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Grooming · February 26, 2016

Bar Soap vs. Body Wash: Which is Better for You?

Round 1: Skincare

Bar soaps tend to get a bad rap as overly drying, because many contain the chemical sodium hydroxide (hence the rule that one should never use bar soap on your face). I usually prefer a moisturizing body wash to be used daily for a variety of reasons, explains New York City dermatologist, [Marnie Nussbaum] (, MD FAAD. Traditional bar soaps contain a fatty acid alkali salt with a pH of 9 to 10 (the skin's pH is 5-6).

However, most higher-end bar soaps are just as hydrating as their body wash counterparts, with moisture-rich ingredients like glycerin, aloe vera, and botanical oils. There are newer soaps made of shea butter and oils which are better for the skin, however be careful not to use anything with triclosan which has been banned in antibacterial soaps due to adverse effects, cautions Nussbaum. I also find patients tend to be more compliant with a moisturizing body wash due to the sensorial experience rather than a bar of soap. Winner: Draw

Round 2: Hygiene

Some might argue that a bar soap harbors bacteria on its surfaceand theres always the risk that a roommate might use your bar. However, recent studies have shown that there is little risk in washing with a soap bar previously used by someone else. Bar soaps are generally left in the corner of the shower and accumulate bacteria or mold due to the heat and moisture of the environment, explains Nussbaum. Therefore, they must be replaced frequently. For this reason, I tend to prefer body washes as well.

On the other hand, while shower gels are immune to that occasional mystery hair, the loofahs and wash clothes they require can be prime breeding grounds for bacteria and mold, so frequent and proper cleaning is a must. Winner: Draw

Round 3: Overall Ease of Use

Gotta go with bar soap on this one: Remove from box. Rub on skin. Use until it has completely disappeared. Winner: Bar Soap

Round 4: Travel Friendliness

While bar soap is guaranteed not to explode in your carry-on, plucking a wet bar from your hotels shower ledge and packing it in your dopp kit isnt anyones idea of a good time. Travel-size body wash is the way to go. Winner: Body Wash

Round 5: Cost Effectiveness

This depends on the product, of course. But in general, while it's all too easy to squirt out more body wash than you need, a bar soap is at the mercy of shower splash and standing water, which will diminish its size whether you're using it or not. Winner: Body Wash

Round 6: Shower Ledge Space Usage

Bar soap is the only thing that can realistically fit in the specialized bar soap wall unitit effectively takes up zero space. A big bottle of body wash, however, will monopolize quite a lot of precious real estate. Winner: Bar Soap

Round 7: Usability Near End of Product's Lifespan

The body wash bottle will inevitably be flipped upside down as it approaches empty (and its diminished weight will surely result in a few bathtub tumbles). However, with a little strategic rinsing, you will be able to put every last drop to use. Bar soap, on the other hand, will eventually become a sliver so small its nigh-on unusable (unless, of course, you save your slivers and fashion them into a single big soap bar. Winner: Body Wash


In the end, this one is too close to call: It all depends on which of these categories hold the most importance for you. Know what you want, test drive a few, and then go with your gut. Depending upon your skin type, you need to usually try a product for 7-10 days before really evaluating its effectiveness, adds Nussbaum. While both bar soaps and cleansers will remove grime and dirt, you need to assess your personal need for deeper moisturization. Good hunting, gents.

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Nathaniel Nagy

Copywriter, cold brew advocate, purveyor of handcrafted birthday haikus since 2009.