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The chemical combining of lye and oils make soap. If someone gives you a recipe without lye, it isn't soap.

You can buy soap base, where the soap has been made and you remelt it and add your own fragrances, colors, etc. Then you don't have to handle the lye.
 

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The chemical process in which lye and oil combine to make the solid (soap) is called saponification, hence the name "soap". Any other mixture cannot legally be called soap. Without lye they tend to call it "bath bars" or "body wash" etc.

Scott
 

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I just took a soap making class, and the hot and cold methods we learned about all took lye. The instructor cautioned everyone to always add the premeasured lye to the water, not add the water to the lye. This reduces the chance for a boil over or splashing.
I would say Hardwood is correct in his description of saponification and the ingredients found in soap.
 
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