Can you use soap on your skin? There are a lot of myths on the internet about soap and skin, but very few articles aren't advising based on research.
While cleansing your skin is a non-negotiable, especially if you wear makeup, or are exposed to grime or the ravages of urban living, there are a lot of myths out there make soap seem like another thing we should be ashamed to use. We’ve taken a look at the research, and the biggest brand that offers a range of soaps that are appropriate for the face and body.
People are prone to lumping in traditional soaps, and harsh cleansers with gentle, balanced cleansers that are intended for skin use. So - let’s break this up into two parts!
Part 1 - Can I use any soap on my skin?
Part 2 - What soaps can be used on the skin?
So, let’s talk about soap and your skin, and how you can make sure that you’re using something that is right for you.
Can I use soap on my skin?
In some ways, this seems like a silly question - why wouldn’t you be able to use soap on your skin? That’s the point right?
Not all soaps are formulated with the skin barrier specifically in mind. Some soaps are just about removing as much dirt as possible, as quickly as possible. In other words, many traditional soaps are designed to be very effective, but without much thought to the skin barrier specifically. Let’s look at why this is a widely discussed topic.
All cleansing will affect your skin
Let’s get this one out of the way. Any time you cleanse, whether its with soap, or a mild skincare product, or just plain water, you are affecting the pH of your skin.
When you cleanse any time, with any product or with none (eg. water), your skin’s pH is affected. Your skin needs to stay acidic (ie. low pH) in order to best carry out its barrier function - additionally, this acidity needs to remain in an optimal range.
It’s more than just your skin’s pH too. All cleansers will also remove the ‘good’ lipids in the skin as well as the bad - the ingredients that whisk away grime are called surfactants, which can’t distinguish between bad dirt, and good lipids. This is why it’s incredibly important to hydrate your skin after you cleanse, and to choose a cleanser with a mild surfactant. It's also why you should avoid getting detergents for washing your home on your skin.
If the skin is always affected, does that mean I shouldn't cleanse?
Of course not - even if you can’t see the build up on your skin, it’s there. Your skin is an organism that has mechanisms in place to defend itself, but for skin clarity (and of course, hygiene!) you really need to whisk away any dirt, grime or other build up before it becomes a problem. And it’s worth mentioning, although it’s not pleasant - your skin is always shedding, and a good cleanse will help ensure that process isn’t too visible.
Many guides on this topic suggest showering without the use of soap occasionally to protect your skin. However, instead of going without cleansing - which seems unreasonable - you can always choose a cleanser with a mild surfactant, which has been proven to have similar mild effects on the skin as just using water.
In fact, a recent study found that there is no difference between the use of traditional soap-based cleanser and a more mild, skin-similar pH option, for people who have been using those options for years. Your skin is an adaptive organ, and anyone who has travelled has likely noticed that it takes a while for your skin to adjust to a change in environment.
So - if you’re already using traditional soap, there’s no need to switch! But if you have noticed that lots of hyped up cleansers are now coming in cleansing bar format, there’s no need to be worried.
What soaps can I use to clean my skin?
While traditional soap is fine on your body if you have a healthy skin barrier (eg. no sensitivities), your face is a different story. It’s best to choose a soap that is formulated with your facial skin in mind. A quick check of the label will help - does it say where it’s intended for use?
Erno Laszlo pioneered the face-appropriate, gentler soap way back in the 1920s. While the formula has been updated to keep in line with changing skincare technologies, to this day the Erno Laszlo soap is an iconic bathroom staple (fun fact: it was featured in the timeless movie, Annie Hall).
Erno Laszlo Cleansing Bars are also an excellent choice for the body. Not to be confused with a traditional soap bar, which has a more harsh formulation, Erno Laszlo soaps are designed for the face and body to treat your main concerns.
This soap has been loved by fans for decades