Soap vs Shower Gel vs Body Wash?

We are all unique and wonderful in our own special way. This is what makes each one of use interesting with all our different personalities, interests and quirks. Just like we would think and behave differently to the person standing right beside us, our skin thinks and behaves differently and is unique and wonderful in its own right.

The most obvious difference between two different people’s skin is colour. We all know that if you have lighter skin, then you are more likely to get sunburnt than someone who has darker skin. In order to combat this, we use the appropriate sun lotion to protect ourselves. Unless like me, you live in Britain, in which case the real question is – where is the sun? Using the correct sun lotion is one way to protect our skin before we go out. When we choose our sunblock, we ask ourselves questions around UV light, tanning and generally, what is best for our skin. But we don’t seem to do the same in other situations, like when we’re showering.

We will help you understand a bit more about skin types and help you discover the ideal product for your skin.

What is Your Skin Type?

Before we can assess what type of product is best for you, it’s important you understand your skin type. There are 5 skin types: normal, oily, dry, combination and sensitive skin types. Below is a table summarising the characteristics of each. Make sure you know what your skin type is.

Skin Type Characteristics
  • Isn’t too oily nor too dry.
  • Not highly sensitive.
  • Barely any visible pores.
  • Shiny or greasy appearance.
  • Have blackheads, pimples and/or spots.
  • Prone to acne breakouts.
  • Itchy, flaky skin.
  • Rough textures.
  • Can feel rough, tight and irritated.
  • Red patches.
  • A mix of both oily and sky skin where skin is oily in some areas and dry in others.
  • Usually the forehead, nose and chin are oily and the cheeks dry.
  • Redness
  • Itchiness
  • Dryness
  • You may find that your skin turns read after consuming spicy food.

If you are unsure about your skin type, try one of the following two tests to find out.

The Bare-Face Method

Wash your face with a mild cleanser and gently dry pat your face with a towel. Do not apply any moisturiser or any other skincare product and just simply wait. In about 30 minutes, you should be able to notice a difference in your skin.

If your skin starts to feel tight, then chances are you have dry skin.

If your skin appears shiny around just the forehead and nose and not the cheeks, then chances are you have combination skin. But if your skin appears to be oily all over, then it is likely you have oily skin. Finally, if your skin does not appear wavey and is not flaky, then you may just have normal skin!

The Blotting Sheet Method

This method is faster than the bare-face method but relies more on your careful observation. Gently pat blotting paper on various spots on your face. The blotted paper will capture some of the oils present on your face. Hold the paper against a light source and observe how much oil has been caught by the paper.

If you find that there is little to no oil, then chances are you have dry skin.

If you find that you can see oil from your forehead and nose but not so much from your checks, then you are likely to have combination skin.

Finally, if you have oil from all over your face, then you are likely to have oily skin.

Notice that there is no mention of normal skin. Normal skin isn’t too oily nor too dry, and so using these methods we are only able to estimate our skin type.

Difference Between Soap, Shower Gel and Body Wash

Soap can come in both solid and liquid form, but in this article, we focus on solid soap, otherwise known as bar soap. Soap is the oldest of the three and dates back to Babylon times (around 2800BC). Soap was original made from animal fat but nowadays, it is more commonly made from oils. Soap can be made from fats and oils through a process known as saponification - this is when you 'saponify' fats or oils into soap.

As soaps can be made from various fats and oils, it does mean that two different soaps can be completely different in composition. One soap may contain a high composition of shea butter, creating a hard soap. The soap would then contain properties to help heal your skin and provide natural UV protection. An entirely different soap can contain a high composition of avocado oil making it rich in vitamin E but a softer soap. Overall, soap makers tend to mix oils to create a formula that feels great and is healthy for your skin. We for example, ensure our soaps are rich in glycerin allowing your skin to lock in moisture and help it keep healthy.

Shower gels unlike bar soap are liquid and so also unlike soap, they have high water content (aqua on the labels). Shower gels also are made via a different process and not saponification. They tend to include the same basic ingredients: water, a foaming agent such as sodium laureth sulfate (SLS) and chemical compounds that help it all stick together.

Shower gels also include synthetic detergents usually derived from petroleum or plant base sources. This makes something called a surfactant. Similarly, to how soap making using various fats and oils to provide various benefits from using a particular soap bar, shower gels utilise various surfactants to include desired properties.

Finally, let us explorer body washes. Firstly, is body wash and shower gel the same thing? Simple answer is no. They are both liquid and are used to clean ourselves and where they do have some similar properties, body washes are much runnier than shower gels which have a more gel like consistency.

Body washes are chemically similar to soap which is no surprise as they are designed to serve a similar purpose. Body washes can made by mixing oils with castile soap. This is a technique used commonly in making handmade body washes. Similarly, just like soap whilst making body washing you can try using different oils to get different benefits. For example, using coconut oil to help moisturise and adding jojoba oil to help create a stable lather.

Pros and Cons

Now we have discussed what each type of product and hopefully have identified our skin types, lets look into the pros and cons of each product before we start to summarise our findings.

Pros and Cons of Bar Soap

Pros Cons
Effective at removing dirt, oil and odours Antibacterial soap can dry skin out
Effective against bacteria and viruses including being effective at dealing with coronavirus. Considered to be the least hygienic option when sharing the soap.
More environmentally friendly Cap spread bacteria if not stored properly.
More cost effective
Contains glycerin which is great at locking in moisture

Pros and Cons of Shower Gel

Pros Cons
Travel friendly – every tried carrying a soap bar in your travel bag? Not cost effective – easily can squeeze too much.
A nice thick lather which you cannot get with soaps and body washes. Contains water and so may require preservatives in order to keep it bacteria-free.
Scents tend to last longer. Not environmentally friendly.

Pros and Cons of Body Wash

Pros Cons
Can be good at hydrating and moisturising the skin. Not at effective at removing dirt, oils and odours.
Travel friendly – every tried carrying a soap bar in your travel bag? Contains water and so may require preservatives in order to keep it bacteria-free.
Not cost effective – easily can squeeze too much
Not environmentally friendly.

What’s Best for Me?

Remember how we mentioned everyone’s skin is different? Because of our varying skin types, there isn’t one answer that ticks all boxes. Aside from just the benefits/problems attached to each type of product, there may be other factors that influence your decision. 2020 hasn’t exactly been the best of years, so saving money might be a priority. If being cost effective is the aim, then you then should opt to use bar soaps. We tend to use much less per use in comparison to shower gels and body washes. We’ll go over different skin types and delve further into some of the pros and cons of each option. We hope that this will give you a bit more insight into the options available to you and might help you decide what is best for you. That said, take our finding with a grain of salt. Not sure if we’ve made this clear yet, but everyone’s skin is unique! If you’re anything like me, you may not fall within the boundaries defined in this article and just like me you may need to see a dermatologist for specific advice for your own skin.

What to Use for Dry Skin?

It is typically a good idea to use body wash or shower gel. Bar soap can often have higher pH levels which may dry out your skin. Shower gels and body washes on the other hand can come with hydrating ingredients which may prove to be kinder to your skin.

What to Use for Oily Skin?

Soaps can be an effective cleanser if you have oily skin. Apart from just effectively cleaning dirt, soap can breakdown the oils allowing it to be washed away. But what happens when oils are broken down? Oily no more? I’m afraid not! When you wash away the oils from your face, your body can react in two ways. Either, it can continue to reproduce the same amount of oils and so not taking into account the lost oils. This can lead to dry skin and other conditions such as eczema. Or, it can trigger your body to overproduce resulting in once again, oily skin.

In order for soap to be effective at handling oily skin, ensure that it is natural soap. Ideally, what you want to do is avoid is those harsh chemicals that strip away all the good oils from your skin. These chemicals don’t only exist in soap, but also in shower gels, body washes and other cosmetics. Just some of these include: sodium lauryl sulphate, sodium laureth sulphate and sodium coco sulphate.

What to Use for Sensitive Skin?

If you have sensitive skin, you may want to try using body washes. Body washes have a lower pH level whereas soaps are alkaline in nature in comparison to your skins natural pH. You can find body washes with essential oils and fatty acids that can cleanse without drying your skin further. These ingredients would also come with their own benefits such has being rich in certain vitamins and nutrients.

When choosing your body wash, try to stay away from products that contain artificial colours and strong fragrances. The body wash might look and smell boring, but your skin will be thanking you later.

Choosing the Right Cleanser for your Skin

When it comes to choosing the right skincare product for your skin there are various ingredients and characteristics that are shared between soaps, shower gels and body washes. In general, for sensitive skin, you want to avoid anything with fragrances and colouring agents. The more boring the better.

If you are using bar soaps, try using something with high content in fatty acids such as stearic acid, lanolin and triglycerides. They will help create that protective layer on your skin.

If you haven’t done so already, perhaps take a look at handmade products. A lot of handmade companies really care about their customers and so care about ingredients they put into their products. And so often would swap out some of the harsher chemicals for something that would be more nourishing for your skin. This is probably the best time to plug in a little ad asking you to check out our soaps.

Which Skin Cleansing Product is most Eco-Friendly?

Perhaps you have tried all three types of products and are happy to change between each one of them. Maybe you want to use whichever product is better for the environment and for your bank account. If that’s you, the easy answer is go for soaps. Soaps are much more environmentally friendly and are cost effective. The differences between each product from an environmental standpoint is detailed enough to warrant its own article.

So, we found that finding the right cleanser for our skin isn’t as difficult as it sounds and it’s definitely worth the journey. Make sure you do understand your skin type as that would help you find the right cleanser for yourself.