While indulging in my weekly scroll through Net-a-Porter’s new arrivals the other day, I couldn’t help but notice a once-gauche trend making a comeback. No, I’m not talking about prairie dresses or Jerry Seinfeld-esque white sneakers — I’m talking about soap. Plain, fuss-free bar soaps for your face and body are back, and these 15 luxe versions could replace your favorite cleanser in no time.
The resurgence of bar soaps (every buzzy brand has one, from Drunk Elephant to Joanna Vargas to Herbivore Botanicals) makes sense when you consider the fact that both consumers and beauty companies are becoming increasingly eco-conscious. “Bar soaps do not need additional packaging — no bottles, tubes, or pumps,” Sallie Austin Gonzales, the president of clean personal care company SallyeAnder, tells The Zoe Report. “Bars simply have less impact on the waste stream.”
It’s not just the packaging that makes an environmental impact, though. “You waste far less product with bar soaps compared to cleansers,” Dr. Neil Sadick, a dermatologist with Sadick Dermatology in Manhattan, tells TZR; since you’re not squirting, pumping, or slathering on more than you need. But skincare can’t stand on sustainability alone — products have to actually benefit the skin as well. And bar soaps are notoriously drying for most skin types, right? Well, they used to be.
Years ago, beauty enthusiasts moved away from facial bar soaps when it was discovered that they could potentially cause irritation. “Bar soaps tended to have a high pH, and as a result, have a drying effect on the skin,” Ron Robinson, a cosmetic chemist and the founder of BeautyStat.com, tells The Zoe Report. Cue the influx of micellar waters, foaming washes, and oil cleansers; trends that eventually carried over into body care, effectively eliminating the need for bar soap at all. But these days, “soaps can be formulated for all skin types, depending on what ingredients are used or added to them,” Robinson says.
The products’ pH levels can even be organically engineered to reflect that of the skin. “A conventional bar of soap can have a basic pH greater than nine, whereas the skin is slightly acidic, and presents a pH of around five and a half,” Joy Isaacs, the founder of skincare brand ARgENTUM, tells TZR. “We have designed [our bar soap] to be more acidic, with a pH between five and a half and six, to help maintain the natural pH balance of your skin.” This means less dryness and irritation, and more protection from acne-causing bacteria.
“The ‘greening’ of soap bars has taken them away from lathering ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulfate, and moved into coconut-derived cleansing ingredients,” Dr. Audrey Kunin, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of DERMAdoctor, tells TZR, noting the rise of gently effective ingredients in bar soaps. “Sodium coco-sulfate, found in bar soaps such as the Drunk Elephant Pekee Bar, is meant to be a more eco-friendly and skin-friendly alternative to the lathering agent sodium lauryl sulfate, a notorious skin allergen,” she says. “Sodium cocoate, found in the Joanna Vargas Miracle Bar, is even milder to the skin than sodium coco-sulfate.” (She notes that those with a coconut allergy should avoid both, though.)
Many of today’s face and body bar soaps even rely on natural oils and glycerin, a humectant that draws moisture into the skin; making them just as moisturizing as your go-to cleansing balm. “Bar soaps typically contain cold-pressed oils to cleanse the face, together with binders to keep the soap in the bar form,” Dr. Sadick explains. “As long as they are compatible with your skin type, these new bar soaps are excellent means of cleansing and hydrating your skin.”
The dermatologist notes that those with oily skin may reap the biggest benefits from a bar soap, and Robinson suggests looking for versions that “contain charcoal or clay to help absorb excess oil.” Herbivore Botanicals Bamboo Charcoal Cleansing Bar Soap works to soak up excess oil without over-drying the skin, and the clay in Fresh’s Umbrian Clay Purifying Treatment Bar absorbs impurities to leave your face (or body) cleansed and clear.
“For sensitive skin, a fragrance-free soap with [plant-based] oil will help hydrate the skin without irritation,” Robinson says. SallyeAnder’s soaps feature olive oil, “making them the safest to use on extremely sensitive skin,” the brand’s founder tells TZR; while The Ranch’s natural body soaps use a moisturizing mix of coconut and safflower seed oils.
One universal crowd-pleaser is ARgENTUM’s Le Savon Lune Illuminating Hydration Bar. It’s formulated with a blend of castor oil and shea butter — both of which deliver a hydrated glow — alongside purifying bentonite clay. “It’s an aged volcanic ash, traditionally used for its healing [properties], that draws out impurities for a gentle but deep cleanse,” Isaacs says.
As long as you choose the right formula for your skin type, there aren’t many downsides to what Dr. Sadick calls the “new generation of bar soaps.” However, if your skin is overly dry or prone to irritation, you may notice some flaking — in which case, it’s best to revert back to your usual hydrating face wash or oil cleanser.
Ahead, the 15 bar soaps for face and body poised to reclaim their rightful spot on your bathroom sink.