We’ve all been told in one way or another that using bar soaps to cleanse our skin is all but complexion suicide. While most experts agree that the harsh, drying iterations you’ll most commonly find in drugstores shouldn’t find themselves anywhere near the delicate skin on your face, it’s important to keep in mind that not all bar soaps are created equal. In fact, very far from it. The new era of bar soaps just might be the game-changer your skin care routine needs. Cleansing bars can vastly improve acne, help with sensitivity, and even improve chronic conditions like eczema.
From a chemistry standpoint, true soap is made by mixing fatty acids (mainly animal fats and vegetable oils) and sodium hydroxide (lye) together. Part of soap’s tarnished reputation stems from its traditionally high pH levels (at 9 or 10 as compared to the skin’s 4 to 5), which can strip off your skin’s natural oils and leave it feeling tight and dry. Most soaps of yesteryear were also formulated with harsh ingredients like fragrance, artificial colors and sulfates. Another issue common among soaps? They’re commonly shared and left exposed on the sink or in the tub, which makes them more prone to bacterial contamination than liquid soaps—keeping your cleansing bar on a clean dry soap dish with perforations in the base prevents water and bacteria from accumulating.
After years of staying out of the skincare spotlight, bars are back in a big way. This new breed of bars—some contain very little soap, others have none at all—are just as skin-friendly and luxurious as their liquid counterparts. And one major benefit is that they also offer more skin-friendly pH levels in addition to nutrient-rich, highly moisturizing ingredients, such as glycerin and essential oils. Extra points for being a greener choice than liquid soaps because the packaging materials—primarily paper and cardboard—break down more easily in landfills than plastic packaging. Here’s our best of the best by your skin type and need:
1 & 2. For sensitive skin — Drunk Elephant’s JuJu Bar, $28 + Pekee Bar, $28
“There’s a stigma attached to bars that I want to dispel,” Tiffany Masterson, founder of Drunk Elephant reminds us. “Our soap is non-alkaline, soap-free, and non-irritating.” Drunk Elephant makes two great cleansing bars, the JuJu Bar and Pekee Bar. Of course, both are fragrance-, paraben- and toluene-free and great for even the most sensitive skin.
The JuJu bar gently cleanses your complexion to minimize pores, hydrate and dissolve dead skin cells. It’s also filled with healing a formulation of thermal mud and bamboo powder. Bamboo particles are smooth and less callous than many exfoliants derived from salt, nuts, or grains, making it especially kind to sensitive skin. Bamboo powder is rich in silica, an essential element that is both anti-acne and anti-wrinkle. When you use it, it delivers a creamy lather that you wouldn’t traditionally get from a bar soap. It dissolves unwanted oil, rinsing away pore-clogging surface debris and impurities.
3. For irritated, acne-prone skin — ARCONA Raspberry Clarifying Bar, $42
ARCONA Raspberry Clarifying Bar uses raspberry extracts to calm irritated skin and reduce inflammation and salicylic acid to clear skin and prevent future breakouts. In addition to salicylic acid, this bar is formulated with lactic acid, vitamin E, and green tea. So while both acids help with breakout prone skin, it’s also gentle and soothing.
4. For normal skin, face or body — Phytomer’s Seaweed Soap, $23.50
Phytomer’s Seaweed Soap is a 100% natural cleanser that acts as a gentle exfoliator on your skin. It’s formulated with natural marine extracts and hydrating glycerin.
5. For pigmentation issues — PCA Skin Pigment Bar, $38
PCA Skin Pigment Bar rids your skin of dirt and debris as it controls breakouts and diminishes dark spots with aloe barbadensis leaf juice powder, kojic acid, azelaic acid, and tannic acid. It also contains witch hazel, niacinamide, and rosewood oil. These ingredients work together to fight dark spots and calm inflammation for a glowing complexion. The soap can also be used on your body and décolletage for pigmentation issues below the neck.
6. For body breakouts — First Aid Beauty Skin Rescue Body Bar, $14
First Aid Beauty Skin Rescue Body Bar features red clay to absorb pore-clogging impurities and banish excess oil without irritating or drying out your skin. Rosemary leaf oil provides astringent properties to control body breakouts and tone skin, while glycerin ensures your body stays properly hydrated. Ideal for oily and acne-prone skin.
7. For exfoliation and moisturizing arms and legs — The Cures by Avance Algae Loofah Bar, $11.50
The Cures by Avance Algae Loofah Bar works to renew the skin by cleansing, moisturizing and exfoliating. The seaweed-based formulation also purifies and nourishes, allowing the skin to become ultra healthy and fresh. Dead skin cells are removed, dry patches are hydrated and the body glows with renewed smoothness and clarity.
8. For a deep detox charcoal cleanse, face and body — Herbivore Botanicals Bamboo Charcoal Deep Cleanse Detoxifying Soap Bar, $12.50
Herbivore Botanicals Bamboo Charcoal Deep Cleanse Detoxifying Soap Bar features activated bamboo charcoal to draw out impurities and toxins from deep within your pores, delivering a thoroughly refreshing cleanse. Works especially well to clean and care for oily, combination and blemish-prone skin types.
9. For your mini-me — Noodle and Boo French Milled Baby Soap, $12
This gentle bar soap from Noodle and Boo is formulated for extra-sensitive skin. With a base of 100% pure vegetable oil, it’s free of drying, irritating detergents and surfactants to keep your baby’s skin clean but comfortable. Oatmeal and aloe provide ultra-soothing hydration, making it a relieving treatment for diaper rash and other skin irritations. Formulated hypoallergenic and tested by dermatologists and pediatricians.
10. For an uber hydrating body soap — 100% Pure Butter Soap, $10
100% Pure Butter Soap features an emollient triple-milled formula that infuses your skin with antioxidant-rich moisture as it removes dirt, excess oil and other pollutants from your skin. Coconut and grapeseed oils defend against environmental damage. Avocado and shea butters promote elasticity, while rosehip oil brightens your complexion with intense doses of vitamins C and E.
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