Best Soap for Eczema: Ingredients To Look For and To Avoid | MyEczemaTeam

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Best Soap for Eczema: Ingredients To Look For and To Avoid

Medically reviewed by Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Updated on January 2, 2024

  • Soap is a common irritant that triggers symptoms for people with eczema, including atopic dermatitis (the most common subtype).
  • When shopping for soaps that won’t irritate your eczema, look for products containing syndet or glycerin or those approved by the National Eczema Association (NEA).
  • Avoid soap ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulfate and fragrances.

Your skin care routine may play a bigger role in triggering your eczema than you think. Some of the most common triggers of eczema are dry skin, stress, and irritants. Because soap is a common irritant, people with eczema often have to be careful when choosing how to wash their skin.

Whether it’s for your hands or your body, you’ll want to find a soap that gets you clean without aggravating your eczema symptoms, such as itchiness, dryness, and inflammation.

But what exactly should you look for? Is there anything you should avoid? Let’s take a look at the ingredients you should pay attention to when purchasing soap, as well as some MyEczemaTeam members’ experiences and recommendations.

What To Look For in Soap for Eczema

Standard soaps can be very drying. This is mostly because of the pH or harsh chemicals, such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), that disrupt the skin barrier and deplete the skin’s moisture and natural oils. “Soaps dry me right up,” shared one MyEczemaTeam member.

As part of your eczema treatment plan to protect your skin from flare-ups, you’ll want to use a gentle cleanser that doesn’t dehydrate your skin. Here are a few things to look for when shopping for soap:

Syndet

The normal pH level of human skin is between 4 and 6, while the average pH of soap is 9 to 10. This difference means that traditional soap increases the skin’s pH to a level that may worsen eczema symptoms. Although human skin has a buffering system to keep pH levels from changing, this natural function has its limits. Using very acidic or alkaline soaps may overpower the buffering system and lead to dry and irritated skin.

To avoid worsening eczema symptoms, consider using solid cleansing bars containing synthetic detergent, or “syndet” for short. The primary ingredient of syndet bars is a nonsoap surfactant — a compound that lowers the surface tension in a liquid, allowing it to act as a detergent. Unlike traditional soaps, syndets have a neutral or slightly acidic pH, making them less irritating to the skin.

Syndet bars are a good choice for cleansing, thanks to their mildness and hydrating properties — both of which benefit dry, eczema-prone skin. Using syndet instead of soap may help preserve the skin barrier, retain moisture, and ensure a thorough cleansing.

Examples of syndet bars that may work well on eczema-prone skin include:

  • Dove White Beauty Bar or Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar
  • Cetaphil Gentle Cleansing Bar or Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser
  • Cerave Hydrating Cleanser Bar

One MyEczemaTeam member shared their experience using a syndet-based cleanser: “I’ve been having a good day with no problems and no itching. I’ve been using my Dove soap and body wash without perfume, and that has helped me a lot.”

Glycerin

Glycerin is an ingredient found in some gentle cleansers and soaps that acts as a humectant — a substance that preserves moisture. Humectants are also used in lotions, soaps, and even food. You can see glycerin in action in the “sweat” from your natural soap as it draws moisture from the atmosphere. Glycerin has the same moisturizing effect on your skin.

Although many natural soaps contain glycerin, it’s important to note that these are only a good option when they aren’t heavily fragranced.

National Eczema Association Seal of Acceptance

The NEA examines ingredients and testing data to determine whether certain products are suitable for people living with eczema. The NEA’s Seal of Acceptance program guarantees that a product doesn’t contain any common irritants. This mark can help people with eczema and other chronic skin conditions choose products that are less likely to cause allergic reactions or worsen their symptoms.

Even if you find a soap that appears to have the right ingredients, it’s a good idea to check whether the NEA has approved it for people with eczema. If you’re having trouble finding the right soap, visit the association’s website to find products that have been tested and approved by the NEA for eczema-prone skin.

Over-the-Counter Soaps for Eczema

If you’re looking for a face cleanser, body wash, or hand soap that will hydrate your skin without aggravating eczema symptoms, the following nonprescription options are formulated with skin sensitivities in mind.

Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar

This bar soap from Dove is made with a skin-sensitive formula that’s free from irritating foaming agents, artificial colors, and artificial fragrances. The hypoallergenic formula includes moisturizing cream to keep your skin hydrated and prevent flare-ups caused by dry skin.

CeraVe Soothing Body Wash

With a formula designed by dermatologists, CeraVe body wash is made to cleanse and calm your skin. Ingredients include three essential ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and omega oils, which CeraVe says are intended to restore skin to its healthy, natural state. The soap also has no parabens, sulfates, or fragrances and is accepted by the National Eczema Association.

Other Sodium Lauryl Sulfate-Free Cleansers

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology recommends that people with eczema also use these nonsoap cleansers that are free of sodium lauryl sulfate, which can cause irritation:

  • Aquaphor Gentle Wash
  • Basis Sensitive Skin Bar
  • Cetaphil Gentle Cleansing Bar

It’s important to remember that everyone’s skin is different, and it may take a bit of trial and error to find the cleanser that works best for your skin needs. For example, a MyEczemaTeam member said that they previously used Cetaphil and also found relief with a highly emollient skin cleanser, like an Aveeno fragrance-free product.

Another member explained, “Others have found Dove or goat milk soap to work best for them. You just need to experiment and go all fragrance-free, moisturizing with an eczema cream or ointment within three minutes of towel drying after a bath or shower.”

When in doubt, ask your dermatology provider for soap recommendations and skin care tips that will suit your needs.

What To Avoid in Soap for Eczema

Now that you have an idea of some of the ingredients and properties found in good soaps for eczema, let’s take a look at the ingredients in soaps that trigger eczema.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Sodium lauryl sulfate is an ingredient commonly found in soaps, shampoos, and detergents. Unfortunately, while it may help with cleansing, SLS can also affect the skin’s natural barrier and worsen eczema symptoms, like dry skin and irritation. Therefore, it may be a good idea to opt for sulfate-free soaps for eczema-prone skin. Look for soaps labeled “SLS-free.”

Fragrance

Hundreds of chemicals can go into making a fragrance, so manufacturers often just list “perfume” in their ingredients. This makes it hard to pinpoint the chemicals in a soap that may cause irritation.

One MyEczemaTeam member said, “I have to stick with fragrance-free, and the more natural, the better."

About 1 percent to 4 percent of the general population are sensitive to fragrances, while 8 percent to 15 percent of people with contact dermatitis (a type of eczema) have fragrance sensitivities. One MyEczemaTeam member noted, “I’ve found that scented soaps, detergents, etc. can be very irritating to my eczema.”

It may be safest to opt for soaps with natural ingredients or that list all their ingredients, so you know what you’re getting. In this case, bland is better. Avoid products with dyes and fragrances, and stick with simple, unscented cleansers.

Tips To Protect Yourself From Infection and Skin Irritation

Proper handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs that can cause infections and diseases. However, as you probably know, frequent hand-washing with a skin condition like eczema can increase the risk of flare-ups and cause your skin to become dry, cracked, itchy, and painful.

The following tips from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America can help you maintain healthy skin while protecting you and your loved ones from infection.

Wash, Don’t Sanitize

Increased contact with alcohol contained in hand sanitizers can irritate the skin. Hand-washing with a gentle cleanser, when possible, is the better alternative.

Pat Dry

After washing your hands, pat them dry with a disposable towel or tissue. Rubbing your hands can cause irritation.

Moisturize After Each Wash

After drying, apply a generous amount of moisturizer all over your hands and fingers. Do this every time you wash your hands. Carry your moisturizer when going out so you can always use it immediately after washing up.

Carry Your Own Soap

If you worry that the harsh soaps used in public places aren’t suitable for your hands, it may be a good idea to carry travel-size bottles of soap too. Make sure to keep these soap and moisturizer containers clean to avoid spreading germs.

Change Disposable Gloves Frequently

If you wear disposable gloves, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America advises changing them often and keeping your hands clean. Sanitizing or washing your gloves will affect their durability, and if you miss a spot while cleaning them, you could carry germs around.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyEczemaTeam is the social network for people with eczema and their loved ones. On MyEczemaTeam, more than 50,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with eczema.

Have you found soaps that work well? Are there any soaps that aggravate your eczema symptoms? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Updated on January 2, 2024
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Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D. is a dermatologist at the Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Jocelyn Solis-Moreira is a journalist covering health and science. She received a graduate degree in psychology concentrating on behavioral neuroscience. Learn more about her here.

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