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
This unassuming little bar of soap has a seriously devoted cult following. “It has over 500 reviews on our website and has really profoundly changed people’s skin,” says Dr. Villafranco. Formulated with black Australian clay and Dead Sea mud to balance and tone the skin, and organic almond, avocado, and castor bean oils to moisturize, this bar is particularly beneficial for people suffering from acne or dermatitis. “It has a real balancing, calming effect,” adds Villafranco.
Kahina Giving Beauty Goat Milk and Honey Argan Soap, $18
This deeply moisturizing bar is packed with antioxidant-rich argan oil plus olive, coconut, and shea oils, too. The honey in the formulation provides a natural antiseptic and clarifying effect, while goat milk soothes the skin. Use this gentle, unscented formula on face or body. It’s particularly good for those with sensitive skin.
Herbivore Botanicals Pink Clay Cleansing Bar Soap, $12
Formulated with French pink clay, this soap is gentle enough to use daily on face and body but effective enough to help pull out impurities while rejuvenating and regenerating the skin. It also contains geranium oil, a natural anti-inflammatory, with detoxifying blood orange oil and coconut and olive oils to moisturize and nourish.
Soapwalla Lavender & French Clay Soap Bar, $12
If you’re starting to notice a trend here (hint: clay), it’s because clay is a seriously effective natural ingredient for purifying and detoxing the skin without using harsh chemicals. This bar mixes French green clay, known to stimulate blood flow and gently exfoliate, with lavender essential oil to calm reactive skin. “We formulate all our bar soaps to be unisex multitaskers that are as safe and effective for cleaning the face as they are the body,” says Soapwalla founder Rachel Winard. In fact, this one can also be used as a shaving bar.
Part of the Drunk Elephant skin care system, the Juju and Pekee "beauty bars" are complementary day and night cleansers. Juju, formulated with Heilmoor clay, virgin marula oil, and bamboo powder, helps to exfoliate, detox, and tone the skin. Meanwhile, Pekee is made with a gentle combination of anti-inflammatory blueberry extract, hydrating virgin marula oil, and healing honey perfect for nighttime. Both bars are formulated to have ideal pH levels (6.34 and 6.51 respectively) to cleanse without stripping the skin of its protective barrier.