When you have eczema, finding a soap that doesn’t make your condition worse can be challenging. To help you choose an eczema friendly washing solution, we’ve compiled a list of soaps and cleansers that will gently cleanse and nourish your skin, without stripping it of any more of its precious oils.
Why You Need To Choose Soaps and Cleansers With Care
When you have eczema or other forms of dermatitis, your skin is likely to be irritated by many of the ingredients used in the bars of soap or cleansing bars available from your local supermarket or drugstore.
To protect your skin, you need very gentle cleansers that won’t cause any irritation, and ideally these will help to restore your damaged skin barrier and at the same time provide some relief from the worst of your symptoms.
Soaps and Cleansers What’s The Difference?
Some of the products that you’ll see listed below are soaps while others are cleansers. For a product to be a soap, the oils contained in the bar or liquid have to have undergone a process called saponification.
Saponification occurs when oils react with sodium hydroxide (lye) to make traditional bar soap or with potassium hydroxide to make liquid soap. Both of these substances are alkaline.
Cleansers can’t be labeled as soap, instead you’ll see them marketed as moisturizing bars, body bars, cleansing bars, creme bars, etc.
These cleansers use hardening and foaming agents to mimic the look and feel of soap but the ingredients used are quite different.
Are all cleansers bad and all soaps therefore good? Not necessarily.
Some cleansers are very gentle and can be beneficial for your skin, and some soaps can be quite harsh because manufacturers often remove the glycerin from soap.
Glycerin is a humectant, and it keeps moisture locked in your skin. Soaps without glycerin are very drying – the exact opposite of what you need for skin affected by eczema. It’s also an emollient, able to reduce itching and keep skin soft and supple.
Why do soap manufacturers remove glycerin?
Glycerin is used in many beauty products, and soap manufacturers can earn more money by selling their glycerin, or by using it in their own more costly cosmetic and skin care products.
It’s a pretty cynical move actually. They take out the substance that prevents soap from drying your skin, forcing you to purchase moisturizing creams and lotions to cover up the damage.
The best soaps for eczema (and for all types of skin) are artisan soaps, these are made with all natural ingredients and they retain their glycerin.
When it comes to skincare in general, and eczema skin care in particular, the fewer ingredients in a product the safer it will be to use. Ideally, you should be able to recognize the ingredients on the label.
If you saw olive oil, coconut oil, goat’s milk, shea butter and chamomile on your soap’s label, you would have no trouble understanding what was in your bar.
Whereas seeing tetrasodium etidronate, titanium dioxide, cocamidopropyl betaine and sodium lauroyl isethionate may leave you scratching your head over the ingredients.
However, natural products don’t suit everyone because of individual allergies and sensitivities, and in these cases synthetic products do offer a solution.
Castile soap is soap made with olive oil. It comes as a bar soap and as a liquid soap.
Traditionally, castile soap was a pure olive oil soap, but modern castile soap often includes other oils like coconut oil and hemp seed oil.
Olive oil soap is a very gentle soap that doesn’t irritate the skin. Many eczema sufferers find that their skin improves dramatically once they stop using detergent based cleansing bars and liquids and switch to this very natural soap.
Olive oil is a perfect oil for those with eczema because it contains squalene and squalane, two substances that protect the sebum (natural oil) produced by skin.
Soaps made with olive oil also provide hydroxytyrosol, a natural anti-inflammatory that reduces itching, calms rashes and helps damaged skin heal.
The best known castile soap on the market is Dr Bronner’s Liquid Castile Soap which comes in a number of variations. Dr Bronner’s use other oils along with olive oil in their soap formulation, so it isn’t a ‘true’ castile soap in the pure sense.
One brand that does use 100% olive oil is Olivella, an Italian soap manufacturer. Even though they use olive oil exclusively, their bars of soap are very affordable. You can purchase regular unperfumed olive oil soap, a bar with crushed apricot seeds for added exfoliation and soaps with lavender and verbena fragrances.
Castle soap isn’t particularly difficult to make at home, needing only some simple kitchen equipment and the right ingredients.
If cost is an issue for you, then making your own castile soap will save you quite a bit of money, and soap making is a fun and rewarding hobby.
You can find out how to make castile soap in this Soap Queen article.
Chagrin Valley are a family owned, organic, artisan soap making company.
The first soap that they produced in 2001 was the goat milk, honey and oatmeal soap, and this soap helped the owner’s eczema clear up after just 2 weeks of use. Since then they’ve grown their range of soaps, and the goat milk, honey and oatmeal soap is just one of their soaps which is suitable for eczema.
Let’s take a look at the three important ingredients in this soap and find out why they are so helpful for eczema.
Goats Milk – Goats milk is a wonderful addition to soap. It lowers the pH of the bar bringing it closer to the pH level of skin. The fats in the milk provide extra moisturizing and the alpha hydroxy acids (lactic acid) lift away dead skin cells and smooth and soften rough, scaly skin.
Goat’s milk also contains vitamin A which helps to repair damaged skin, and selenium which protects skin.
Honey – Honey is a natural antimicrobial which helps to stop bacteria and fungus taking hold in damaged skin. This ancient remedy has been applied to wounds for thousands of years, and as well as keeping germs at bay, it helps to maintain the moisture balance of your skin and prevent itching and flaking.
Oatmeal – Oatmeal is a seriously beneficial skin care ingredient for anyone suffering with dry skin, eczema or other forms of dermatitis. It’s 100% natural, and it’s very gentle and soothing, suitable for even for baby’s delicate skin.
The FDA has approved oatmeal for skin conditions like eczema. Oatmeal gently sloughs away flakes, works to restore skin pH, and helps to draw moisture to dry skin and lock it in place, while its bioflavonoids and Vitamin E protect damaged skin from free radical damage, and its avenacins act as a natural antifungal.
In addition to using soaps containing oatmeal, you can grind regular porridge oats into a fine powder in your coffee grinder and add a cupful to your bath water.
Made with coconut and palm oils, this fragrance free, glycerin rich soap soothes and moisturizes as it cleanses even the most sensitive skin.
Sappo Hill make a number of luxurious bar soaps, but the fragrance free option is the best choice to begin with.
Available online and from retailers including Whole Foods and Walgreens.
Pine tar has long been used as an anti-inflammatory and antiseptic soap. It’s useful for cleansing open sores, preventing infection, and calming itchy skin, which makes it a good choice when you’re experiencing a flare up.
Pine tar soap contains a resin obtained when pine tree stumps and roots are burned in a kiln. This burning produces two products – pine tar and charcoal.
Any soap containing pine tar will have a strong pine fresh aroma and if you use this soap in the shower when you have a cold, you’ll get the extra bonus of the soap helping to unblock stuffy nasal passages.
Pine tar soap is also good to have on hand during the summer months because it’s a natural remedy for bug bites and poison ivy/poison oak rashes.
Many people suffering from eczema and other forms of dermatitis have found that using a tallow based pine tar soap has produced better results for them than using a vegetable oil based soap.
Tallow, which is rendered animal fat, contains fat soluble vitamins which are missing from vegetable oil soaps. These vitamins help to alleviate skin problems like itching, cracking, flaking and redness.
One thing to watch out for with pine tar soap is creosote content. Creosote is a potential carcinogen, so you should only purchase products labeled as creosote free, like the tallow 20% pine tar soap sold by the Eczema Company.
This is a mild, cleansing soap with a good lather. It’s non drying, all natural and it helps to restore the skin’s pH balance.
Made with palm oil, shea butter, Vitamin E and Dead Sea minerals, this soap is triple milled which ensures a long lasting, sudsy bar for your bath or shower.
In addition to the plain bar, One With Nature also produce naturally fragranced bars including lemon, lilac, rose and eucalyptus.
Find One With Nature products online or use the store locator on their website to find your local independent retailer.
The River Soap Company make their Rose Geranium bar with natural vegetable oils and rose geranium essential oil.
Rose geranium essential oil is a strong anti-inflammatory oil with antiseptic properties. It’s a popular addition to skin care products because of its circulation boosting action and because it can speed up healing thanks to its cicatrisant effects.
Using this soap on your skin will help to calm itching and soreness and prevent infection of open sores.
All artisan soaps produced by River Soap are triple milled for a long lasting bar, and free from artificial fragrance and color.
This soap should be familiar to most, since it’s widely available in supermarkets.
It’s a very mild and gentle soap formulated to care for the most delicate skin of all, and because it doesn’t contain any harsh ingredients, it makes a good soap for eczema and dermatitis prone skin.
Johnson’s Baby Bar contains coconut oil, palm oil and tallow. The inclusion of tallow means that this is not a vegetarian or vegan product.
Soap nuts are a 100% natural product. They gently cleanse skin without drying or causing damage.
You may have heard of soap nuts before, since they’re very popular in eco-friendly cleaning circles. Don’t worry though, soap nuts are perfectly suited to cleanse skin!
The nuts are actually the dried berries of the soap nut tree, and they contain natural saponins which activate on contact with water and become a lovely mild cleanser.
The most economical way to buy soap nuts is to purchase the dried berries in a small sack, but ready made soap nut liquid is also available.
When you buy the dried nuts, you’ll need to make them into a liquid before you can use them on your skin. This liquid is really easy to make, and the only things you’ll need are a clean jar, a pan, some water and your stove top.
Place around 20 soap nuts and 6 cups of water in a pan and bring to a boil, using the back of a spoon to mush the berries. After 20 minutes, add another cup of water and boil for a further 10 minutes, finally add 2 cups of water and boil for another 10 minutes.
The soap nuts which originally were a deep nutty brown color should now look a light tan or creamy shade. Let the liquid cool and then strain it into your jar.
Store the soap nut liquid in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Because the liquid doesn’t contain any preservatives, it will start to go off if you don’t use it up fairly quickly. If you want to make a bigger batch, you can freeze soap nut liquid to preserve it.
As well as using soap nut liquid as a hand wash, face wash, body wash and shampoo, you can use the same liquid as a dishwashing liquid, a laundry soap and a general purpose household cleanser.
Since detergent residue left on clothing, towels and bed linens can often be a culprit in eczema flare-ups, switching to a non irritating, hypoallergenic natural cleanser like soap nuts could make a big difference to your skin condition.
The E45 range of skin care products has been carefully formulated to cater for skin irritated by eczema, dermatitis and other dry skin conditions.
Soap free and detergent free, E45 Dermatological Emollient Wash Cream moisturizes as it gently cleanses your skin.
Suitable for use on all areas of the body, and safe and mild enough to use on children’s delicate skin.
E45 does take a little getting used to because it doesn’t produce a lather, but a foamy lather isn’t necessary to cleanse skin, and you’ll soon become accustomed to this creamy cleanser.
If you live in the UK, you’ll find E45 products on sale in almost all pharmacies, but if you live elsewhere, you’ll most likely need to source the product online. It’s worth the effort to find it though!
Aveeno’s moisturizing bar is a soap free cleansing bar with added oatmeal. Aveeno doesn’t contain fragrance or dye so won’t trigger allergic reactions in those sensitive to those types of additives.
Unlike many soap free bars, Aveeno Moisturizing Bar doesn’t contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate which is a detergent cleanser present in a surprising number of ‘beauty bars’.
Users of this product report good cleansing and skin softening results, but some find that they need additional moisturizing after using the bar.
Make sure to keep the bar dry. Leaving it sitting in water in a soap dish will quickly result in a mushy bar that doesn’t last very long.
Easy to find in stores and online.
This cleansing face and body wash is fragrance free and hypoallergenic, and is suitable for most skin types. This synthetic cleanser was developed by dermatologists and is free of parabens and dyes.
The National Eczema Association, included this cleanser on their list of approved products but they do point out that one ingredient could be problematic for a small number of people.
The ingredient in question is Ethylhexylglycerin – not to be confused with natural glycerin – a synthetic substance which is often used in paraben free formulations.
Scientific sources state that the risk of skin irritation and contact dermatitis is low in most people, however, those with sensitive skin have a higher risk of experiencing a reaction.
Formulated especially for babies with eczema, Cetaphil can also be used by older children and adults.
This hypoallergenic wash contains shea butter and sunflower oil and is clinically proven to gently cleanse and moisturize sensitive skin prone to eczema.
Cetaphil prides itself on its Filaggrin technology which helps to restore damaged skin.
Filaggrin is a skin protein and research shows that skin prone to eczema can be deficient in this vital protein. By utilizing filaggrin and ceramides, Cetaphil can help to restore the skin barrier necessary to hold moisture in place and keep infectious microbes away.
Whichever soap or cleanser you choose for your eczema, always remember to patch test on a small area of your skin to check for allergic reaction or irritation before using the product on larger areas of your body.