You remember the face of your mother when you returned from playing covered in dirt and muck, how she used to order you take a bath quickly and handed you the soap. No matter how much you protested, she wouldn’t allow you to come outside unless you lathered yourself with the soap and were completely clean. Now imagine the same soap that made you feel squeaky clean also robbing your skin of moisture and drying it out. You would think twice about bathing with soap, right?
Why is Soap bad for the skin?
Soaps are salts made from mixing of animal or vegetable oils (acid) with Sodium hydroxide NaOH or Potassium Hydroxide (KOH)(base) . These salts are basic or alkaline in nature with a pH value of about 9-10 while our skin has an acidic nature with a pH between 5.6 and 5.8. Using soap on your skin increases the pH of our skin harming it.
Common Skin Complaint: Too Oily or Too Dry
Dr. Shweta Iyengar says, “The most common skin complaints we hear are either about dry skin or oily skin and most soaps are the leading causes for dryness of skin, so they are bad for your skin. On the other hand, those with oily skin wash their faces many times in a day which causes rebound oiliness (their skin produces even more oil to compensate).” She feels that since soaps may change the balance of moisture and oil of your skin, they may harm your skin.
Other chemicals in soaps that aren’t good for your skin:
- Surfactants: Surfactants allow the mixing of water and soap. They help in the cleaning action by surrounding dirt particles and oil and dissolving them in water so that they easily come off with running water. However their action also harms the skin by making it dry and tight.
- Detergents: The detergents are made from synthetic materials and are known to also rob the moisture off the skin making it dry and irritable.
- Fragrances: Sandalwood, rose, strawberry or aloe vera- you get a soap of whichever flavor you wish, but if you delve deeper, fragrances do more harm than good for the skin and they tend to irritate the skin. Those who find their skin red or itchy after bath should choose a non scented soap.
Dr. Vidula Patel, Dermatologist with L H Hiranandani Hospital, Powai says, “Yes, to some extent, soaps are harmful for the skin especially for those with dry and sensitive skin. The normal pH of our skin is slightly acidic and soaps being alkaline, increase skin’s pH which is not good. Any soap which lathers much is alkali based and not suitable for our skin.” She says that is the reason that they recommend ‘soap free cleansers’ which do not lather that much and clean the skin as effectively. So the lather that we feel makes us cleaner, actually strips the moisture off our skin.
Dr. Vidula recommends that those with dry skin should use soap free cleansers and those with oily skin to use medicated soaps containing salicylic acid (a hydrooxybenzoic crystalline acid that preserves skin surface). She adds that those with normal skin can use any soap but they should cease to use it after the age of 40 since the skin starts ageing then.
So are soaps bad?
No, there is a change in the way soaps are manufactured today and they are made with considerations for all skin types. But different soaps are suitable for different skin types. So if your skin feels tight, dry, itchy or red after bathing then your soap doesn’t suit you.
Types of soaps and their properties:
- Regular Soaps: We don’t think twice about buying soaps when we have a fairly normal skin, we may be loyal to one brand of soap or would change it frequently. Most soaps contain fragrances, detergents or other chemicals which may clean our skin but may also take away the moisture from it.
- Glycerin: Glycerin is a byproduct of soap making process which is removed by the manufacturers to create other products like lotions. Glycerin soaps are generally translucent and help your skin absorb the moisture in the air, keeping skin soft. Glycerin soaps are excellent for those with dry skin and sensitive skin and for those with conditions like Psoriasis (a disease with white scaly patches caused by allergy to substances that occur naturally in the body). However those who have oily skin may find that glycerin soaps may block the pores of their skin.
- Mild Soaps: These soaps contain moisturizing cleansers that clean the skin without taking away the moisture of the skin. Often these mild soaps contain the words ‘milk’, ‘cream’ and ‘lotion’. These are more expensive than regular soaps but are good for those with sensitive or dry skin.
- Anti bacterial soaps: Anti bacterial soaps contain high amount of Triclosan (actually a phenol!) that is known to have many side effects on the body. Dr. Vidula says “Anti-bacterial soaps are bad because they excessively dry out the skin but they can be used when the person is suffering from some infection or when you have been somewhere that is unhygienic”. Recent research also shows that antibacterial soaps and hand washes are not more effective than the regular warm water and soap; they also are blamed for creating viruses which are resistant to anti bacterial soaps.
Dr. Shweta says, “Many people start using Dettol when they suffer from itchy skin, but it gets worse since these soaps are drying.” She advises to use anti bacterial and anti septic soaps only for washing hands or when you get excessively dirty.
If you still wish to go ahead and use an anti bacterial soap, don’t forget to moisturize afterwards.
Ways to make the soap work for you!
Dr. Shweta gives these following solutions:
- Choose a soap that suits your skin type.
- You may require separate soaps for your body and your face. Since some people may have an oily face type and body of normal skin type.
- Don’t wash your face too many times in the day; it will only dry your skin.
- Choose a soap with glycerin (unless if you have oily skin) or with moisturizing cream.
What about the alternatives?
There are herbal or organic natural soaps that are available in the market. These claim to be devoid of harmful chemicals. These are also quite expensive. However, before you buy these, check the labels of the soaps to ensure that they are made from natural ingredients. Also as Dr. Shweta says, “Herbal soaps may contain extra ingredients which are good for the skin but we must remember that it is the basic surfactants that cause the problem and just adding a few ingredients will not make them good.” She says that buying a glycerin or moisturizing soap will serve the same purpose as these organic or natural soaps.
Body Washes with different flavors and excellent marketing have also become quite a rage in the market but the question remains, are they better than soap bars. Well there are a few advantages of liquid soaps or body washes, they remain hygienic as no bacteria grows on it after use (soap bars are infamous for that), they are convenient and the most important, most of body washes do not dry your skin. Dr. Shweta agrees as she says, “Body washes are better than soap bars as they are formulated understanding our skin’s needs. These are also moisturizing which makes it better for your skin.”
The drawbacks- these are expensive and do not last as long as soaps.
With so many insights into soaps, soap shopping will be a more thorough affair, we hope!