Daily soaps

Your soap can help you glow if you learn to choose the one that best suits your skin type

woman washing her face with soapA clean and healthy skin makes you feel refreshed, invigorated, and relaxed. To keep your skin glowing and fresh, you need to follow a daily skin care routine of which cleansing forms a major part. Though the type of skin cleansers have evolved over time—from the use of herbs to the luxury of exotic skin cleansers and soaps—the need for skin cleansing still exists. With the brewing of science and technology, today we have a wide range of skin cleansing products like soaps, cleansers, foams, gels, sprays, and powders. With many to choose from, you may often find it confusing to walk into a store and pick up the correct product for your skin type.

Here we attempt to simplify the complex subject of soaps and cleansers and help you choose the right product.

Cleansing act

We are exposed to millions of bacteria and microorganisms everyday. Add to that pollution, grime, dust, make-up, cosmetics, and creams. On top of it all, our skin secretes oils and other toxins. This covers our pores and lock them. To get rid of the dirt, grime and to give our skin a chance to breathe, cleansing becomes the most important part of skin care and ideally should be repeated a couple of times a day.

Soaps have been widely used as an effective means for skin cleansing. Soaps with anti-bacterial properties offer an added advantage of removing the bacteria, which invade the skin and can help achieve appropriate treatment outcomes. However, always use a mild soap for general cleansing.

The right rinse

When using a soap or cleanser, it is important to form lather on the hands and then rub the lather on the face. Massage gently, rinse thoroughly and gently pat dry. Facial cleansing foams are also available that give pre-formed foam and hence are convenient to use.

Soap opera

There is a big difference in the composition and formulation of a soap, cleanser and a scrub. Soaps and cleansers are both surfactants, but soaps usually have a vegetable oil source whereas cleansers are made from synthetic chemicals.

Scrubs usually have an additive abrasive agent and are not recommended for daily use. Use different soaps for the face and body, as the ones for the face are milder and contain fewer chemicals. Even the liquid cleansers for the body are different from the ones for the face.

Soapy slips

  • Using too much soap drives out excess oils from the skin making it dry and lustreless. So, use soaps just to remove extra oils, not everything from the skin.
  • All soaps and cleansers, whether natural or synthetic, contain chemicals. This can irritate the skin and cause problems.
  • Once the protective skin barrier made of skin oils goes away due to excess use of soaps, the skin becomes prone to harmful effects of chemicals and cosmetics used on the face. Skin shows patchy red marks that itch. If problems occur on the first wash, you might be allergic to a particular ingredient in the soap and must discontinue using it.
  • An ideal soap should be low in phosphates, fragrance-free and hypoallergenic. However, those with a very sensitive skin can find even hypoallergenic products irritating.
  • Do a patch test by first applying it on a small area of your body to check if the ingredients in the soap suit you. If you realise that your skin reacts to some a particular kind of soap or a particular ingredient, avoid using the products in the future.


There is a wide range of products designed for cleansing like, syndet bars [made from synthetic surfactants], gels, creams, foam washes, face washes with scrubs, scrub soaps, and cleansing wipes to name a few. Apart from this, a whole range of home remedies for cleansing is also available. However, all cleansing products have different ingredients, which are good or bad for you depending on the type of skin you have. Some pointers to help you pick the right soap for you:

  • If you have thin and sensitive skin, along with any hormonal problems like thyroid, use mild creme cleansers. Avoid using soaps.
  • If you have oily skin that is prone to acne, use soap or face wash containing anti-bacterial elements. Exfoliating [peeling], keratolytic [skin-dissolving] or comedolytic [whitehead-removing], additives such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide are good to reduce acne and skin infections. Remember to use these along with a mild soap as overuse of anti-bacterial soaps can dry and flake the skin. Also, use a water-based moisturiser like emolene soon after the wash if your skin feels dry and patchy.
  • If your work involves a lot of sweating and outdoor activity, use strong anti-bacterial soap. However, avoid using them on the face.
  • If you suffer from dry and flaky skin, use soaps with moisturisers to replace skin oils and retain moisture in the skin.
  • If you tend to buy soaps purely based on how they look, you’ll like to know that colours, humectants, thickeners and solvents such as glycerine are added to improve texture and appearance. People prefer clear soaps over opaque cakes due to their aesthetic value.
  • If you expect your soap to help control body odour and skin conditions like atopic dermatitis and acne, opt for one with antiseptics such as triclosan, which reduces bacterial formation.
  • If you prefer scrub soaps, use them once, daily especially after you’ve had outdoor exposure. They are excellent in smoothing out rough skin on the face and neck, and removing stubborn dirt and grime from the body. Apart from the face, you can use scrub soaps on thick rough areas of your skin like knees and elbows. However, for the morning bath, use a mild clear soap to avoid damaging your skin.
  • If you are looking for a soap to brighten your skin and reduce ageing, you may go with ones with exotic ingredients like whitening agents, antioxidants, vitamins and alphahydroxy acids [fruit acids].

Soaps and morality

According to a recent University of Plymouth research study, physical purity has a strong connection to moral purity. The study demonstrated that when we don’t feel physically pure, we tend to pass stronger moral judgements and vice versa. If the notion of physical purity is made salient our moral judgements can be less severe. The study involved two experiments. After having the cognitive concept of cleanliness activated [Experiment 1] or after physically cleansing themselves after experiencing disgust [Experiment 2], participants found certain moral actions to be less wrong than participants who had not been exposed to a cleanliness manipulation. This is where soaps come in. The better suited the soap for your skin, the cleaner you’ll feel and the less severe your moral judgements will be.

—Team CW

Apratim Goel
Dr Apratim Goel in the CEO and Medical Director of a chain of laser and cosmetic clinics called Cutis Skin Studio, Mumbai. An extremely passionate aesthetician and board certified dermatologist, she is an author and a voracious reader.