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Body Washes | How are body washes different from soap?

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

The pH of bar soap is higher than liquid soap. Read more...



Photo: Wix

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What is the difference between bar soap and liquid soap?

The pH of bar soap is higher than liquid soap. Our skin is somewhat acidic (pH of 5.4 ish) while bar soap can have higher pHs making them more alkaline. Many bar soaps have a pH in the 10-12 range. When these come into contact with our acidic skin, the result is a drying or dehydrating effect on the skin.

Liquid soaps tend to have a pH in the 8 range. We need the pH of our cleansers to be a little higher than the pH of our skin to allow for a cleansing effect. However, the pH of liquid soaps is not generally as high as bar soaps making them less irritating.



How does soap clean?

Surfactants are polar particles where one end ‘likes’ oil and one end ‘likes’ water. The end that ‘likes’ oil attaches to the oil on the skin or hair like a magnet. This leaves the end of the particle that ‘likes’ water exposed. The exposed end of the surfactant that’s looking for water finds it readily in the bath or faucet and attaches like a magnet to the water. This pulls the oil off the skin or hair and rinses it away with the water.

There are some “aggressive” surfactants known as sodium laureth sulfate. Sulfates are something everyone loves to hate. They have been mislabeled as ‘bad’ for our health. The real issue when it comes to soaps and shampoos is that they are aggressive at removing oil and dirt. Sulfates are strong and cheap so they are an easy thing to add to products for their ability to clean. By leaving them out of baby soaps and shampoos, the product is less irritating to the eyes and skin. The trade-off may be that they are not as effective at cleaning.

The other category of ingredients that will likely vary from product to product are fragrances and some preservatives. Some fragrances have the potential to be irritating to the skin and eyes. Preservatives are important to some degree to avoid bacterial overgrowth in products but may be limited in baby soaps.

Which is better at cleaning our skin - bar vs liquid soap?

From an effectiveness point of view, there is very little difference between body wash and soaps. Both kill microorganisms and both do so effectively. Both contain the basic ingredients required to clean.

Is bar soap less "clean" than liquid soap?

Bar soap is historically the most common type of soap used but is somehow poorly understood. Some people think it could transfer bacteria onto the skin by touching it. Studies have shown that this is not likely true. Soap is technically “clean”. Even if a bar soap dries and bacteria find their way onto the bar, they are unlikely to be responsible for spreading disease. Once the bar soap is moistened with water, the surfactant action of the soap is “activated” and will manage these microbes.

Is there any added benefit to using liquid soap or body washes?

Body washes are cosmetically more elegant and leave less of a mess to use with easy dispensing. Liquid soaps, from an environmental point of view, are not generally well regarded compared to bar soap simply because they rely on synthetic ingredients and require more energy to produce. They also require a vehicle to dispense the product which is most commonly a plastic bottle which only adds to environmental waste.


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