Bar Soap vs. Body Wash: Essential Pros & Cons
While the traditional bar soap has been around for years, it is certainly making a splash as of late.
As consumers, and brands, increasingly take note of the plastic pollution generated by the beauty industry, people are searching for more sustainable alternatives. One of them happens to be that good ole’ bar soap.
The resurgence of bar soap and the introduction of a plethora of options extending from shower gel to New Girl Schmidt’s infamous “Body Gelato” is leaving consumers wondering: is there really a difference between bar soaps and body washes, beyond environmental sustainability? In fact, there is—and we’re here to tell you everything you need to know.
What is bar soap?
So, what exactly is bar soap? Unsurprisingly, it’s soap that comes in a solid bar shape. Liquid soap of any kind just has a high concentration of water in the formula, which makes it liquid. Bar soap has little water in the mixture, which allows it to harden into a solid state.
To use bar soap, you simply wet your hands or other body part and apply the soap directly to your skin. Additionally, you could apply it to a wet washcloth or loofah. Nowadays, there are tons of options when it comes to bar soap, and there are formulas made specifically for your face as well.
What is bar soap made of
Soap is, by definition, made of fat or oil mixed with alkali—a chemical compound that neutralizes acids. Traditionally, the oil comes from an animal or plant, and the alkali is a chemical called lye. To make bar soap, the lye is sodium hydroxide, whereas liquid soap uses potassium hydroxide. By combining and heating the two components, the result is soap. This chemical reaction is called saponification. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
These days, there are many different, and plant-based, agents used for the fat or oil component of soap—ranging from olive oils to shea butter. Many bar soaps also have essential oils, and other organic scents added.
What is the difference between shampoo bar and soap?
Shampoo bars have become a hot seller in recent years. As with liquid versus bar soap, the biggest difference between a shampoo bar and soap is the water content. Bar soap doesn’t have the same concentration of water in the mixture as does shampoo.
Benefits of bar soap
With so many selections on the market to choose from, many people wonder if it’s better to choose bar soap or liquid soap. We think bar soap has some pretty clear benefits.
Usually more sustainable
Unlike liquid soaps, like body wash and shampoo, that come in large plastic bottles, bar soaps are usually packaged in paper, which is commonly recyclable or biodegradable, or often do not come in any packaging at all. Additionally, bar soap uses much less water than traditional soap to manufacture.
Better for allergies
Bar soaps typically have fewer ingredients than the body washes and gels of the world. Many are formulated without the need for preservatives to keep them shelf-stable, which means they are free from things like parabens and other common toxins that can cause bad reactions—things you’ll never find in Kinder Beauty Boxes or when you shop our marketplace of clean, vegan products.
It is also much easier to make bar soap hypoallergenic: many bar soap options are made purely of skin-loving herbal and organic ingredients.
It lasts longer
Do you feel like you need to replace your liquid shampoo and body wash pretty often? Well, you will find that bar soap lasts much longer. Because bar soap doesn’t have the high concentration of water that liquid soap has, you provide the water instead, in your sink or shower—and you can wind up using a lot less than is mixed with liquid soaps. Ultimately bar soap is a more efficient use of both water and soap—and your money!
Bar soap used to have a bad reputation for drying out your skin, but nowadays, that is less of an issue. In many cosmetics stores, you will find row upon row of options with formulas for every type of skin and skin ailment. Also, because bar soaps require fewer ingredients and usually are free of parabens, it can be easier to find clean versions.
Better for travel
Hate lugging those miny refillable bottles with you every time you travel? Praying that nothing explodes on the flight? Worry no more. Bar soap is fantastic for travel. Not only is it compact and spill-proof, but you also do not need to include it in your clear one-quart bag for carry-on since it is not a liquid. Say hello to easier airport security!
Looking for all our top tips on traveling with your beauty products? Read our full guide.
How to use bar soap
Because bar soap does not have water in it, it is important to give your body a rinse before using it. The rinse also helps to loosen up the dirt and excess oil on your skin.
Always use warm, not hot water, as hot water dries out the skin much easier and can actually shorten the lifespan of your soap bar.
The most common way to use a soap bar, except for when just using it to wash your hands, is to use it in the shower. It is good practice to start at the top of your body and work your way from your neck to your toes.
Don’t use your regular bar on your face. Just like the liquid versions, body soap and face soap are formulated very differently. Regular bar soaps can be really drying on your facial skin, so unless the bar is clearly labeled as safe for your face, it’s still best to avoid it.
How to make your bar soap last longer
The one obvious negative of a bar versus a bottle of soap is that there is no plastic to protect the bar from water in the shower. There are a couple of easy ways to extend the life of your bar.
- Keep it dry
This is easier said than done as the whole point is to get the bar wet when you use it, and an extra layer of difficulty arises if you keep your bar in the shower as so many of us do. However, trying to keep the bar dry is key to its longevity. If you have bar soap for your bathroom sink, this is easier. Put it on an elevated soap rack like this one, so it dries in between uses. For the shower, use a soap dish like this one to help protect the bar from too much water.
- Use a washcloth
While using your hands with bar soap is perfectly safe and effective, a washcloth or loofah helps to absorb the lather and retain it for additional use, instead of letting it all flow down the drain before you can use it. This will help you use less soap while also helping to achieve a good amount of suds. Ultimately, using a washcloth helps extend the bar soap’s lifespan. One note of caution, make sure you replace the washcloth often to avoid bacteria growing.
- Cut the bar into smaller pieces
If you do use your bar in the shower and find that it suffers from continual water and moisture exposure, try cutting the bar into smaller pieces and only using a small part at a time. The smaller surface area means it will dissolve slower and therefore, last longer.
- Avoid the heat
You have likely heard that hot water is bad for your skin; well, it is also bad for your bar soap, too. Hot water causes the soap to dissolve more quickly. So for the sake of your skin and your bar, lower the temp.
Vegan bar soap
All of Ethique’s bar soaps are made of biodegradable, sustainably sourced, naturally derived, and palm oil-free ingredients. And this flavor is for those of you with a sweet tooth. Vanilla notes are creamy, sweet, and delicious, with a hit of sweet orange oil to lighten it up.
This bar generates a luxurious lather that provides a long-lasting glide to help you shave with ease. The skin-loving ingredients will leave you feeling soft and hydrated all over.
This bar soap from Herbivore gently draws out impurities and cleanses the skin without stripping it of its natural protective oils. The silky smooth lather helps to soften both facial and body skin and features a delightfully light citrus and floral scent.
What is body wash?
Now that you know everything there is to know about bar soap, here’s the scoop on body wash. As discussed above, soap—no matter what kind, liquid or bar— is made up of two components: a fat-soluble ingredient and a water-soluble ingredient. This is because dirt itself is not water-soluble, meaning only the fatty product will help to actually get you clean.
Body wash has a much higher concentration of water than bar soap. Body wash uses the same cleansing mechanism to get the dirt off your skin as bar soap but can also contain a mixture of other ingredients meant to help treat common skin conditions like dryness, clogged pores, and skin flaking. Body wash also usually contains ingredients meant to restore skin moisture that can be stripped by the cleansing process.
Is shower gel and body wash the same?
Most soaps are essentially the same; shower gel and body wash are, therefore, pretty similar—but there are some key differences. Shower gel is usually much thinner and less hydrating than its body wash buddies. Shower gel also doesn’t cling to your skin the same way and tends to simply cleanse, without adding any moisturizing ingredients.
Body wash benefits
Great for dry skin
Body wash is usually the better choice if you suffer from overly dry skin or your skin tends to feel stripped or flaky after showering. Body wash very commonly contains skin-loving ingredients that nourish and hydrate the skin, and it is usually easier to find body washes that are formulated specifically for dry skin.
Ideal for chronic skin conditions
Liquid soaps, both body wash and shower gel are usually recommended to those who suffer from chronic skin conditions such as rosacea, psoriasis, or acne. This is because is a bit easier to create formulas that target these specific conditions. Your dermatologist can tell you which ingredients to look for to address your concerns.
Better at exfoliating
Soaps often have natural or synthetic exfoliant ingredients, such as seeds or other grainy texture components. While these can also be found in bar soap, they are often not as finely milled or ground down as they are in body wash. Therefore, if you like to use a physical exfoliator on your body, opting for a body wash is probably going to be your best bet.
How to use body wash
While it might seem rather obvious how to use body wash, there are some things to keep in mind to make the most of your shower time.
- Use the right amount
Most people use way too much body wash. While this isn’t necessarily a negative to your skin health, it can make an impact on your pocketbook. A quarter-sized dollop is plenty to cleanse your entire body. If you feel like you are using a lot, opt for using a loofah which can help the soap generate more suds.
- Avoid hot water
This is worth mentioning again. Many people love taking hot showers, but it can be overly drying to your skin. Swap out the hot for a lukewarm temperature and notice how much better your skin retains moisture.
- Be gentle
Avoid rubbing too hard with the loofah, sponge, or washcloth. Hard rubbing can cause unnecessary irritation and dryness. The same goes for your after-shower routine. When drying off simply pat yourself dry, and always wash your towels regularly to remove germs and dirt.
- Don’t skip the moisturizer
Soap is meant to cleanse, and while this is a good thing, it can also remove the natural oils from the skin as well. Get into the habit of applying a hydrating lotion right after you shower, even when your skin is still a little damp.
Vegan and cruelty-free body wash
Powered by coconut water, Kopari Beauty's vegan Hydrating Gel Body Wash with aloe and sea kelp cleanses and leaves skin smelling like sweet coconut.
This Oil Wash from cult-favorite Glossier is formulated with seven different oils that attract grime and sweat like a magnet, lifting it from your skin and leaving you fresh and clean.
This body wash from Frank Body has a wonderful blend of Kakadu plum, pomegranate, and energizing coffee seed extract that will leave you soft and clean every day. It is especially great for those with sensitive skin.
This wash from LUSH is a decadent, lemon-rose shower gel made with vanilla pod infusion, goji berry juice, and nourishing argan oil to leave skin soft, hydrated, and sweetly scented.
There is obviously more than meets the eye when comparing bar soap and body wash, but depending on your preference and your skin’s needs, there are clear benefits for both options.
Jackie Lutze has been writing about cruelty-free beauty for years and loves finding the best vegan products to help readers build their ultimate beauty routine.
Please note: A product appearing in our blog is not an official Kinder Beauty endorsement. While every product we feature in an article is cruelty-free and vegan, these products do not necessarily meet all of our strict brand standards for curation in one of our boxes.
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