Sodium Hydroxide: A Powerful Ingredient to Transform Skincare Products

HK Vitals

Medically Reviewed By Dr. Aarti Nehra

Sodium hydroxide, also known as lye or caustic soda, is a transformative chemical found in a lot of items. It is found in a solid, odorless crystal form and is actively added to a variety of skincare products like soaps, face wash, body cream, and lotion, to name a few. While the substance itself is quite common, it can be equally harmful, as suggested by one of its names, caustic. This means that lye has the potential to cause chemical burns to our tissues. This certainly raises the question of whether sodium hydroxide in skin care is safe to use or not. This article goes in-depth about the chemical, its uses, and the side effects it might have on our skin.

What is Sodium Hydroxide, and Is It Safe to Use?

This chemical goes by a lot of names, such as caustic soda, sodium hydrate, soda lye, and lye. It is also found in a variety of products outside of skincare, such as drain cleaning products, paint stripper solutions, and silver polishes. It is actively used as a pH balancer in products as it can increase the product’s durability and usability. It helps certain products maintain a specific pH range, increasing their potency. Lye is also a great way to activate oils and fats, ensuring that these kinds of products produce lather and foam. Soaps and cleansers usually have lye present in them for this very reason.

While sodium hydroxide is a harmful chemical and can cause chemical burns if exposed to it in large quantities, it is safe to use in skincare. Lye is present in skincare products in a very low percentage, which cannot cause any kind of harm to our skin.

Caustic Soda for Skin: Uses and Benefits of Lye in Skincare

Lye is actively added to different kinds of skincare products, such as soaps, lotions, makeup, hair dye, nail polish, and nail polish remover, to name a few. Sodium hydroxide for skin has several benefits, which have been listed below for your reference:

  1. It helps manage the pH levels of both the products that you use as well as your skin.
  2. It increases product efficiency (for example, certain creams require the pH range to be balanced between 4 and 5; sodium hydroxide helps keep this balance, which in turn makes the product more effective for a longer period).
  3. It can activate and saponify oils and fats in soaps, making that foamy texture that happens when the product comes into contact with water possible.
  4. It prevents skin issues like acne, itchy and dry skin, pigmented skin, fine lines, and wrinkles, which can be caused by an imbalance in your skin’s pH levels.

Sodium Hydroxide Side Effects on Skin

While lye is safe to use when it comes to skincare, there are still several side effects of caustic soda on the skin that may arise, especially if you have a sensitive skin type. A number of these side effects have been listed below for your reference:

  1. Skin conditions such as hives, rash, or itchiness may arise at times.
  2. You might experience issues like flaking, dryness, and increased sensitivity.
  3. Your skin might get inflamed and/or irritated after using products that contain lye.
  4. Another issue that may arise from using products with sodium hydroxide is skin redness.

None of these issues are life-threatening and can usually be treated at home with proper care. Lye is present in small quantities in skincare products and cannot cause major damage; it is still better to be on the safer side. You can do quick patch tests whenever you wish to try out a new skincare product to ensure that it does not cause any issues and/or reactions on your skin.

To patch test a product, all you have to do is take a small amount of the product and apply it to a specific area of your skin that is close to where the product is supposed to be used (for example, to test a face wash, you may apply a small amount behind your ears). Next, you should wait at least a day to observe and see if any reaction occurs in that area. If you do not face any of the aforementioned issues, the product is likely safe for you to use. It means that the sodium hydroxide levels do not cause you and/or your skin any harm.

This substance is harmless in most settings, but if you come into contact with a large amount of sodium hydroxide, medical attention is required immediately. Listed below are some side effects that may occur if you come into contact with a large quantity of lye:

  1. Throat swelling
  2. Lung inflammation (chemical pneumonitis)
  3. Abdominal pain
  4. Hard time breathing
  5. Corrosion, chemical burns, and injuries to your lips, tongue, mouth, etc.


Sodium hydroxide is an essential part of making some of your beloved skincare products and is harmless most of the time. It is a useful part of such products and ensures that the pH range is balanced, the product is more effective, and that the oils in your products form that foamy texture. It is present in a very small amount in such products, making it harmless. While this is the case, doing patch tests can still be helpful for you, especially if you have sensitive skin.

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