Does soap dry out your skin? It’s a skincare rumour that has ‘gotten around’. Soap has gone from THE skincare staple we did everything with, to being a bit of a ‘don’t admit to using it’, hide it in the cupboard bad boy! Let’s cut to the chase. We know it already. Soap does absolutely dry out your skin! Soap can make your skin feel like a baked potato that spent 5 hours in the oven and is still somehow cooking! So just what is going on here, why does soap dry out your skin, and what soap is skincare safe? I got you lovelies…
There are 2 BIG reasons why soap does dry out your skin. To know how to avoid skincare products that ‘dry skin’ we need to know WHY the heck soap does dry out your skin. Let’s get on-this lovelies.
1. It’s All About pH Baby – Soap Is Drying Because It’s Alkaline
Your skin is fantastic! It knows how to take care of itself [most of the time!], all it asks for is a helping hand once in a while. One of these secret-weapon skills skin has to take care of itself has a fancy name, it gets called skin’s ‘acid mantle’. All that means is your skin is slightly acidic, naturally, it’s designed to be that way to keep nasty’s out!
Skin’s pH is normally in the ball park of 4.2 -5.5, 7 is neutral, and the whole scale, well that goes from 0-14.
If your skin pH is at ‘normal’ pH, it can protect itself from bacteria, heal quickly, keep itself hydrated and just be pretty darn awesome at all the other jobs it has! When skin pH is pushed towards neutral (like water), and made ‘more’ alkaline, skin loses its abilities to be healthy.
Does soap dry out your skin? Yes, because soap is alkaline. Your bog-standard bar soap is pH 9-12!
Skin which is knocked outta the healthy pH zone of 4.2-5.5 loses water and hydration FAST, that is why getting skin pH back to normal is one of the 4 proven ways to treat dry skin. It’s also why you might find water can actually DRY skin, water is pH 7, which means it can make your skin less acidic. Luckily skin has a barrier to stop too much water making it alkaline… and that takes us on to reason 2 why soap can dry your skin…
2. Soap Is Drying Because It Eats Your Skin’s Natural Oily Protective Layer – Sebum
Skin’s second defence is oil. Skin is naturally oily, even if you can’t see it or feel it, there is a super-duper natural oily layer there! This is your skin’s raincoat, it doesn’t go anywhere without it! See water, that stuff just flows everywhere, there ain’t no locking it down… well, until you put that oily layer into the equation. Then it ain’t going anywhere! Our ‘breathable’ natural raincoat keeps our skin hydrated!
Remember the last time you washed an super oily dish, did you get oily droplets floating on the top of that dish water? This is like your skin, only the whole top layer has a real thin oily layer.
The thing with soap is, it has a chemical called a ‘surfactant’, you don’t need to remember its name, all you need to know is this dude, eats oil for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and washes it down the plug hole. This has it’s time and place, imagine you’re a car mechanic and after a hard day’s work your skin is black with engine oil – well that surfactant soap thing would be awesome and wash it off like you would munch down on your favourite sweet treat! #Time&Place
Thing is, if your skin isn’t covered in engine oil, then that soap surfactant thing will be eating down on your natural oily protective raincoat (sebum). When your skin loses too much sebum, it loses its ability to lock-down water, and that means dry skin.
Does soap dry out your skin? Yes, because it has a chemical called surfactant that ‘eats’ the natural oils of your skin.
Best Soap Alternatives
To say ‘No’ to soap drying out skin, we need to be using something that has a skin-friendly pH and isn’t going to eat away our skins natural oily layer, oh! and it’d be nice if it actually gave something to skin too. We like non-selfish skincare here! If you are a dry skin sufferer, and especially if you suffer from redness and eczema, then these recommendations are especially for you.
(If you have normal skin, then using soap alternatives safeguards you from ever suffering dry skin conditions! Yes to that!)
1. Skin Friendly ‘Beauty Bars’. There’s this new thing, called a ‘beauty bar’, it looks like a soap, it feels like a soap but wait… Does this soap dry your skin? No, not if you find a good one! Beauty bars have mild soap/surfactant ingredients in them, they have a more skin-friendly pH and they have a ton of moisturising oils in there that will give to skin.
Beauty bars are one of Doves hero products, known for having 1/4 moisturising oils, they are a good bet for skincare. This ‘Beauty bar’ from A-derma, also contains oats, which are super skin loving and moisturising (dry skin be warned!).
2. Use a moisturiser as a soap replacement. Have you heard of Liz Earle’s Cleanse and Polish? It is loved by many. Liz Earle – Cleanse & Polish is a gentle face cleanser, that is basically (in formulation) a moisturiser.
See moisturisers have these ingredients that make oil and water stay together, these same ingredients are also mild cleansers. You could literally use a body moisturiser as a soap alternative or opt for a Shower cream like this one from L’Occitane (it still has some soap based cleansers in there, but they are milder, and mixed in with moisturising Shea butter and natural oils!).
3. NO irritants in sight, cleansing balms and ‘massage bars’. A lot of cleansing products have either SLS (strong soap surfactant) or a milder form of a surfactant in them. These are found in most shower gels, hand soaps, bar soaps, even beauty bars. These are good for a deep clean, but let’s face it, we don’t need a deep clean every day!
Lush do these massage bars which are just natural butters and oils which will dissolve away ‘surface grim’, but never take away your skin’s natural oils, you can use these as a bar soap in-between ‘deep clean’ days!
This is also the principle of Honesty For Your Skin’s, Protect Nourishing Cleanse Balm, with no soap based or surfactant type ingredients. These options are pure skin love, your skin pH will stay healthy and your skin keeps its natural protective raincoat. I would recommend all skin types to switch to these options for ‘majority use’ with a deep clean as a treatment, depending on your skin-type!
How are you ‘safeguarding’ your skin from future dryness? Come chat with me in the comments below…
If you are a dry skin sufferer, then you need some ‘dry skin’ loving ingredients in your ‘leave on’ skincare too! Check out this free skincare ingredient guide to help you choose skincare that’s right for your awesomely unique skin.
Cheryl Woodman is a scientist & award winning skincare formulator who’s more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim is to help you care for your skin in the best ways possible. She’s founder of the natural & fragrance free skincare brand Honesty while also hosting 1 to 1 skincare coaching to help you get your best skin yet. Find out more here.