In Defense of Soap
by Liz Franz
One of the first and most oft-heard beauty “truths” I can think of is the one about soap, and how using a bar to cleanse your skin is all but healthy complexion-suicide. While it is true that the harsh, drying iterations of the drugstore mainstay shouldn’t find themselves anywhere near your delicate face, it’s important to keep in mind that not all bar soaps are created equal. (In fact, some of them don’t even contain any actual soap, if you want to get technical.) It’s been getting a bad rap for years now, but with its impressive abilities when it comes to providing a thorough cleanse, squashing acne, soothing sensitivity and even improving chronic conditions like eczema, bar soap just might be the gamechanger your skin care routine needs.
What is soap, anyway?
From a chemistry standpoint, true soap is actually a salt that’s created in a reaction that occurs between a base (sodium hydroxide or potassium hydrochloride, commonly known as lye) and an acid (in this case, that’s an oil or a fat, such as coconut oil). The process by which soap is made? That’s called saponification, and from it comes a byproduct you’ve no doubt heard of—glycerin! The glycerin is what enables the acid to mix with the base, forming soap in its truest sense.
What could be so bad about that?
It doesn’t take a cosmetic chemist to determine that the kind of soap intended to remove wall paint from one’s skin is probably too caustic daily use—but what a cosmetic chemist would be able to let you know is that part of soap’s tarnished reputation stems from its traditionally high pH levels; while the soap of yesteryear measures in at a 9 or 10 on the pH level “scale,” normal skin pH levels fall within the 4 to 5.5 range. Another issue common among “bad” soaps? Poor-quality acids (which again, in this case, are fats). Many of today’s face-friendly “soaps” or “cleansing bars” contain very little soap—some of them, none at all. And the options that do contain soap offer more skin-friendly pH levels in addition to high-quality ingredients.
Soaps our shoppers love
You’re well aware that your options are broad when it comes to facial cleansers of any kind, but what you may not realize is that many of today’s bars pose benefits that reach far beyond removing oil, dirt and makeup. Take, for example, Erno Laszlo Sea Mud Deep Cleansing Bar, which contains mud from the Dead Sea and is purported to accomplish a host of skin care objectives, like exfoliating, improving blood circulation, and fighting acne. “My skin is sensitive and oily, but get dried out by acne treatments,” one reviewer says. “I have been using this soap for two months and haven’t had a single breakout since.” Another fan favorite? La Roche-Posay Lipikar Surgras Cleansing Bar, a godsend of a body cleansing bar for those plagued with severely dry skin and even eczema. According to one of its devotees, it’s a wallet-friendly alternative to costly treatments: “I have severe eczema on my legs—so much so that creams can be cost-prohibitive. But with this soap, I’ve seen a noticeable difference in the quality of my skin and a reduction in flare-ups.” And how about rosacea? We don’t want to say there’s a soap that cures it—but there is a cleansing bar that’s mild enough for those who struggle with it: Cetaphil Gentle Cleansing Bar. In addition to safely cleansing rosacea-prone skin, this soap-free wonder is said to work magic on ultra-dry, itchy skin. “Since I discovered this soap, my skin is soft, smooth and, more importantly, not dry anymore—after a month of using it, my skin no longer itches, and I don’t even have to use a body lotion every day.”
Article posted 12/10/2012.