Soaps and Cleansing Lotions

By: Vivacare - Dr. Mark Becker

Learn more about the various forms of soaps, detergents and cleansers.

Toilet Soap

Toilet soap is plain old soap. It is composed of fats or oils derived from animals or vegetables (tallow). Palm kernel or coconut oils may be added to enhance lathering. In general, toilet soaps are inexpensive and very effective for cleaning off grease and grime, but they are usually very irritating to the skin. Most people with dry skin find that basic toilet soap leaves their skin too dry. Toilet soap should be avoided by people with eczema and atopic dermatitis. Ivory is probably the best-known brand of toilet soap.

Superfatted Soaps

Superfatted soaps are toilet soaps that contain additional fatty/oily ingredients, such as lanolin, mineral oil, olive oil, and cocoa butter. Most ordinary soaps contain less than 2 percent fat while superfatted soaps consist of between 5 and 15 percent fat. The fatty moisturizers in superfatted soaps are intended to counteract the drying effects of regular soap. This may leave a greasy residue on the skin that some find bothersome, but others appreciate. Dove is a well-known brand of superfatted soap.

Transparent Soaps

Transparent soaps are a form of superfatted soap that contains higher levels of glycerin which is responsible for the soap’s soft consistency and transparency. Because high concentrations of glycerin can draw water from the skin, these soaps can be paradoxically drying for some people. For this reason, transparent soaps are often preferred for people with sensitive but oily skin. These soaps have a tendency to lather poorly and can melt if left in water, but their use may be extended if they are dried after each use. Neutrogena is a well-known brand transparent soap.

Soapless Soaps (“synthetic detergent soaps”)

So-called “soapless soaps” are derived from petroleum materials, fatty acids, and other substances selected to make them less irritating and provider better lathering. Most soapless soaps tend not to interact with hard water found in many municipal water supplies and are less likely to leave scummy residue on your skin or in the sink. Soapless soap may be optimal for those who have normal, dry, or sensitive skin. Lowila cake a relatively well-know brand that can serve as an all-purpose skin cleanser.

Washable creams, lotions and detergents

Washable creams and lotions are similar to bar soaps, but tend to be more expensive. They are basically moisturizers to which soaps or detergents have been added. Moisturizing ingredients are the primary component of washable creams. Washable lotions are simply washable creams to which more water has been added to make them thinner and easy to spread. Both are intended to be rinsed off with water.

Washable lotions can be helpful for people with dry or sensitive skin. Because they contain moisturizers, washable creams or lotions are not recommended for people with excessively oily skin. Cetaphil skin cleanser is a well known washable lotion.

Liquid soaps have also been developed to be rinsed off with water and come in convenient pump dispensers. Liquid soaps usually contain more glycerin and have a higher detergent content than washable lotions. They tend to be more expensive than bar soaps, but have no particular advantage other than their possible convenience. Soft Soap is a well-known brand of liquid soap.

Deodarant Soaps

Deodorant soaps contain antiseptics to kill bacteria and perfumes to reduce and hide odor. Body odor results from the action of skin bacteria on the sweat. Sweat itself has no odor, but the interaction of bacteria and sweat produces body odor. To slow bacterial growth, the major brands of deodorant soaps contain the antiseptics triclosan or triclocarban. Deodorant soaps tend to be drying so they should not be used frequently on the face. However, they make excellent body soaps, especially for people who perspire heavily. These deodarant and antibacterials soaps may be recommended for people with folliculits to reduce the bacterial population on the surface of the skin.

Deodorant soaps can cause irritation and allergic rashes in people with sensitive skin. Dial and Safeguard are two well-known brands of deodorant soaps.

Medicated soaps

Medicated soaps are cleansers that contain medications intended to treat specific skin conditions. These soaps may contain sulfur, resorcinol, salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or antiseptics for the treatment of acne, bacterial and fungal infections, and certain forms of eczema. These medications must remain in contact with the skin for an extended period of time to have any benefit. However, since soap is quickly rinsed away, the it may not provide any benefit unless it has a sufficiently high concentration of medication, or is applied appropriately. Speak to your dermatologist before relying on medicated soaps to treat a skin condition, particularly since they can be so drying.

Abrasive Cleansers

Abrasive (exfoliating) cleansers contain tiny particles or grains that mildly abrade the skin and rub away the topmost layer of dead skin cells. Some abrasive soaps may contain high concentrations of pumice (ground volcanic rock). Lava is a well-known abrasive soap.  This abrasive quality is designed to assist in cleansing particularly greasy and grimy hands, but milder versions may be used to provide  a smooth complesion. Abrasive soaps can be too drying for many people except those with oily skin.  And those with acne may find that abrasive cleansers aggravate their acne lesions.

Bubble Baths

Bubble bath soaps are detergents that contain ingredients designed to make the bathwater foam. Although bubble baths may be appealing, sitting in one for prolonged periods can be quite irritating, especially for people with sensitive or dry skin (eczema). A moisturizer should be applied after a bubble bath. If any skin irritation develops, stop using the product.