Discover the Best Types of Bar Soap

The choices are a different as the skin types

Directly Above Shot Of Soap Bar On Towel
Gabriele Ritz / EyeEm / Getty Images

Not all soaps are created equal. Did you know, for example, that so-called "cleansing" soaps can actually be the most damaging to you skin? Or that certain "old-fashioned" soaps have properties far superior to that of higher priced brands?

Soaps can vary significantly. both in terms of their chemical makeup and the clinical effects they have on your skin. By knowing what to look for, you can find the bar soap best suited to your individual skin care needs.

How Soap Is Made

Traditional soaps have long been made by mixing animal or vegetable oil, as well as water and lye, in a process known as saponification. Manufacturers would then add fragrance, colors, essential oils, and other ingredients to add the product's appeal, although many of these add-ins do little in the way of contributing to good skin health.

Some of the ingredients, meanwhile, are downright bad for you. Lye is a prime example: an extremely caustic, alkaline solution found in many commercial cleaning products. The amount of lye used to make soap can vary, but, as an ingredient, it can never really be considered skin-friendly given its inherently abrasive and toxic properties.

Similarly, the types of oils used can differ, with some using animal fats, such as tallow (beef fat) and lard (pig fat), or an array of vegetable oils that can include:

Today, we have moved away from many of these traditional ingredients to embrace more modern — and healthier — alternatives.  

Common Bar Soaps

Common bar soaps contain surfactants that reduce surface tension between oil and water. Surfactants certainly do the best job of capturing dirt and washing it away but are usually very difficult to rinse off.

This is a problem insofar as residual surfactants have high pH levels, making them irritating to the skin. Other ingredients found in ordinary bars soaps include sodium tallowate and sodium cocoate.

Superfatted Soaps

Superfatted soaps are created using a process called incomplete saponification. While the products are made according to the traditional processes, chemicals are added to prevent some of the oil or fats from being totally processed. The superfatting improves the soap's moisturizing abilities and makes it less irritating to the skin.

Transparent Soaps

Transparent soaps are just like common bar soaps but with the addition of glycerin for added moisturization. The components of transparent soaps can still be irritating to the skin, but the added glycerin helps make them milder.

Syndet Bars

Syndet bars are made from synthetic surfactants. These surfactants are made from oil, fats, or petroleum products which are processed in ways other than traditional saponification. These synthetic surfactants make syndet bars by far the mildest personal cleansing bars on the market. Dove, a popular bar soap launched in 1955, was the first syndet bar.

Typical ingredients can include:

  • sodium cocoyl isethionate 
  • sulfosuccinates
  • aApha olefin sulfonates
  • alkyl glyceryl ether sulfonate
  • sodium cocoyl monoglyceride sulfate
  • betaines

Combination Bars

Combination bars are exactly what they sound like. They are a combination of different types of cleansers designed to maximize cleansing while minimizing irritation. These bars commonly combine ingredients of superfatted soap and syndet bars. Combination bars are less irritating than soaps but less mild than syndet bars.

Sources

  • Abbas, Syed, Goldberg, Jessica, and Massaro, Michael. "Personal cleanser technology and clinical performance." Dermatologic Therapy. 2004: 17:35-42.
  • Ananthapadmanabhan, K., et al. "Cleansing without compromise: the impact of cleansers on the skin barrier and the technology of mild cleansing." Dermatologic Therapy. 2004: 17:16-25.

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