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Bar soap or body wash: dermatologists explain the differences

Gone are the days of grabbing a soap or body wash, lathering it on your skin and calling it a day. With all the showers taking over our TikTok feeds, there are more reasons than ever to make a conscious decision between using bar soap or body wash to clean the skin below the neck. Bar soaps are known for their drying properties and ability to strip skin, but thanks to recent formulation overhauls, they are now an equal competitor to body washes.

So how do you know what to choose in the bar soap or body wash conundrum? We asked three skincare experts for their take on the pros and cons of both so you can get a deep cleanse without compromising your skin’s health.

Meet the expert

  • Navin Arora, DO, FAAD is a dermatologist in Garden City, New York.
  • Karan Lal, DO, FAAD, is a board-certified pediatric and cosmetic dermatologist in Scottsdale, Arizona.
  • Mary Berry is a skincare formulator and founder and CEO of Cosmos Labs.

How Bar Soap and Body Wash Formulas Compare

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The most significant difference between shower gel and bar soap is their formulation and texture. Bar soap is solid and generally more concentrated and, as Dr. Arora shares, it is formed through a saponification process, usually made from fats and oils. On the other hand, shower gel is a liquid cleanser that does not go through the same formulation process. Instead, it incorporates water, conditioning and moisturizing agents, and sometimes oils or active ingredients. “Bar soap and body wash combine with oils and dirt from the skin, allowing them to rinse away with water. The surfactants in these products help break down oils from the skin,” explains Dr. Arora.

Bar soap is commonly thought to dry out the skin more due to its higher pH. After all, he’s known for leaving it squeaky clean. The body wash is more hydrating while targeting specific skin concerns. “Body wash is typically dispensed via pump or squeeze bottle, while bar soap, which can easily be overused and disrupt the skin’s barrier function, must be soaped by hand with water.”

Packaging differences

Bar soaps are often more environmentally friendly because they are less packaged. They typically consist of paper or cardboard packaging (some are even made from recycled products), making them a more environmentally friendly option with less packaging. “They are also more cost-effective and last longer,” adds Dr. Arora. Since bar soap often contains few preservatives compared to liquid body washes, it can harbor bacteria if not stored properly.

Unlike freestanding bars of soap, body washes are contained in plastic, glass or metal bottles and tubes, which are not as environmentally friendly but offer a much more hygienic product with limited potential growth of bacteria. However, the amount of preservatives and additives used to stabilize the formula may be higher.

Bar soap or body wash: which is more effective?

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It doesn’t matter if it’s a bar soap or your team’s body wash, as long as you use one to clean your skin, the overall benefit is the same. But is one cleaner more effective than the other?

Dr. Lal says bar soap is often cleaner at first glance than liquid versions due to the lack of preservatives, but this fact has drawbacks when it comes to the potential for contamination. “Bar soap often produces more bacteria,” he adds. “Plus, most people use bars of soap everywhere (yes, everywhere!), and using one on the face and in private areas could potentially spread bacteria.”

Bar soaps get a bad rap for drying out the skin, mainly due to their alkaline nature, and some skin types notice this more than others. “The skin’s natural pH is slightly acidic, around 4.5 to 5.5, while bar soaps generally have a higher pH, which causes the skin’s natural oils to be stripped away and disrupts its barrier “This can lead to dryness, irritation and even exacerbate conditions such as eczema,” says Dr. Arora. Bar soaps may also contain sulfates and skin-depleting surfactants. And Dr Lal adds that some bars of soap are antibacterial, “which could disrupt the skin microbiome.”

So, is body washing a safer route? It depends on the product. Although most are more moisturizing and gentler than bar soap, not all liquid soaps and body washes are created equal. Dr. Lal says some may contain preservatives to reduce the growth of microorganisms, while others contain sulfates. But most provide the skin with a much-needed dose of hydration and nutrition.

The most popular body washes have a pH more suited to that of the skin, so there is less risk of disrupting the skin barrier and microbiome. “There are many varieties of formulations, suitable for different skin types and preferences, allowing for a more personalized and effective cleansing experience,” adds Berry.

How to choose

The choice of whether to use a bar soap or a body wash depends mainly on personal preference and skin type. Body washes can be more versatile and user-friendly, addressing different skin types and concerns than bar soap. “Body washes typically contain additional hydrating ingredients such as emollients, humectants, and oils to help replenish the skin’s moisture. It’s easier for a brand to incorporate these ingredients into a body wash. body, that’s why they are so beneficial,” Dr. Arora. adds. Modern body washes can also target other skin concerns, like breakouts, discoloration, and even keratosis pilaris (KP).

While body wash is usually the ideal choice for more sensitive and dry skin due to its moisturizing properties, Dr. Arora says bar soaps may be better for oily skin or for those who prefer a cleansing routine. Simpler cleansing without added ingredients that can lead to clogged pores. Additionally, if a reduced ingredient list works better for your skin, a bar soap may be a better choice.

There is no right or wrong product to use to clean the skin on your body. Ultimately, always consider the ingredients of a bar soap or body wash you choose to use, and avoid those that contain harsh detergents and antibacterials, artificial fragrances and fragrances, phthalates and preservatives, which can rob the skin of its natural appearance. natural oils and cause irritation. Instead, make sure the body wash of your choice contains ingredients that help moisturize skin long after you get out of the shower. If the one you choose is good for your skin, then you have made the right choice.


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