Did you know that lye is 100% necessary for making real, natural soap? To be classified as soap, the FDA says the product must be composed mainly of the “alkali salts of fatty acids.” That's the material you get when you combine animal fats or vegetable oils with an alkali, such as lye (a.k.a. sodium hydroxide for bar soaps and potassium hydroxide for liquid soaps ). The natural process that turns fats or oils into soap is known as saponification.
Great grandma's old fashioned lye soap was saponified, but it tended to be very harsh and drying. That's because she didn't have the modern ingredients and precise soapmaking formulas that we have today. She relied on things like how high an egg floated to signal that the lye water (made from wood ashes) was ready to make soap. As you can imagine, there was a lot of room for error. Hence, soap that cleaned the clothes quite well, but tore your hide off. :)
Today's soaps are milder in general, but there are lots of cleansers out there that were not made with fatty acids and lye and therefore they are NOT true soap. They're synthetic detergents made with petroleum products and harsh chemicals. Lacking the natural glycerin found in true soap, detergent based bars or liquids need to have moisturizers and other chemicals added to them to make them fit for human's to use.
Nevertheless, you can still find handmade soapcrafters that claim they don't use lye. That's because they don't make their soap from scratch. They use pre-made soap bases instead known as "melt and pour" but rest assured, the manufacturer of that soap base used lye. If not, the base is a synthetic detergent and detergent based "soaps" are not generally kind to skin.
Only real soap (the good stuff, like ours) is made with lye. If you make the soap properly there is aboslutely NO lye left in the final product and it will be gentle and mild. However, all handmade soap is not created equal. The quality of the soap (how it feels, how well it lathers, how long it lasts, etc.) depends on the ingredients used, how they're combined, and the expertise of the soapmaker...so buyer beware! Our family has spent over twenty years perfecting our natural soap recipes so that you can be assured of the highest quality soap on the market. Bar none.