Most of us tend to be pretty loyal when it comes to our personal hygiene items. Think about it… When was the last time you switched soap brands or types? And bar soap and liquid soap users can really get in a lather about their product choices.
Bar soap users say liquid soap doesn’t get them totally clean. Liquid soap users say bar soap dries their skin and harbors bacteria.
But really, is one better than the other? Does one kind of soap deserve your loyalty?
It’s Just Chemistry
The base ingredients in any soap are oil, water, and lye. Soap is born when the lye and oil react, which is called saponification. Two types of lye are used: sodium hydroxide makes solid soap, and potassium hydroxide makes liquid soap. Some people worry about lye, but it’s important to note that soap cannot be made without lye, and once saponification is complete, no lye actually remains.
Adding in different oils or ingredients adds colors, scents, or moisturizing benefits. Typically, body washes have a thinner consistency, whereas shower gels are a bit thicker, but many companies use the names interchangeably. Most liquid soaps contain detergents or foaming ingredients (like sodium laureth sulfate, or SLS), plus added fragrance and color. These additional ingredients are more easily added in liquid soaps, because the PH balance is more flexible.
Glycerin soaps can be made naturally, without synthetic ingredients, and are known for their extremely hydrating properties. They are ideal for sensitive and dry skin types, and can soothe acne breakouts and eczema.
Dry or a Lie?
Liquid soaps are known for their moisturizing benefits, but bar soaps get a bad rap for drying out our skin. That’s because sodium hydroxide strips away the skin’s oils. But not all bar soaps are drying. In fact, many now contain moisturizing ingredients as well.
Soap film can be mistaken for dryness, but it’s actually a thin layer of oil that can be left by both bar and liquid soaps. These films are helpful for hydrating and locking in moisture. In fact, you should be wary of soaps that don’t leave a film — those formulas tend to strip away natural oils and are harsh on skin.
Some people avoid bar soap because they think it breeds bacteria between uses. But studies show bacteria levels on bar soaps are very minimal, and they don’t leave behind a detectable amount of bacteria on the skin.
In actuality, using liquid soaps with loofahs can lead to more bacteria exposure. Dead skin cells get caught in the netting when you scrub, and the warm, moist conditions in your bathroom help bacteria grow. It’s best to keep your loofah in a dry place between washings and replace it every few months – especially if it starts to smell!
The True Costs
If you want to use a soap that is wallet and environmentally friendly, bar soap is the obvious choice. Bar soaps usually cost significantly less than their liquid alternative and tend to offer more uses than liquid bottles. Plus, the cardboard packaging is recyclable and biodegradable. In contrast, it’s pretty easy to accidentally squirt wasteful amounts of liquid soaps, and the plastic bottles they come in aren’t exactly green.
The Bottom Line
Both bar soaps and liquid soaps both remove dirt, bacteria, and natural body oils. Bar soaps are technically more cost effective, but it’s more important to choose a soap — whatever its form — that’s best for your skin type. If you’re acne-prone, try an antibacterial soap with active ingredients, such as salicylic acid. If you have dry skin, look for soaps that include moisturizing ingredients like shea butter or colloidal oatmeal.
No matter which soap you choose, make sure you apply a moisturizing body lotion after you shower to replenish moisture to your skin.