Emblem for Skin Support Module - Refraining from Regular Soap Usage for Skin Health

Executive Summary

Regular use of soap can drastically raise skin surface pH and lead to further worsening of skin barrier abnormalities. Reducing soap usage on sensative/irritated skin can aid normal barrier recovery, reduce unwanted inflamattion and allow for more stable skin repair.


Soap is one of the most common anionic surfactants and the most common skin cleansing agent used throughout the world. However, it’s wide spread use and long history do not necessarily mean it’s the best skin cleansing choice available.

The primary issue with soap appears to be related to it’s influence on skin pH. Specifically, investigations have shown that increase in skin pH of up to 3 units and lasting for more then 90 minutes [1].

This effect on skin surface pH has far reaching consequences and can result in excessive dryness, irritation, tightness, erythema and itchiness.

Negative Effects of Soap

Washing with soap has been shown to result in:

  • Reduced skin barrier function [2]
  • Structural damage and increase trans epidermal water loss [3]
  • Thinning of the stratum corneum [4]
  • Excessive drying of the stratum corneum [5, 6]
  • Reduced ability of skin proteins to bind and hold water [7]
  • Protein denaturation leading to keratinocyte (skin cell) damage [8]
  • Increased penetration of potential irritants into deeper layers of the skin [9]
  • Reduced level of natural moisturizing factor [10]
  • Significant stripping of the acid mantle [11]

Ideas for Integration

  • Replace soap and harsh surfactants with gentle alternatives
  • If you simply can not give up soap, choose soap that contains added glycerin or additional lipids to help offset the drying properties of soap

Why It’s Important for Inflammatory Skin Disease

Characteristics most important for individuals affected by inflammatory skin disorders:

  • Improved skin sebum stability
  • Improved structural stability
  • Improved skin hydration

Expected improvements:

  • Reduced skin dryness and flaking
  • Reduced itchiness and sensitivity

Additional Notes

  • Anionic surfactants such as sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) have similar cleansing properties as soap and present many similar issues
  • Clinic studies appear to demonstrate a clear superiority of synthetic cleansing agents in preventing skin irritation and dryness, however, many soap users are reluctant to change their regimens and simply believe their skin dryness is due to genetic factors [12]
  • Many modern soaps also contain various additives (such as fragrances, preservatives and dyes) which can cause further irritation and barrier damage


This lowering of skin surface pH then leads to:

  • Reduced skin barrier function [13]
  • Structural damage and increase trans epidermal water loss [14]
  • Thinning of the stratum corneum [15]
[16, 17]

and reduced hydration

Lead to transient selling and hyper-hydration of the stratum corneum during washing, followed by de-swelling and excessive drying

One of the oldest and most common cleansers is soap. It’s history goes back thousands of years and it was said to have been created by the Greeks in 130-200 AD. Since then, soap has become a staple of modern life and people rely on it for daily cleaning their skin.

With such a long history, most people have come to think of soap as a harmless and highly important part of skin care. But this is not always the case.

The truth is, soap can actually have a negative effect on your skin. This includes things such as [18]:

  • Skin barrier damage resulting in skin irritation, erythema, and itching
  • Skin pH changes resulting in skin dryness and irritation
  • Rapid water evaporation resulting in skin tightness and dryness
  • Contact with irritating ingredients resulting in contact dermatitis

So even though soap can be extremely useful, it’s potential flaws should definitely be evaluated. And this is especially true with many of the current soaps being sold today, which often have extensive ingredients lists and may use of overly harsh surfactants (such as sodium alkyl sulfate) [19].

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