Taking a shower gives you a much-needed morning refresher. A shower can also help you unwind at the end of the night. What can make or break your shower experience, however, is the type of soap you use. If you’re looking for soap that cleans, soothes, or even treats certain skin conditions, switch from a bar to shower gel.
Many consumers swap bar soap for shower gel for a more luxurious experience as shower gel offers more lather and more intense scents. Shower gels are often less drying and irritating than bar soaps because they are replete with moisturizing and calming agents that hydrate and nourish parched skin. There are also shower gel formulas that are hypoallergenic for sensitive skin as well as those designed to keep conditions such as eczema or body acne at bay.
Shower gels, especially premium formulas, can get expensive. Whenever possible, consider buying in bulk or take advantage of retailer sales or specials.
Shower gels have either clear or creamy formulas. While they have similar attributes, there are a few notable differences. For one, clear soap is the result of a hot process that involves solvents – namely glycerin, sugar, and alcohol – to break down soap crystals. Creamy, opaque soaps are the product of a much different manufacturing process, which usually leaves out glycerin and often includes moisturizing agents, or sometimes animal byproducts, to achieve their consistency.
As far as the difference in user experience, glycerin formulas are considered gentler on skin than others. These shower gels lack the harsh cleaning agents that are present in some creamy formulas, and they focus on keeping excess oil at bay and unclogging pores. Some consumers, however, report their skin feels unusually dry after washing. This is where creamy formulas excel as they have more moisturizing ingredients.
Many shower gels are infused with essential oils, such as lavender, eucalyptus, or rosemary. Not only do essential oils contribute to the fragrance of the formula, they’re also often included for their anti-inflammatory properties. Many shower gels formulated for sensitive skin have essential oils as a means to calm skin and prevent it from becoming red or tender after washing.
Nearly all creamy shower gels contain moisturizers as their main ingredients. Consumers often reach for moisturizing shower gels to soothe dry or flaky skin. Cocoa butter, shea butter, and oatmeal are some of the most common moisturizers used in shower gels. Plant-derived oils are also popular, especially avocado, jojoba, or aloe vera.
Shower gels that produce a rich lather usually contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). While SLS remains stable when dry, when mixed with water it activates to produce bubbles. Some consumers have decided to shy away from sulfates as they’re synthetic ingredients that may irritate sensitive skin. SLS can have somewhat of a drying effect, even in shower gels balanced with heavy moisturizers, but for many people, it presents no problem.
Glycerin is present in many shower gels. It’s a humectant, which draws in moisture from the air to your skin. Glycerin-based formulas are often recommended for those with sensitive or oily skin. Though if you have dry skin, these shower gels may leave your skin feeling a bit dehydrated.
Exfoliating shower gels are formulated to remove dry, dead skin from your body. In addition to basic ingredients, these shower gels contain exfoliating microbeads or tiny particles derived from nuts, peach pits, or even coffee grounds. These shower gels often contain salicylic acid, which aids in keeping acne at bay.
While exfoliating formulas can improve your skin in moderation, overuse will actually end up stripping the skin. Shower gels that contain salicylic acid can bleach or discolor your towels as well.
To bring your shower gel with you on trips, invest in TSA-approved travel bottles.
When you try new body care or beauty products, it’s important to be cognizant of any skin conditions you may have. If you have sensitive skin that is triggered by certain ingredients, make sure the shower gel you’re considering is free of those irritants. If your skin rarely reacts adversely to new products, be mindful of any new reactions. Redness and tingling are a sign to discontinue usinga shower gel and research unfamiliar ingredients as you may be allergic.
Hypoallergenic shower gels are designed to be as gentle as possible. These formulas leave out sulfates, parabens, fragrances, dyes, or other synthetic ingredients. Instead, they utilize many natural, plant-derived ingredients to achieve the same cleansing or moisturizing effects.
The only downside to hypoallergenic shower gels is that they rarely lather up like regular shower gels, which can be underwhelming to some consumers. Fragrance-free varieties may have a somewhat clinical smell as well.
Vegan shower gels are formulated without animal testing or animal byproducts. In fact, you’ll find many shower gels that are PETA-approved or carry the cruelty-free stamp. These formulas rely on tried-and-true plant-derived ingredients that are gentler on skin, such as aloe, essential oils, and fruit extracts. Vegan shower gels tend to be a bit more expensive than regular formulas.
If you struggle with dry or sensitive skin, make sure you invest in a shower gel that is alcohol-free to prevent burning or dehydrated skin.
Shower gel prices
Shower gels cost anywhere from $6 to $50 per bottle. Price mostly depends on the quality of the ingredients.
There are several drugstore shower gels priced at $12 and below. These include many formulas that contain sulfates. However, you’ll find a few formulas that are hypoallergenic or made with mostly plant-derived ingredients.
The bulk of shower gels falls into the $15 to $20 range. These include many formulas that are geared toward specific skin types, such as dry, oily, or acne-prone skin. This range also includes many shower gels manufactured by well-known beauty brands.
Luxury shower gels, manufactured with rare or pricey ingredients, cost anywhere from $25 to $50 per bottle. This category includes some shower gels with more clinical ingredients to treat skin conditions like eczema and acne as well as high-end formulas that are infused with premium ingredients.
Did you know?
Shower gels are often part of a brand’s body care collection. There may be a companion body moisturizer for post-shower use to maximize results.
Make sure the shower gel bottle is closed. To prevent accidental spills and squirts, make sure your shower gel is tightly closed after every use.
Keep shower gel away from running water. Even if your bottle of shower gel is closed, gaps between the cap and bottle may allow water to seep inside. This dilutes the formula, so be sure to store your shower gel away from the showerhead.
Choose trial or travel sizes to compare formulas. Because shower gels are more expensive than other soap options, it’s a good idea to try before you commit to a full-size bottle. If possible, seek trial or travel sizes from manufacturers so you can find out if the formula is worth the investment.
If you intend to use an exfoliating shower gel, limit use to no more than a couple times a week and stick to hydrating formulas for all other days. That way, your skin has time to calm down after each exfoliation and won’t end up excessively dry or overstripped.
Q. What is the difference between shower gel and body wash?
A. While many people use the terms interchangeably, the main difference between the two is the consistency. Body wash tends to be more liquidy and runny, whereas shower gel has a firmer, almost gel-like consistency. If you squirt some of each product into your hand, the body wash will immediately drip off your palm, whereas the shower gel will hold its form and won’t change in consistency until water is introduced.
Q. Is there a difference between unscented and fragrance-free shower gels?
A. These are actually two very different terms. Unscented shower gels lack strong fragrances to counteract the scent of their chemical ingredients. They simply mask the chemical smells with neutralizing fragrances for a “scentless” finish. Fragrance-free shower gels, on the other hand, are free of synthetic fragrances.
Q. Is it more cost-effective to use bar soap or shower gel?
A. When you compare the price of a bar of soap to the price of shower gel, bar soap is much cheaper. Some consumers also feel shower gel ends up being an expensive alternative considering that product waste is inevitable. Depending on the dispenser, you can accidentally squirt out or spill a shower gel easily. So if price is your main concern, bar soap is the way to go, but a shower gel may offer far more benefits that are worth the investment.