The Myth Squad – a bar of soap is bad for your skin

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.

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Written by hao9703

22 Comments

  1. Profile photo of jpal
    jpal

    Great soap details @hao9703! I was literally just talking about soap and how I thought the tea tree oil soap I’d been using to wash my face recently had been wreaking havoc. However, my friend and I did some sleuthing and think it was the New Year’s Day cheese overdose I had. (I haven’t had cheese or much dairy in a long time and my face rebelled the casein onslaught!) Still…I never felt good about using a soap bar on my face. It had been pounded into me that you never use soap on your face. Now I know I just need to make sure I purchase one from the correct category.
    Jennifer Palais recently posted..How-to Tuesday- Get a quick ab workout in

  2. Profile photo of glamazon56
    glamazon56

    Thank you for the education, @hao9703! I naively though all soaps were created alike and I am thrilled to know I will need a glycerin soap for my oily skin. I love the feeling of soap, the bar, the suds etc. on my face. I need the clean feeling that some cream cleansers just don’t give. I have been a fan of the Erno Lazlo Sea Mud Soaps for ages and continue to rotate them into my cleansing routine. Thanks for a great post!

  3. Profile photo of Cori
    Cori

    Oh this is great info Holly( @hao9703 )!

    I have eczema too and have always been told to stay clear of bar soaps. I’m so glad to know that I just need to look for one made with goat milk.

    I’m going to be looking for some soon too as my apartment is super dry right now and I have been putting lotion on 3 or 4 times a day. I hope the soap will help!
    Cori recently posted..Me forgetful Ok maybe

  4. Profile photo of Amanda
    Amanda

    Soap has really gotten a bad rap, great mythbusting skills @hao9703 ! I love a really beautiful bar of soap, and it’s surprisingly easy to make. You can make whatever kind and scent of soap you want, no more searching in vain! I love making coconut milk soap and I can’t wait to try my hand at goat’s milk soap (my 14 year old brother raises goats).

    For those of you interested in maybe trying to make your own soap I highly recommend the books “Smart Soap Making” and “Milk Soap Making” by Anne L. Watson. It walks you through step by step and give you some basic recipes to start with.

  5. Profile photo of hao9703
    hao9703

    @jpal –I am also currently using a tea tree soap. (I love anything with tea tree in it.)

    @glamazon56 –I also rotate my skin care. Real or imagined – I feel like I get maximum benefit from my “rotating” products.

    @cori – Good luck finding a soap that works for your skin. Please keep me in the loop as I am always curious what works for people.

    @mandaleem – I love the idea of making my own soaps. However, the reality is that I would never actually get to it. However, if you lived close I would probably ask you if I could come over and “help.” These kind of projects are always more fun with two people.

  6. Profile photo of Shaya C.
    Shaya C.

    I’m a really big fan of soap with Shea butter. It started when I was a kid, Shaya comes from Shea so I loved having soaps “named after me” as my mom would say. Having worked for more then one beauty company, esp a few that specialized in soaps, I’m a big fan of the bar. I always feel really clean after a good hot shower with a bar soap.

  7. Profile photo of Tyna Werner
    Tyna Werner

    I loved this Myth Squad post Holly @hao9703 ! Informative and interesting and it answered a burning beauty question too. I have to say this is one Beauty Myth that I never quite fully believed – there have been too many bars of soap that my oily, yet sensitive skin loved – from good old Clinque (my first “system” was their 3 step classic – I soon dropped the toner and lotion but used the soap for years) to my current faves – the Erno Lazlo Sea Mud Soap for the face and any scent from Mor for the body.

    And now I totally want to shop Etsy for some natural and organic homemade soaps…
    Tyna Werner recently posted..Best of wht 2010- Totaled truck best garden ever!

  8. Profile photo of Mel
    Mel

    This article is going on my “best posts of 2011″ list already! Wonderful info Holly – thank you! Now I know why when I used to use Ivory back in the old days, it did dry out my skin…the glycerin was removed! (although they apparently have it in there now). But I’ve already switched to Erno Laszlo too – it’s the best!

  9. Profile photo of hao9703
    hao9703

    Since writing this article, I have found a somewhat commercial glycerin soap I really love. It is called Pears and they boast that they have had the same recipe for over 200 years. It keeps my body very moisturized. You will probably not find it in the big box stores. I found my bar at a drug store. It is well worth the money. I think a bar costs between two and three dollars.

  10. Kama

    Regardless of whether soap is “bad” for you or not, I find that my skin is clearest when I use no soap at all — equally clear or more clear than when I use facial cleansers. If no-soap (just a warm wet washcloth) works so well, why add soap?

    (I have super sensitive skin, though. When I use ordinary bar soap on my face, it feels like my skin is on fire!)

  11. mimo

    Thank you! I have heard so much of this, but I wondered because in Japan facial bar soaps are very common. And many don’t have horrible skin. So I figured it must be what is IN the product rather than the form of the product.

  12. Just 4 U soaps

    What a great post! I suffered for years with exzema and to was told not to wash with soap, as I got older and did my research I began making my own soap – I make an olive oil soap and a hempseed oil soap. In the winter skin tends to dry out and dry skin can cause exzema so when needed my family uses the neem cream I make.

  13. Esra

    actually commerical soaps are bad cause the contain sodium laureth sulphate which cause nerve and liver damage and destroy hair follicles( in shampos it cause baldness with reapeted use and most of shampos has it). this is just one bad ingredint u have to research to find more

  14. Cameomeooo

    I HAVE SENSITIVE SKIN–IM 64 YEARS OLD AND I USE JERGENS MILD SOAP FOR MY FACE —AND I HAVE BEEN TOLD ALL MY LIFE THAT I HAVE BEAUTIFUL SKIN—BODY SOAP IS DIFFERENT—I LIKE IVORY BODY WASH… PLUS I LIKE SOME BAR SOAPS–CARESS IS NICE BUT I HATE THAT PINK COLOR—-I LOVE ZEST AND TONE PLUS LEVER 2000 –THEY ALL MAKE A LOT OF SUDS AND SMELL GOOD. ps I USED DOVE FOR YEARS UNTIL THE PRICE HIT THE ROOF SO I WENT BACK TO JERGENS. (dollar tree $1.00 for 3 bars)

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