Showering is something you likely do on the daily—but how much thought do you really put into what body cleanser you use? Well, it turns out you may want to be a little more scrutinizing, especially if you are prone to certain skin conditions. But the question is, which cleanser is right for you? We’re breaking down the differences between bar soap, shower gel and body wash so that you can confidently choose the right one for your cleansing needs.
What Is Bar Soap?
Ah, bar soap: The classic body cleanser you’ve been using since you were a kid.
“By definition, soap is a long chain fatty acid alkali salt with a pH between 9 and 10,” says Dr. Fayne Frey, M.D., board-certified dermatologist in West Nyack, New York. (For comparison, your skin’s pH is between 5 and 6.) “These bar cleansers are harsh on the skin, as they can remove the essential lipids and proteins found on the skin surface that help maintain your moisture barrier.”
Not all bar soaps are made the same, though. In fact, there are a few different types of bar soaps, some of which are less drying than others. The translucent bar soaps, for one, are made with glycerin, a humectant that draws moisture into the skin and counteracts the drying effect of the soap, says Dr. Frey. Superfatted soaps are also another kind. According to a study published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, these are formulated with higher levels of lipids (fatty acids) like triglycerides, lanolin and stearic acid. These ingredients form a protective film over your skin. Finally, there are antibacterial bar soaps, which contain ingredients like triclosan to squash bacteria growth and odor.
What Is Shower Gel and Is It the Same as Body Wash?
Body wash and shower gel are pretty similar. They’re both liquid cleansers that use mild surfactants to cleanse skin, says Dr. Frey. The main difference lies in their texture. “Body shower gel tends to have a thinner consistency, which makes it better for warmer climates,” says Berenice S. Rothenberg, owner and founder of Electrolysis and Beauty Center in New York City.
Body washes are slightly more moisturizing than shower gels (and much more hydrating than bar soaps), says Rothenberg. That’s because they usually contain emollients (a.k.a. skin-softeners), adds Dr. Frey. In fact, according to a study published in the journal Dermatologic Clinics, newer formulas feature technology that delivers emulsified petrolatum (a common skin ointment) to the skin while you cleanse, which helps improve dryness.
The Best Body Cleanser for Your Skin Concerns
When it comes to choosing a bar soap, body wash and shower gel, you should be particularly picky if you have acne, rosacea, eczema or even sensitive skin, as cleansers that are too drying can cause further irritation. In those cases, look for mild body cleansers with moisturizing properties, since these won’t strip your skin of essential nutrients. Here are some of our favorite options for different skin types and concerns.