There’s nothing more rewarding than taking a nice, hot shower at the end of a productive day. Not only is taking a shower one of the best ways to alleviate stress but it’s also an opportunity to practice self-care and keep one’s hygiene game on point. While hopping in the shower doesn’t take much, it’s what you need in there that has left many scratching their heads. Once you’re in the shower, you can’t help but think what tools you need to get that classic squeaky clean feel. Is it the tried and test bar soap or the loofah and body wash combo?

Ask your friends or local salon and they’ll have their own list of pros and cons for each variant in the endless debate. Some prefer bar soap because it’s the classic method of cleansing, one that’s been used for centuries! Others stick to a loofah and body wash because it’s a feast of bubbles and smooth on the skin. Some purists even have strong opinions on which ones are breeding grounds for bacteria. The discourse can be overwhelming, so once all is said and done, it pays to make an informed decision on which cleansing product is the right one for your skin.

Both bar soap and body wash have major differences and benefits that you might not have even heard of. To clear the air (and clean your skin), we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to help you pick your trusted ally in the endless battle between bar soap and body wash.

What’s Are the Main Differences Between Bar Soap and Body Wash?

The biggest difference between bar soap and body wash is how they interact with the skin. Bar soap is typically easier to use as you’re just scrubbing the bar against your skin. That ease of use comes at a price as certain cheaper bars can be harsh against the skin, especially if your skin irritate easily.

It’s also more common for bar soap to wash off essential lipids and proteins which can be a cause of concern if you’re rubbing too harshly. Since they’re harsher, bar soaps also tend to be more drying and can be particularly problematic if you suffer from dry skin or eczema.

Body wash comes as a liquid that you can lather onto your body with your hands, though many prefer to use a scrubbing tool like a loofah. Typically, people find it easier to wash their face with body wash though it isn’t unheard to wash your face with bar soap. For seniors or individuals who require assistance when bathing, body wash and a loofah are perfect as it can be softer on the skin and easier to handle than a slippery bar of soap. If you’ve got tight space on your shower ledge, having a bottle of body wash could take up precious real estate that could otherwise be occupied by shampoo and conditioner, crucial products that don’t come in a bar.

Which Is Cheaper?

Right from the get-go, the cost of entry for a bar of soap is minuscule compared to that of a name brand body wash. An average bar of soap will cost you about $1 and can last for almost a month if you use it conservatively. Therefore, in general, bar soap is the economical choice, allowing you to splurge your body wash budget on more skincare products like lotions to moisturize or anti-aging creams.

There exists an entire group of hobbyists and purists who have dedicated their time to creating handmade, boutique soap bars. These bars of soap are far more artisanal than what you’ll find at your supermarket as they take advantage of unique and expensive essential oils. Although luxurious in their category, over time they can definitely begin to dry up your wallet if you’re using them exclusively.

Bar soap is also way more versatile than body wash, as you can use the former when you’re washing your hands and showering. That sentiment only extends if there is just one person using the bar of soap. It’s recommended that bar soaps aren’t shared and so – if you’re living with family or roommates – it might be best to buy body wash in bulk that everyone can use. This can also lead to saved space in an already cramped shower corner.

Which Is Better for the Environment?

Since bar soap ends up lasting way more than body wash, it’s also more sustainable for the environment. In fact, a study found that producing liquid soap takes up to five times more energy to produce than bar soaps! Unlike body wash bottles which come in all shapes and sizes, bar soaps are heavily standardized around the board and require way less packaging and plastic.

Also, because bar soaps are so simple to use, you also won’t need to invest in loofahs or other body scrubbing tools which could potentially come from unsustainable sources. If you’re concerned about the environmental impact of your choice, it’s a great idea to follow up the manufacturer’s production process and mission statements regarding sustainability.

Which Has Better Ingredients?

Bar soaps tend to boast more natural and pure ingredients than body washes because they don’t use water as part of their formula. When water gets added to the mix, chemicals have to be added to stop bacteria from breeding and to increase the shelf life of the product. One chemical to definitely avoid is parabens. Especially when used daily, these chemicals can build up in your skin and can affect male and female reproductive system functions.

However, that doesn’t mean that all body washes are riddled with chemicals that can cause complications. Tons of body washes from major producers use only natural or organic ingredients, although do note that except in rare circumstances, a body wash that is labeled as “natural” will probably also contain chemicals. There does exist purely plant-based formulas though.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what type of product lines up with your values. Do research on some of your favorite brands and see if they’re transparent with their ingredients list and production process.

Of course, your skin type also plays into which ingredients you should be on the lookout for. If you’ve had less than ideal experiences with certain soaps or have sensitive skin, try products that don’t have fragrances or dyes. Certain fragrances can lead to skin irritation, so it’s best to just stick to bar soaps or body washes that are unscented.

What’s the Best for Oily Skin?

Most dermatologists recommend that if you have oily skin, you should stick to bar soap. The same goes for those folks who live in humid areas or tend to get real sweaty after workouts. The oils in a bar of soap can help balance the oils your skin is shedding. It’s always a smart idea to not scrub harshly as that can lead to the scraping of essential lipids and proteins. After your shower sessions, it’s worth lathering up in moisturizer to ensure that you didn’t lose any essential oils during scrubbing.

What’s the Best for Dry Skin?

Bar soaps, because they’re harsher, can leave those suffering from dry skin with less than ideal results. If you have naturally dry skin or have eczema, it’s in your best interest to purchase some appropriate body wash. Body washes usually come packed with skin-softening emollients that hydrate your skin and leave you feeling soft. When you’re on the lookout for a suitable body wash, keep an eye out for products that claim to be creamy or hydrating, as they’ll glide through dry skin. And because body wash is a liquid and is a miracle for dry skin, you’ll feel more comfortable washing your face with it when compared to a bar of soap.
woman washing face with soap

Which One Holds the Least Amount of Bacteria?

This is when things get a bit complicated. Bar soap purists will say that loofahs are breeding grounds for bacteria, while body wash pundits will say the exact same for bars. Well, both parties are both right and wrong. Both loofahs and bars of soap can carry pesky bacteria if they’re left in moist environments and aren’t routinely cleaned.

Bar soaps are often left in the cold, deranged corners of showers or in wet soap bins, where bacteria and mold can thrive. If you do want to use bar soap, you should leave it in a dry area, and ensure that you’re washing it before and after it’s used so all the bacteria can be wiped away.

The same goes for loofahs, which seldom get a proper rinse after they’ve been used. In fact, loofahs should be treated to a proper shower of their own and should then be left to hang in a dry location. If you’re purchasing cheap, plastic loofahs, you might want to consider swapping them out for newer ones every couple of months to ensure you’re getting that squeaky clean feel without all the nasty bacteria buildup. The best advice in general when it comes to dealing with bacteria and germs is to clean and replace often.

From an objective, hygienic perspective, body wash is definitely the winner as you’re just squeezing the liquid onto your scrubbing tool. It’s recommended that no more than one person use a bar of soap but let’s be honest, that recommendation is never really followed. Bar soaps can also attract strands of hair and dead skin cells which, when coupled with a moist environment, can leave even the most hygiene-lenient folk disgusted.

Both Will Get Me Clean, Right?

Oh, absolutely! Both bar soap and body wash are perfect for getting rid of grime, dirt, oil, and bacteria for when you’re washing up. It’s also important to keep in mind that your choice should reflect your skincare routine. If you’re adamant on using bar soap, you should implement a couple squeezes of lotion to moisturize yourself post-shower. Regardless of your choice, make sure that whatever you’re is clean and don’t be stingy when it comes to replacing worn-out scrubbing tools.

The Final Verdict

Bar soap and body wash have both been around a long time because both are cheap, economical and work. In the end, both have their pros and cons and it all depends on your needs and living situation. If you’re living by yourself, a bar of soap can take up little to no space and you won’t have to worry about anyone else using it. If you’re traveling, liquid soap can be a great way to transport your skincare routine all around the world, without having to toss a gross, wet soap bar in your carry on. On the other hand, if you’ve got dry skin, we’ll suggest you go for a moisturizing body wash that’ll keep your skin soft.

Do keep in mind that you don’t have to pick a side. It’s more than fine to switch between bar soap and body wash. For example, if you’re a bar soap purist but tend to get dry skin during the winter, you should definitely give body wash a try during those colder months. Your best bet is to try a product for 7 to 10 days and see not only how it feels on your skin, but also if its production process aligns with your values. If at any point, your skin becomes irritated with a type of soap and you are not sure why, try shifting to something that’s gentler.