What are the different skin types and which soap you should use?

A guide to the best soaps and most suitable ingredients no matter what skin you have

Woman cutting up a bar of soap
(Image credit: Getty)

Soap is something most people use every day, whether that’s in liquid form or as a bar. But there’s more to soap than simply making us smell like a bunch of roses. Modern-day soap products now boast an array of unique ingredients to differential themselves, whether that’s through a concoction of botanical oils to nourish and moisturise the skin, or infused with natural, antibacterial properties for targeting certain skin conditions. The possibilities are endless.

But with lots of choices in our best soap for men guide, all with their own cocktail of sometimes quite strange ingredients, how do we know we’re getting the right soap that’s best suited to our skin type? That’s exactly what we’re here to help you with. In this article, we’ll detail the different types of skin types and the best kinds of soap for each.

Not 100-percent sure of the difference between shower gel, body wash and bar soap? Read our soap vs shower gel vs body wash explainer, first. 

The different skin types and which soaps you should use

So how important is it actually to ensure we’re using the right type of soap with the right ingredients for our skin? Actually, more than you think. If you’ve got a naturally oily skin type, for example, then you don’t want to invest in a soap brimming with oil-based ingredients as that could make your skin greasy, shiny or even lead to breakouts. Equally, if you’ve got dry skin you’re going to want to avoid soaps targeting people with conditions like acne or containing harsh ingredients like alcohol, retinoids, or alpha hydroxy acids as these may dry your skin even further and cause irritation.

Essentially, choosing the right soap for you is all about ingredients. These will determine how they affect the PH balance of your skin and thus what it looks like day-to-day. So we’ve put together a simple guide for you to follow to help you find a suitable soap. All you have to do is find your skin type below and we’ll advise the best ingredients to look out for and some potential soaps to try out. 

No matter what your skin type, though, look for bar soaps that are unscented, hypoallergenic, and include high levels of moisturising ingredients, such as ceramides, glycerin, hyaluronic acid and Niacinamide. Also, as a general rule of thumb, avoid chemical-ridden products that include parabens, lanolin, and formaldehyde.

Skin types guide:

These are the main skin types and product recommendations for each.

Dry skin

If your skin is often dry and sometimes flaky, try a soap containing ingredients like aloe vera, cocoa butter, avocado and vegetable oils. These are all great for those who experience dry skin, anywhere on the body. Olive oil, which also has anti-ageing properties (bonus!), shea butter, paraffin and glycerine are also brilliant ingredients to keep an eye out for as they’re super moisturising. 

CeraVe’s Hydrating Cleanser Bar (opens in new tab) is a good option. As is Ishga’s Shampoo and Body Bar (opens in new tab).

Sensitive skin

If you’ve got naturally sensitive skin that’s easily inflamed or reacts easily upon contact with new products, look for a soap with ingredients that are all-natural, organic or botanical-based, as these don’t irritate the skin. Vitamin E and jojoba oil are especially good, especially if you suffer from skin conditions such as ichthyosis, eczema and psoriasis.

A good sensitive soap is L'Occitane Shea Ultra Gentle Soap (opens in new tab) as it’s been specially formulated to be gentle on the skin.

Oily skin

Those that have oily skin should look for a naturally-antibacterial soap containing ingredients such as lavender, chamomile and thyme, all of which are effective for balancing shiny, oily skin. Authentic House’s Lemongrass & Lavender soap (opens in new tab) is a good choice thanks to its ability to balance out the oils in your skin while helping to prevent acne (a common occurrence for oily skin types). 

Combination skin

Glycerin-based soaps are a good option for those with combination skin (that is, skin that’s either dry in place and oily in places, or both). The great thing about Glycerin is that it helps nourish and soften the skin to give an even complexion. For this, we’d recommend Kiehl’s Heritage Glycerin Soap (opens in new tab) as it’s a great all-rounder for all skin types.

Break out-prone skin

If your skin is prone to breakouts, you’re probably already aware of the difficulty in finding a soap with a formula that’s suitable as many acne-fighting products tend to be on the harsh side. A great ingredient, however, is activated charcoal as this absorbs dirt and oil. Tea tree oil and lavender are also worthwhile alternatives, as these work to calm red, irritated skin and are naturally antibacterial and antifungal, which are great spot-fighters. 

We recommend Carbon Theory’s Exfoliating Body Bar (opens in new tab) for anyone with acne-prone skin. And if your budget can stretch to it, the Delo Rx Hybrid Cleanser (opens in new tab) created by the London Eudelo Clinic’s Dr Stefanie Williams is one of our absolute favourites for preventing spots.

Tips for washing your face with soap

If the soap you’ve purchased is for your face and not just your body, here are some step-by-step tips for washing and cleansing to ensure your skin is not only clean but healthy:

  1. To start, wet your face with lukewarm water using clean hands.
  2. Create a lather in your hands with the soap and apply it evenly to your face
  3. Massage the product into your face using gentle circular motions. Start from the bottom (chin) and work your way out and upwards, along your jawline towards your cheeks, up and over your nose and eventually to your forehead.
  4. Wash the soap off your face using lukewarm water.
  5. Gently pat your face dry with a clean, soft towel. 
  6. Don’t forget to apply moisturiser right after drying your face. If it’s still a little damp, even better. This will lock in the extra moisture. 

Lee Bell is a freelance journalist & copywriter specialising in technology, health, grooming and how the latest innovations are shaking up the lifestyle space. From national newspapers to specialist-interest magazines and digital titles, Lee has written for some of the world’s most respected publications during his 11 years as a journalist.