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Derm-Approved Face Soap Bars That Will Leave Your Skin Squeaky Clean

Thanks to their moisturizing ingredients and grime-busting capabilities, these face soap bars boast the ability to create a glowing complexion without all the plastic.
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Serious tree huggers and frequent flyers may not see eye to eye on many things, but they're sure to agree that liquid face washes cause more trouble than they're worth. The cleansers are commonly packaged in 100-percent plastic tubes or bottles with pumps that can't be recycled, are often too large to stash in a carry-on suitcase, and always run the risk of spilling all over your clothes mid-flight.

Luckily, there's a product that can solve all of those nuisances: Face soap bars — but not the dried-out blocks your grandparents seemingly always have stashed in their bathrooms. Standard soap bars that you use on your body are often too harsh on your facial skin and can strip its outer layer of natural oils or its beneficial microbiome, says Melanie Palm, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Art of Skin MD in San Diego, California. What's more, some body soaps can have too basic of a pH for your facial skin (which has a pH of 5.5) and, in turn, disrupt its barrier, adds Purvisha Patel, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visha Skincare. This disruption can make skin dry and irritated, and nerves in the surfaces of the skin can then become exposed to air, she explains. "[The nerves] start to fire, and that causes itching and [even more irritation]. You get an inflammatory cascade." (Related: How to Get Rid of Bad Skin Bacteria Without Wiping Out the Good)

Cleansing bars that are specifically designed for the face, however, can get all the gunk out of your skin without those uncomfortable side effects. Some face soap bars also contain glycerin, ceramides, or hyaluronic acid to help moisturize the skin, while others boast salicylic acid and inflammation-fighting sulfur to combat acne, says Dr. Palm. You can also find face soap bars with cocoa butter and jojoba oil — soothing emollients that are particularly ideal for aging or mature skin, adds Dr. Patel. That said, traditional liquid cleansers have a leg-up on face soap bars when it comes to certain active ingredients. "There are some ingredients, whether moisturizing agents, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, or even prebiotics, that are difficult to stabilize or maintain sterility if packaged as a facial bar," often because the product flip-flops between being dry and wet throughout its lifetime, says Dr. Palm. As a result, you may not find ingredients such as zinc or glycolic acid in your face soap bar, adds Dr. Patel.

That's why Dr. Patel recommends asking yourself what you're hoping to accomplish with your cleanser before you stock up on face soap bars. "Are you just washing your face to get your face clean, or are you doing something more intentional here?" she says. "Are you washing your face and you want to moisturize? Then you want to make sure your soap has [an ingredient such as] rosehip seed oil or aloe...You have to look at what your endgame is, your skin [type], and what you're trying to achieve." Depending on your needs and concerns, a face soap bar may not offer the ingredients required to provide the benefits you're after, and a liquid cleanser may be a better option. When in doubt, book an appointment with your dermatologist, who can advise you on the best products for your needs.

If you do decide to hop on the facial bar bandwagon, know that keeping face soap bars free of microbial contamination can be challenging, says Dr. Palm. After all, the bar is likely sitting someplace in your germ-ridden bathroom, and you need to rub your hands all over it to create a lather. This potential sterility issue especially holds true if the bar is used so infrequently (think: weeks on end) that all of the water in the formula evaporates and the bar begins to crack, adds Dr. Patel. Since a soap bar with fissures in it has more surface area, there's more space where bacteria can settle, she explains.

Still, a soap bar that's tainted with bacteria may not transfer it to your skin. In a small 1988 study, participants who had washed their hands with soap bars infected with E. coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (a germ that can cause pneumonia) did not have detectable levels of the bacteria on their hands after sudsing up. But if the idea of germs chilling on your face soap bar gives you the willies, Dr. Palm recommends touching the bar only with clean hands, using it solely on the face, and storing it in a dish with drainage (Buy It, $6, amazon.com) to avoid any disintegration (If the bar sits in a pool of water, it'll start disintegrating and won't last as long, says Dr. Patel.)

Now that you have the low-down on how to choose a facial bar and properly store it, it's time to pick one that'll help you achieve your healthiest skin yet. The easiest way to get the job done? Choose from these grime-busting, nourishing face soap bars, then use the product to wash your face at least twice daily (morning, night, and after sweating heavily), as recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology Association.

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Cerave Foaming Cleansing Bar
Credit: Target

Cerave Foaming Cleansing Bar

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Although this face soap bar is designed for normal to oily skin, Dr. Palm says it's still gentle enough for folks who have sensitive skin or eczema. "The foaming action removes dirt, makeup, and debris, but the ceramides contained in the bar rebuild the skin's barrier function," she explains. In addition to those ceramides, which help seal in moisture and keep bacteria, irritants, and pollutants out, the bar contains kaolin clay to absorb excess oil, niacinamide to soothe and ease hyperpigmentation, and hyaluronic acid to lock in moisture. Simply put, it'll tackle all your skin woes without causing irritation. 

Avene XeraCalm A.D. Ultra Rich Facial Cleansing Bar
Credit: Amazon

Avene XeraCalm A.D. Ultra Rich Facial Cleansing Bar

Buy It, $12

If your skin seems to flare up with every new product you introduce into your routine, turn to this face soap bar. "[It's] great for the most sensitive skin types that are easily irritated or allergic to some skin-care ingredients," says Dr. Palm. The bar is designed to soothe dry, itchy, and even eczema-prone skin with the help of mineral-rich thermal spring water. "[The water] acts as a potent ingredient for fighting inflammation without interfering with the skin's microbiome."

Clinique Acne Solutions Cleansing Bar for Face and Body
Credit: Sephora

Clinique Acne Solutions Cleansing Bar for Face and Body

Buy It, $17

Stubborn breakouts are no match for this acne-fighting face soap bar. The cleanser's star ingredient is salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid that works its way deep into your pores and dislodges any gunk and dead skin cells. That being said, it also contains hydrating glycerin, a humectant that attract moistures from the air and holds it on the top layer of your skin. "It effectively fights breakouts without drying out the skin," explains Dr. Palm. (Related: Exactly How to Prevent Adult Acne, According to Dermatologists)

Vanicream Cleansing Bar for Sensitive Skin
Credit: Vanicream

Vanicream Cleansing Bar for Sensitive Skin

Buy It, $8

Designed for individuals dealing with seasonal dry skin and folks with eczema or psoriasis, this face soap bar will leave your skin feeling soft, hydrated, and grime-free. Since it's been awarded the National Eczema Association Seal of Acceptance, you can trust that it won't aggravate your sensitive skin. Plus, the mild cleanser is free of dyes, fragrance, and botanical extracts, making it a great option for people with allergies, says Dr. Patel. 

Cetaphil Deep Cleansing Face & Body Bar
Credit: Amazon

Cetaphil Deep Cleansing Face & Body Bar

Buy It, $10 for 3

This drugstore face soap bar may be budget-friendly, but it doesn't skimp on good-for-skin ingredients. The non-comedogenic, hypoallergenic cleanser's key ingredient is sodium cocoyl isethionate, a mild cleansing agent derived from coconut, to remove dirt, oil, and grime. Thanks to the moisture-locking glycerin and stearic acid, an emollient that protects the skin's surface from water loss, the formula won't dry out your skin, either. 

Meow Meow Tweet Tea Tree Facial Soap
Credit: Meow Meow Tweet

Meow Meow Tweet Tea Tree Facial Soap

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Looking to cleans, exfoliate, hydrate, and fight acne without adding eight-plus products into your routine? Enter: Meow Meow Tweet's face soap bar. The formula contains olive oil, coconut oil, and cocoa seed butter to soften and moisturize, ground oats to  gently exfoliate, activated charcoal to absorb excess oil, and tea tree oil to combat breakouts and soothe skin. Talk about a four-in-one deal. (BTW, the brand also makes a travel-friendly shampoo powder that seriously de-gunks hair.)

Codex Beauty Air Soap Bar
Credit: Codex Beauty

Codex Beauty Bia Air Soap Bar

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Face soap bars are already a greener choice than liquid cleansers, but this option from Codex Beauty takes the eco-friendly factor to the next level. The Bia Air Soap bar contains soap cuttings from the brand's other facial bars to reduce waste and packs skin-purifying ingredients such French pink clay, which removes dead skin cells and other impurities, and kaolin clay to sop up excess oil. To keep the skin hydrated, the bar also features nourishing shea butter