The point of soap is basic: to cleanse our skin from dirt and bacteria. But choosing a bottle from the endless options on the market? That’s another story. We chatted with a Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated dermatologist to simplify the matter
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, hand-washing has been top of mind over the past year. Add winter—AKA cold and flu season—to the mix and we’re all spending extra time scrubbing (or hopefully so!). There’s no doubt about the importance of washing hands; when you suds up, surfactants, or surface-acting agents, cling to oils, dead skin and contaminants, helping loosen them so they can be washed away with water. But with countless options on the market, a person can get downright dizzy scanning the soap aisle. Here, Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated dermatologist Todd Schlesinger cuts through the confusion.
- Is all soap antibacterial? “Almost any soap will remove bacteria from skin simply by cleansing,” says Dr. Schlesinger. “Unless there is a specific reason to decontaminate—for example, before a surgical procedure—antibacterial agents are generally not needed for soap to be effective.” In fact, some studies show that certain antibacterial ingredients, like triclosan, may make bacteria more resistant.
- Hands, body, face—do I need a different soap for each? Certain soap formulas are better suited for certain areas of the body. “Body soaps typically have less oil-stripping ingredients than facial soaps,” Dr. Schlesinger explains. “Facial soaps are often more gentle than hand soaps, which contain extra detergent to remove stubborn dirt.”
- What should I look for in a soap? “When it comes to ingredients, less is more,” he says. Ingredients like shea butter, coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil and aloe are effective at cleansing, plus they hydrate skin, which is especially important for people who are prone to dry skin or eczema.
- Any ingredients we should avoid? “Less natural ingredients found in soap include fragrances, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), parabens and cocamidopropyl betaine,” says Dr. Schlesinger. “These harsh ingredients may result in dryness, irritation or, worse, allergic dermatitis.”
Looking to up your soap game? Dr. Schlesinger shares his favorites:
- – Best hand soap: “Any soap will do—just wash your hands!” he says.
- – Best body soap: Avène TriXéra Nutri-Fluid Cleanser
- – Best facial soaps: SkinCeuticals line
- – Best budget soap: Cetaphil Gentle Cleansing Bar
- – Best for sensitive skin: Eucerin Advanced Cleansing Body Bar Soap for Sensitive Skin
- – Best for babies: Puracy Nautral Shampoo & Body Wash
Photograph (hands) by Avijit Bouri/shutterstock
Written by Molly Ramsey