The Dirt on Bar Soaps

by Lindsey Colameo


CN Digital StudioCN Digital Studio Earlier this week, Old Spice launched a line of bar soaps as the newest addition to their product line and a comical (and convincing) ad campaign to go with it. Based on this commercial alone, I'm about ready to trade in my favorite creamy body wash, but before doing anything rash, I called dermatologist Jason Emer to get the dirt on the classic sudsy cleansing bar.

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Why do bars have such a bad rap? "Historically, they have been more drying and had preservatives that may cause allergic reactions. If bar soaps don't have antibacterial agents, they're also more likely to spread germs. However, those with antibacterial agents such as triclosan or triclocarban can be useful."

What makes a bar so drying? "Many have detergents and no added moisturizers such as glycerin, oils, ceramides. That said, some do have moisturizers, and less detergent, which makes them less likely to cause dryness or irritation, at least for people with normal skin. But even if a product says it's nonirritating, look at the ingredients to see if it includes fragrance, qaternium-15, cocamidopropoyl betaine. These can all cause allergic reactions."

What about people with sensitive skin? "Bar soaps with fragrances and preservatives aren't great for people with eczema, psoriasis, acne, rosacea--or any skin condition that causes hypersensitivity. For these people, I recommend nondrying, no-fragrance, and no-preservative cleansers such as Vanicream Cleansing Bar or Cetaphil Gentle Cleansing Antibacterial Bar."

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Any favorite bar soaps? "I look for oils (sunflower, soybean), ceramides, cholesterol, fats (like caprylic/capric triglycerides), shea butter, vitamin E (tocopheryl acetate), glycerin, and oatmeal. I also like vitamin C, aloe, and jojoba oil--they're all useful and hydrating. Neutrogena Facial Cleansing Bar and Dove White Beauty Bar are good options."

Final questions: Are you a bar soap or liquid soap kind of guy?
"I recommend liquid over bar. I like Cetaphil Restoraderm Skin Restoring Body Wash, Dove Deep Moisture Moisturizing Body Wash, and Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Body Wash. Many liquid soaps have water as their first ingredient, so in order to benefit from the hydrating, cleansing, and antibacterial properties you need to lather while not under running water. Let the soap sit on the skin for a few minutes: It needs time to interact with the skin before stepping back into the water to wash it off. If you apply and wash soap right off, it will have no effect--not even a cleansing one. But it may leave you smelling great, if it has an excellent fragrance!"

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