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Regardless of whether dry skin is due to environment, genetics, or a skin condition, choosing the right soap is important to avoid further irritation. But with so many soaps and cleansers on the market, which is right for your skin type?
We spoke with skin care experts to uncover what to look for and avoid when it comes to soaps for dry skin (and chose some top soaps to get you started).
If you have dry, sensitive skin, the wrong type of soap can do more harm than good.
Yes, it’ll cleanse your skin. But if the soap is too harsh, it can also rob your skin of natural moisture, causing further irritation.
Avoid sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)
For example, some soaps contain the ingredient sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). This is a surfactant — a compound in many cleansing detergents that degreases and washes dirt away.
This ingredient is also in certain body washes, shampoos, and facial cleansers.
It’s an effective cleanser, and some people can use it on their body and face with no adverse side effects. But since surfactants can have a drying effect on the skin, soaps containing SLS can cause further drying in people with already dry skin, explains Nikola Djordjevic, MD, a doctor and co-founder of MedAlertHelp.org.
Look for plant oils
Djordjevic recommends using natural soaps, such as those made from organic vegetable oils.
He says: “Any natural soap containing vegetable oils, cocoa butter, olive oil, aloe vera, jojoba, and avocado are perfect for dry skin.”
Look for glycerin
If you can’t find a natural soap, look for products that have glycerin which will provide the skin with enough moisture, he adds.
Avoid added fragrances and alcohol
Rhonda Klein, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and partner at Modern Dermatology agrees to avoid soaps containing sulfates.
She also adds fragrances, ethyl, and alcohol to the list of ingredients to avoid since these can dry the skin and cause irritation, too.
Look for lanolin or hyaluronic acid
Klein further highlights the importance of seeking out ingredients such as lanolin and hyaluronic acid for their hydrating effect.
Lanolin — an oil secreted from the sebaceous glands of sheep — has moisturizing and conditioning properties for the hair and skin, whereas hyaluronic acid is a key molecule involved in skin moisture.
Avoid synthetic dyes
Not only should you look for ingredients that hydrate the skin, it’s also important to avoid synthetic colors, explains Jamie Bacharach, a licensed naturopath and the head of practice at Acupuncture Jerusalem.
“Companies that compromise on the quality and chemical composition of their soap in order to achieve a certain color aesthetic are not putting their customer’s skin first,” she says.
“Synthetic colors are chemically achieved and typically have an adverse effect on skin, the likes of which may exacerbate dry skin problems rather than relieve them,” she adds.
When shopping for a soap, it also helps to smell it before buying it. It’s not uncommon for soaps and body washes to have added fragrances. This appeals to the senses — but it can mess with the skin.
“Soap that is overly perfumed or fragrant is almost always loaded with synthetic scents and chemicals to give off a strong smell and reel in consumers,” continues Bacharach. “Safe soaps that soothe dry skin will almost always not carry a powerful fragrance — so make sure to smell the soap before applying to your skin, so that it doesn’t make your dry skin worse.”
If your current body wash, soap bar, or facial cleanser leaves your skin overly dry and itchy, here’s a look at 5 products to improve hydration and reduce irritation.
Dove Sensitive Skin Unscented Beauty Bar
Dove’s Sensitive Skin Unscented Beauty Bar is the only thing I advise my patients to bathe in, says Neil Brody, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Brody Dermatology in Manhasset, New York.
“It doesn’t leave a residue, it’s mild and nonirritating for skin, it has no perfumes, and it doesn’t dry out the skin,” he further explains.
This hypoallergenic bath bar is gentle enough to use daily on the body and face.
Cetaphil Gentle Cleansing Bar
Cetaphil’s Gentle Cleansing Bar is recommended by dermatologists, and it’s one of Dr. Klein’s favorite soaps for dry skin.
It’s unscented and hypoallergenic, thus safe for the face and body. It’s also gentle enough to use every day on eczema or rash-prone skin. The bar has a light scent that’s refreshing, yet not overpowering.
Dove DermaSeries Dry Skin Relief
This liquid body wash — along with the rest of this skin care line from Dove — is recognized by the National Eczema Association (NEA) as being an effective gentle skin cleanser for dry skin relief and appropriate for adults.
NEA notes that these potentially irritating ingredients are present but at low concentrations in this product:
Method Bar Soap Simply Nourish
Are you looking for a natural soap? Method Body’s Simply Nourish is a cleansing bar made with coconut, rice milk, and shea butter.
It’s paraben-free (no preservatives), aluminum-free, and phthalate-free, to make it gentle on skin.
Trilogy Cream Cleanser
This facial cleanser is perfect for removing dirt and makeup from your face without drying out your skin. It’s paraben-free, fragrant-free, rich in antioxidants, and contains essential fatty acids to strengthen your skin’s moisture barrier.
It’s gentle enough to use as a daily facial cleanser and includes hydrating ingredients like glycerin and aloe vera.
Along with using a hydrating facial and body cleanser to prevent dryness, other measures can help to improve your skin’s moisture level:
- Apply moisturizer daily. After cleansing your face or body, apply a moisturizer to your skin such as body lotions, oils, or creams, and oil-free moisturizers designed for the face. These products help seal in moisture and prevent your skin from drying out.
- Don’t over wash. Washing too much can dry out your skin. Also, bathing in hot water can remove the skin’s natural oils. “I say that you’re allowed one shower a day, and turn down the water temperature — your skin will appreciate it,” says Dr. Brody. Limit showers to no more than 10 minutes and apply moisturizer immediately after while your skin is still damp.
- Use a humidifier. Dry air can also dry out skin, leading to itching, peeling, and irritation. Use a humidifier in your home to add moisture to the air.
- Keep your body hydrated. Dehydration can also trigger dry skin. Drink plenty of fluids — especially water — and limit beverages that cause dehydration such as alcohol and caffeine.
- Avoid irritants. If you have a skin condition like eczema, contact with irritants can worsen symptoms and dry out skin. Avoidance, however, can improve your skin’s health. Eczema triggers may include allergens, stress, and diet. Keeping a journal and tracking flares can help identify your individual triggers.
Dry skin is a common problem, but you don’t have to live with it. The right skin care products can improve your skin’s moisture barrier and relieve irritating symptoms like itching, redness, peeling, and flaking.
When shopping for a bar soap, facial cleanser, or shower gel, read product labels and learn how to recognize ingredients that strip the skin of moisture, as well as ingredients that hydrate the skin.
If dryness doesn’t improve with over-the-counter remedies, it’s time to see a dermatologist.