With all the chemicals, artificial fragrances and dyes in so many store-bought soaps, it's a natural leap to think about making your own natural soap. This time of year, the idea of homemade gifts also comes to mind. Essential oils, herbs from the garden, exfoliants ... there are so many combinations possible, you can craft a gorgeous soap for anyone on your gift list.
In the past, I've heard the word "lye" thrown around and it has made me nervous. After all, it's a toxic chemical. Does that mean it ends up inside the soap and on our skin? Not at all, actually. The process called saponification requires lye (along with a fat) to create the cleansing properties we all know soap to have. The lye is completely broken down in the saponification process and leaves no trace of toxicity behind.
The easiest way to get started is to buy a kit, like those available from Bramble Berry Soap Making Supplies. The kit may at first seem a bit pricey at a little over $75, but it will yield 40 bars of soap! At under $2 per bar, that could be a pretty economical gift (or keep your own household stocked with soap for a couple years). There is an entire section of their site dedicated to "Soap Success Stories."
If you're saying, "to heck with a kit, I can do this on my own," then make your way over to Treehugger's Easy Homemade Soap Tutorial.
Before you get started, please remember that lye in its un-saponified form is very toxic and proper handling is required. Follow all instructions given in any kit or tutorial you decide to try out.