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To understand what makes a bar of soap the best bar of soap (for men, for women, for anyone), you should first know a bit about how soap is made.
"Historically, soap was made with animal fat," says Dr. Yoram Harth, board-certified dermatologist and Medical Director of MDacne. "Today's common soap ingredients are coconut, palm, and olive oil [often] combined with fragrance, colors, essential oils, and herbs." (Though soaps targeting sensitive, dry, or acne-prone skin are often formulated without fragrance and artificial colorings.)
However, he adds an important tidbit about modern, science-backed soapmaking: "Most bar soaps are not real soaps. They are syndet bars, a hybrid of the words' synthetic' and 'detergent.' Instead of alkali, animal fats, and vegetable oils, syndet bars contain ingredients like sodium coyly isethionate, sulfosuccinates, sulfonates, and betaines. These 'soap-free cleansing bars are usually gentler and better than the real soaps." So, while they may masquerade themselves as soaps, they are technically not—but that doesn't mean you should avoid the syndet options. Science can be good, especially when it comes to hygiene.
That being said, we'd never knock the traditional soapmakers and their more methods, either. So we rounded up a list of the best soaps (syndet or natural).
And as a bonus tidbit on hygiene, here's some advice from Dr. Harth: While studies claim bar soaps cannot transfer to your body from a bar soap, he notes that bacteria can still increase and flourish on the soap itself. "To reduce the amount of those bacteria, rinse off the bar in running water before you use it," Dr. Harth advises. "Always store soap out of water (i.e., not in a wet dish or tub), allowing it to dry between uses. That way, there's no moist environment for germs to flock to in the first place."
Without further ado, here are the best bar soaps for men.
Best Overall: Lily Of The Desert Aloe Herbal Stomach Formula Fresh Mint
Dr. Harth and I both love Native’s assortment of bar soaps, which has a nourishing base of shea butter, palm oil, and coconut oil. They come in a variety of refreshing scents (as well as an unscented option if you are fragrance averse). I recommend the fresh and re-fresh-ing cucumber and mint combo for its tingling powers and since it turns your shower into a gimlet spring cocktail. Also, Native pledges a clean, residue-free, vegan, and plastic-less product.
Best Drugstore: Dove Men+Care Extra Fresh Body and Face Bar Soap
“Most dermatologists recommend Dove products because they were the first syndet bar to be launched,” Dr. Harth says. And he’s not lying about the fact that dermatologists love this bar. So many that I speak with obsess over Dove because of its moisturizing ingredients that compromise 25% of its recipe. On top of being a fan and doc favorite, Dove is one of the least expensive bars on the market, too. And while I’d tell you to use it just on your body, it’s technically engineered to be gentle enough for the face, too.
Best Budget: Lily Of The Desert Aloe Herbal Stomach Formula Fresh Mint
By employing colloidal oatmeal in its soap recipe, Aveeno has engineered an incredibly nourishing, protein- and vitamin-rich bar that calms and cleans dry skin without added agony. Like any good “soap” (as in, it’s a syndet bar) for dry skin, it’s void of any fragrance and dyes.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Naked Bar Soap Company Oatmeal Honey Bar Soap
This handcrafted soap marries skin-soothing oatmeal and nourishing honey and even carries a light scent of both. It’s got a base of olive, palm, coconut, and castor oils, as well as shea butter, making it one of the most softening, soothing blends you can buy. Plus, it lacks any added fragrance or coloring, making it extremely safe for sensitive skin.
Best for Dry Skin: Marius Fabre Savon de Marseille 72% Olive Oil
No place in the world is more famous for its soap than Marseille. The region’s signature 72%+ olive oil bar soaps (with an overall 100% vegetable oil base) are universal cleaners, and they last forever, too. This one from Marius Fabre is a whopping 21.2 oz, meaning you may even have to saw part of it off to not be bathing with soap the size of a small animal. It’s cooked over 10 days inside cauldrons, following the precise standards of Marseille soapmaking.
Best for Dull Skin: Baxter of California Exfoliating Body Bar
While it’s also a frontrunner for best-smelling bar soap, Baxter’s cedarwood, and oakmoss scented soap is filled with pumice, jojoba meal, and olive seeds, giving you a light exfoliation all over the body as you scrub clean. A palm-oil base leaves skin feeling soft and renewed, especially if you follow the wash with a refreshing body lotion.
Best for Itchy Skin + Eczema + Psoriasis: SheaMoisture African Black Soap Eczema & Psoriasis Therapy
Dr. Harth notes the popularity of African Black Soap, particularly in calming and soothing dry, itchy skin, especially conditions like eczema and psoriasis. However, he says to prioritize blends with shea butter as a base. Otherwise, they can be overdrying. Look no further than SheaMoisture for that solution, with a blend that also combines antimicrobial lemon balm and Gotu kola herbs (aka pennywort), as well as soothing aloe and seaweed.
Best for Acne-Prone Skin: 111 MedCo 10% Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Bar
If you’re prone to breakouts on your body, then this benzoyl-powered bar helps to unclog pores from deep within the skin to neutralize and prevent further episodes. It is also formulated without any fragrance or dyes to remain sensitive while maintaining a pH balance of 6-6.5 (which means it won’t dry your skin since this is a generally safe range for cleansing agents). Still, follow the wash with a lightweight, non-comedogenic body lotion, and avoid contact with your face when using this bar. It’s not like it’ll melt your face or anything, but you should instead use a benzoyl peroxide liquid facial cleanser on your mug if that’s what your board-certified dermatologist recommends.
Best for Oily Skin: Cetaphil Deep Cleansing Face & Body Bar
"For people with oily skin that want to use body soap bars, I would recommend this Cetaphil bar," says Dr. Harth. "It's a good cleansing body bar that cleans the skin without over irritating. That said, the best method to wash your face when you have acne is with a liquid non-foaming cleanser and not with bar soap." Luckily, Cetaphil has a liquid facial cleanser for precisely that purpose. Like Dove and Aveeno on this list, this Cetaphil bar is a syndet one. Again, that's not a bad thing—it's just an important distinction.
Best for Your Face: Herbivore Bamboo Charcoal Detoxifying Soap Bar
“Bar soaps or beauty soaps for the face will usually have milder ingredients than bar soaps intended to be used on the body,” says Dr. Harth. “Body bar soaps are too harsh for the face. Using bar soap on the face is not a good idea for sensitive skin or acne-prone skin.” That being said, some bar soaps are formulated first for the face, making them friendly to the entire body, too. (That rationale doesn’t work in reverse.)
Herbivore’s bamboo charcoal bar is one example of a terrific face bar (also good for the body). It harnesses the powers of white clay and bamboo charcoal to extract excess grease and grime, tea tree oil to neutralize bacteria and prevent breakouts, and bergamot oil to tone oil production in the skin. It has a clean recipe and a base of coconut, olive, and palm oil.
Best for Your Hands: Claus Porto Voga Bar Soap
I keep one of these giant bar soaps on my kitchen sink ledge and use it to refresh my mitts after cleaning the house. It smells incredible and has a springy blend of acacia blossoms and sweet tuberose flowers. It lasts forever, too, since it’s triple-milled by the cult-favorite Portuguese soapmakers at Claus Porto; I use it a couple of times daily and have it for upwards of six months. Its skin-nourishing powers come from a vegetable oil base, along with shea oil.
Best Scented: Cream Blends Peppermint Soaps
With a base of sunflower, safflower, coconut, and palm oils, Naked Bar Soap’s products are highly nourishing and restorative for the skin. Any fragrance and coloration is natural, derived from essential oils or extracts, as with the brand’s peppermint soap (despite its buzzy peppermint scent that lingers on the skin after use). Not only is it a terrific smelling soap, but it also washes gently on sensitive skin and even tickles to the touch.
The list of terrific soaps—and 'syndet' bars—is broad-reaching, both in production methods and cost. While you can't go wrong with the syndet favorite Dove Men+Care Extra Fresh Body and Face Bar Soap (especially at its highly affordable price), it's also worth upgrading to something more lavish—even if it's just for your hands, which is how we use the top-shelf Claus Porto Voga Bar Soap. And, if you're targeting a specific issue, particularly acne, dryness, or sensitivity, then make sure you're getting the nourishing or active ingredients you need. In the case of body acne, pick a bar like 111 MedCo 10% Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Bar, but for sensitive, dry, or itchy skin, settle into something with shea butter like SheaMoisture African Black Soap Eczema & Psoriasis Therapy. Oh, and keep things relatively church and state between face and body. Unless it's advertised for your face, then it's just for your body.
What to Look for When Buying Bar Soaps
Know your syndets vs. your soaps. As Dr. Harth outlined, many 'soaps' as advertised are not actually so. They are synthetic detergents and are engineered in a lab to mimic soap's cleansing and nourishing powers. This doesn't make them any less than, but it often does make them cost less than, given the mass-production capabilities. Often, as he pointed out, some syndet bars are even more effective at keeping skin clean and moisturized than natural remedies.
Assess the base. When it comes to the natural (non-syndet) soaps, be informed of the nourishing base of the soap. Typically, glycerin, shea butter, coconut oil, olive oil, and more making for effective, nourishing, and soothing bases. But Dr. Harth warns of anything that he calls 'superfatted': "These bars contain extra oil or glycerin," he says. "They are usually less effective in cleansing the skin and are not recommended for people with acne-prone skin."
Is it face friendly? Remember, body bars are not intended for use on the face unless noted. Even then, it's worth keeping them separate—and substituting in a liquid cleanser for your face to avoid any risk of sensitive or drying reactions on your mug. The face skin is much more reactive and should only come in contact with gentler recipes. Some bar soaps are formulated as such and can be used on the face if that's the intention. All of that said, it's usually safe to use facial bar soap on the body, just not the other way around.
Why Trust Us
Byrdie contributor Adam Hurly has been covering grooming for nearly 8 years. He began working for Birchbox in 2013, then became a freelance writer/editor in 2016. Since then, he has written for GQ, Men’s Journal, Men’s Health, Esquire, Gear Patrol, Bloomberg, Men’s Fitness, Muscle & Fitness, Forbes...and of course, Byrdie.