batch smells positively AMAZING!!! If you walked though my front door right now, the first smell to greet your nose would be “8th & Ocean”! I know this because as soon as my husband and I returned from my Emergency Room visit, it was all we could smell, and it instantly made me happy, despite the day’s events!


It’s funny because I know I’ve mentioned before how this wonderful craft throws us all curveballs from time to time; and how we grow and learn from those challenges is what strengthens and defines us as artists and crafters. I never expected I’d be thrown a curveball quite like this, but in a strange way, I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to learn and grow from this experience too! While there’s absolutely nothing pleasant about it, I learned a valuable lesson that I’m able to share with you, my crafty comrades, too! I learned that it’s just not worth it to take risks with safety and personal protection; even if I am just adding a little extra soap batter to the top of a “finished” batch of soap! I’ll be keeping my safety glasses ON, from the beginning of the soap making process to the very end of it! In sharing this huge “What was I thinking?” moment, I truly hope others will take something away from my absentminded mistake... I want you to always stay safe when making those incredible soap batches of yours! As I blindly typed-away on my computer, it’s very possible this blog post will be riddled with mistakes, typos and grammatical errors, but these words came from the heart regardless; with an abundance of love, and the sincerest hope that all your crafty endeavors are safe and happy ones! HAPPY SAFE SOAP MAKING EVERYONE!



About Amber Beltran

Hi! I'm Amber and I own A Squirrel and A Scholar Soap Co!

Handmade soap has been my passion for years and creating the full experience of amazing soaps that smell incredible, cleanse the skin beautifully, bring artistry into your daily shower are my pride and joy!

My handmade soaps are made with the finest ingredients and an abundance of love... Love for the craft, for the artistry and for the skin! Most of these wondrous works of sudsy art are available for purchase. Visit one of my sites below for more details!

A Squirrel & A Scholar Soap Co.