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Is It Ever Okay to Wash Your Face with Hand Soap?

A woman pumping some hand soap into her hand from a dispenser next to a sink.
Marina Andrejchenko/Shutterstock.com

You’ve had a long day at work and have just realized you’re out of your favorite face cleanser. You can just wash your face with hand soap, right? After all, it’s meant to clean skin, how bad could it be? Let’s find out!

If you ask your grandparents or most of the men in your life this question, they’ll likely all answer in the affirmative. In fact, they might exclusively use hand soap to wash their faces. However, anyone knowledgeable about skin care would likely screech if asked this question. Would they be overreacting?

It’s true that using regular soap on your face would save you money—specialized skin care products can get expensive. But let’s take a look at why hand soap might not be the best thing to use on your face.

Why Washing Your Face with Hand Soap Isn’t the Best Idea

A woman looking at a product in the skin care aisle at a store.
Nestor Rizhniak/Shutterstock.com

Chances are, your mom has told you not to wash your face with hand soap. This might be hard to hear, but your mom was right. As any dermatologist will tell you, you should always wash your face with an appropriate cleanser.

But why is soap so bad for your face? Well, there are two major reasons.

It Disrupts Your Skin’s pH Balance

The purpose of hand soap is to purge the skin of dirt and bacteria. The way it does this is by changing the level of acidity in the dermis to kill all harmful microbes. While the thick skin on your hands is able to handle it (with the help of some moisturizer here and there), the skin on your face is too delicate to remain unscathed.

When the pH balance is off, it renders your skin vulnerable and exposes it to several skin conditions. This is why it’s always a good idea to look for skin care products that match the skin’s pH level (<7) and preserve the natural acid mantle that protects it.

It Dries and Irritates Your Skin

If you’ve washed your face with soap before, you know how it makes your skin look and feel afterward—-tight, dry, slightly irritated, and looking dull. Considering the harsh chemicals in the product, this isn’t surprising.

As tempting as it might be, using bar soap to clean oily skin strips your dermis of its natural oils, which are necessary to keep your skin moisturized and protected.

So next time you run out of face wash, resist the impulse and stick to water alone. Your skin will love you for it.

Which Cleanser Should You Use?

Choosing the right facial cleanser can be a bit confusing and overwhelming, given the numerous options available. This quick guide will really come in handy if you don’t know where to begin.

However, if you’re already familiar with your skin type and are looking for some recommendations that are both affordable and effective, here are a few to consider.

Best for Sensitive Skin: Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser

Product shot of a bottle of Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser over a white background

You can never go wrong with a trusted brand like Cetaphil. This gentle, yet highly effective cleanser was designed for sensitive skin. Its non-irritating, hypoallergenic formula will balance your skin’s pH and leave it feedling clean and soft.

According to customer reviews, it’s gentle enough for people with problematic skin, as it contains no irritants or foaming agents. It can even be applied and left on without washing for extra hydration if necessary (and if your skin can tolerate it).

Best for Dry Skin: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Facial Cleansing Gel

A bottle of Neutrogena Hydro Boost Facial Cleanser being held in a person's hand over a sink with a jar filled with cotton pads in the corner, next to an overhead shot of the same bottle laid on a dark blue surface in between two crystal containers.

Not only does this face wash rid your face of dirt, dead skin cells, and harmful bacteria, but it also provides deep hydration, making it excellent for dryer complexions. In fact, it contains hyaluronic acid, which is known for its ability to hydrate the skin and lock it in, leaving it feeling soft and regenerated.

This formula is also non-comedogenic, which means it won’t clog your pores or cause breakouts in the long run. Definitely worth a try!

Best for Oily Skin: La Roche-Posay Purifying Foaming Cleanser

Overhead shot of a bottle of La Roche-Posay Facial Cleanser laid over a marble surface and a white cloth, next to a candle
La Roche-Posay

Those with oily skin might want to try this oil-free facial cleanser. It removes all kinds of impurities that might affect your complexion, including makeup and, of course, excess oil, while keeping the skin barrier intact. It’s also dermatologist-tested and fragrance-free, which reduces the likelihood of irritation.

Unlike other products for oily skin, which can be highly drying, this formula contains La Roche-Posay Probiotic Thermal Water, a hydrating and soothing liquid that gives your skin the moisture it needs and deserves.

Best for Acne: Clean & Clear Essentials Foaming Facial Cleanser

Product shot of a bottle of Clean & Clear Essentials Foaming Facial Cleanser over a white background
Clean & Clear

If you struggle with frequent breakouts, you should give this face wash a try. It’s meant for daily use, so it only contains the essential ingredients necessary to benefit your skin. These include glycerin and coconut oil extracts. It’s also ideal for those with combination skin, as it both cleanses and hydrates effectively.

It will rid your skin of any excess oil, dirt, and bacteria, which can cause pimples and blackheads, without stripping the natural oils or over-drying. Basically, it ticks all the right boxes.

While hand soap cleanses your hands just fine, it can’t do the same for your face. On the contrary, it can actually cause more harm than good. That’s why using a face wash that suits your specific skin type, and then applying a good moisturizer should be part of everyone’s skin care routine.

Carla Cometto Carla Cometto
Carla has been writing professionally for five years and blogging for many more. She's worked as a journalist, photographer, and translator. She's also an avid traveler who hopes to inspire a sense of curiosity and adventure in others through her writing. Read Full Bio »
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