Bar Soap vs. Body Wash? Here’s When to Use Each One

published Dec 24, 2022
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Close up young woman pouring liquid moisturizing soap shower gel from cosmetic bottle on loofah puff, enjoying morning evening body cleansing routine, removing dead cells exfoliating in bathroom.
Credit: fizkes/Getty Images/iStockphoto

No matter your bathroom design style, everyone has their preferences when it comes to the shower. Some people like to lather up with sudsy body wash and a shower cap, while others like a utilitarian bar of soap and a loofah. But is it all just a matter of preference, or is there a difference between using bar soap and body wash? It turns out that each method has its own set of pros and cons, and depending on your skin goals and needs, one might be better to use than the other. Let’s investigate.

Quick Overview

Main Differences Between Bar Soap and Body Wash

Bar soap:

  • More eco-friendly
  • Contains fewer preservatives
  • Can dry skin more
  • Tends to get messy

Body Wash:

  • More resources used to manufacture it
  • Usually contains more preservatives
  • More moisturizing for skin
  • More travel friendly
Credit: Victoria Bee Photography/Getty Images

Pros of Bar Soap

It’s usually more eco-conscious.

If you’re trying to switch to green cleaning, look at your self-care items as much as your cleaning products. A soap bar tends to be a more eco-conscious option since it skips the plastic bottle and comes in a cardboard box, making recycling easier. And since only 5 percent of the plastic waste generated annually in the U.S. gets recycled, the less plastic you use, the better. A soap bar is also more eco-friendly in the shower — a 2009 Swiss study found that per wash, liquids have a 25 percent larger carbon footprint than bars.

It has fewer preservatives.

If you’re looking for something hypoallergenic that won’t flair up eczema or other skin conditions, then a bar of soap might be best. These simple bars tend to have fewer ingredients in them, don’t need preservatives in their formulas because they can last longer than gels, and don’t usually come with fragrances the way washes do. If you’re concerned about clean ingredients or need hypoallergenic options, bar soap is a good option for you.

Cons of Bar Soap

They can be more drying.

While bar soap might use fewer preservatives and parabens, it can also be more drying on the skin due to alkaline. Your skin’s natural pH clocks in around 5.5, and popular bars like Levar 2000, Ivory, and Nivea — all of which contain alkaline — have a pH level of 9 or 10. Using these soaps can throw off your skin’s acidity levels and leave it feeling tight and dry. If you have sensitive skin or have difficulty keeping a healthy moisture barrier, it might be best to skip bar soap.

It’s messier.

If you’re a neat freak, then bar soap might be a bit messier to handle than a clean, contained bottle. Once wet, the bar can become mushy, leave soap scum, or catch stray hairs. If you want a neater experience, a bottled body wash might be best. 

Credit: fizkes/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Pros of Body Wash

It’s more moisturizing.

Body washes usually contain emollients that help moisturize the skin or lipids that replace our natural oils. Examples of emollient ingredients include shea butter, cocoa butter, and plant oils, while soybean oil is an example of a lipid. If you don’t like that tight, squeaky-clean feeling that bar soap gives your skin, use body washes instead for a richer, more moisturized feel.

It’s more travel friendly.

While you might have to put it in a 3.4 oz. bottle, body wash is arguably travel-friendlier than bar soap. That’s because you don’t have to wait for it to fully dry to pop it back into your bag. Putting a damp bar of soap back into its cardboard container can create quite a mess, making the small plastic bottle a neater and more convenient pick if you consistently travel.

Cons of Body Wash

It has more additives.

Take a walk down the body wash aisle in Target or Walgreens, and you’ll be faced with plenty of options, but very few of them will be “clean.” Body washes tend to have preservatives to help extend their shelf life and usually utilize more fragrances and dyes than bars. Finding a clean version of the wash is possible, but it will likely cost you more than the standard picks. If you are in the process of curating a cleaner lifestyle — whether that be through skincare, makeup, or organic food — then bar soaps with minimal ingredients might be a better pick.

Which is Best, Bar Soap or Body Wash?

If you prefer an eco-conscious option with fewer ingredients, and you don’t mind a little mess, then bar soap is for you. However, if moisturizing is your goal and you aren’t put off by paying more for cleaner options, then choose body wash. In the end, there’s no right or wrong answer regarding which soap you should use. It all depends on what you want out of your shower routine.

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