How are men's soaps different from others?

man washing hands

If you've ever looked closely when pouring water into an oil-laden frying pan in your sink, you've noticed that water beads up on the oily surface. Likewise, if you've ever poured a little oil into a bowl of water, you noticed the oil beading up and refusing to mix with the water. But why is this, and what does it have to do with soap?

Dirt that clings to your skin is usually a fat- or oil-based substance. When you wash with water alone, non-oily dirt is carried off the skin while oils or lipids stay on. Since oil and water don't mix, water passes over your skin without bonding to the grime.


Soap brings the two together. Soap is a cleansing agent formed from a mix of sodium salts derived from naturally occurring fatty acids. One end of a soap molecule is attracted to water, while the other end of the same molecule is attracted to oils and lipids. Each end has its preference, and it's a strong preference -- soap molecules turn and stand on end when placed in water, as the water-loving end burrows downward and the water-loathing end juts out of the water. When you rub soapy water over your skin, the dirt-attracting end of the soap molecule attaches to the dirt, while the other end of the molecule remains firmly rooted in the water. If the dirt shifts during the course of washing, exposing a new surface that previously had been facing the skin, the dirt-loving end of the soap molecule will attach to it, eventually surrounding the dirt entirely in a sort of protective cocoon. Dirt now becomes the protected occupant of a soapy submarine that travels freely through the water without letting the water touch the cargo. And this is how soap removes dirt from your skin.

Regularly stripping away oils and fats isn't a good long-term strategy for maintaining a healthy, attractive appearance. That's why soaps contain any number of moisturizers, non-detergent cleansers and exfoliating agents, in addition to whatever synthetic cleansers, preservatives and fillers that the manufacturer has added.

Men can benefit from using soap tailored specifically for their skin, and men's skin has its own unique properties, along with individual differences. So how are men's soaps different from others? Keep reading to find out.


Soap for the Skin You're In

Ideally, men's soap should account for the unique qualities of men's skin. Compared to females, males have skin that's thicker, sweatier and oilier. These are good traits to have when it comes to extending the shelf life of attractive-looking skin. The signs of facial aging are caused, in part, by your skin's thinning collagen. Men have more collagen than women, helping hold wrinkles at bay for longer. However, due to their thicker skin, men can have a buildup of dead skin cells. For this reason, find a men's soap that has a humectant such as sorbitol that facilitates desquamation (shedding of the outer layer of skin).

Men's skin produces more sweat and oil, which helps form a protective layer that prevents damage from pollutants and toxins. However, this extra sweat and oil also means that men are more likely to have bad acne breakouts. Once this oil has been stripped away, it's important for an added moisturizer in the soap -- such as glycerin -- to provide a protective covering while sealing moisture into the skin.


Washing your face with standard hand soap isn't recommended. While perfectly good for washing hands, normal soap can be irritating to the more sensitive skin of the face. Men who use a "traditional" or basic soap are more apt to have dry, tight-feeling skin.

Men with sensitive skin may discover that many soaps contain additives that can cause irritation. An easy rule of thumb: The shorter the ingredients list, the better. There are also many companies that produce all-natural and organic soaps for men, and soaps without fragrances.

When we talk about the differences between men's soap and women's soap, the most obvious are in packaging and fragrance. Women's soaps usually come in packaging that evokes thoughts of riding a swan into a fluffy cloud of clean babies, while men's packaging usually is pretty basic, featuring a solid color and often a masculine word, such as "power" or "blast."

Women's fragrances are generally fruity, and they come in countless variations. You won't see such scents as Juniper Breeze or Cotton Blossom used in soaps marketed toward men. Men's soaps come in scents more associated with masculinity, such as sandalwood or musk, or none at all.

Want to learn more about men's soaps? See the next page for lots more information.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Cutting Through the Clutter: Making the Most of Your Facial Cleansing Routine." Feb. 21, 2005. (Feb. 25, 2011)
  • The Chemical Reporter. "How does soap clean our hands?" BASF. Sept. 26, 2007. (Feb. 25, 2011)
  • Gibson, Lawrence E., M.D. "Thin skin: What causes it?" Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Sept. 26, 2009. (Feb. 25, 2011)
  • Mario Badescu Skin Care. "Do Men Need to Treat Their Skin Differently?" (Feb. 25, 2011)
  • Ophardt, Charles E. "Soap." Virtual Chembook. 2003. (Feb. 25, 2011)
  • Persadsingh, Neil, Ph.D. "Do men and women have different skin types?" Jamaica Observer. March 29, 2010. (Feb. 25, 2011)
  • Winter, Ruth, M.S. "A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients, 7th Edition." Three Rivers Press - Random House, Inc. 2009.