You may have stood in the shower at some point in your wondering if soap and body wash actually do the same thing, or if you should use one over the other. Can they really be that different? This is all part of an ongoing debate. The simple answer to the question: no. It all depends on what you want out of a cleanser. 

The Science

Dr. Fayne Frey, a dermatologist based in Nyack, New York, says that "by definition, soap is a long chain fatty acid alkali salt with a pH between 8 and 9." The Dermstore article mentions that your skin's natural pH is between 5 and 6. So what does that mean? “These bar cleansers are harsh on the skin, as they can remove the essential lipids and proteins found on the skin surface that help maintain your moisture barrier,” Dr. Frey explains. She also notes that not all bar soaps are made the same; soaps made with glycerin can maintain your skin's moisture and hydration.

If moisture is your main concern with a cleanser, then you should try a body wash. According to Dr. Frey, body wash is made with a mild surfactant to cleanse and emollients, which are skin softeners, to hydrate and moisturize. 

Shower gel, Dr. Berenice S. Rothenberg says, is thinner in consistency than body wash is, which can be better if you live somewhere warm.

An Ongoing Debate

Well + Good breaks the debate down into six different categories: how well it cleans you, maintaining your skin's natural balance, exfoliation, hydration, sustainability, and which carries more bacteria. With the help of dermatologist Dr. Amy Perlmutter and founder of Clean Living Guide Patryce Kinga Bak, it was concluded that both products essentially do the same job in all categories but one. If you are passionate about the environment, then using bar soap is the more sustainable way to go.

#SpoonTip: If you're a big fan of body wash but still want to be environmentally conscious, Lush makes a packaging-free cleanser.

The debate doesn't end there, however. Bak says that you shouldn't necessarily expect your soap or body wash to moisturize, instead you should focus more on how you hydrate your skin after your shower. On the other hand, according to dermatologist Dr. Erin Gilbert, the main difference is in fact hydration. In a Business Insider article she says, "But a lot of bar soaps are made to kind of give you this real squeaky clean feeling and so that lye that they have in them, or other components are actually designed to take away oil and they can take way too much oil."

So Which Should You Use?

After creating an Instagram poll, I discovered that most of my followers use body wash. Out of 105 voters, only 20 of them use soap.

Nicole Marino

If your main concern is hydration, then body wash is the way to go. However, whether you use soap or body wash really does depend on what you value in a cleanser. Bar soaps, such as Dove's Beauty Bar, is known for its moisturizing properties as well as its gentleness for sensitive skin. If you care about using a product with less packaging, that could be a good alternative to a moisturizing body wash.

If you don't know what exactly you want in a cleanser, try testing out a couple different kinds and see which one you like the most. This can be dependent on your skin type and the season, but luckily, there are lots of options to pick from. This article from Women's Health Magazine can help you get a better idea of what product might be best for you. One doesn't clean better than the other, so the choice all lays on the effect you want your cleanser to have, whether it be moisturizing, exfoliating, or just having one that's colorful and fun-scented.