Advanced Dermatology, July 2008 – When it comes to skin care, soap has developed a harsh reputation as drying, unsanitary, irritating and filled with moisture-stripping, pore-clogging detergents and fragrances. Yet, many of today’s soaps are actually superior to other cleansers and washes when it comes to gentle, effective skin care. The key, experts say, is to choose the right soaps for your particular skin type and purpose, and to use them as needed.
“Cleansing bars are becoming more popular today,” says Joshua Fox, MD, founder of Advanced Dermatology and a spokesman for the American Academy of Dermatology. “From clearing acne-prone skin to moisturizing dry skin, certain components in soap can make these bars very effective,” he explains.
All soaps are not created equal
Dr. Fox recommends using the following types of soap for a variety of skin types and body parts:
- FOR OILY OR ACNE-PRONE SKIN, choose soaps with salicylic acid, which is a beta hydroxy acid that sloughs off pore-clogging dead skin cells, or benzoyl peroxide, which dries up pimples. “These ingredients are most often used on the face, but can be used on other body parts that are prone to oiliness or breakouts, such as the jaw, chest and back,” Dr. Fox points out.
- FOR DRY SKIN, mild “superfatted” soaps with moisturizing ingredients work best to avoid stripping the skin of its natural moisture and oils, particularly on the face. “Soaps with ingredients such as shea butter, glycerin and Vitamin E can add moisture during the cleansing process, allowing for the use of a lighter, oil-free moisturizer to avoid clogging pores,” Dr. Fox notes.
- FOR SENSITIVE SKIN, Dr. Fox recommends looking for a soap that is hypoallergenic, which indicates that there are fewer ingredients shown to spur allergic skin reactions. In addition, one should use only luke warm water, avoiding too much lather, scrubbing and rinsing well to avoid irritating sensitive skin.
- FOR NORMAL SKIN, a variety of botanicals and organic soaps are available on the market to address any temporary or fluctuating needs. Try soothing lavender when skin feels irritated, or organic oatmeal soap for itching and light exfoliating. “Those with normal skin should also take note of subtle changes in the skin; if it becomes a bit oily or dry, switch to soaps that address those conditions, and switch back when skin normalizes again,” Dr. Fox advises.
- FOR IRRITATED OR WEATHERED SKIN that has been overexposed to sun or wind, Dr. Fox points out that dry-skin soaps with moisturizing agents like shea butter or cocoa butter can work well. In addition, soaps with aloe vera and other cooling agents can soothe chapped or burned skin.
- BODY SOAPS can differ from those used on the face if the skin’s condition varies as well. “If your skin is dry everywhere, however, then it’s important to use moisturizing soap on the entire body – the same holds true for oily skin,” Dr. Fox says. Deodorant soaps can be used on skin sections that are most prone to producing odor, but they may be harsh and should be avoided on the face and neck. “There’s a difference between scented soap and deodorant soap,” Dr. Fox points out. “There are many soaps with herbal or natural fragrances and scents that do not contain deodorizing agents, and these can be easier on sensitive areas of the body.”
- FOR HANDS, Dr. Fox points out that antibacterial soaps are not necessary – and may actually be harmful. “The chemicals that provide an antibacterial effect can be harsh and drying, and medical research into whether overuses of these products seem to make us more prone to resistant bacteria is ongoing,” he points out. Instead, lathering with a mild antibacterial bar soap for approximately 30 seconds, followed by a warm water rinse, is sufficient to sanitize the hands. Storing a bar of soap in a slotted dish while basically safe can promote bacterial overgrowth in comparison to a soap pump. In a Triclosan review of soaps, 48% of soaps even when not listed as antibacterial had the antibacterial Triclosan in them. Most studies did not reveal a decrease in the bacterial count after use of an antibacterial soap.
The last word on lathering up
In addition to using the right soap for your skin type, using soap the right way can ensure skin looks and feels healthy. “Sometimes our soap habits can be more of a culprit in drying or irritating the skin than the soap itself,” he says. “Soap should be used only once daily on the body and twice on the face, with just enough lathering to clean the skin surface and without excessive rubbing or sloughing,” he advises. “Rinsing twice with lukewarm rather than hot water will remove more of the soap and the dirt, and reduce the amount of moisture stripped from the skin’s surface,” Dr. Fox concludes.