Are All Bar Soaps The Same?

Are All Bar Soaps The Same?

You may have asked yourself this question for a number of reasons. Perhaps you’re a new parent and you’re curious about ingredients. Or perhaps you have sensitive skin and you’d like to know if one soap is better than the other. No matter what the reason, the answer is “No.” Not all bar soaps are the same. Here are a few key points to remember about bar soaps that you may not be aware of:

    • Not all bar soaps are true “soaps”. If you have fats combined with lye, or sodium hydroxide, then you have a soap. Otherwise, it must be called something else (like Dove’s “Beauty Bar” or other “Syndet” bars”. Syndet is short for Synthetic Detergent.)
    • Bar soaps vary widely in their ingredients. Some use rendered fat from slaughtered animals as their primary ingredients. Most use palm oil, a plant-based saturated fat found in everything from foods to cosmetics. Still others use synthetic emulsifiers or fragrances which do not have to be revealed to the consumer.
    • Bar soaps are manufactured using a variety of techniques. Triple-milled soaps are manufactured using a process perfected in France, which involves the use of machinery to mix, compress and shape the bar soap. Other soaps are made by hand using either a cold process or hot process method. Still others are made using “melt and pour” bases which contain alcohols and other ingredients.
    • While there are many soaps out there claiming to be “age-defying”, etc., chances are that the ingredients do not touch your skin long enough to have any real benefit. The real purpose of bar soap is to clean.

    Confusing? It can be. For example, it was once common to see many antibacterial bar soaps on store shelves. What made them antibacterial? It was usually the use of the ingredient Triclosan, which has been much maligned recently for its possible implication in bacterial resistance, pollution of our waterways, and other issues. Essentially, the best way to eliminate pathogens is by washing hands properly with plain soap and water.

    Where Can You Start?

    You can begin by listing the qualities of bar soap that you are looking for. Do you want a product that is made in the U.S.A.? Do you want it to be free of synthetic perfumes, dyes and preservatives? Do you want it to be free of animal ingredients? Do you want it to be biodegradable/safe for the environment? By knowing which properties you want in a bar soap, you can quickly narrow down the list of products that fit the bill. If you would like to explore our line of botanical bar soaps, please go to the bar soaps page in our webstore.

    You may, in fact, end up using different products to cleanse different parts of the body – like an oil or cream cleanser for the face and bar soap for everything else. The choice is yours. Once you understand how bar soaps differ in terms of ingredients and their degree of cleansing, you can make a more educated choice that is in sync with your needs and values as well as your wallet.

    Smithsonian article on why you should stop using antibacterial soap
    The Beauty Brains article about different surfactants

which cleanser right skin type

Which Cleanser Is Right For My Skin Type?

There are three basic types of cleanser – 1)soaps; 2) surfactant (or detergent) cleansers; and 3) soap-free (or oil) cleansers. It may be difficult to know which cleanser is right for your skin type, with all of the choices available. Below are the basic differences to help you choose.


Soaps can be divided into bar soaps and liquid soaps. Soaps have been around for thousands of years. Essentially, a soap is classified as a product created by combining an oil or fat with lye, or sodium hydroxide. If this process doesn’t occur, it can’t be called a soap. An example would be WEBA’s Lavender/Rosemary Bar Soap. Soaps tend to be more basic, with a pH between 10 and 12, depending upon how much sodium hydroxide is left behind and whether or not they are “superfatted.” Unlike our bar soaps, which retain glycerin and use premium butters like cocoa and shea, commercial soaps remove the glycerin for sale. It’s important to read labels; not all bar soaps are created equal. Bar soaps travel well and cost less to use than liquid soaps.

Liquid soaps are made by combining fats or oils with potash, or potassium hydroxide. This is a “hot process” reaction – the ingredients are heated for a period of time until the reaction is done, after which water is added. If less water is added, you have a gel. More water produces a thinner formula. These also tend to be more basic. A major difference between liquid and bar soaps is that with liquid soaps, a preservative must be added due to the high water content. Again, read labels to see what preservatives or other ingredients are used.

Soaps, because they clean so well, are generally fine for people with combination or oily skin, although soaps can have ingredients added to them which make them more moisturizing for all skin types. Many also find liquid soaps convenient and more hygienic than bar soaps. It’s really a matter of personal preference.

Surfactant (detergent) cleansers

Surfactant cleansers include detergents (e.g. dish detergent, laundry detergent) and are generally synthetics (made in a lab). Many of the “Beauty Bars” are, in fact, a combination of surfactants formed into a bar under high pressure. Some surfactants like Sodium Lauryl Sulphate have fallen into disrepute lately, but there are other naturally-derived surfactants like Coco Betaine, which cleans more gently compared with soaps. These tend to be better for persons with problem skin (acne, ezcema, etc.). This class of cleansers is popular in shampoos, as well, because many have conditioning properties.

Soap-free (oil) cleansers

Soap-free cleansers can include oil-free cream and oil cleansers. They are good for dry, combination and oily skin and are good at removing makeup. Oil-free cleansers consist entirely of surfactants, some synthetic and some naturally-derived, with perhaps a wax and conditioning agents. Reading the labels on these products can be confusing because of the chemical names. What is polyethylene? (A plastic resin). What is Methyl Lactate? (A solvent.) It can also be difficult to determine whether ingredients come from plants or animals. Most have water as their first ingredients, necessitating a preservative. And just because these products are soap-free doesn’t mean that you can’t react to one or more ingredients. Companies are required to provide common names on their labels; you can search for information about an ingredient if you’re not sure what it is.

Oil cleansers are also soap-free, but usually contain a combination of oils along with other beneficial ingredients. Again, check the label if you want to be sure that you’re not sensitive to an ingredient like nuts or certain essential oils. One example of an oil cleanser is our Whole Earth Body Actives Gentle Facial Cleansing Oil and Makeup Remover. Ours is free of essential oils, perfumes and dyes. These also tend to be used exclusively for the face, unlike other cleansers. They tend to be less irritating to the eyes.

Our recommendation? It’s probably best to use a variety of cleansers, depending on your family’s skincare needs and their particular use. For travel, bar soaps are best. When skin is dry, try a cream cleanser. To remove makeup and excess oils, try an oil cleanser. Regardless of which you choose, always check labels so you know what is going on your skin, and to avoid irritation.

Aussie Soap Supplies article on surfactants
FDA webpage on ingredient names and labeling

Natural remedies for thin weak nails; handwashing and protection

If you are looking for natural remedies for thin, weak nails or for brittle nails, look no further. There are many things that you can do to keep your nails healthy and strong without spending a lot of money on potentially harmful nail treatments.

Weak, thin, or brittle nails can be caused by a number of things. Usually, it results from keeping hands in water constantly. People who wash dishes regularly, for example, may find that their nails are becoming softer and thinner. Wetting and drying of the nail bed can affect its integrity. It’s the reason why dermatologists usually recommend wearing gloves when immersing one’s hands in water for long periods. Gloves can also keep hands and nails away from harsh surfactants and other chemicals that can dry out the skin and nails.

If you don’t like to wear gloves, take the following steps to keep nails healthy:

  • Avoid harsh detergent cleaners that strip oil from skin and nails, like alcohols and bleaches.
  • Avoid acetone-based nail polish removers.
  • Use a moisturizer or barrier balm (like our all-purpose balms here immediately after immersing hands in water or after housecleaning to add targeted moisture and seal it in.
  • Keep nails cut short to avoid tearing. Don’t cut cuticles.
  • Avoid over-buffing nails.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Take a biotin supplement if needed.
  • Use a moisturizer and wear cotton gloves overnight to allow the moisturizer to work.
  • If there are any sudden changes to your nails, see your doctor.

By taking just a few easy steps, you can go a long way towards keeping your nails strong, healthy and beautiful!

Dr Oz article on strengthening brittle nails
American Osteopathic College of Dermatology information on brittle nails