Are all soaps safe for people of all ages?

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Ask a group of people some questions about skin sensitivities and you're likely to get several different answers. One type of soap might get rave reviews from one section of the group, but the same product could give others flaky, itchy skin.

It can be tough to determine whether a certain kind of soap is safe for you. You need to consider two factors. First, age is an important thing to consider. Your skin's sensitivity and needs change throughout life. The other factor is skin condition. Anything from acne to rosacea and everything in between can play a role in determining what kind of soap, if any, is appropriate.

When we look at soap and sensitive skin, the earliest and latest stages of life tend to be the most problematic. Newborn babies, for instance, typically have sensitive skin. Doctors usually advise parents to use a mild soap and avoid anything containing a fragrance. Antibacterial and deodorant soaps are also off limits. Most toddlers, however, are able to tolerate soaps that mom and dad use [source: Fries].

Older children, however, may not be able to tolerate soap -- or at least certain types of soap. For example, around eight percent of children develop eczema. The condition often appears before age one, and it may last through adolescence. Eczema symptoms include dry skin with patches of very itchy rashes. Any kind of soap may further irritate these red patches, so a dermatologist might suggest simply bathing with warm water [source: Yale].

Older people may also experience sensitive skin. The aging process brings inevitable changes: thinning skin, a decrease in sweat gland activity, and a decreasing ability to keep moisture. Medications and medical conditions can also play a part in how skin ages [source: Norman]. Dryness is usually unavoidable for the elderly, but gentler soaps or other cleansers can alleviate sensitive skin. Dermatologists also recommend bathing in warm water and following up with a good moisturizer [source: American Academy of Dermatology].

To learn more about skin care and finding the right soap, see the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Mature Skin." 2009. (Sept. 2, 2009)
  • Fries, Wendy C. "Taking Care of Baby's Skin: Lotions, Powders, Soaps, and Sunscreens." WebMD. (Sept. 2, 2009)
  • Norman, Robert A., DO, MPH, FAAIM. "Common Skin Conditions in Geriatric Dermatology." Annals of Long-Term Care. June 1, 2008. (Sept. 2, 2009)
  • Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital. "Children Skin Care." May 30, 2007. (Sept. 2, 2009)