Bar Soap, Body Wash, or Shower Gel? Dermatologists Explain the Difference

Bar Soap, Body Wash, or Shower Gel? Dermatologists Explain the Difference

Bar Soap, Body Wash, or Shower Gel? Dermatologists Explain the Difference

How to Choose The Final Takeaway

When it comes to cleaning your body, are you strictly a bar soap person or do you tend to go for a shower gel or body wash? Either way, there’s a good chance you have a specific shower routine that you’ve followed for years—including reaching for the same products time and time again. Whatever your go-to cleansing product may be, have you ever thought about why you use it? Or that there’s actually a difference between shower gel, body wash, and bar soap?

It turns out that many people haven't given this much thought—but each of these product categories is unique in its own way. We asked two board-certified dermatologists to help get you up to speed on each of these common body care products.  

Shower Gel vs Body Wash

Body wash and shower gel are both liquid cleansing products. Both are convenient, easy to apply, and can be used daily to clean your skin without stripping away moisture, Dr. Mina says. But even though people often speak of them interchangeably, shower gel and body wash aren't the same thing.

“Body washes typically have more emollients and moisturizing agents that help hydrate the skin while cleansing, whereas shower gels do not add further hydration to the skin,” says Dr. Kiran Mian. Shower gel sometimes has a thicker consistency than body wash, and often produces a richer lather, explains Dr. Mary Alice Mina. “Similar to body wash, shower gel offers a luxurious cleansing experience with rich lather and various scent options,’ she says. People with dry skin might want to opt for a creamier body wash, whereas those with oily skin may do well with shower gels, according to Dr. Mian. But more on that later.

Bar Soap

Now that you have a better understanding of how shower gel and body wash are different, let's see how bar soap fits into the mix. As you are probably well aware, bar soap comes in solid form. This is one factor that makes bar soap pretty distinct from shower gel and body wash. In terms of application, simply lather the soap with water and then apply that lather to your skin.

“Bar soap is typically made from a combination of fats or oils, water, and an alkali, such as sodium hydroxide,” Dr. Mina says. Some bar soap products—especially many of those sold in years past—have a high pH, which can potentially dry out your skin and negatively impact your skin barrier. But many of today’s bar soaps aren’t quite as drying. “More recent bar soaps have been formulated to be more balanced,” Dr. Mian adds. Overall, bar soap is “ideal for cleansing the body during a quick shower or bath, especially for those with oily or acne-prone skin.” Bonus: bar soap requires far less plastic packaging, which makes it a more eco-friendly option.

How to Choose

When it comes to physically cleaning your skin, body washes, shower gels and boar soaps are all equally effective, Dr. Mian says. "Skin type and personal preference will determine which [specific product] is best for you," she adds. Here's which cleansing option works best for every skin type.

Dry Skin

If you have normal to dry skin, Dr. Mina suggests choosing a body wash or shower gel with moisturizing ingredients. Either of these will help hydrate and nourish your skin but Dr. Mian leans towards body wash for people in this category. “Body washes tend to be formulated with a more creamy consistency and soothing emollients that help to soften and hydrate the skin,” she says.

Oily Skin

If you have oily skin, shower gel and bar soap are both good options. “A shower gel or bar soap will suit oily skin, as these will effectively wash away excess sebum and impurities,” Dr. Mian says. She also suggests keeping an eye out for non-comedogenic formulas.

Sensitive Skin

If you have sensitive skin, body wash might be your best option. "Sensitive skin is more susceptible to barrier disruption, so a body wash would be best," Dr. Mian says. "Body washes do not strip skin of its natural oils or affect the pH of skin as much." To avoid irritation, Dr. Mina suggests keeping an eye out for products with gentle formulations and minimal fragrances or harsh chemicals.

The Final Takeaway 

As you look for a product to cleanse your skin during your daily shower, bar soap, shower gel, and body wash are all good options. But what is the best option for you? That is going to depend on a few different factors, including your personal preference, skin type, and individual skincare needs. "It may be helpful to try different products to determine which works best for you," Dr. Mina suggests. "Additionally, consulting with a dermatologist can provide personalized recommendations based on your specific skin concerns."


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