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Shower Gel vs. Body Wash: Are They Actually Different? + How To Choose

April 19, 2022
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We know with all of the fancy product names out there nowadays it can be hard to differentiate between seemingly different versions of the same product. What used to be referred to simply as soap now has a plethora of names including the two we're discussing today: body wash and shower gel. 

If you've found yourself wandering the body care aisle in search of the perfect cleansing agent, you know these names are pretty much used interchangeably. That being said, there are a few differences to note that we'll explain below, along with some standard body cleansing tips. 

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Shower gel vs. body wash.

So to be frank, shower gel and body wash are essentially the same thing. It's hard to distinguish differences based on a title, but in general, the texture is the flexible factor. Shower gels tend to be thicker and have (you guessed it) a gel consistency. Body wash on the other hand is much more broad: Washes can have varying consistencies from those that are more similar to liquid soap to those that are more creamy and dense. Both formulations contain gentle surfactants that will certainly clean your skin regardless of texture or foaming potential. Both options, too, can be made without drying sulfates. 

"Ideal [shower gels and washes] are made without harsh sulfates like sodium lauryl sulfate, that can damage the skin barrier," board-certified dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D., tells us. "I also love seeing options that are enriched with soothing, hydrating ingredients like milk, aloe, honey, and oatmeal. Also, any ingredients that restore the barrier and help bring the pH back to the normal range—slightly acidic—are imperative. Our skin has an invisible layer called the 'acid mantle,' and we need to respect the pH of our skin to keep it healthy."

But like all skin care products, what works best for you is what you should use. Some people prefer a foamy wash as it may make you feel more clean, although that isn't necessarily true. Others prefer a less messy formula like a gel that cleans the skin without the mess. And these aren't the only names used in the world of shower products—but things like oil cleansers, active cleansers, and body scrubs are different from plain old shower gel or body wash, so keep that in mind. 

Body wash & shower gel vs. bar soap.

As we discuss shower products, you may be wondering how bar soap compares to the many other products on the market today. We hear you, and we actually did a full pros and cons analysis if you're curious. 

But to sum up, bar soap is definitely more cost-effective and often a more sustainable version of body wash. So if you're worried about keeping your body clean and that's it, bar soap isn't a bad idea. But we must address the caveat: You need to store your bar soap properly to avoid bacteria growth. This means ditching the traditional soap dish that keeps your cleansing bar constantly moist and switching it out for something that allows water to drip off your soap while keeping the bar stable in your shower. Our go-to is this one from ethique

Now if you're looking for something with active ingredients to fight body breakouts, promote healthy aging, or help relieve dry skin, then a body wash may be a better choice. Traditional bar soaps get the job done but don't always offer extra TLC for your skin. 

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How to use your body wash or shower gel.

Considering most of us shower regularly, we'll assume you know how to keep your skin clean. But if you're looking to make that process more efficient, here are a few tips on how to best use your body wash or shower gel: 

  • Lather with a loofa, sponge, towel, or your palms.
  • Use lukewarm water to prevent excessive drying.
  • Avoid scrubbing too hard.
  • Remember that a little goes a long way.
  • Look for essential oils in your product for some added aromatherapy.
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The takeaway.

Don't let all of the fancy names out there scare you; body wash and shower gel are essentially the same thing. The main difference is the texture, and whichever one you prefer will still clean your skin all the same. When compared to bar soaps, these products are generally more expensive but may also be more effective if you're looking to make changes to your skin. As always, look for a product you love, whether that be one that has your favorite fragrance profile or maybe one that's free of any fragrance at all. 

Hannah Frye
Hannah Frye
mbg Assistant Beauty Editor

Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.