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Body Wash vs. Shower Gel vs. Bar Soap: Which Should You Use?

Bar soap vs. body wash: Which to choose? Here at Kiehl’s, learn the difference between shower gel and soap and discover which is best for your needs.

Soap is a cornerstone (the cornerstone) of your standard shower routine. The whole point of showering, after all, is to get clean, and you can’t do that without an effective cleanser. Of course, there are a lot of different types of body cleansers out there—and just because one kind has served you well in the past doesn’t mean it’s not worth exploring other options. But you need to know what you’re looking for.

Here, we’ll discuss three different types of body cleansers—bar soaps, body washes, and shower gels—and explain how they differ from one another. You’ll also discover the benefits of each type of cleanser and learn how to pick one that suits your needs. Read on for the Kiehl’s guide to body cleansers, and get ready to make the most out of your shower time.

What Is Soap, Exactly?

Colloquially, the word “soap” is used to describe a vast array of cleansers, from foaming hand washes to bar soap (even laundry detergent is often referred to as soap). But technically speaking, for a cleanser to be classified as soap, it has to meet very specific requirements. True soaps are alkaline cleansers made up of fatty acids and salts (such as potassium palmate or sodium palmate). They can be solid or liquid in consistency and work by binding to dirt and oil, allowing those impurities to be rinsed away easily with water. Solid soaps are known as bar soaps.

Because they’re more alkaline than the skin, true soaps can sometimes be drying, particularly for those with already dry skin. However, soap-based body cleansers often contain moisturizing agents, such as skin-friendly plant oils, to help protect the skin from dryness. This is true of the soaps available at Kiehl’s, speaking of which…

Try It:

If you’re interested in adding a bar soap to your shower routine, try “Ultimate Man” Body Scrub Soap. This exfoliating soap with glycerin and oat bran provides a thorough clean and helps alleviate roughness on tough areas like the elbows, knees, and heels. It’s suitable for all skin types and boasts an invigorating aroma, perfect for waking up your senses on sleepy mornings.

Grooming Solutions Exfoliating Body Soap

Alternatively, consider Grooming Solutions Exfoliating Body Soap. The woodsy-scented soap with jojoba seed powder and pracaxi oil cleanses away dirt, oil, and other impurities while helping to exfoliate the skin. It has a rich, luxurious lather and leaves your skin feeling soft and smooth.

What Is Shower Gel?

A shower gel is a type of liquid body cleanser that may or may not contain soap. They tend to be a bit gentler on the skin than traditional soaps and are often made with emollient ingredients to help moisturize the skin as they clean. As the name implies, shower gels have a gel-like texture, though they’re more fluid than hair gels. Texturally, they’re more similar to hand soap.

Try It:

Bath & Shower Liquid Body Cleanser

Our classic Bath & Shower Liquid Body Cleanser is a prime example of everything the best shower gel should be. Available in four refreshing scents, this foaming formula effectively cleanses skin, leaving it feeling comfortable. The humectant-infused cleanser also doubles as a foaming bubble bath: Just pour two to three capfuls beneath running water to level up your bathtime ritual.

For those who prefer fragrance-free cleansers, we recommend reaching for “Made for All” Gentle Body Cleanser. The biodegradable shower gel contains 95% naturally-derived ingredients, including aloe vera and soap tree extract.* It’s formulated for use on the face, body, and hair and is pediatrician-tested for safety on children aged three and up.

*We consider ingredients to be naturally-derived if they retain more than 50% of their molecular structure after being processed from a natural source.

Shower Gel vs. Body Wash, Explained

While “shower gel” and “body wash” are often used interchangeably, they’re not necessarily the same thing. Shower gels, as noted above, always have a jelly-like texture. Liquid body cleansers with different textures—for example, cream cleansers or oil cleansers—are broadly known as body washes. Generally speaking, they have the same basic benefits as shower gels, though they may be slightly more beneficial for those with dry skin, particularly if they contain skin-friendly oils as a primary ingredient.

Try It:

Creme de Corps Smoothing Oil-to-Foam Body Cleanser can serve as an ultra-luxurious alternative to traditional shower gels. Made with grapeseed and castor oils, the cleansing oil emulsifies with water to create a light, airy foam that effectively cleanses, leaving your skin feeling moisturized and supple. It boasts a subtle vanilla-and-almond aroma and is suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin.

How To Choose The Right Body Cleanser For You

When it comes to choosing between bar soap vs. body wash, there is no right or wrong answer—ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. At Kiehl’s, all of our body cleansers are carefully formulated to cleanse without over-drying the skin, making them suitable for all skin types.

In terms of use, there’s not much of a difference, either. Both solid bar soaps and liquid body washes can be applied to the skin directly or smoothed on with a washcloth; either method is equally effective. Keep in mind that no matter what type of cleanser you use, you’ll want to be sure to rinse it off thoroughly when you’re done (pro tip: use lukewarm water; hot water can dry out your skin). Finally, we recommend completing your shower routine by lightly toweling off and applying a body lotion while your skin is still damp to lock in moisture. Try Creme de Corps Body Lotion with Cocoa Butter; this perennial Kiehl’s favorite absorbs quickly, leaving your skin feeling soft, smooth, and beautifully moisturized, without a greasy residue.

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