Tuesday, October 20, 2009

We Have Saponification

Want to hear about the latest bee buzzing around in my bonnet?

After writing my last post, I made a resolution to reduce some of the chemicals floating around in my house, on my clothing, and in my body.


Sure, I know it would be unrealistic to expect myself to adopt a completely organic - nuts - and -berries - type of existence. After all, you can't make an organic lemon drop martini, can you? Or maybe you can......Anyone up for some research and development? In the interest of science and autoimmunity? Now where is my lemon juicer.....

Back to the bees in my bonnet. Chemicals. It seemed logical to begin with one of the first opportunities for chemical exposure every morning: that innocent looking bar of soap sitting in the shower. I went to the Household Products Database by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (great resource btw) and checked out some of the ingredients of various items around my house.

This is what I found as ingredients in our bath soap: Fifteen chemicals, not including water. If you click on each of these ingredients, you have a wealth of information at your fingertips, including the Human Health Effects from Hazardous Substance Data Bank. This makes for some interesting reading. Here's what I found on just one of these ingredients, chromium trihydroxide:

Human Toxicity Excerpts: 
A powerful irritant of skin, eyes, & mucous membranes. 
[Lewis, R.J. Sax's Dangerous Properties of Industrial Materials. 9th ed. Volumes 1-3. New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1996., p. 856] **PEER REVIEWED** 
Skin, Eye and Respiratory Irritations: 
A powerful irritant of skin, eyes, & mucous membranes. 
[Lewis, R.J. Sax's Dangerous Properties of Industrial Materials. 9th ed. Volumes 1-3. New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1996., p. 856] **PEER REVIEWED** 
Emergency Medical Treatment:

Life Support:
o   This overview assumes that basic life support measures
       have been instituted.
Clinical Effects:
      1)  Acute poisoning is likely to occur through the oral
          route, where as chronic poisoning is mainly from
          inhalation or skin contact.
      2)  Oral intake of hexavalent chromium may cause intense
          gastrointestinal irritation or ulceration and
          corrosion, epigastric pain, nausea, vomiting,
          diarrhea, vertigo, fever, muscle cramps, hemorrhagic
          diathesis, toxic nephritis, renal failure,
          intravascular hemolysis, circulatory collapse,
          peripheral vascular collapse, liver damage, acute
          multisystem shock, coma, and even death, depending on
          the dose.
      3)  Acute poisoning by soluble hexavalent salts usually
          results in local tissue necrosis and may cause severe
          kidney damage. Acute toxicity after ingestion is a
          result of GI bleed more so than of systemic poisoning.
      4)  Following ingestion or external application, kidney
          lesions can occur. Large doses of chromates may induce
          albuminuria with desquamated cells, hyperemia, fatty
          degeneration, and necrosis in the kidney. CHRONIC EXPOSURE
     A)  Although rare, systemic effects on blood, liver, and
         kidneys from industrial exposure have been reported.
         Principal toxic effects of chromates from an
         occupational point of view are exerted on skin, nasal
         mucous, eyes, larynx, and lungs.
      1)  Signs and symptoms may include lacrimation,
          dermatitis, penetrating ulcers, perforation of nasal
          septum, congestion, chronic rhinitis, polyps of the
          upper respiratory tract, inflammation of the lung,
          emphysema, tracheitis, bronchitis, pharyngitis,
          adhesions of the diaphragm, inflammation of larynx,
          conjunctivitis, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting,
          inflammation of liver or even acute hepatitis with
          jaundice, respiratory irritations, leukocytosis,
          leukopenia, monocytosis, and eosinophilia.

And this delightful chemical is only one of fifteen chemicals in that one little bar of bath soap, the lather of which I slather over my whole body every morning. Shudder.

It took a cup of coffee and several minutes for me to even begin to process this information. Eventually, I composed myself and started searching for alternatives to commercially produced soap, which led me to a zillion sites dedicated to a gazillion people who make their own soap. There's a whole soap making culture out there.

Who knew? Certainly not me.

I read for hours, and initially was skeptical after realizing that the first ingredient needed to make soap is lye. Yes. That incredibly caustic stuff that is a main ingredient in drain cleaners. But wait - by the time that hand-make bar of soap hits the shower, it actually does not contain any lye. Why?


Hand made soaps using the cold process combine an alkali - lye - and an oil or fat. Different fats and oils provide varying degrees of lather, bar hardness, and moisturizing properties. A chemical process called saponification combines these two ingredients into an entirely new compound - soap. Viola'!

Of course the process requires careful attention to details such as using a recipe that includes appropriate ratios of lye to fat, having the necessary equipment, and wearing protective gear to avoid eye and skin contact with the alkaline. If you would like to read more about soap making, read this and this.

I was intrigued. If I made my own soap, I could control exactly what ingredients were contained in each bar. Here's my first batch, made from coconut oil and olive oil.

The soap needs to cure for several weeks in order to complete the saponification process and allow the bars to harden completely.

Wonder what other healthy products I can cook up in my kitchen?


Jenny P said...

So cute! If they work out you should sell them to II sufferers who don't have the time (or guts, frankly) to make it ourselves!

Julia Oleinik said...

Hi Jen!

Well, so far those little soapy squares look pretty good. We'll see what they look like in three weeks. If the schnauzers don't get to them....