Top 5 Tips for Choosing a Daily Body Cleanser

sudsy feet
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You replace anywhere from 40 million to 60 million skin cells daily [source: KidsHealth]. New skin cells are produced by the inner layer of the epidermis, which is your outer layer of skin. These cells push outward toward the surface of your skin, pushing older cells above them further up, which in turn push old, dead cells to the top. Think of it as a well-run supermarket, where the stock of skin cells are constantly in rotation, with the oldest ones moved to the front of the shelf.

You are, as we speak, covered head to toe in dead skin cells. If these dead skin cells begin to build up, your skin loses its look of vibrancy. Worse yet, these dead cells on the surface create a traffic jam behind them, preventing the next wave of dead cells from surfacing. This leads to clogged pores, blackheads, pimples and even cysts.


Your skin deserves some attention for keeping out moisture, bacteria and infectious agents, and use of a daily body cleanser is an important part of this. Body cleansers help remove the layer of dead skin cells and make room for, well, more dead skin cells. This facilitates skin cell growth and gives your skin a healthy, more youthful look. How do you choose a daily body cleanser? Keep reading to find out.

5: Analyze Your Skin

girl looking at her hands
To give your skin the care it needs, you have to figure out what those needs are.

For as much time as we spend in it, most of us don't know very much about our skin, especially what "skin type" we have. There are different skin characteristics that are more prominent in some people than in others. To narrow down your search for a daily body cleanser, you first need to know a little more about your skin.

You may have:


  • Normal skin. A "normal" skin type represents a good balance of moisture, oil content and low sensitivity.
  • Oily skin. If your skin looks shiny or moist a few hours after showering, you may have oily skin. Fortunately, there's an entire industry devoted to your needs.
  • Dry skin. Dry skin can feel tight after washing, look red and irritated and make you superitchy. Since many cleansers are geared toward eliminating oils (which you don't have to spare), identifying this skin type is important so that you don't pick the wrong cleanser and exacerbate the problem.
  • Sensitive skin. This skin type is more likely to have allergic reactions to chemicals, plants and even certain foods. If this is your type, you'll want to avoid unnecessary perfumes and other chemicals that could irritate your skin.
  • Combination skin. If your skin is oily one month and dry the next (or normal in some places, but oily in others), then you have combination skin.

Once you identify your skin type, you can dive into your options, which we'll do on the next page.

4: Know Your Options

Now that you've analyzed the characteristics of your skin, you can explore some of your options by reading labels to learn which type of cleanser has qualities suited for your particular skin type. Your choices include:

  • Mineral bath salts
  • Foaming gels
  • Bath oils
  • Moisturizing bath bars
  • Bubble bath
  • Bath sponges
  • Exfoliating soaps
  • Antibacterial wash

There are also many products that combine different qualities of the above types, such as a bubble bath with moisturizing agents. You may achieve the best results by using several different products, such as using oil-based products to help dissolve the lipids on your skin but using an oil-free moisturizer afterward.


Even within the same category of product, there will be a good deal of variation in the ingredients included in different brands. Some bath salts fizz, some bubble and some have aloe and vitamin E, as well as a variety of oils and fragrances.

Ideally, by experimenting with different products, you will find the one that leaves your face feeling cleanest without unwanted side effects, such as excessive drying caused by a higher alcohol content.

Seek out recommendations for body cleansers from a dermatologist if your skin gives you considerable problems, or if you have a skin condition such as rosacea. When learning about the different types of body cleansers, get recommendations from aestheticians, department store skin-care specialists and friends who have a similar skin type.

Next choice: Sucking moisture out of your own body, or creating a fat seal.

3: Humectants or Emollients?

glycerin soap
If you're a glycerin soap user, you're also a humectant user.

Moisturizers accomplish their tasks in one of two ways: by absorbing or delivering moisture. Let's take a closer look at the two types of ingredients that perform these functions.

Humectants are ingredients that retain moisture, and they're found in lots of cosmetics. Even toothpaste has humectants in order to retain moisture and prevent the decomposition of the toothpaste in the tube. In body cleansers, humectants include glycerol, glycerin and vegetable oil based substances.


Humectants in body cleansers absorb water from two different places: from within and from without. This means that humectants can draw water up from the dermis to the epidermis, as well as absorb moisture from the air itself. This is why glycerin soaps form beads of water when left exposed to the air.

Emollients soften skin in part by delivering the goods directly -- as in, the composition of the product itself will moisturize your skin, as opposed to attracting water to your skin like a humectant would. They also help retain moisture by coating your skin, giving it increased protection from external irritants and trapping the moisture within. Emollients used in skin care products include carrier oil, urea and man-made substances such as silicone oils and isopropyl myristate

If you're trying out different body cleansers without any success, see if those products tend to fall in one category or the other. Now switch. While people with dry skin may be better off using emollients, those with oily skin may benefit more from the ability of humectants to keep pores from clogging.

2: Scented or Unscented?

woman in tub of rose petals
In case your rose-scented body wash isn't doing it for you

Since the manufacturers of body cleansers know their customers will be applying those products all over their bodies (perhaps several times a day), they go to great trouble to make those products smell somewhere between delightful and heavenly.

Most cleansers you'll encounter will have some type of perfume added. As new scents are constantly being engineered (and older ones enhanced), there's no shortage of choices when it comes to picking out a scent.


The downside is that you may find a product that works for your particular skin, only to discover you don't necessarily want to walk around smelling like a gigantic mango. If you regularly wear perfume or cologne, things can go awry when you mix too many different scents together. Alternately, you may really like the scent of a body cleanser, only to find it doesn't actually cleanse you all that well.

Some people -- especially those with sensitive skin -- don't react well to the chemicals and perfumes used to achieve these scents. Fortunately, there are many product lines that are unscented, still giving your skin a fighting chance but giving your nose a break.

Next, we'll see how you can save your skin and the planet all before you have your morning coffee.

1: Scrub Locally, Think Globally

With the number of body cleansing products being sold and used each day, the staggering amount of chemicals being returned to our environment as waste products can adversely affect the world around us.

Many cleansers have chemicals that can agitate sensitive skin. Once these wash off your skin, they make their way in time back into the water and ground. Some of these chemicals, such as benzene, are carcinogenic.


Soap products aren't regulated by the FDA unless a medical claim accompanies the product. This wasn't such a big deal back when soap was soap, but now most body cleansers are complicated chemical cocktails. Some chemicals are tested on animals, some are known to cause cancer in animals and others aren't tested at all for long-term effects on humans.

Common ingredients such as phthalates (a common substance used in fragrances) are believed to contribute to a list of health conditions, including asthma, kidney damage and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Parabens are preservatives found in some body cleansers that can harm the endocrine system, enter breast milk and cause hormonal disruptions. These chemicals don't break down when absorbed by the skin.

If you experience allergic reactions, have sensitive skin or just want to keep both yourself and the world clean, consider trying "green" or organic body cleansers. Industry standards for what is considered "green," "organic" or "all natural" are still being sorted out, but a little research will point you toward body-cleansing product lines that use biodegradable, nonhazardous and eco-friendly ingredients.

Want more skin care advice? Try the next page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • GreenYour. "Body Cleansers." (Aug. 4, 2009)
  • Griffin, Morgan R. "What's Causing Your Dry Skin Problem?" (Aug. 5, 2009)
  • Jacknin, Jeanette, M.D. "Body Scrubs: Which One Should You Use?" Jan. 16, 2009. (Aug. 5, 2009)
  • KidsHealth. "Your Skin." March 2007. (Aug. 6, 2009)
  • MedlinePlus. "Skin Layers." Aug. 22, 2008. (Aug. 5, 2009)
  • National Skin Care Institute. "Skin Types." (Aug. 5, 2009)
  • New Zealand Dermatological Society Incorporated. "The Structure of Normal Skin." June 15, 2009. (Aug. 6, 2009)
  • Organic Consumers Association. "Consumer Alert: Cancer-Causing 1,4-Dioxane Found in Personal Care Products Misleadingly Branded as Natural and Organic." 2008.
  • Pure Zing. "List of the More Widely Known Dangerous Ingredients in Body & Food Products." (Aug. 5, 2009)
  • Shapley, Dan. "How to Avoid Phthalates In 3 Steps." Jan. 4, 2008.
  • Snowdrift Farm. "Emollients & Humectants." (Aug. 5, 2009)
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Carcinogenic Effects of Benzene: An Update." April 1998.
  • WebMD. "Anatomy of a Skin Cleanser." (Aug. 5, 2009)
  • WebMD. "Sensitive Skin: Causes and Treatments." (Aug. 5, 2009)