Shower gels... is one better than another?
July 15, 2015 7:28 AM   Subscribe

I'm happy with the shower gels that I use. It's an assortiment of Sanex products (I like variety). On paper or on the web, that company is all about the pH balance this, hydratation that, skin protection here, deep moisturization there. But does it really make a difference, or is soap basically soap?

I generally do not have skin problems; I don't use body lotions or butters on a regular basis, because my skin very rarely feels dry.
Still I'm wondering about all those claims from the company. I can't seem to find any objective information about whether these products are really better for the skin, like they claim.
Is it milder than other kinds of soap? More natural? Less drying? Or just more hyped up? Can anyone point me to a reliable source, if one exists, about this brand and their claims? I'd appreciate it.

Just in case: Please don't tell me that all soap is bad bad bad and makes baby Jesus cry, because I'm not likely to stop using it since it doesn't seem to give me any trouble. Thanks!
posted by Too-Ticky to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Hey Sanex buddy! From what I understand, the important features in a body wash are: it should be liquid (not bar soap), it should be water-soluble (of course), and it shouldn't contain any harsh scrubbing ingredients such as salt. It should also preferably be fragrance-free, but personally when I tried a truly unscented body wash (Neutral brand), I didn't feel as clean as I would like.

Moisturizing and skin-protecting ingredients are probably going to wash down the drain before your skin can truly absorb them. I haven't been able to find any reputable information about pH-balancing body washes, but pH-balance is touted by a lot of woo-ish sources (including Dr. Oz), so I'm pretty skeptical.

Personally, I use the "0%" Sanex washes, although I don't actually think ingredients such as parabens are harmful. I just like the way they smell and make my skin feel.
posted by neushoorn at 8:09 AM on July 15, 2015

It's really just soap. It's going to stay on your skin for 30 seconds, it can't do much in that time except loosen dirt and oil and leave a faint fragrance on you.

If you are prone to dry skin and soap makes it worse, some of those moisturizing soaps help keep that from happening so badly. The simplest forms of soap are pretty harsh, basically these claims are "we don't make it that harsh". If you've ever used a soap that left you feeling slightly squeaky or tight-skinned, that's a soap with basically no moisturizers in it. (This is where pH can come into play, as either too low or too high pH will make your skin feel weird.)

The only wash/face cleanser/cosmetic cleaner you should specifically avoid is the kind with little plastic microbeads in them for scrubbing, as water treatment plants are having a hard time with them, and they get into runoff and kill the ocean and stuff.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:13 AM on July 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

Moisturizing and skin-protecting ingredients are probably going to wash down the drain before your skin can truly absorb them.
My skin feels drier/tighter when I use one that is not moisturizing, but if you don't have any dry skin you probably don't need to use one. This may change as you age.
posted by soelo at 8:15 AM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Another vote for "moisturizing ingredients in soap may indeed stick around" - my own skin is prone to oiliness and I'm prone to sebaceous cysts, and I've definitely noticed an uptick in bacne when I use a more moisturizing soap or body wash.

That said, past a certain point it is all just soap. I say just go for whatever makes you feel pampered, and you get to define what "pampered" is in your unique bathtub; be that "this particular body wash makes my skin always feel nicer" or be that "this smells like my grandma's kitchen". Or you could do what I do and develop a slight addiction to soaps so you can coordinate them with your similar addiction to bubble baths and have a whole spa experience for yourself ("ooh, those cedar bath salts will be WONDERFUL with that balsam fir soap....and this guava bubble bath will be fantastic with that papaya shower gel - oh, and I have that coconut lotion, whee!"), and deal with it by just buying everything (in small sizes).

Seconding to avoid the plastic microbeads, though, because I've also heard that they're getting into the ocean because they're too small to be caught by most water treatment systems, and various critters are trying to eat them and getting sick.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:28 AM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I choose depending on three things: If I feel clean and refreshed after a shower (this also includes not feeling my skin has turned to leather or a grease bar), if it's not expensive and if it smells nice (not neutral, but also not too aggressive).

Funny enough, I started purchasing both my body wash and shampoo after trying free magazine samples. I don't know how that should make me feel.
posted by lmfsilva at 8:41 AM on July 15, 2015

If you want a really detailed explanation why soap isnt just soap and ahy you should probably pay attention to ingredient on a chemical level, read this.

I'd say the article is fairly neutral in its description.
posted by Fallbala at 9:15 AM on July 15, 2015

Hi, I work in chemicals regulation. My two cents:

Soap is basically soap, unless there are marketing claims about health effects (a bad sign, these aren't generally regulated and are total bullshit) or antibacterical/microbicidal activity (a bad sign, since the efficacy/reasonableness of their use has been called into question and is the subject of a lot of ongoing regulatory inquiry).

What does vary from one soap to another is its strength, and that's what you generally have to choose for yourself. Some people like really potent soaps/detergents (straight up bar soap usually falls into this category), and at the other end of the spectrum are castile soaps and the like that are either very diluted in the final formulation or meant to be diluted before use (like liquid castile soaps).

"Better" varies from person to person, so, sadly, there's no real way to develop a sort of consumer reports for personal care products. Sanex is just a brand of Colgate-Palmolive, though, so you can always check up on things like the company's regulatory compliance and things like that. I don't think that's what you were looking for, tough.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:46 AM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Extra features like specific ingredients, extra moisturizing compounds, or a slightly acidic pH are mostly valuable for people who have sensitive skin, skin conditions like excess dryness or eczema, or people who are sensitive/allergic to certain ingredients. If you're fine with your usual use and have no complaints, there's really no reason to seek out extra features.
posted by quince at 10:52 AM on July 15, 2015

I'm a devoted user of Molton Brown body washes. They make no health claims whatsoever, but, wow, do they add pleasure to showering. Really superior quality.

We (two guys) use Silver Birch for spring and summer, Black Peppercorn for fall and winter.

Their products aren't cheap, so you might want to start with a sampler. (I apologize on their behalf for the stupid pink tote bag.)
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:36 PM on July 15, 2015

I used to seek out those extra features and was a complete shower gel aficionado. For some reason, I started using plain old bar soap (Palmolive or Dove or Dettol brands, sometimes Lush) including what's provided in hotels, a few years ago.

Inexplicably, I stopped needing to use body moisturiser so often (even in winter and in Australia's dry climate), AND I stopped getting the mild back acne that would show up every so often. It's been 5 years, I'm never looking back.

For luxury showers though, like when I want a pamper - Molton Brown is the best.
posted by shazzam! at 5:14 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thanks, answerers! Good information. I'll happily keep using my Sanex now.
And they don't use the microbeads anymore, and I'm glad; I've bought Sanex with microbeads before, but once I realised where that stuff would end up, I poured all of it through a coffee filter and threw the blue plastic goo that resulted in the trash. I have no idea why they won't make a scrub wash with ground peach pits or something like that...
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:14 AM on July 20, 2015

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