We've all been there: Lingering in the hygiene aisle of the grocery store for way too long, trying to weed through all of the brightly colored, strongly scented cleansers claiming to be the next best thing for your skin. It’s a lot to take in, and picking out the right one can be an overwhelming (and expensive) decision. So how do you choose? Here are some things to keep in mind next time you’re struggling to find your shower soul mate.
Consider Your Skin Type
Whether you’re oily and acne-prone or dry and flaky, the soap you use in the shower has major effects on your skin’s behavior. “An oily cleanser might be too harsh for dry skin, and a highly fragranced cleanser could irritate or set off an allergy in individuals who are susceptible,” says Francesca Fusco, M.D., a medical and cosmetic dermatologist in New York.
Cleansers are formulated specifically for individual skin types, which can change slightly throughout the year, due to how often you shower and what season it is. Colder months and frequent bathing can dry out the skin, which may mean you need to switch over to a more moisturizing cleanser, like Olay Ultra Moisture Body Wash
And the further you get away from your face, the drier your skin gets. “You have less oil glands as you go from the head down,” says Doris Day, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in laser, cosmetic, and surgical dermatology in New York City. “By the time you get to your legs you have very few oil glands, so your legs tend to be drier at every age. As you get older it gets worse, so you need to have a really good hydrating body wash.” Which leads us to our next point. 
Choose the Right Formula
Because your skin type is such an important factor, it actually does matter whether you scrub down with bar soap or body wash. “You have to know what you’re using,” says Day. Basically, it all boils down to the formula, which plays a big role in how your soap does its job.
Products labeled as body wash normally come in a gel or creamy lotion-type consistency. If your skin is desperate for moisture, look for a creamy wash, as it will soothe any dryness.
If you tend to get oily, a bar soap or gel may work in your favor since they’re not normally as full of extra oil-based ingredients that super hydrating washes make use of.
The more sensitive your skin is, the less fragranced and “detergenty” your cleanser should be, as these formulas can easily cause allergic reactions and irritations.
Most soaps clean the dirt and oil from your skin similarly, but “the more it lathers, often times the more drying it’s going to be,” says Day.
Read the Label Carefully
Not all bar soaps are created equal. While they get a bad rep for stripping the skin of hydration, it really comes down to the brand. A lot of times, you can find ones that have moisturizers built into them: It’s just a matter of reading through the label.
“Once you find the right label, it takes away the guess work,” says Fusco. “Look for words like hypoallergenic, hydrating, gentle, creamy, moisturizing, and non-fragranced.”
Even if your skin is not super sensitive and dry, it’s still important to make sure it’s being cleansed with something that doesn’t strip it of its natural oils, which can lead to cracking, itchiness, and irritation.
Fusco recommends looking for Nutrium 10 (which can be found in Dove Deep Moisture Nourishing Body Wash, $8, drugstore.com). Nutrium 10 is a blend of hydrating ingredients including Vitamins B5, C, and E, and sunflower, almond, coconut, and SOYBEAN oils, along with aloe vera and stearic acid.
Go for Something Stronger Post-Workout
While hitting the gym and getting your sweat on may be great for your bod, you can’t forget to give your skin some extra love afterward. “For gym showers only, I recommend antibacterial soaps, because let's face it, gyms can be sources of bacteria,” says Fusco. “But these soaps can be drying, so after showering, moisturizing is a must.”
Try Cetaphil Gentle Cleansing Antibacterial Bar ($4, drugstore.com) for post-workout showers. Any extra bacteria on the skin can also be a cause of acne, especially on the back, so if your skin has a tendency to break out, soaps and washes that contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide work to unclog pores and fight pimples as they cleanse.

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