Soaps, safety and side effects

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Sodium hydroxide is a popular ingredient in tons of skin care products that can seem creepy due to its caustic nature. But while there is some risk, it’s generally safe if you spot sodium hydroxide in your favorite cleanser.

Here’s the scoop on why sodium hydroxide shouldn’t actually burn your face when used in skin care products.

Sodium hydroxide (aka lye or caustic soda) is a solid white compound that absorbs water from the air. It is an alkaline AF with a pH of 14 which helps to balance the pH of skin care products when used in very small amounts. (Psst: think of alkaline, aka basic, as the opposite of acid).

It’s also the key ingredient in helping fats and oils come together in soaps and cleansers. It is also used in face and body care products.

The basic properties of sodium hydroxide also make it a strong addition to cleaning products like oven cleaners, drain cleaners, detergents, paper and aluminum.

Concentrated amounts of sodium hydroxide are extremely caustic, which means it is corrosive and can cause chemical burns to the skin and eyes. It is also very dangerous if consumed or if you inhale its vapors.

Real conversation. This makes sodium hydroxide pretty scary. But when added to skin care products, sodium hydroxide is used in low doses which are usually completely used up in the reaction process. So the harsh vibrations are gone the moment a product touches your skin.

PS Sodium hydroxide is generally recognized as safe as a food ingredient by the FDA. But take note, this is mainly for washing products, not real food.

Sodium hydroxide can saponify oils. This means that it helps the oils and fats to lather and form a soap. Without it, your soap would be a big mess of various oils and fats that aren’t unified into one product.

It is also used in small amounts to establish and maintain the pH of a product. The skin tends to be on the acidic side and typically ranges between 4 and 7. Maintaining this acidity (aka the “acid mantle”) provides a layer of protection against environmental factors such as allergens, pollutants, and bacteria. If your skin care pH is outside its usual range, you may be disrupting your skin’s acidic protection, causing strength increase your risk of premature aging too.

In the beauty world, you will mainly find sodium hydroxide in:

You should NEVER put pure sodium hydroxide on your skin. It can cause skin symptoms such as mild to severe chemical burns, or holes in the skin and underlying tissue. Even the concentrated amounts used in oven and drain cleaners can damage your skin, so put on these gloves.

Products that contain or are made with sodium hydroxide can cause:

  • eruption
  • urticaria
  • itch
  • redness or discoloration
  • irritation
  • flaking skin
  • increased sensitivity

The use of skin care with low concentrations of sodium hydroxide is generally MANNER safer. But you may still need to be careful, especially if you have sensitive skin.

Sodium hydroxide is an alkaline compound used to balance pH and saponify fats and oils. You will find it in many skin care products like soaps, makeup, cleansers, and lotions.

In high concentrations, it is very caustic and will burn your skin. But it is used in small amounts in skin care products which tend to run out completely in the reaction process. So many don’t Actually make it to the final product.

Pure sodium hydroxide can be dangerous 10/10. If ingested, it can trigger inflammation of the lungs, swelling of the throat, severe abdominal pain, a severe change in blood pH, and difficulty breathing. It can also cause vision loss if it gets into your eyes.

PS Always consult a dermatologist before making major changes to your skin care routine. This is very important if you are suffering from a disease like eczema, psoriasis, cystic acne or rosacea.


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