Shower Gel Vs. Body Wash: Key Differences & Which Is Better?

Knowing what features set them apart can be highly beneficial for your skin.

Medically reviewed by Dr. M. Khawar Nazir, MBBS
Written by Ramona Sinha, MA (English Literature), Certified Skin Care Coach
Edited by Anjali Sayee, BTech
Fact-checked by Shiboli Chakraborti, MA (English Literature), Certified Skin Care Coach  • 

Shower gel vs. body wash – it is hard to tell the difference between the two. True, these terms are generally used interchangeably. Although both are liquid cleansers for your body, there is quite a distinction between them. Both are appropriate for different types of skin and textures. This article compares body washes and shower gels, discusses how they differ from bar soaps, and recommends which one to use. Keep reading!

Differences Between A Shower Gel, Body Wash, And A Bar Soap

Shower gels, body washes, and bar soaps cleanse the skin. However, there is a difference between all three bath products.

1. Structure And Texture

Bath soaps, body wash, and shower gels
Image: Shutterstock

Shower gels have a firm and thick gel-like consistency as they contain a thickening polymer to increase their viscosity. On the other hand, body washes have a thin and runny consistency. They are liquid soaps and have a creamy and lotion-like texture.

Bar soaps, on the contrary, are solid soap blocks available in various shapes, fragrances, colors, and designs.

2. Fragrance Content

Woman smelling a fragrant bar soap
Image: Shutterstock

Body washes have mild fragrances, while shower gels have higher fragrance content as they have a higher concentration of ingredients intended to soothe your senses.

Bar soaps contain stronger and long-lasting fragrances than a body wash or shower gel.

3. Skin Type

Shower gels are great for oily skin as they have clarifying properties and can wash away excess dirt and sebumi  XA waxy substance released by the sebaceous glands that provides moisture and protection to the skin. . They are also suitable for anyone who has an active lifestyle, sweats a lot, or spends most of their time outdoors.

Compared to shower gels, body washes have moisturizing properties and are suitable for dry and sensitive skin. They have a creamy consistency and may contain emollientsi  XSubstances that moisturize, smoothen and hydrate the skin and are commonly used in beauty products like lotion. , vitamin B5, fatty acids, panthenol, and other skin-soothing and hydrating ingredients. Body washes can perform cleansing without drying the skin out.

Bar soaps are alkaline compared to your skin’s pH, so it is better to avoid them for sensitive skin. However, if you have normal skin, you can try using mild bar soap.

protip_icon Quick Tip
You may look for mild soaps with ingredients like glycerine, goat milk, sodium palmate, sodium stearate, or lauric acid for less skin irritation and better moisturization.

4. Exfoliating Effects

Woman using an exfoliating shower gel
Image: Shutterstock

Shower gels often contain exfoliating ingredients like sea salt, oatmeal, and microbeads that help remove dead skin cells from the skin and keep the skin pores clean. Body washes and soaps usually do not contain such exfoliating ingredients unless they are for specific skin issues like acne.

5. Hygienic Packaging

Shower gels and body washes come in hygienic bottle packaging that protects the liquid soap from bacteria buildup, air, and physical contact.

From a hygiene point of view, bar soaps are not an ideal choice as the bacteria accumulate on wet surfaces of the soaps and can spread from one person to another.

protip_icon Quick Tip
You may keep the bar soap in a soap dish that has holes to drain out the water and dry the soap to prevent bacterial accumulation. It will also make the soap last longer.

Apart from these differences, shower gels, body washes, and bar soaps also differ in their ingredients. Read on to know more about them.

According to a 2018 survey of 7461 US adults, it was noted that 36% of the respondents preferred using bar soaps when they showered and 47% preferred a body wash or liquid soap. Out of the 36% who preferred using bar soaps, 45 were male and 27 were female. Further, out of the 47% who preferred using a body wash or liquid soap, 38 were male and 55 were female.

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Which product do you prefer for your daily cleansing routine?

Key Ingredients In A Shower Gel, Body Wash, And Bar Soap

Body washes and soaps contain some common ingredients
Image: Shutterstock

Shower gels are formulated with six main ingredients These include:

  • Water: Shower gels are water-based. It gives the desired consistency to shower gels and functions as a liquid solvent for the other ingredients.
  • Detergents: These are surfactants that clean the skin and create the lather.
  • Emulsifiers: They are responsible for the foam and also give a gel-like consistency to the shower gel.
  • Preservatives: Since shower gels need a long shelf life, these preservatives help keep them safe and prevent microbial contamination.
  • Fragrance: Fragrance is an essential element of a shower gel that gives it a pleasant scent. It is best to choose a shower gel with a natural fragrance from plant extracts or essential oils. However, some may contain synthetic fragrances.

The ingredients of body washes typically include humectantsi  XWater-absorbing ingredients and chemicals that help retain moisture and prevent skin dryness. , surfactants,  emulsifiers, vitamin E, essential oils, and other natural extracts. They may also contain skin-nourishing ingredients like ceramides, plant oils, and antibacterial agents like triclosan.

On the other hand, bar soaps are made of oils, fats, and an alkaline solution through a process known as saponification. They contain sodium cocoate, sodium palmate, sodium tallowate, and similar ingredients. In bar soaps, sodium hydroxide is generally used as lye, while in liquid soaps, potassium hydroxide is used. The oil and lye are heated together to formulate a bar soap.

If you are wondering which one will be suitable for your skin, check out the next section.

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Which product do you prefer for specific seasons?

Shower Gel, Body Wash, And Bar Soap: Which One Is Right For You?

Bathroom stocked with body washes gels and soaps
Image: IStock
  • Shower Gel

It is suitable for most skin types, especially oily skin, as it is water-based and cleanses the skin thoroughly.

  • Body Wash

If you have dry and sensitive skin and feel tight and flaky after a shower, it is best to use a body wash. It contains moisturizing ingredients that cleanse without drying and coat your skin to retain moisture levels.

  • Bar Soap

Bar soaps are suitable for all skin types. However, they may feel a bit drying for sensitive and dry skin. If you are using bar soap, follow up with a moisturizer, irrespective of the skin type.

Whether you are using a shower gel, body wash, or bar soap, always moisturize the skin for proper hydration. Ensure that you apply moisturizer on damp skin to make it soft and plump.

Kristina, a blogger, usually prefers bubble baths over shower gels and shares her experience with both: “When I sniffed the contents in the store, there was a beautifully soothing lavender scent. Unfortunately, most of it disappeared as I added it to my bath water (i).” She continues, “Armed with this new information, I will no longer buy a shower gel with the purpose of using it as a bubble bath. However I will continue to use shower gels in the bath when I’m out of bubble bath, need a change, or am in the mood to experiment.”

Infographic: Shower Gel Vs. Body Wash – All You Need To Know

When it comes to shower products, the choices can be overwhelming. Two popular options are shower gels and body washes. But what are the differences between the two? Check out the breakdown of the key differences between them in the infographic below to help you choose the right option for your shower routine.

shower gel vs. body wash (infographic)

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

Save the high-quality PDF version on your device now.

Download Infographic in PDF version Download Infographic
Download Infographic in PDF version

The differences between shower gels and body washes may be confusing. Most of us may think both are the same. However, there is a difference between these two in terms of their texture, structure, fragrance content, the skin types they are suitable for, exfoliating effects, hygienic bottle packaging, and ingredients. Therefore, you must learn more about your skin, understand its type, and what it needs to figure out which personal care products you should choose to take a bath. As long as your skin does not show any side effects, you can use whichever product you like.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a shower gel?

A shower gel contains synthetic detergents derived from plants or petroleum that help clean dirt and oil from your skin. It is an emulsion of water and detergent that contains fragrances and water-soluble dyes.

Does shower gel dry out skin?

Yes. Many shower gels contain ingredients that strip the skin of its natural oils and make it dry. That is why it is recommended to always apply moisturizer after taking a shower/bath.

Can shower gel be used on the face?

No. Never use products meant for your body on your face. The skin on your face is much more delicate than that on the rest of your body. It needs gentler formulas that are the priority in skin care products. Body washes, lotions, and soaps made for the body will be harsh on your facial skin.

Why is shower gel better than soap?

Shower gels are more convenient to use than soaps. The best shower gels lather better and do not run the risk of contamination since they come in tubes or bottles. Additionally, shower gels can address various skin issues by incorporating granular ingredients for scrubbing or including antiperspirant chemicals to reduce body odor.

Key Takeaways

  • A shower gel, a body wash, and a bar soap differ in structure, texture, fragrance content, skin type, exfoliating properties, and packaging.
  • Shower gels are water-based and contain emulsifiers, detergents, preservatives, and fragrances.
  • Body washes contain humectants, surfactants, emulsifiers, natural extracts, essential oils, and vitamin E.
  • Bar soaps are made through a process called saponification and contain oil, fat, an alkaline solution, and lye.

Body wash and shower gel are both used for cleansing, but they have different textures and ingredients. Body wash is usually a liquid, while shower gel is a thicker gel. Learn more about them in the video below.

Personal Experience: Source

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