The first time I heard the urban legend that washing with a bar of soap is bad for your skin, I was thirteen and at a neighborhood barbeque. One lady was bragging that the reason her skin always looked great is because she never, ever used soap on her face. I was just starting my battle with teenage acne and could not believe my ears. Soap and my buff puff were my two most valued weapons. (In truth, they were my only weapons.) If soap is bad for you . . . What the heck do you wash your face with then?
I do not mean to show my age, but there was a time when liquid cleansers were not so prevalent. Almost every facial soap was in a bar form. This overheard conversation started was what has been nearly a lifelong quest to find for the best soap for my face and body. I’ve tried and tested soaps in all forms, including bars, and have discovered, it’s the processes involved and the ingredients in the soap – and not the form (liquid, foam, bar, whatever) – that really matters. As always, to make an informed decision, it’s best to do some a little research.
When I look at history, the soap evolution seems to have started around World War 1 when many supplies were scarce. The war created a shortage of fat – one of the main ingredients in soap. Necessity is the mother of invention and it was not long until an alternative was developed and the first synthetic detergent was born.
Overtime certain soap companies began removing glycerin and other great natural ingredients to increase profits. Unfortunately, this meant companies added other less “skin-friendly” chemicals. (If you do not believe me, please take the time to read the ingredients label on your store purchased bar of soap.) These changes made certain commercial soaps more of a detergent than a true soap.
An authentic soap cannot be made without lye (Sodium Hydroxide). Despite the fact that lye is used in the soap making process, the finished product contains NO LYE. When mixed with the skin-loving oils used in most handmade soaps, lye goes through a chemical change called saponification. During this process, the lye is removed and what is left is an end product that will clean your skin without drying it. You will also notice that this type of soap lasts MUCH longer than standard commercial soaps.
Most handmade and commercial soaps usually fall under one of four categories:
* Glycerin Soaps come in a variety of decorative style, scents, colors and designs. They may strip your skin and may be best suited for oily skin. (This explains why I loved them so much during my college years.)
* Animal Fat Soaps are soaps with a tallow base made from animal fats such as goats milk. These are great for moisturizing and are very mild. (I have a friend with eczema who swears by handmade goats milk soaps.)
* Vegetable Fat Soaps have vegetable fats such as palm, olive or coconut oil and shea better. This soap category took me by surprise because I did not expect to fall so deeply in love. (Hot baths are one of my guilty pleasures after a long hard day. I bought a handmade castile soap made with olive oil to get some ideas for this article and was shocked to find that my skin was so moisturized I could skip the lotion after my bath.)
* Exfoliating Soaps can have any type of soap base. What makes exfoliating soaps special is that have finely ground particles to help slough off dead skin. (I love these soaps as well because you can clean and exfoliate all in one. They are a great timesaver.)
So, the wht Myth Squad Verdict? Soaps of any form are not bad for you. Just make sure you pick one specifically for your skin type and seasonal needs. And don’t forget to read the label! Finally, I highly recommend giving handmade soaps a try – you can find them at local farmers markets, natural and organic stores and of course, etsy.
Readers – do you wash your face (or other body parts) with a bar of soap? Share your favorites in the comments.
Holly is a Midwestern gal living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She loves gardening, animals and is a skin care junkie. Holly is always on the quest to try something new or old and live the best life possible.