The different types of soap
Soap comes in all different types: gel, foam, and even powder. But perhaps the oldest form of soap as we know it is bar soap, and it’s one of the best out there, according to dermatologists.
Like other forms, bar soap helps remove dirt and oil from the skin by trapping them in micelles, spherical structures that allow debris to be removed from the skin, explains Brendan Camp, MD, a Manhattan-based dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology.
“The main function of soap is to clean the skin of debris and buildup, but the addition of certain ingredients can expand its functionality,” he says. “For example, shea butter or coconut oil replenish the skin of oils to prevent it from becoming too dry, zinc helps reduce itching and flaking associated with seborrheic dermatitis, and exfoliants assist in the removal of dead skin cells, making skin feel softer.”
The benefits of bar soap
Because bar soap is made without water, it doesn’t require the same preservatives in its formulation as liquid soaps, so it can have a shorter ingredient list, which many prefer, says Blair Murphy-Rose, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist and clinical assistant professor at NY Presbyterian Hospital–Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Another plus is that bar soap is easier to travel with since you don’t have to worry about it spilling or meeting the four-ounce liquid limit on airplanes. Bars also tend to be less costly and more environmentally friendly compared with other cleansers because they don’t require plastic bottling.
There’s a downside, though. Dr. Murphy-Rose says that after the first use, bar soaps can pick up bacteria and other microorganisms. This makes them less hygienic than the bottled varieties.
Choosing the right bar soap for your skin type
According to Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York, those with dry or sensitive skin have been traditionally generally advised to avoid bar soaps because they can be drying and strip the skin of its natural oils. But there are some brands, such as Dove, that have formulated cleansing bars in a way that makes them less drying than traditional bars of soap. “These soaps use gentle surfactants and ingredients to help replenish the skin’s moisture needs and support the skin barrier,” she says.
If you’re shopping for bar soap, choosing the right one for your skin type can make all the difference. Here, dermatologists break down the best bar soaps for every skin type.
Normal skin: Dove Beauty Bar
$14 for a pack of 14 bars
Normal skin is not too oily, dry, acne prone, or sensitive. It’s fairly, well, normal. For this reason, Dr. Garshick recommends the Dove Beauty Bar to her normal-skin patients. “It contains a gentle cleansing formula as well as one-quarter moisturizing cream to effectively eliminate dirt and excess buildup of oil without leaving the skin dry or irritated,” she says. “I love that it is easy to use, can be used on the face and body, and is a great option for all skin types.”
In addition to the classic white beauty bar, the brand makes different formulations with different scents, so you can easyily to find one to suit your skin type.
Combination skin: SheaMoisture African Black Soap
If some areas of your face are oil-prone, while other areas are dry, you have combination skin. For this skin type, Dr. Garshick recommends SheaMoisture African Black Soap. It combines traditional African black soap, known for its cleansing and clarifying properties, with shea butter, oats, and aloe to hydrate and soothe the skin. “It is a great option for those with combination skin, as it effectively absorbs oil without drying the skin out, and it can also reduce blemishes,” she says.
Oily Skin: Cetaphil Deep Cleansing Bar
$8 for a pack of 3 bars
If you have oily skin, Dr. Garshick recommends using Cetaphil Deep Cleansing Bar, which offers a deep clean to effectively remove excess oil, dirt, and other impurities. “It contains five nourishing ingredients to keep the skin moisturized and prevent the skin from drying out, and it is gentle enough to be used on the face and body,” she says.
Dry skin: Avène XeraCalm Ultra-Rich Cleansing Bar
If your skin is on the dry side, you’re going to need a cleansing bar with hydrating qualities. Avène XeraCalm Ultra-Rich Cleansing Bar cleans without disrupting the skin’s natural microbiome, according to Dr. Garshick, thanks to its I-Modulia, a postbiotic complex from Avène thermal spring water. “It works to restore the natural skin barrier, using evening primrose oil, and is a great option for those with itchy, dry, or eczema-prone skin,” she says.
Acne-prone skin: CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser Bar
When your skin is prone to acne, it’s important to look for ingredients that help pull out oil and clean the skin without clogging pores. Dr. Garshick recommends CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser Bar, which helps eliminate dirt and oil. It’s made with kaolin clay, an ingredient that absorbs oil, and is noncomedogenic, meaning it won’t clog the pores. “It also contains ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide, which is especially good to help calm and soothe the skin, making it gentle enough to be used on the face or body,” she says.
Sensitive skin: Vanicream Cleansing Bar
People with sensitive skin should choose a cleansing bar that is hypoallergenic and free of fragrance to replenish the skin barrier with a low risk of irritation, according to Dr. Murphy-Rose. Her go-to cleanser for sensitive skin is Vanicream Cleansing Bar, which is formulated for the most sensitive skin types and is generally very well tolerated.
“This mild, gentle cleansing bar can be used on the face, body, and hands and is free of dyes, parabens, fragrance, lanolin, and formaldehyde, making it a great option for those with sensitive skin,” says Dr. Garshick. “Additionally, it has received the National Seal of Acceptance from the National Eczema Association and can be used by kids and adults.”