Maybe you love the sensation of cleansing your body with the same smooth, scented bar soap you’ve used since you were a kid. Or maybe you can’t feel fully clean without lathering up with a loofah paired with body wash gel.

But when was the last time you questioned where your shower soap loyalties lie?

Each way of washing has its advantages and disadvantages. This article will help you figure out if it’s time to switch sides in the war between the suds.

All types of mild soaps basically do the same thing — dislodge dirt from your skin’s surface. The differences come in the ingredients and mechanism for dirt removal.

Bar soap works by dissolving the dirt on the surface of your skin.

As sweat and dirt mix with your body’s natural oils, it can settle on your skin and breed bacteria. Bar soaps break this oily layer apart and lift pathogens away from your skin.

Body wash uses the same cleansing mechanism to get dirt off your skin, but often contains a mixture of ingredients meant to help treat common skin conditions.

Dryness, clogged pores, and skin flaking can all be addressed with a body wash. Body wash usually contains ingredients meant to restore skin moisture that can be stripped by the cleansing process.

Shower gel is basically a thinner, less hydrating body wash formula. It doesn’t cling to your skin the same way, and tends to simply cleanse your skin without infusing it with moisturizing ingredients.

There are certainly instances when body wash or shower gel are the better cleansing choice.

When you have dry skin

It’s better to use body wash or shower gel if you typically notice that your skin feels dry, stripped, or flaky after a shower. Body wash, in particular, contains hydrating ingredients meant to coat your skin and seal in moisture.

When you have a chronic skin condition

If you have a chronic skin condition like rosacea, psoriasis, or acne, you may want to speak to a dermatologist about the cleanser you use in the shower. Chances are, there is a shower gel or body wash recommended just for you.

A dermatologist can also tell you ingredients to look out for and avoid when you shop for a body cleanser.

When you need to exfoliate your skin

Cleansing agents often contain natural or synthetic exfoliant ingredients. These can be found in bar soap, too, but they are often not as finely milled or ground down as they would be in a body wash.

When you use body wash, it’s recommended that you use a loofah, washcloth, or sea sponge to apply and rinse the product off your skin. The use of these tools offers an additional level of exfoliation during your shower.

For those with die-hard bar soap devotion, there are also times when bar soap is the clear winner.

When you’re concerned about the environment

The truth is that bar soap is a lot more eco-friendly than using a shower gel or body wash.

Bar soap tends to come packaged in a recyclable box, and once you’re done using it, there’s nothing left to throw away.

Microbeads in body washes are also controversial (and, in some cases, completely banned) because of their impact on the environment. Bar soap doesn’t typically contain these types of ingredients.

When you have certain allergies

Bar soap tends to contain fewer ingredients than body soaps and gels. They don’t typically need preservatives to keep them shelf-stable, which means they are typically free of parabens.

It’s also easier to make bar soap hypoallergenic. There are plenty of herbal, all-natural bar soap options that are hypoallergenic.

When you’re concerned about bacteria

There was some concern at one point that harmful bacterias breed on the surface of bar soap.

It’s certainly true that you probably shouldn’t share bar soap with other members of your household. But studies going back to 1988 have shown that there’s very little risk in bacterial contamination from a used bar of soap.

Whatever type of soap you decide to use in the shower, there are some ingredients that should always throw up a red flag. There are also some common ingredients that make soap effective, gentle, and moisturizing on your skin.

Good ingredients

Glycerine is a plant-based cleanser that can seal moisture into your skin barrier without stripping your skin of oils.

Natural exfoliants, such as finely milled black walnut shells, oatmeal, or ground apricot pits, can work to naturally remove dead skin cells.

Some essential oils are popular in scented soaps:

Moisturizing oils, such as coconut oil and sweet almond oil, have additional skin-softening properties.

Shea butter and coconut butter are frequently found in certain hypoallergenic soap formulas, and are safe and shelf-stable for people to use on skin.

Ingredients to avoid

Avoid powerful antibacterial agents in your bar soap.

Triclosan is a powerful antibacterial that was banned by the FDA in 2016.

That doesn’t mean that you won’t sometimes encounter this ingredient in products manufactured overseas, so read labels carefully. In addition to triclosan, the FDA banned 18 more ingredients that contain antibacterial microbeads.

Parabens are chemical preservatives that are meant to preserve the shelf life of cosmetic products. There is some concern over whether parabens can be linked to certain health conditions and endocrine system dysfunction, so avoid parabens whenever you can.

If you have allergies, you may want to avoid products with “fragrance” or “parfum” on ingredient labels.

The FDA doesn’t require soaps, body wash, or other cleansers to disclose what, exactly, the fragrance in their products is made from. This means that allergen triggers may be hidden in the products you use.

Your preference for shower gel, body wash, or bar soap should depend on what your priorities are for cleansing.

If you’re looking for something eco-friendly and sustainably made to cleanse dirt from your body, basic bar soap is your shower soulmate.

If you need skin hydration, serious exfoliation, or acne treatment during your shower, a body wash or shower gel might be the better choice.