The short answer is yes. Lye is what makes soap, soap. However, working directly with lye is NOT necessary to become a soapcrafter. Lye is essential to all cold process soap making recipes and is what makes soap…well, soap! Without the lye, your oils are unable to saponify and your soap won’t actually become soap.
We know that working with a chemical like lye can seem intimidating at first, but once you learn the proper and safe way to work with it, it opens up a whole new realm of soapmaking. Here is a Soap Queen TV episodes that covers lye safety: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yR6ttCSrLJI
However, if you want to avoid handling lye there are other methods of soap making like melt and pour or rebatch soap making.
Melt and Pour uses a pre-made soap base which can be easily melted down and colored, scented, poured or molded. We have a vast number of different recipes and tutorials for melt and pour which will keep you quite busy. To learn more about Melt and Pour Soapmaking visit the Melt and Pour tab on our blog Soap Queen.
Another option for making soap without handling lye is Rebatch soap. It is cold process soap which is hardened, cured and grated. The grated soap is reheated it using a double boiler. Fragrance and color can be added at that point. It looks rustic. For more information or a look at Rebatch soap making check out these links:
Rebatch Soap Kit:
Green Tea Rebatch: