Skin-Care Tips

Bar Soap Isn’t the Top Choice for Your Face—Here’s What Dermatologists Say To Use Instead

Tehrene Firman

Photo: Stocksy/Studio Firma

Bar soap as face wash is a controversial subject. But not all bars are created equal. According to Mona Gohara, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, “soaps” have no business in your skin-care game whatsoever. If you’re thinking: “Wait, what?” know that when it comes to facial cleansers, the small details really matter. “Not all bar cleansers are soaps, and not all soaps are bar cleansers,” says Dr. Gohara. “Soap cleaners have a high pH that can strip the skin of natural lipids and oils, leaving it dry.”

First a quick lesson from the cosmetic chemist: Traditional bar soaps were made from fatty substances (like coconut oil or olive oil) that were treated with an alkaline material such as lye. While these sudsers were great at removing dirt and debris from the surface of skin, because they tended to have high pH values (thanks to that basic lye), to Dr. Gohara’s point, they left the complexion feeling like sandpaper.

Pretty much anyone with a pulse didn’t think that was a particularly good idea, so many brands started experimenting with how to clean skin, without stripping it. Enter: non-soap cleansers, which come in the form of liquids, foams, and you guessed it, bars. Because these non-soap bars don’t rely on a high-stakes pH game, they’re able to cleanse while moisturizing skin. Take the Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar ($3), which is unscented, hypoallergenic, and gentle, and keeps even the most sensitive skin types happy.

“Some brands, like Dove, have started to infuse moisturizers with the soap to hydrate the skin while cleansing,” says Gretchen Frieling, MD, a Boston-area dermatopathologist. “Because they don’t contain harsh acids or chemicals, bar soap can sometimes be the more gentle choice, which can be especially beneficial to someone with dry skin, eczema, psoriasis, and sensitive acne-prone skin.”

Bar cleansers also let you fly through your face-washing routine in record time. After cleaning your hands and wetting your face, Dr. Frieling says to simply work the soap into a lather with your hands, then gently massage it onto your face with circular motions. “Some people prefer to use a washcloth, others rub the soap directly, and others use their hands,” she says. “It doesn’t matter which you use, as long as you work the soap in all directions, getting a thorough cleanse. Don’t forget to wash the neck as well. Then immediately follow up with a moisturizer.” Once you try it, there’s a good chance bars will stay in your beauty routine for good.

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