Natural soaps are all the rage today. Goat’s milk soaps, castile soaps, and artisan handmade natural soaps can be found in a rainbow of colors and scents at farmer’s markets and grocery stores. But those who focus on natural soaps can risk overlooking some of the spectacular synthetic soaps available on the market. By combining modern scientific advancements and production techniques, synthetic soaps can yield greater results on your skin than traditional lye and fat soaps.
To start with, what is the difference between natural soaps and synthetic soaps? Natural soaps are made by combining lye and fats, which when combined trigger a chemical reaction saponification that eliminates the original materials and creates soap. This chemical reaction is the reason that natural soap will not burn your skin, even though the lye that it is made of would cause severe burns if it contacted your skin as it was originally.
Traditionally, wood ash was used to provide alkalinity to make soap in the form of potassium hydroxide. Today, lye (sodium hydroxide) is almost exclusively used to make soap by all but the most die-hard DIY-ers. Synthetic soaps, on the other hand, are made out of synthetic detergents (or shortened to the industry term “syndet”). Syndet soap bars rose to popularity in World War 2, when there was a shortage of the materials needed to make natural soaps.
Some washing machines may not be suitable for use with synthetic soap, so check with your local store to verify if your washer model works with it.
Today, these products enjoy much more popularity and widespread use then their predecessors. These detergents are made to have a better pH balance for your skin, and are very effective at dissolving excess skin oils. This makes them especially popular for those with sensitive skin, who can react negatively to natural soaps.
While these products are excellent for cleaning your skin, they are often marketed as “bath bars” or “beauty bars”, as they technically do not meet the legal definition of soap. Some brands combine synthetic detergents with traditionally made soap to get the best of both worlds, while other specifically market soap free cleansing bars for sensitive skin. Whichever style you choose, there’s several brands of synthetic soap well worth trying out.
Best Synthetic Soap Brands
Dove was one of the first syndet bars to reach mainstream popularity, and was introduced in the late 1950s. This brand discovered a method to develop a beauty bar that moisturized skin rather than drying it out, which was a common problem with traditional soaps. Today, the brand has become one of the most popular and recognizable personal care brands in the world, and is sold across 80 countries.
The Dove Original Beauty Cream Bar is the brand’s flagship product, and has been a bestseller for over half a century. Containing 25% moisturizing cream, this product is designed to soften and smooth your skin. This soap is great for everyday use, and is made from gentle cleansing materials that can be used even on your face everyday without drying out your skin.
No parabens, phthalates, or sulfate cleaners are used in this product, and the Dove brand doesn’t use animal testing for any of their products. The Dove Original Beauty Cream Bar is a hard, bright white bar that lathers well in water, and feature’s Dove’s signature clean scent.
Dove’s Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar is another well received product from this brand, and is the #1 recommended bar brand by dermatologists and pediatricians. This beauty bar was specifically designed for customers with sensitive skin, and uses a fragrance-free and hypoallergenic formula, cutting out ingredients known to cause reactions in sensitive individuals. Like the Original Dove Beauty Bar, the Sensitive Skin Bar also contains 25% moisturizing cream and mild cleansers, so even if your skin is sensitive you can still get that silky smooth skin and daily cleansing that Dove is known for.
Along with their over a dozen different beauty bar options, Dove also offers several dozen liquid body washes with different specification to make everyone happy, many of which are packaged in 100% recycled plastic bottles. The Sensitive Skin body wash is a great option for people with sensitive skin, and features a hypoallergenic and ultra-mild formula that is sulfate and paraben free.
The Anti-Stress Body Wash calms irritated skin with naturally derived (and 98% biodegradable) cleaners, and utilizes Dove’s Microbiome Nutrient Serum, a blend of prebiotics designed to strengthen your skin’s microbiome.
The Kid’s Care series offers body cleansers on bright colors and fun scents (such as cotton candy and berry smoothie) in a hypoallergenic and tear free formula that is dermatologist and ophthalmologist tested for children. These and tons of other products are available from the Dove brand. With their extensive catalog, there’s sure to be a new favorite waiting under the Dove brand.
Zest was developed by Proctor and Gamble in 1955 by combining traditional soap with synthetic detergents to develop a bath bar suitable for use with hard water. The synthetic detergents prevented the build up of soap scum, a common problem encountered by people using traditional soap in hard water that causes unsightly buildup on faucets and tubs, as well as an itchy residue on skin.
Zest carries four popular cleansing bars, all of which are free from parabens, phthalates, and other harsh chemicals. The Ocean Breeze is their perfect everyday soap, and contains sea minerals and salt to reinvigorate your skin while cutting through daily dirt and grime. The Aqua Pure Cleanser contains added moisturizers and Vitamin E to keep your skin healthy.
The Cocoa Butter and Shea bar includes ingredients selected for their deep moisturizing qualities, which will leave your skin soft, smooth, and hydrated, even without the use of lotion. Finally, the Soothing Aloe bar contains aloe vera, a natural plant ingredient well known for soothing skin. If hard water is undermining your bathing experience, Zest is a brand you should try out.
Dial rose to prominence when they introduced the first antibacterial soap bar to the market in 1953. Today, they offer a range of bar soaps in three different collections, the Skin Care Collection, the Antibacterial Collection, and Clean + Gentle collection. These bath bars are closer on the spectrum to traditional soaps, but feature synthetic enhancements, such as benzalkonium chloride for antibacterial qualities.
Dial’s signature Antibacterial Collection includes their signature White and Gold bars, as well as refreshing scents including Lavender & Jasmine, Mountain Fresh, and Spring Water. These bars kill bacteria that live on the skin, and who are one of the big causes of unpleasant body odors. By killing these bacteria, these bath bars offer long lasting odor protection that eliminates smells at their source, rather than just covering them up.
Dial’s Skin Care series offers glycerin based skin care bars in several different bright scents, such as summery Coconut Water, fresh White Tea, and energetic Power Berries. The glycerin used in these bars helps draw and hold moisture to your skin, and prevent it from drying out.
Lastly, Dial’s Clean + Gentle bar combines hypoallergenic qualities with Dial’s signature antibacterial qualities. This bath bar is tough on odor-causing bacteria, but gentle on skin, and is free from dyes, parabens, phthalates, silicone, sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate. For long lasting odor control that combines both traditional and synthetic elements, Dial is the brand to go with.
CeraVe is a brand launched in 2005 when experts in the skincare field realized that many common skin conditions (such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne) were linked to compromised skin barriers. Working with scientists and dermatologists, CeraVe formulated cleansers using skin-identical ceramides with MultiVesicular Emulsion Technology, which restores the skin’s natural protective barrier while it cleans.
CeraVe offers a large selection of specialized cleaning products for different skin types and conditions. Their Acne Control Cleanser features 2% salicylic acid to gently exfoliate dead skin cells that can clog pores an exacerbate acne. Their Hydrating Facial Cleanser removes dirt, makeup, and excessive oils without stripping the skin’s natural protective barrier by using 3 essential ceramides and hyaluronic acid, and has been accepted by the National Eczema Association.
Cerave offers a hydrating soap-free cleanser bar that is non-comedogenic, and contains CeraVe’s signature ceramides and hyaluronic acid formula in a convenient bar form. Their Psoriasis Cleaner is specifically formulated to help those suffering from psoriasis, and includes lactic acid, niacinamide, and salicylic acid to relieve itching and redness.
There is a SA Cleanser Bar for Rough and Bumpy skin that utilizes both salicylic acid and spherical jojoba beads to exfoliate and smooth down rough and dry skin. If you have a specific skin condition, or just want the latest and greatest in skincare technology, CeraVe is a great brand.
Cetaphil is a brand started in 1947 by a small Texan pharmacist, intended to help customers with sensitive skin. Branching out from lotions, Cetaphil now offers synthetic skin cleansers to help customers with skin conditions.
Cetaphil’s Daily Facial Cleanser is hypoallergenic and paraben free, and defends against skin irritation, roughness, tightness, dryness, and weakened skin barriers. This glycerin-based gel won the 2021 Allure Best of Beauty Award, and is clinically proven to remove 94% of facial skin impurities. Another popular product is their DermaControl Oil Removing Foam Wash, which uses zinc technology to reduce oily skin without making your skin dry.
This pH balanced foam wash has been tested by Dermatologists, and despite removing 99% of excess oils in clinical trials is still gentle on sensitive skin. The Restoraderm Soothing Wash is a creamy soap-free body wash formulated for very dry and sensitive skin that utilized a blend of nine different moisturizers, Vitamin E, and Cetaphil’s patented Filaggrin Technology to hydrate skin and restore its natural moisture barrier. Combined with their lotions and other skincare products, Cetaphil is a brand that’s earned it’s long standing reputation as an excellent brand for sensitive skin.
Neutrogena began as a small cosmetic company in 1930, supplying beauty salons frequented by the film industry. The brand’s claim to fame came when they began to market a unique synthetic soap formula, which rinsed quickly and easily from skin and didn’t change the skin’s pH for more than a few minutes. In the 1960s until today, Neutrogena has worked closely with the medical industry to formulate and test high quality skincare products with the science to back up their claims.
The Original Formula Transparent Facial Bar is a time tested and dermatologist recommended facial bar that contains no harsh detergents, dyes, or hardeners. Using a glycerin rich formula, this facial bar removes excess skin oil and clears pores to leave skin clear and smooth. The Neutrogena Naturals fresh cleansing + makeup remover is gentle enough to use near the eyes, includes bionutrient rich Peruvian Tara Seed, and contains no sulfates, parabens, petrolatums, or phthalates.
The Hydro Boost Exfoliating Cleanser exfoliates while hydrating with hyaluronic acid for exceptionally soft and supple skin. The Oil-Free Acne Stress Control power-cream wash is a salicylic acid creamy fash wash that uses MicroClear technology to clear pores and stop acne before breakouts.
Finally, Neutrogena’s award winning Bright Boost resurfacing micro polish exfoliates skin and removes dullness from aging skin using Neutrogena’s Accelerated Brightening Complex formula. Using Glycolic and Mandelic AHA’s, this facial cleanser smooths and brightens skin as it cleanses away oil, dirt, and bacteria. If you’re looking for award winning skincare, Neutrogena has great synthetic soaps with nearly a century of satisfied customers behind them.
While natural soaps are experiencing a boom in technology and exploding through cottage industries, there are many brands of synthetic soap just too good to disregard. There are tons of options, whether you have a specific skin condition that needs to be addressed, or just want the latest in skincare technology proven with clinically proven results, synthetic soaps are well worth trying out.
Modern brands are taking steps to utilize recyclable packaging, biodegradable ingredients, and doing away with animal testing, so you can enjoy the best in skin care without worry. Whether you’re looking for a gentle and moisturizing body wash using biodegradable ingredients that won’t pollute waterways, soothing solutions for itchy or painful skin conditions, or preventing oily skin or acne, synthetic soaps are a great option.