According to Blair Murphy-Rose, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, the chemical structure of shampoos and body washes are more similar than different. “Shampoos and body washes both usually contain surfactants that mix well with oils and then easily rinse away with water to remove those oils,” she explains. But shampoos and body washes contain different ingredients to achieve different things: “Shampoos often contain conditioning agents that make the hair smoother and easier to brush, and many body washes also contain humectants, emollients and occlusives to help moisturize the skin,” says Hadley King, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.
Additionally, shampoos usually contain lower levels of surfactants compared to body washes. “We typically want to remove less of the oils on hair as compared to oils on skin, and the higher surfactant concentration in body washes is meant to achieve this as compared to shampoos,” explains Dr. Murphy-Rose. “Shampoos may be formulated to intentionally leave ingredients on the hair to keep it smooth, while body washes are developed to remove dirt, oil, and debris.”
So while it’s okay to use your shampoo as a body wash in a pinch, the lower level of surfactants in shampoos, may not cleanse your skin as well as your typical body wash, according to Dr. King. Plus, “the more acidic shampoos may cause skin irritation, and shampoos can leave a residue on skin that feels slippery or slimy,” explains Dr. Murphy-Rose.
On the flip side, both derms say you should definitely think twice about lathering your body wash in your hair. “It should not be a big problem if you were to use a shampoo as a body wash just once in a while, but I would not recommend using a body wash as a shampoo, even occasionally,” explains Dr. Murphy-Rose. “Shampoo is generally formulated to avoid stripping your hair of natural oils, but using a body wash on your hair can leave it dried out, brittle and more difficult to style.”
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