The Best Soap for Every Skin Type, and How to Use It
Many of us have bathroom cabinets filled with soaps. Alongside the ones we bought ourselves are the fancy gift soaps from birthdays past, plus an assortment of miniature soap bars and tiny body wash bottles collected over various hotel stays. So when we find ourselves unexpectedly out of soap, we can just grab another from our stash. After all, it’s all the same stuff, right?
Wrong. Even basic, unscented soaps can have wildly different ingredients depending on whether they’re liquid or solid, and while one may leave your skin feeling soft and smooth, another might leave it feeling tight and dry or cause a breakout. Add to that the fact you may need up to four different ones (for your face, body, hands, and for shaving), and selecting a soap begins to look a little trickier.
But don’t worry! Editors’ Pick is here to help you out with our guide to choosing the absolute best soap for you and your face or body.
The difference between liquid and bar soap
Whether it’s a liquid hand soap or a facial soap bar, the basic recipe for soap is the same: some sort of fat or oil, plus an alkali. A liquid soap typically contains potassium hydroxide as its alkali, while a soap bar usually uses sodium hydroxide. The fat/oil part may come from plants, from animals, or from petroleum. A liquid soap is more likely to be petroleum-based and a bar soap plant or animal-based, but not always.
The bit you really need to know is this: bar soap often has a higher pH level than liquid soap, which can dry the skin out as well as exacerbate acne, psoriasis, and eczema. If you’re washing with a cheap hand soap bar you picked up at a budget motel, don’t be surprised if your skin is left feeling as tight as a brand new facelift. However, pH-balanced bar soaps do exist, and we’re big fans of Redken Brews Cleanse Bar Soap (it’s one of the best smelling men’s soaps around!)
The pros and cons of foaming soap
Foaming hand soap or face soap is so fun – it’s like a mini bubble party every time! But is it effective?
The product inside a foam hand soap dispenser is really no different to a liquid hand soap refill; the bottle simply adds air to it when you pump. This helps your soap to go further, so the same quantity will last you longer.
Foaming facial cleansers on the other hand create a rich lather when you rub them in, and they do this thanks to the addition of a foaming agent. Here’s where you need to pay attention to the ingredients list. This foaming agent is very often sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) or sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). These are very good at removing oil, but sometimes too good. They can really strip the skin, leaving it dry or irritated, so you may want to look for a foaming face or body wash that’s sulfate-free (natural foaming agent alternatives are less common but do exist).
Soap for shaving vs. regular soap
Like foaming soaps, shaving soaps are designed to lather. The difference is in the properties of that lather – whereas cleansers have a thin, runny lather that’s easy to wash off, shaving soap has a very dense and creamy lather that sticks to the skin, so it won’t drip off before your razor gets there! It’s also deliberately slippery in texture, to help the blade glide across your skin.
Although we call them soaps, shaving soaps also aren’t really made for actual cleaning. They don’t strip oil away from your skin, with the best men’s shaving soap actually doing the opposite i.e. pumping it full of nourishing, moisturizing ingredients. In other words, keep your shaving bar soap strictly for shaving – it’s great, but not a substitute for a facial soap bar or liquid face wash!
Looking for recommendations on the best shaving soaps? At Editors’ Pick, we think the best shaving soap for men is The Art of Shaving Shaving Soap thanks to both its excellent lather and its skin-softening combination of glycerin, coconut oil and pure essential oils.
What is the difference between men’s and women’s soap?
Usually just the fragrance! As far as cleansing power goes, a men’s hand soap or men’s bath soap is no different than women’s soap. So if you want to share with your other half on a weekend trip away, go right ahead. Just be aware, ladies, that if you use a strong smelling men’s soap, you’ll probably be left smelling like you borrowed his aftershave too. And that might not mix well with whatever perfume you planned to put on.
Choosing the best soap for your skin type
Once you’ve picked your preferred format (bar vs. liquid, and foaming vs. non-foaming), it’s time to consider your skin type. Or types! Maybe you’ll need a facial soap bar designed for oily skin but, especially in winter, a super-moisturizing ‘dry skin’ hand soap liquid or hand soap bar to counteract the drying effects of frosty weather.
The best soap if you have acne or oily skin
Oily skin gets clogged up easily, so look for a clarifying soap to draw out all of the dirt and impurities. Soaps with clay or charcoal are a fabulous choice, such as the Baxter of California Deep Cleansing Charcoal Clay Bar (great for both face and body, and another of the best smelling soaps for men that we’ve come across) or The Seaweed Bath Co. Purifying Detox Facial Bar, a mild unscented soap which cleanses thoroughly but gently, to avoid aggravating inflammation.
Avoid using an exfoliating soap bar on your face; over exfoliation can increase oil production, so it’s generally not something you want to be doing to already-oily skin on a daily basis. That said, you may find it helps to cleanse your face (or body, if you’re dealing with bacne) with a formula that contains chemically-exfoliating salicylic acid, such as Epionce Purifying Wash.
The best soap if you have dry or rough skin
Dry skin on the other hand needs regular exfoliation! As well as using a more intensive exfoliating scrub (for your body) or chemical exfoliator (for your face) a couple of times per week, you can indulge in a gentle exfoliation every time you wash with an exfoliating bar soap. With its unisex, woody scent, LOVE beauty AND planet Shea Butter & Sandalwood Soap Bar makes for an excellent women’s or men’s exfoliating soap. It’s a very moisturizing bar soap too thanks to the shea butter, which will help to soften your skin.
Other highly-moisturizing ingredients to look out for are glycerin, ceramides, and botanical oils such as coconut or almond.
The best soap if you have sensitive skin
Sensitive skin often doesn’t get on well with fragrances, so you may want to hunt down an unscented soap. Our favorite unscented body soap is The Seaweed Bath Co. Unscented Body Wash, while a great 2-in-1 face and body soap for those who prefer a bar format is the DHC Mild Soap.
We also love the L'Occitane Shea Milk Sensitive Skin Extra Rich Soap, which does contain fragrance but is still super gentle. For your hands, there’s the ever-popular Dove Nourishing Hand Wash. Again, this is not a fragrance free hand soap, but it is hypoallergenic and specifically formulated for sensitive skin.
It’s also a good idea to look for a pH balanced soap, to avoid upsetting the natural pH level of your skin. As for the choice between bar soap or body wash, even an unscented liquid hand soap or body soap usually contains preservatives. Waterless bar soaps however don’t need these synthetic chemicals to keep them fresh, so you’re less likely to find them irritating.
The best soap for body odor
Body odor is caused when the bacteria on your skin break down protein molecules in your sweat, which releases an odor. A combination of deodorant and maintaining good hygiene by regularly washing your underarms and any other areas which get sweaty is the best solution, and any type of soap or body wash will do the trick.
However, you may find that using an antibacterial soap for body odor helps you to stay smelling fresh for longer. Ahava Mineral Botanic Velvet Cream Wash is a shower gel with hibiscus, which has natural antibacterial properties.
Can I use body soap on my face, and vice versa?
In a pinch, yes. But it’s not recommended. The skin on our bodies tends to be more robust, so a formula that works well on your body may irritate your face and cause a breakout.
Using a facial soap bar or wash for your body on the other hand tends to be safer, but may be pricey when you consider the amount of skin involved and the fact that the average facial cleanser is much more expensive per ounce than the average body wash. If you do want to keep your bathroom lotions and potions to a minimum, or want to travel light, we recommend finding a product that specifically states it can be used for both face and body.
How to use bar soap
You can apply bar soap directly, or with your hands. To really get all of the small nooks and crannies of your face clean, you’ll probably find it easiest to use your hands. First wet the soap and rub it between your palms to create a nice lather, then gently massage that lather into your skin for a good 30 seconds. Rinse off with clean water.
An exfoliating soap bar for the body is best applied directly to maximize the exfoliating effect. Before you lather up in the bath or shower, spend a couple of minutes pretending you’re in your home spa and simply enjoying the warm water against your skin – it will open up all of your pores. Then clean from the top down, so dirty, sudsy water isn’t dripping down onto bits you’ve already cleaned.
Once done, be sure to store your soap bar somewhere that it can dry out. If you leave it lying in a pool of water, it will dissolve into a mushy mess!
Does soap expire?Both liquid soaps and bar soaps typically have a shelf life of 2-3 years, even if there’s no expiration date printed on the label. After this time, you may find that the ingredients in liquid soap begin to separate, or that your soap bar becomes dry and cracked. Both may not lather as well as when they were new.
However, if your shaving soap bar, face/body bar soap, or liquid soap still looks and smells okay, you can still use it safely. To prolong the lifespan of your unopened soaps, store these bathroom products at room temperature (not too close to any radiators!) and out of direct sunlight.Still need help picking out the best soap for you? Remember, you can always contact us for personalized advice from our skincare experts!