Did you know that bar soaps can be used for more than just your hands and body? In fact, you can use bar soaps for everything from shampoo to facial cleanser to even laundry detergent! However, with the amount of options available, it might be hard to figure out which soap is the best for you.
So here’s a quick guide to the differences between soaps, which will hopefully help you to choose the right one for your individual body and needs. We’ve also got a list of the ten best bar soaps you can find online, if you still need a little help!
How to Choose Bar Soaps – Buying Guide
Skin types vary from person to person, so it makes sense that there are a bunch of different types of soap as well! Keep these next few points in mind when soap shopping, and you’re sure to find one that you (and your skin) will love.
Skin Type vs. Ingredients
Some soaps are better suited for dry skin, while others are made for those who need a little less moisture, and the difference is in the ingredients.
For Dry Skin, Get Clear Soaps
For those with dry skin, it’s often best to look for a soap that’s transparent. These soaps contain glycerin (a moisturizing agent) and a variety of minerals, which will cleanse your skin without removing too much of its natural oils.
Soaps containing olive or camellia oil will also benefit dry skin. These oils are packed with oleic acid, a fatty acid with a profile very similar to that of your skin’s natural oils. This again will help cleanse skin, while adding on even more of the good stuff.
For Oily Skin, Cleansing Soaps
For those with oily and combination skin types, start your search by looking at opaque soaps. These are oil-based and don’t contain as many moisturizing agents such as glycerin. Because of this, these soaps make stronger cleansers, washing away dirt as well as excess oil, sebum, and pore blockages.
Also keep an eye out for soaps that contain animal fats and palm oil. These oils contain stearic acid and palmitic acid, which are are good at washing off sebum and will likely help those with oily skin.
For Sensitive Skin, Go Additive Free
For those with sensitive skin prone to irritation, there are a whole range of soaps made specifically for you. When looking at an ingredient list, try to choose something that doesn’t contain any disinfectants, artificial fragrances, or other additives. Some medicated soaps have antibacterial properties, which can be irritating for sensitive skin.
Some other things to avoid are sulfates (particularly sodium laureth sulfate). Sulfates are used to get more lather or prevent soap scum buildup, so they’re one of the most common additives in skin care products. But they can also irritate sensitive skin. Luckily, many soaps state directly on the packaging whether or not they’re sulfate free, so this isn’t hard to check.
Types of Bar Soap
Bar soaps can broadly be divided into four categories depending on their use.
Common Bar Soap: The Cheap Drugstore Find
This is the kind of soap that you’ll find on the shelf at any drug store. They are generally mass produced, cheap, and contain chemical additives. But don’t let that scare you away! Depending on your skin type and what you want from a soap, these may actually work just fine for you.
Because of the added synthetic chemicals, these bars will produce a more luscious lather, wash out more easily, and are more likely to be pH neutral and gentle on the skin (natural bars have a pretty high pH compared to human skin!).
While the fragrances and chemicals may be irritating to those with the most sensitive skin, common bar soaps work fine for most people.
Natural Bar Soap: No Synthetic Ingredients or Chemicals
Whereas most of the bar soaps you’ll find in stores have chemical additives, natural bar soaps will be just that, soap. Generally, they contain only natural ingredients such as saponified vegetable oils. They may also contain various plant extracts and essential oils for fragrance or health benefits.
Depending on the bar, natural soaps can sometimes be drying or a bit rough on the skin if they are purely soap. For best results, it’s best not to just pick up the first natural bar you see just because it’s “good for you,” but to first read the packaging and see if it’s got those nurturing ingredients–coconut oils or shea butters for hydration, for example, or natural exfoliants for a deep scrub.
Face Wash: Contains More Moisturizers and Fewer Synthetic Ingredients
Washing your face with a normal bar of soap is not ideal. The skin on your face is much more sensitive than the rest of your body, so using a regular bar of soap can leave your face dry, irritated, and prone to breakouts. That being said, there are some bar soaps made for facial use. These contain more glycerin and fewer synthetic chemicals and foaming agents.
Before throwing one in your shopping cart, look at the ingredients list–make sure that the soap’s mainly natural and is packed with your delicious hydrating ingredients.
Medicated Soaps: With Additives for Those Who Need It
Medicated soap contains additional ingredients that serve a purpose beyond simply washing grime away. Some of the most commonly found medicated soaps are antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-acne.
Medicated soap’s meant to fight bacteria and infections, so it’s some pretty strong stuff and can leave you kind of dry. Get it only if you have a particular condition that needs to be addressed.
Is Your Soap a Cosmetic, Drug, or Just a Soap? (Caution: Regulations Differ)
Guess what—if your soap claims to be a cosmetic, it doesn’t need to be approved by the FDA before it’s lined up on shelves. The legal definition of cosmetics, by the way, is anything whose primary purpose is to cleanse or beautify.
If, on the other hand, your soap claims to cure any diseases or change how your body functions, then it’s considered a drug—and needs premarket approval from the FDA. It’s got to adhere to good manufacturing practice (GMP) guidelines and list active ingredients before inactive ingredients.
While we’re on the topic of regulation, what the FDA considers “soap” is different from what your average joe considers “soap.” To the FDA, a soap needs to derive its detergent properties from akali-fatty acid compounds and be marketed as plain old soap—solely for cleansing your body. Soap, by the way, isn’t regulated by the FDA; that’s handed off to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
However, if the product’s made up mainly of those alkali-fatty acid compounds or detergents and is marketed as a cosmetic, then it’s regulated as one. If it’s made up of the same ingredients, but also claims to treat any diseases or change how your body functions, then it’s regulated as a drug. To figure out whether that thing in your hand’s a soap, drug, or cosmetic, look at the label.
Manufacturing Methods: Saponification, Neutralization, and Milling
Depending on how its made, bar soaps can have more or less foam and varying shelf lives. There are three main methods of production: saponification, neutralization, and milling.
Saponification is the process by which oils, liquid, and sodium hydroxide are combined to turn into soap. The most common method is the cold-process. Here, it’s easy to control what kind of soap pops out, just by changing what kind of oils you use; going with coconut oil, for example, will give you a bar that produces mountains of foam, and adding in shea butter will give you something hydrating.
Neutralization happens when fatty acids react with a base (which is the opposite of an acid, ergo neutralizing). This method is often used on an industrial scale since it’s easy to control the outcome. These soaps are often very foamy with high detergency.
Milling takes a pre-made soap and then remakes it by grating, melting, and adding color or scent to it before re-molding it–sometimes up to three times! Because these soaps are processed more, they tend to be harder and last longer.
So, if you want something gentler and hydrating, go for cold process soap. If you want something that will get you squeaky clean and sudsy, the neutralization method is better for you. Finally, if you want a long-lasting, easy upkeep soap, then you want to look for a milled soap.
Top 10 Bar Soaps to Buy Online
In case you still can’t choose, here are ten of the best bar soaps you can buy online to help you along.
10. Cuticura Medicated Anti-Bacterial Soap
When You Have Acne and Your Soap Needs a Little Help
This medicated soap from Curticura contains Trilocarbon, an antibacterial meant to condition skin and fight acne-causing bacteria. It is made for both face and body use and is effective on all types of acne–from single bumps to cystic breakouts. This soap has been in production since 1865, so if you’re looking for tried and true, this may be the soap for you.
That being said, as it is formulated for oily, acne-prone skin, it can be very drying to those who don’t need it. It may even irritate sensitive skin.
9. Basis Sensitive Skin Bar (6-Pack)
Simply the Best for Sensitive Skin
This soap is formulated to be as gentle as possible for those with sensitive skin. With added soothing aloe vera and chamomile and no dyes or fragrances, it cleanses without causing unnecessary irritation. This soap is ideal for those with sensitive as well as extremely dry skin and will even relieve your itches.
Because of its non-drying properties, it is on the softer side and may quickly disintegrate if left to sit in a damp area, so try to keep it away from moisture when not you’re not using it!
8. Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Daily Bar Soap
Hydrating and Gentle, with Super Sweet Suds
This bar from Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day can be used as both a body soap and a hand soap. It is olive oil-based, great for dry skin, and leaves you feeling well moisturized after every shower. It is triple milled and on the hard side, so you know that it will last a long time and won’t fall apart in the shower.
Because of its moisturizing properties, however, it can be less cleansing than other bars of soap; it’s probably better as a hand soap than a body soap for people who find themselves in need of a good scrub on a regular basis. The honeysuckle scent can also be overpowering to some, so if you’re not into honeysuckle, steer clear.
7. A Wild Soap Bar Yucca Root Shampoo & Body Bar
From Head to Toe in One Go
This little bar of soap is super versatile. Formulated to be gentle yet cleansing on everything from your hair to your face to your body, it is ideal for anyone who likes a no-fuss shower routine. It is enhanced with tea tree oil, a natural deodorant and antiseptic.
It is all natural with no added chemicals–that includes sodium lauryl sulfate, which is normally the lathering agent in soaps. That being said, it produces less of a lather than a normal bar soap, but you’ll rest easy knowing that’s because of its superior ingredients.
6. Baxter of California Men’s Body Bar
Exfoliating and Hydrating: Men Deserve Some Luxury, Too
Made with men in mind, this bar from Baxter of California proves that fancy, high quality soaps aren’t just for women. It produces a rich lather that isn’t drying and is suitable for all skin types. The best part about this bar, though, is probably its light cedar and oak scent.
Mixed into the bar are bits of jojoba meal and olive oil seed for exfoliation. That being said, however, the exfoliating bits can be a bit rough on more sensitive skin. And because of the price, if you’re not too sure whether your skin is sensitive or not, this might not be the bar to test it out on.
5. Pre de Provence Sandalwood Shea Butter Soap
Long Lasting and Versatile
This soap from Pre de Provence is quadruple milled and meant to work in every room in the house from the kitchen to the bathroom. Enriched with shea butter, this soap won’t dry you out and can be used even on sensitive facial skin. Because of its ingredients, it doesn’t produce too much suds, but it still manages to clean effectively.
Its scent is meant to last for the duration of the soap’s lifetime (that is, a long time). But don’t worry, if sandalwood isn’t your favorite smell, this soap also comes in more than 40 other scent varieties.
4. Shea Moisture African Black Soap
For a Flawless Complexion the Natural Way
African black soap is one of the best all natural soaps for facial cleansing and acne treatment. It is moisturizing, but it still absorbs excess oils and can help calm irritated skin. It is also good for treating eczema and psoriasis symptoms. This soap’s ingredient list is fully natural, fragrance free, and includes shea butter, glycerin, and vitamin E.
While it works well as a face soap and for trouble spots, it’s also a great all-around body soap. However, it is on the softer side, so it’s best not to keep it in a constantly damp space, or you might want to cut it into smaller pieces so that it doesn’t melt.
3. 365 Vegetable Glycerin Soap (Lavender)
Made up of Veggies and Simply Effective
This milled soap from Whole Foods’ in-house brand 365 is deceptively simple. Containing nothing more than vegetable oil-based soap, glycerin, and fragrance, it is good for nearly all types of skin and cleans without drying. While it is meant as a body and hand soap, it is gentle enough to use as a face wash as well.
The lavender scent makes for a relaxing end to your day, but if you don’t like lavender or find fragrances irritating, this soap also comes in a wide variety of other scents, including an unscented version. And at this price, you may just want to try them all!
2. Aspen Kay Naturals Dead Sea Mud Bar
Get Muddy to Get Clean
This soap from Aspen Kay Naturals is handmade and contains only all natural ingredients. It is suitable for all skin types and uses and is scented with only essential oils, which prevents irritation. The key ingredient is mud from the Dead Sea, which is meant to exfoliate, draw out impurities from, and hydrate skin.
While its almost $9 price tag may seem steep, this soap helps to alleviate a wide variety of skin conditions from acne to psoriasis–and it’s more effective than many others that are more expensive and less natural. So if you have stubborn skin problems and don’t want to turn to medication, this might be the one for you.
1. Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castille Bar Soap
The Tried-and-True Fan Favorite: Use It on Your Face or in the Kitchen
Throughout its decades long history, Dr. Bronner’s soaps have developed a kind of cult following for their superior quality and wide range of uses. This bar soap is no different. The baby unscented variety is especially versatile and can be used to wash every part of your body, as well as in household cleaning! You can find a ton of “hacks” online for using it for things; you can do the dishes or make your own laundry detergent.
It’s cleansing and washes without leaving a film like some all-natural bar soaps do. If you don’t need a gentle soap and want something with a little more oomph than “baby mild,” Dr. Bronner’s also has soaps enhanced with various essential oils for a wider variety of scents.
So there you have it! Hopefully this guide has helped to demistify bar soaps for you and lead you on your way to finding the perfect soap for your skin. Bar soaps are a lot more versatile than you’d think, so why don’t you give one a try?
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