Over the years, bar soap has gotten a bad rap. Critics claim that it’s unhygienic, drying, and all-around inferior to traditional liquid soaps. And while it’s true that certain bars are full of skin-stripping ingredients that dry you out, there’s a new generation of bar soaps—for both face and body—on the rise that may just make you reconsider your go-to liquid cleanser.
“People run from bar soaps,” says Tiffany Masterson, founder of nontoxic skin care line Drunk Elephant. “But they should be running from sensitizers that prematurely age their skin” (think fragrance and irritating chemicals). And where do you most frequently find these sensitizers? Liquid soap. Note: Not all liquid cleansers are evil, but any product that includes water among its ingredients requires a preservative, and that’s where things get a little iffy.
“Many liquid soaps, even from natural brands, are packed with drying chemicals, surfactants, and preservatives that I’d rather avoid,” explains Dr. Sarah Villafranco, founder of Osmia Organics (and bar soap’s No. 1 cheerleader). “Bar soap is made with sodium hydroxide, but when the formulation is done right, the sodium hydroxide disappears and you’re left only with soap molecules and moisturizing glycerin. Cool, huh?” Formulating into a bar allows you to add a higher concentration of pure, good-for-you ingredients and leave out all of the bad stuff that your skin doesn’t need.
As for the hygiene argument, it turns out that the risks have been way exaggerated. “Studies about bar soap show that while you may find some bacteria on the bar’s surface, it is highly unlikely to cause disease and doesn’t stick around after you wash your skin with the bar,” says Villafranco. Of course, adds Masterson, you should always keep your bar soap in a cool place on a dish that can drain so that it’s not sitting in a pool of water.
Among their other benefits, bar soaps are more eco-friendly because of their packaging and much easier to travel with. Plus, some of the newest natural bar soaps out there are specially formulated to work for face and body, so investing in one can simplify your routine too.
If you do decide to make the switch, just know that there is a right way to use bar soap. Don’t take the bar directly to your face or body. Instead, both Masterson and Villafranco advise wetting your hands, wetting your face, wetting the bar, and then rubbing the bar in your hands for about 10 seconds before using the lather to gently cleanse your complexion. Same goes for washing your body in the shower.
Feeling inspired to give bar soap a second chance? Here are five of the best to try right now.
Osmia Organics Black Clay Facial Soap, $24