Should men wash their faces with soap?

The basic soap and water approach may not be best for cleaning your face.

When your dad taught you how to shave, demonstrating the fine art of scraping away all the stubble without taking any skin off with it, he probably didn't tell you much about skin cleansers. Chances are, Dad just grabbed a bar of soap by the sink when it was time to wash his face.

But was soap the best thing to use, or just the default option? Are all of those little bottles of cleansers your girlfriend uses just marketing gimmicks to get her to spend more money or are those products really better for her skin? And, if they're better for her skin, would they be better for yours too, or would using a different skin cleanser have no effect other than to make you feel less manly?


There's nothing girly about taking care of your skin. Good skin care helps you correct problems like acne, reduces the effects of aging and gives your skin a healthy, handsome glow. And what woman wouldn't much rather cuddle up to a guy with nice soft skin?

The first step to a healthy complexion is proper cleansing. The skin on your face is more sensitive than the rest of your skin, and soaps that are OK for your body can dry or irritate your face.

There are many cleansers out there other than soap, and choosing one can seem overwhelming. There are foaming gels, creamy face washes and oatmeal scrubs, to name a few. It can be a pretty daunting choice for a down-to-earth guy who just wants to get his face clean. It doesn't have to be that way, though. Read on to learn all about face cleansers so you can hold your head high, choose the one that's best for your skin and wow the ladies with that handsome face.



Problems With Washing One's Face With Soap

It doesn't matter what you wash your face with as long as you get it clean, right? This no-nonsense approach might work for washing a car, but your skin is a little more complicated. The bar of soap you use to get the motor oil off your hands isn't necessarily the best choice for cleaning your face.

One problem with washing your face with soap is that soap's pH is usually alkaline, while your skin's pH is slightly acidic. The pH of a substance is a number from 0 to 14 that tells how acidic or alkaline the substance is; water is neutral, so its pH is about 7. This pH difference sounds like a pretty minor issue, but it can cause two big problems. First, a mildly alkaline environment makes a great breeding ground for the bacteria that cause acne -- definitely not an ideal situation for your face, especially since men tend to be a little more prone to longer-lasting acne than women [source: Wu].


Another problem with soap's alkalinity is that it interferes with one of your skin's primary functions: to serve as a barrier. Your skin's chemistry helps it act as a wall to keep bacteria and other invaders out, while keeping moisture in. Changing your skin's pH can damage this barrier and let too much moisture escape, leaving your skin dry and irritated. Add this to the fact that the skin on your face is more delicate than the rest of your body and that most men shave daily and you're asking for trouble [source: Wu].

Besides the pH problem, many bar soaps have added ingredients that are irritating to your face. Deodorant soaps, for example, often have strong fragrances that can aggravate your skin [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. Many men who have oily skin or acne make the mistake of thinking a "stronger" soap will solve their problems, but irritating your skin makes acne worse and causes redness and itching, to boot. You're much better off sticking with a gentle product that addresses any skin issues you have, without creating more problems. Soap also leaves "soap scum" on your skin, which doesn't feel very comfortable [source: Wu].


Soap Alternatives

While our grandparents only had soap or cold cream to wash their faces -- and Granddad wouldn't think of trying Grandma's cold cream -- today's men and women have many products that aren't soap to choose from. Which option is right for you depends on your skin type.

Lathering cleansers work well for normal to oily skin. They come in liquid or bar form, and they make a soapy-looking lather when you massage them onto your wet face. These cleansers are made with synthetic surfactants, which are much gentler than old-fashioned soap and closer to your skin's natural pH. These surfactants do a great job of removing dirt and oil, and they leave your skin feeling clean. They do compromise your skin's natural barrier a little, though, so they aren't a good idea if you have dry skin [source: Draelos 2010].


Emollient cleansers are a good option for men with normal to dry skin. They don't make suds when you mix them with water; they use emulsification (the blending together of two substances to form a stable mixture, such as eggs and oil emulsifying to make mayonnaise) to pull dirt off of your skin, so you can rinse it away without disrupting your skin's moisture barrier. Scrubs are emollient cleansers that contain exfoliating beads that remove dead skin cells. The extra exfoliation leaves your skin feeling smooth , but you should use a scrub no more than once or twice a week if you have sensitive skin [source: Draelos 2010].

Cleansing milks are good for very dry skin; cold cream fits into this category. You don't use water with these cleansers. You rub the cream onto your face and then wipe it off with a cloth or tissue. Cleansing milks are very gentle, but they don't tend to leave a clean feeling [source: Draelos 2010].

Toners are liquid solvents that clean skin and tighten pores. They're often alcohol-based, and they can dry out oily skin, which makes them popular with teenagers. Some toners have added moisturizers to prevent them from drying the skin too much, but most toners aren't a good idea for men with dry or sensitive skin [source: Draelos 2010].

Cleansing cloths combine cleansers with specially woven cloths that use friction to remove dirt. The cloths come with cleanser already inside them. The weave makes it possible to get the same level of dirt removal while using gentler cleansers that preserve your skin's barrier. Some cloths have petrolatum (a gel derived from petroleum) added to them; this actually improves your skin's barrier by sealing in moisture and smoothing your skin's surface. Different cloth and cleanser combinations mean that cleansing cloths can be tailor-made for many skin types. They are also convenient to use and the dirt on the cloth helps you see your results [source: Draelos 2010].

Now that you know all about the different types of cleansers, it's time to put down Dad's bar of soap and get the most out of your skin care routine.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Cutting Through the Clutter: Making the Most of Your Facial Cleansing Routine." Feb., 2005. (Dec. 24, 2010.)
  • Draelos, Zoe. "Cosmetic Dermatology: Products and Procedures." Blackwell. 2010.Draelos, Zoe. "Skin and Hair Cleansers." May 14, 2009. (Dec. 27, 2010.)
  • Farage, Miranda, Kenneth Miller & Howard Maibach. "Textbook of Aging Skin." Springer. 2010.Wu, Jessica.
  • "Should You Wash Your Face with Bar or Liquid Soap?" Dailyglow. Feb. 8, 2010. (Dec. 23, 2010.)