Standing in the skin and beauty aisle at the drugstore store can seem overwhelming. Bar soaps, body washes, and shower gels all compete for your attention and your dollars. How can you find the best soap for your skin?
What you buy is largely a matter of which type of product you like best — with a few exceptions, says Jami Miller, MD, assistant professor of medicine in the department of dermatology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.
Dr. Miller cautions against falling for the advertising that surrounds body washes, bar soaps, and shower gels. Most of the messages in these ads are misleading. Instead, you should consider your skin type, specifically whether your skin tends to be sensitive and dry, or oily. Your bathing habits may actually be more important than the product that you choose: it’s best to use warm instead of hot water when taking a bath and to moisturize immediately after toweling off.
Whether you choose a bar or a bottle, many body cleansers may all have the same effect. These products remove dirt, bacteria, and — unfortunately — some or all of your natural body oils.
“Most soaps and body washes remove the oils that keep skin soft and naturally moisturized. Removing that oil makes your skin dryer,” says Miller. One solution is to look for products that state that they are moisturizing. “Many body washes leave a layer of moisturizer on the skin that helps to replenish the oils removed.”
Despite what many bath product commercials may suggest, you do not need a lot of foam to get clean. In fact, avoiding lather might be your best bet, especially if you are worried about dry skin.
“The non-soap cleansers that also do not foam tend to leave more of your natural oils behind and thus are less drying,” explains Miller. “Most people can avoid over-drying their skin by selecting a soap for sensitive skin such as Dove, Aveeno, Cetaphil, or CeraVe, and applying a body lotion to still-damp skin after bathing. This seals the moisture back into your skin and replenishes the oils you removed.”
Miller explains the term “film” can have several different meanings, but we usually think of it as a thin layer of oil deposited by bar soap or body wash. It forms a barrier to seal in moisture and, as long as this doesn’t lead to a breakout or make you feel greasy, it’s perfectly fine. Both soap and body wash can leave a film, she says, adding to beware of soaps that leave no film. Soaps that strip off all your oil, making you feel squeaky clean but leaving no moisture barrier, are harsher than those that leave a film.
If a film bothers you, Miller suggests trying newer formulations of soap, shower gel, body wash, and moisturizers. These “more closely approximate the skin's natural lipids and still leave moisture in the skin, but feel less greasy, so you do not feel a film left behind,” she says.
The Facts About Bar Soap
Many people believe that a simple bar soap is the best body cleanser. However, bar soaps may be unpleasantly drying, says Miller. The most important step you can take is to check the ingredients for lye.
“Deodorant soaps and lye soaps tend to strip the skin’s oils and do not replace them. If your skin is really oily, then that is not a problem,” says Miller. “If you use these relatively harsh soaps and your skin becomes dry, you will need to moisturize afterwards.”
If you like using a bar soap, it’s better to choose a beauty bar, which tends to be more moisturizing that regular bar soaps.
The Best Body Cleanser for You
Though oily skin can withstand the effects of most body wash products, all skin types can benefit from these tips:
Choose a mild cleanser that does not contain lye.
Use cool or warm water when bathing, never hot.
Use a moisturizer immediately after drying off.
Don’t over-cleanse — this can lead to dryness.
Watch out for signs of dryness, including redness, itching, and flaking.
If you try several products, moisturize after bathing, and continue to feel dry and uncomfortable, you may need to see a dermatologist for prescription skin care rather than switching to another body cleanser.
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