Soaps versus detergents

Ok, so we've got shaving all taken care of but what about that hair and the rest of your face? Get the low down on shampoo's, conditioners, finishers, cleansers, toners and moisturizers right here!
JackieMartling

Soaps versus detergents

Post by JackieMartling »

There's been a lot of talk lately about whether tallow or vegetable bases in soaps are preferable. However, ever since I discovered my beloved AOS tangerine bath bar has a partial detergent base, I've been wondering what the benefits and disadvantages are of soaps versus detergents. I've done a little poking around, and while I haven't found any conclusive evidence that's a slam dunk for either side of the argument, I have found some things that raise questions and might make us think a bit.

The two predominant arguments I have seen in favor of bathing with a soap are that soap is a "natural" substance, and that detergent is harsh. Usually, these claims are not backed up with any substantive data, or they cite the fact that the most common detergent used in detergent-based skin care products - sodium laureth sulfate (SLS) - is a known skin irritant, often used as a control in studies attempting to determine the irritation potential in other chemicals. Despite these claims, I have not found any scientific data that support the use of soap as a cleansing agent over detergents. Indeed, I have found the opposite.

The evidence in support of bathing with detergents is pretty substantial. Healthy skin is somewhat acidic in nature, with a pH of 5.5 (neutral pH is 7). Traditional soap bases are alkaline in nature, with a pH of around 9. This alkaline tendency disrupts the acid mantle of the skin, which is responsible for retaining moisture and keeping bacteria at bay. This pH imbalance can cause irritation in some individuals. Mild detergent cleansers designed for use on the skin typically have a pH of 4 to 7, which helps keep the acid mantle intact, and is less distressing on the skin. (http://www.wocn.org/education/readartic ... icle1.html)

Soaps are known to react with mineral content in hard water, resulting in poor rinsability. This is what produces soap scum in your shower. This scum can also linger on your skin, clogging pores and also possibly producing irritation, especially in those who are sensitive to the pH imbalance mentioned above. Detergents do not react with hard water, and tend to wash more cleanly. This is the reason we use detergent in our laundry, rather than soap. Soap stays in the clothes and tends to lend them a dull, grayish cast, whereas detergent tends to wash clean. (Nancy Boy's site points out that the extremely strong detergents found in most commercial brands actually stay in clothes, too. So, one can infer that not all detergents products are created equal, and a certain degree of discretion and selectivity is needed. It is also worth noting that, in this instance, they are discussing laundry detergent, rather than skin-care products.)

Two things in my findings proved the most convincing, at least to me. One is the online Skin Care Guide, put together by dermatologists. On this site, they provide information and explanations about cleansers and other skin care products. They offer the following commentary on soaps:

- The most commonly used cleanser
- Made from a combination of fats (of animal or vegetable origin), oils and salt
- Can plug hair follicles (pores)
- Can cause dryness and irritation due to anionic surfactants
- Disturbs the skin’s natural pH
- May leave a residue on skin

They also post comments on superfatted soaps or "beauty bars":

- Reduce dryness with lanolin, tallow fat, coconut oil, sweet almond oil or glycerin
- Can plug hair follicles
- Disturb the skin’s natural pH
- Can cause dryness and irritation due to anionic surfactants
- May leave a residue on skin

Here are their comments about liquid detergent cleansers:

- Generally mild and less irritating
- Often contains glycerin, cetyl alcohol or propylene glycol
- Not considered soap, as they have no fatty acids or alkalis
- Have a pH similar to normal skin
- Rinse off well, decreasing potential for skin reactions
- May contain anionic, non-ionic or silicone surfactants
- May leave a fine moisturizing film on the skin
- Effective in removing cosmetics

The obervations are made by doctors, rather than marketing people, and the site is peer reviewed for accuracy and objectivity. Also, they provide no brand recommendations, and have no advertising on the site, although they do have corporate sponsors listed on a sponsor page, separate from the rest of the site's content.

The other convincing finding was a German study comparing the efficacy of soaps versus acidic syndet [detergent] bars on acne sufferers. While the study's main aim was determining the relative effectiveness of each cleanser type in fighting acne, the study also compared the irritation potential of each product. The study noted, "Symptoms or signs of irritation were seen in 40.4% of individuals belonging to the former [soap-using] and 1.8% belonging to the latter [acidic syndet bar-using] group." In other words, roughtly 40% of the participants who used soap as a cleanser showed signs of irritation resulting from its use, whereas only 1.8% of the participants who used detergent in the same manner showed similar signs of irritation. Admittedly, these participants were juveniles suffering from acne. However, the study would seem to cast doubt on the argument that detergent cleansers are more irritating than soaps, and actually suggests the opposite.

Lest it seem that I have an ax to grind against soaps and am making a pro-detergent argument, I am not. I approached this matter with genuine questions and an open mind, and sought to find answers. I am simply reporting what I have found. I cannot claim to have practiced totally exhaustive research, utilizing specialized databases and medical-journal-quality resources. I simply spent a few hours on Google entering search terms and reading the results. But those results are still telling to me. Simply put, I did not see a single pro-soap finding that did not come from a marketing source, or some individual or individuals attempting to sell a soap product. Likewise, the most compelling pro-detergent findings came from medical or other ostensibly credible and disinterested sources. I invite a dialog about this issue, and welcome serious input from people on either side of the issue, especially those who might challenge what I've written.


~ Nathan
Last edited by JackieMartling on Mon Mar 12, 2007 1:06 am, edited 1 time in total.
bernards66
Duke of Silvertip!
Posts: 27408
Joined: Sun Feb 27, 2005 1:02 pm

Post by bernards66 »

Nathan, I've not looked deeply into this, on the medical level, although I imagine that Chris F. has. As far as I'm concerned, this is just another one of those YMMV things. I have used enough detergent based 'body washes' to be quite convinced that they are definately not 'better' for my skin. Either they dried it out, or, if enough other ingrediants were added to conteract that tendency, then they left an unpleasant film on my skin. Quality soaps have always been less irritating and rinsed cleaner, FOR ME. I can't say for certain how it might be with anyone else. The arguments that you cited in favor of detergent based cleansers have been around for quite some time. But in these matters, in the end, we have to go with our own experiance, as it seems to be a quite individual matter.
Regards,
Gordon
JackieMartling

Post by JackieMartling »

bernards66 wrote:The arguments that you cited in favor of detergent based cleansers have been around for quite some time.

That may be true, but I have never seen them discussed here. I didn't know any of this stuff until I went about researching it on my own, so perhaps a lot of others aren't familiar with the arguments, either. (No doubt Chris F. is, and will have something to say about them.) It certainly can't hurt to provide information and let people decide for themselves what works for them.


~ Nathan
EL Alamein
Posts: 2982
Joined: Thu Jul 13, 2006 7:55 pm

Post by EL Alamein »

Nathan, that was a very fascinating and enlightening piece and I thank you for the information. I accept what you have found and I can see how most people will do better by a detergent given the facts you have presented.

But I will tend to agree also with Gordon that this is a highly personal thing and everyone deals differently with different products. From my own experience I know that the detergents strip my skin and irritate me. One of the dead giveaways besides red splotches is if I scratch an itch and my skin starts to flake - off to the dumpster goes said cleanser (unless it can make a nice hand cleaner). Winter time is especially a good time to help me identify good soaps for my skin.

I also find it interesting that most hypoallergenic bar soaps I found follow the tallow and coconut formula. Perhaps this is a vestige of long ago and merely a representation of the mildest formulation of it's time that can be safely abandoned by many for the mildness of the detergent bar. It would be interesting to learn more with regards to this.

I myself though have been through enough products of the kind to clearly see that my skin at this point prefers the tallow based soaps. Again, an individual thing. It does however make me feel a little bit like the odd man out. Such is life with sensitive skin.

Chris
JackieMartling

Post by JackieMartling »

Chris, if it makes you feel any better, I feel like the odd man out here sometimes, especially when I write something like the above post that I know most here probably won't agree with. Although I would like to stress that I'm not advocating either point of view. Even though what I wrote seems to be pro-detergent, that's only because I found more convincing pro-detergent evidence. The fact is, I can use soaps (both vegetable and tallow) as well as syndet bars and liquid detergent-based shower gels, usually without any problem. If I do have problems, they could be either with soaps or detergents, so what variability I do experience is per the inidivual product, rather than the type of product it is. I was just curious as to what some of the pros and cons were from a more clinical, less personal point of view. One thing I had a hard time reconciling was the common use of detergent cleansers in other areas - notably facial cleansers and shampoos - with a decided preference for soaps with body cleansing. Philosophically, I still can't reconcile that. For those who do not like using detergent-based body cleansers, but do use a separate, detergent-based facial cleanser and/or a detergent-based shampoo, how do you reconcile the inconsistency? Why is detergent OK in one instance, and not in another? Where do you draw your line? Again, these are serious questions, and are not meant to be rhetorical and/or challenges. I welcome people's answers.


~ Nathan
EL Alamein
Posts: 2982
Joined: Thu Jul 13, 2006 7:55 pm

Post by EL Alamein »

Nathan,

I agree with your sentiments. I think it's a subject worth examining in greater detail. The argument for detergent is strong for most of the population, it just depresses me a bit because I know that the implications for someone like myself means that most likely there will be less choice of what I found works best for me. I commend you on your good researching.

Chris
Bob
Posts: 1608
Joined: Thu Jun 08, 2006 2:55 pm
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Post by Bob »

I'm not really surprised by Nathan's findings. Speaking only for myself, I use both soaps and detergent-based body washes, and find both effective. I will say that I have started to notice that my skin dries out a bit easier in the winter. My guess is that this is normal, and probably due to aging. I've been using soaps all winter this year, though, and perhaps that has been a contributing factor.

One reason I generally prefer soap is that it's easier for me to handle. I'm not a big fan of shower "poofs" and washcloths, and body washes are usually applied that way. Soaps just seem easier to lather and apply in my groggy morning state. Then, too, I generally prefer the scents I get in soaps.

On the pro-detergent side, I like the way that body washes help prevent soap scum. We have an old house, and our showers are actually claw-foot tubs. It can be pretty time-consuming to scrub away the soap scum in those big tubs.

Perhaps it's time for me to consider a permanent switch to detergent, at least in the colder months. This winter, I had to apply moisturizers to my skin for the first time in my life. If I can avoid that next year my using detergents, I probably will. Any recommendations on detergents in bar form, rather than gel or liquid form?

Thanks for the research, Nathan.
--Bob--
JackieMartling

Post by JackieMartling »

Bob, the only one I can think of offhand to recommend is the AOS tangerine bath bar. See the link in my first post above to read my original review of it. Otherwise, I don't know, as all my experience with bars is limited to soaps, ironically enough.


~ Nathan


-Edit-

Here's the current link to the AOS bar on their website. The older link in the other thread is outdated.
Last edited by JackieMartling on Mon Mar 12, 2007 9:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.
bernards66
Duke of Silvertip!
Posts: 27408
Joined: Sun Feb 27, 2005 1:02 pm

Post by bernards66 »

Nathan, Well, I agree; there does seem to be a bit of an inconsistancy there when gents want soap for the shower but then use a detergent wash just for their face, and, of course, the shampoo. But, again, everyone varies some. With shampoo, the problem is that most of us are so used to using liquids/gels in that area, and detergent based stuff is all there is. Recently, I have been experimenting with doing what most American men did, through at least the 1950s, which was, washing one's hair/scalp with soap. And, I'm playing with this for exactly the reason you mentioned. It dawned on me ( duh ), that if tallow soaps seem to work better for my skin in general, why would they not treat my scalp-skin better as well? It's preliminary, but so far, the results have been encouraging. I don't believe that my father ever used shampoo in his life, and his hair remained clean and healthy seeming until he passed away at 80. I honestly believe that detergent cleansers are simply too drying or intense for many men, especially given the frequency with which most guys shower now days. But, it's for each individual to discover what works best for him. In the end, no one else can really do it for you.
Regards,
Gordon
fisherc
Posts: 1740
Joined: Thu Jul 08, 2004 1:24 am
Location: Bay Area, CA

Post by fisherc »

Gentleman:

I have researched this area quite extensively over the years and can tell you that there is no definitive answer to the "soap vs detergent" issue in skin care. Why ? Because the "effect" of a skincare product is based on the composition of the ingredients as a whole and not any one single ingredient such as saponified fats (animal or vegetable) or a synthetic surfactant (detergent). As an example there are many "good" cleansers that use SLS (a common detergent in skincare) and many bad ones that use natural surfactants such as decyl glucoside. Another example is variations we see in "soaps." Triple milled soaps are more drying (higher pH) than cold process soaps (lower more neutral pH). Now at the end of the day some of us have skin types that can "tolerate" certain ingredients/products while others cannot. So if it works for you and doesn't present any of the problems discussed then by all means keep usin git.

The concerns around "detergents" in skin care are largely due to the fact that for some people it can be an "irritant." And it has been shown to "convert" in certain formulas in to a "carcinogen." Skin is an absorptive organ and so this is something to think about when choosing skincare products. While the "harm it may cause" is relatively low risk and not anything to get too concerned about it's generally recommended to avoid it. Why ? Because there are natural alternatives that do an equally good job without the potential risks.

I find "soaps" of all types acceptable on the body but not on the face. In fact, the most efficient method of cleansing that leaves the natural acid mantle completely undistrubed is oil based cleansing. You can search on it using "oil cleansing method" or "OCM." Natural surfactants like cocamide dea or decyl glucoside are generally considered to be the best alternative. They don't have the sensiticity and carcinogenic risk of synthetic detergents and they don't have the high pH levels of "soap." They are not used as widely because they are relatively expensive.

This is a highly complex subject that could be discussed for hours but my fingers are tired and I am off to retire for the evening.

Chris
Hugo
Paranoid Schizophrenic
Posts: 1289
Joined: Thu Dec 16, 2004 7:05 pm

Post by Hugo »

fisherc wrote:Gentleman:

I have researched this area quite extensively over the years and can tell you that there is no definitive answer to the "soap vs detergent" issue in skin care. Why ? Because the "effect" of a skincare product is based on the composition of the ingredients as a whole and not any one single ingredient such as saponified fats (animal or vegetable) or a synthetic surfactant (detergent). As an example there are many "good" cleansers that use SLS (a common detergent in skincare) and many bad ones that use natural surfactants such as decyl glucoside. Another example is variations we see in "soaps." Triple milled soaps are more drying (higher pH) than cold process soaps (lower more neutral pH). Now at the end of the day some of us have skin types that can "tolerate" certain ingredients/products while others cannot. So if it works for you and doesn't present any of the problems discussed then by all means keep usin git.

The concerns around "detergents" in skin care are largely due to the fact that for some people it can be an "irritant." And it has been shown to "convert" in certain formulas in to a "carcinogen." Skin is an absorptive organ and so this is something to think about when choosing skincare products. While the "harm it may cause" is relatively low risk and not anything to get too concerned about it's generally recommended to avoid it. Why ? Because there are natural alternatives that do an equally good job without the potential risks.

I find "soaps" of all types acceptable on the body but not on the face. In fact, the most efficient method of cleansing that leaves the natural acid mantle completely undistrubed is oil based cleansing. You can search on it using "oil cleansing method" or "OCM." Natural surfactants like cocamide dea or decyl glucoside are generally considered to be the best alternative. They don't have the sensiticity and carcinogenic risk of synthetic detergents and they don't have the high pH levels of "soap." They are not used as widely because they are relatively expensive.

This is a highly complex subject that could be discussed for hours but my fingers are tired and I am off to retire for the evening.

Chris
Yep.

I think if some of those who have tried liquid cleansers in the past, and found them to be "harsh", have not tried the likes of Osea, Evan Healy, and Dr. Hauschka -- to name a few. For me, all bar soaps are "harsh" on my skin. Granted, I've never tried some of these higher end soaps, but -- as some on the other side of the fence here have stated -- past experiences have led me to stick with what works for me.
I'd like to see how many here, who are capable of using soap bars on their faces, are able to use alcohol based after shaves as well.
I'm sure, as with anything, it comes down to a personal preference and what works well with your skin. And you know what they say, "If it ain't broke..."
_________________
The man upstairs is used to all of this noise...
I'm through with screaming and echoes nobody hears
User avatar
Big Ren
The Toronto Kid
Posts: 1808
Joined: Thu Oct 27, 2005 4:49 pm
Location: Hogtown

Post by Big Ren »

Nathan,

An interesting topic with some interesting findings from the research you've conducted. As I see it, the cosmetics and grooming products industry is so huge, with so many competing interests vying for a piece of the pie, that it's really hard to make heads or tails of all the information coming out of this industry. If this weren't enough, the ingredients list of the average toiletry product reads like a passage from James Joyce's Ulysses. To try to understand everything quickly becomes an exercise in futility. My experience is similar to some of the other posters, in that I have not had successs with many detergent based shower gels which tend to irritate my skin, whereas I don't have a problem with soaps. And yes, to Hugo's point, I'm one of those who can liberally splash alcohol based aftershaves with no adverse effects to my skin.

A good friend of mine used to work for Alberto-Culver who manufacture different shampoo lines, from the basic drugstore stuff right up to more expensive salon grade products. He told me that according to their market research, based on focus groups, many consumers judge the efficacy of a product according to its ability to generate lather, and not so much on its cleansing properties. This necessarily demands that sudsing agents, like SLS make their way into many of these formulations. So, there is a whole psychological component at play here. Fragrances serve a similar purpose. Consumers generally favor products that are pleasing to their sense of smell and give less consideration to how they actually perform. And then there's packaging, which is a whole other subject.

At the end of the day, we all make our choices, for whatever reasons. I'm lucky because my skin is tolerant of most products.


Ren
"What I find ironic is the fact that we can talk wireless to a man on the moon but we can't talk to someone twenty feet away over a hard-wired intercom at a drive-thru!" - Pottydoctor
User avatar
Poetami
Posts: 125
Joined: Sun May 07, 2006 9:05 pm
Location: Augusta , GA

Post by Poetami »

There's a cleanser that I came across once on the internet , I can't recall the brand at the moment , that actually has no soaps OR laureth sulfates in it. It contains the mildest known detergent in the short list of ingredients and I've read nothing but positive customer reviews for it. Hopefully I'll remember the brand and can report back so everyone can check it out. I do remember that I didn't purchase it right away because the price was more than I wished to spend at the time.
" Demons chant, demons roar as they burrow down to the depths of our hearts/ For it is the soul of us all where the battle truly starts..."
- ME
JackieMartling

Post by JackieMartling »

Nancy Boy cleanser contains decyl glucoside, but blends it with SLS as well, so it's not a purely natural cleanser. Another cleanser I have by Zia Natural Skin Care uses cocamide dea and green algae as its main cleansing agents, with no sythetic detergents at all. Also, at around $18 for an 8-ounce bottle, its hardly the most expensive cleanser on the market.

I did a little research on the oil cleansing method, and come to find out, one of the recipes I saw recommended was a good old blend of castor and extra virgin olive oils, just like Art of Shaving pre-shave oil. So, being the human guineapig that I am, I broke out some of my old homemade stash and tried it out. Actually, it's not bad, but it is time consuming - this is no quickie lather and rinse like I'm used to. It also makes me wonder how I would incorporate this into a shaving regimen. Would I simply subtitute the oil for my normal cleanser and do everything else the same, or would I need to make other changes, such as in my aftershave? Any suggestions, Chris?


~ Nathan
User avatar
Poetami
Posts: 125
Joined: Sun May 07, 2006 9:05 pm
Location: Augusta , GA

Post by Poetami »

I found the cleanser I mentioned earlier. It is made by Vernacular Skin Works and can be purchased from their website. It retails for $ 14.50 and is called Very Gentle Cleanser. If anyone reading this has sensitive skin issues , it's definitely worth checking out. I'll probably purchase some for myself and give it a try. The price really isn't that bad if the stuff works as well as I've read it does.
" Demons chant, demons roar as they burrow down to the depths of our hearts/ For it is the soul of us all where the battle truly starts..."
- ME
fisherc
Posts: 1740
Joined: Thu Jul 08, 2004 1:24 am
Location: Bay Area, CA

Post by fisherc »

Nathan:

The Oil Cleansing Method is one of the most effective cleansing methods known, but it does require more time. If you want a "quick cleanse" it is not the way to go. You will find, however, if you do it at night and invest the time to do it properly you will likely not need to cleanse in the morning. I use OCM at night andin the AM I simply shower, allow hot water to run over my face a bit before I exit, and then lather up and shave at the basin.

When you use OCM you need to be sure that once the oil is applied that you apply a warm cloth to your face and let it sit a bit (15-30 seconds) and then wipe the face off completely. You need to repeat this again to insure that all the oil is removed.

It is very effective though highly unconvential. You'll find that OCM was used by many ancient civilizations including the Romans and Egyptians long before "soap" was discovered.
fisherc
Posts: 1740
Joined: Thu Jul 08, 2004 1:24 am
Location: Bay Area, CA

Post by fisherc »

Nathan:

One thing an ingredients list does not tell you is exactly how much of an ingredient is actually in a formula as a % of the total. It only provides relative ingredients. For example, many "natural" products you find at retailers like Whole Foods can contain up to 90% water in the formula. A cleanser may list Water and Cocamide DEA as "ingredients" but the surfactant may in fact be a very small portion of the total. If the ingredient is expensive relative to a synthetic surfactant like SLS the product price may still seem "inexpensive."

You cannot judge any one product including it's price on the ingredients list alone. The list can only give you an "indication" as to the quality of the product.

Chris
Last edited by fisherc on Tue Mar 13, 2007 4:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.
bernards66
Duke of Silvertip!
Posts: 27408
Joined: Sun Feb 27, 2005 1:02 pm

Post by bernards66 »

Hugo, FWIW, I always use quality bar soaps on my face today. but alcohol based aftershaves are definately a no go for me.
Regards,
Gordon
Bob
Posts: 1608
Joined: Thu Jun 08, 2006 2:55 pm
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Post by Bob »

Any suggested links on the Oil Cleansing Method, Chris? I'm intrigued, and my wife may be even more so. About how long does it take? Are we talking 10 minutes, or 20? I'm appreciative of anything you can tell me.
--Bob--
fisherc
Posts: 1740
Joined: Thu Jul 08, 2004 1:24 am
Location: Bay Area, CA

Post by fisherc »

Bob:

You can find a variety of link son the web by typing "OCM" or "Oil Cleansing Method" in to any search engine.

I can do this in about 3-5 minutes. It certainly does not take 10 minutes or more. It's also a good way to "unwind" before bed as you need to do a bit of massage to rub the oils in to the skin.

Chris
Post Reply