Soaps: choose the right one for yourself

Soaps today offer more than just cleansing benefits. Here’s a brief introduction on different types of soaps to help you choose the right one


Soaps are an indispensable part of our beauty and hygiene regime. Yet, how much do we really know about them? Soaps are cleansing agents made by mixing animal or vegetable fat [coconut or palm oil] with an alkali. They go a long way in enhancing your beauty and skin glow and protect your skin from micro-organisms and germs. It’s amazing how they have slowly transformed from being a simple cleanliness and hygiene aid to a cosmetic and skincare product.

The way to use

Soaps are used to remove sweat, excess sebum, body toxins and skin contaminants as well as applied cosmetics. These have to be cleansed to keep the skin healthy. A systematic protocol can be followed to achieve thorough cleansing from head to toe. Let me tell you how:
Soap should not be directly applied to the skin. It should be mixed with water and the lather produced should be applied on the body. Extra care has to be taken while cleaning areas where perspiration is more.
Parts of the body exposed to friction like elbows and knee need special care. Scrubs should be used, followed by good moisturising agents.
Soaps and cleansers shouldn’t be used frequently on the face as they can make the skin dry and irritable.

It’s your choice

Here, we take a look at the various kinds of soaps available in the markets today and what makes them different:
Bar soaps: Bar soap is the oldest and most common type of soap. It lasts longer and has many advantages, the primary being, its ease of use. It has a pH of 9 – 10.
Usually, coconut oil is used in these soaps, because of its ability to produce more lather and cleanse the skin. The maximum recommended proportion of coconut oil in a soap is about 30 per cent. If excess is added, oil from the skin gets lost, leaving it dry and flaky.
Syndet soaps: These are a type of bar soaps, which have a skin-friendly pH of 5.5 – 7. These are composed of synthetic detergents and fillers containing less than 10 per cent of soap.
Moisturising soaps: In moisturising soaps, paraffin, lanolin and glycerine are added to give it a moisturising effect. The most commonly used moisturising soap is glycerine soap. These soaps are non-irritant and do not remove the natural moisture of the skin. After cleansing, they leave a thin moisturising film on the skin, keeping it soft and supple.
Antibacterial soaps: These soaps have an added antibacterial agent like triclosan or trichlocarbon. The pH is in the range of 9 – 10 and these are available in liquid or solid bar forms. Liquid soaps are commonly used in toilets and washrooms as they are less messy.
Antibacterial soaps have gained special importance recently. They form the first line of defence against micro- organisms and harmful agents. However, excessive use of these soaps can cause dryness and irritation of the skin. Most of the deodorant soaps contain antibacterial agents.
Anti-acne soaps: People with oily skin need special soaps to remove the excess of oil and prevent clogging of skin pores. Many soaps with antibacterial, exfoliating and comedolytic [that inhibit formation of blemishes] properties are now available. These contain additives like sulphur, resorsinol, alpha hydroxy acid, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide.
Anti-acne soaps are used mainly on the face, chest and back where acne is more prevalent. It may be necessary to use such soaps twice a day. However, overuse can cause red flaky patches on the skin.
Herbal soaps: These contain gentle herbs and plants like chamomile, lavender, peppermint, spearmint, oatmeal and avocado. These soaps are ideal for sensitive skin, though some people may still develop allergic reactions.
Chamomile has a calming effect on the skin without over-drying. Lavender has some of the same properties and even promotes sound sleep.
Olive oil and shea butter can also be used in these soaps. Olive oil, known for its skin-regeneration and radiance properties, contains vitamins and antioxidants that keep free radicals that damage your skin at bay. Olive oil also has an anti-ageing effect on your skin.
Shea butter, also known as sheanut butter, contains vitamins and acts as a good moisturiser.
Aromatherapy soaps: These soaps contain essential oils, jojoba and sunflower oil, extracts of chamomile, jasmine and ylang-ylang. They are said to promote a sense of wellbeing and relaxation.
Lipid-free cleansers: These are liquid cleansers that clean without water. They contain glycerine, cetyl and stearyl alcohol as additives. They are to be applied on dry or slightly moisturised skin and rubbed to produce lather and are then wiped away. They leave behind a thin moisturising film. These cleansers can be used by people with a dry and sensitive skin.
Abrasive soap: Abrasive soap gently removes the dead layers of the skin and makes the skin feel softer. They contain pumice, coarse oatmeal, maize meal, groundnut kernels and dried herbs as the main additives. These are mechanical exfoliants and help in removing the stratum corneum or the upper dead skin layer. Medium-sized sugar and salt granules mixed with soap lather can also be used as additives. These granules gradually melt, which avoids excessive damage. The abrasive soaps should be used selectively and less frequently as excessive use can harm the skin.
Shower gels: Shower gels are similar to liquid soaps, but in a gel-based preparation and are used for cleaning the body while showering. Most shower gels contain petroleum products and do not contain any saponified oil. Many people prefer using a shower gel because it is easier to handle than bar soaps and does not leave any messy soap scum residue in the shower. All shower gels are pH balanced.

Take-home message

With a variety of soaps available, it is difficult to choose the right soap that suits your skin. Here’s some help:

  • If you have acne or oil-prone skin, use anti-acne soap that will remove excess oil or sebum from your skin. This reduces the occurrence of blemishes and breakouts. Soaps with tea tree oil can also be used.
  • If you are involved in outdoor activities and perspire a lot, use an antibacterial soap.
  • If you have a dry skin, use moisturising soaps. It helps maintain skin elasticity and keeps it hydrated and smooth.
  • For sensitive skin, don’t use regular soaps. Use lipid-free cleansers or herbal soaps after checking them for skin-sensitivity.
  • To get rid of wrinkles or delay the skin-ageing process, use soaps with antioxidants [like olive oils] and vitamins.

This was first published in the June 2010 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Rajshree Patil
Rajshree Patil is qualified dermatologist with keen interest in cosmetology. After completing her formal education in medicine and dermatology, she has developed a specialised cosmetology practice in Pune. Besides medicine she has interest in music and dance.

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