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Millennials Killed Bar Soap, And Now Millennials Are Bringing It Back

Skin Care
Illustration by Lindsay Hattrick

Why you should become a bar soap convert

I have something to admit: I have always despised bar soap. I felt like it was extremely harsh on my skin and generally pretty gross: slimy, mushy, and always covered in someone else's hair.

And so, during my past few years as a beauty writer, whenever I've seen bar soap, facial cleansing bar, and even shampoo in bar form cross my desk, I tended to ignore them. I had too many bad memories of bar soaps engrained into my brain: the overly drying, skin-stripping, heavily fragranced soaps of my childhood, the ones that always ended up a wet, mushy glob on the side of my tub. I just couldn't shake how rough and moisture-less my skin used to feel post-shower or bath. And the thought of using one of these on my face? Oh, hell no.

My hatred for bar soap was made easy by the fact that there are tons of ways to avoid using it. After all, there are seemingly infinite varieties of liquid body washes, cleansers, and scrubs available on the market today, many of them tailored to specific skin-care needs, meaning there's no need to turn to the dated, archaic, rectangular soap bar to get yourself clean.

And, of course, I'm not alone in my bar soap-hatred. Most other millennials feel the same way—so much so that we're allegedly the cause of a rapid decline over the years for drugstore staples such as Ivory and other similar brands.

Yet, it might just be millennials who are responsible for bar soap's recent resurgence. I can't be alone in noticing how all my friends (even those not involved in the beauty world like I am) are raving about the latest facial bar or conditioner bar they're using, all coming from ingredient-transparent brands who preach the sustainability of bar soaps over plastic-using liquid soaps. These new bar soaps aren't just beloved for their environmental consciousness, though, they also feel great, because they're being made with younger, savvier customers in mind—the kind of people whose social media-love for a product can make or break it, and who won't tolerate anything but the best ingredients and ultra-moisturizing results.

Tara Foley, founder of beauty company Follain, says, "Historically, most bar soaps have been drying. Newer formulations like ours include nourishing, clean ingredients like shea butter and argan oil to moisturize the skin while cleaning it." Michelle Connelly, the director of merchandising and planning at Credo Beauty, adds: "In general, cleansing products are being formulated to leave the skin more balanced and still hydrated, not stripped dry, which I think is many people's first thought when they think of bar soaps." (Ahem, it was definitely mine.)

Bar soaps are also inherently more environmentally friendly, because of their lack of packaging and preservatives. "Liquid shower gels require packaging, and most require preservatives," says Erica Vega, product and brand trainer at Lush. "Soap, on the other hand, will likely have little or possibly no packaging and no preservatives, so they're going to beat out shower gels in the sustainability standpoint every time."

But here's the thing—whether or not you're concerned with ingredients (though you should definitely be), it's the sustainability factor that comes along with bars that are making them the new popular choice. Vega says, "Not only is there typically far less packaging—usually only a paper/cardboard single layer versus a liquid product in a plastic or glass bottle, with a plastic pump, often packaged in an outer carton—but the carbon footprint of bar soaps is also lower in terms of transporting the product. Bar products are concentrated formulas not diluted with water, so, therefore, they are much lighter and more efficient to transport."

They also last a lot longer, meaning you'll be buying less and, therefore, less product will need to be produced. "Typically, bars last more than two times longer than the equivalent volume of liquid soap, which is pretty amazing," says Emily Doyle, co-founder of Ursa Major.

While I had long ignored the many bars that would come across my desk, I finally decided to give some a shot, and I will say, it's a totally different world than what I remember. Today's star products do everything from moisturizing and soothing the body to detoxing and brightening the complexion to cleansing and conditioning the hair, and none of them have the awful drying effects of yesteryear. (However, as Doyle points out, they'll still be slimy and gross if you don't store them in a soap dish or tray post-use.)

If I can become a believer, so can you—trust me. Below, we rounded up some of the best bars for body, face, and hair out there—all with fully transparent ingredient lists, too. Check 'em out, below.

Photo courtesy of Herbivore

Herbivore, Bamboo Charcoal Cleansing Bar Soap, $12, available at Herbivore.

"Herbivore Bamboo Charcoal Soap is specially designed for oily or blemish-prone skin, with activated charcoal adding extra cleansing and exfoliating properties," says Connelly. "It gives a deep clean without overdrying skin."

Photo courtesy of By Humankind

By Humankind, Thyme Shampoo Bar, $12.95, available at By Humankind.

These nourishing, non-stripping shampoo bars reduce the need for a conditioner and are highly concentrated, making them longer lasting than most bars their size.

Photo courtesy of Ursa Major

Ursa Major, Morning Mojo Bar Soap, $14, available at Ursa Major.

"This unisex body bar has a fresh scent and a lightly exfoliating texture, and is great for someone who might be converting over from conventional bar soap—it's an awesome upgrade," says Connelly.

Photo courtesy of Skin Owl

Skin Owl, Turmeric Beauty Bar, $24, available at Skin Owl.

This facial bar contains turmeric, which works to reduce inflammation and boost your glow, while agave stimulates hyaluronic acid synthesis (meaning a plump, smooth complexion) and oatmeal soothes and moisturizes.

Follain, Everybody Bar Soap, $9, available at Follain.

This hydrating, lathering soap bar is rich in omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, helping to comfort dry skin; the shea butter helps replenish any hydration lost during cleansing.

Photo courtesy of Soapwalla

Soapwalla, Crushed Saffron & Makrut Lime Soap Bar, $14, available at Soapwalla.

This super-gentle cleanser is great for sensitive skin, brightening the complexion with crushed saffron threads and rejuvenating skin with makrun lime essential oil—perfect for sleepy mornings!

Photo courtesy of Lush

Lush, Brazilliant Shampoo Bar, $11.95, available at Lush.

This solid shampoo bar tames thick, curly hair with strengthening andiroba oil.

Photo courtesy of Apoterra

Apoterra, Aloe + Rose Clay Complexion Soap, $12.50, available at Apoterra.

This gentle cleansing bar detoxes with pink clay, while jojoba oil moisturizes and soothes.

Photo courtesy of Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve Company

Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve Company, Butter Bar Conditioning Shampoo, $8.95, available at Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve Company.

This super-conditioning shampoo bar is great for dry, over-processed hair as it uses a combination of soothing butters, oils, and coconut milk to moisturize and soothe.

Saipua, Saltwater Soap Bar, $18, available at Follain.

The saponified coconut oil in this hydrating body bar promotes healthy cell turnover, protects from environmental stressors, and brightens skin discolorations, while olive oil adds extra moisturizing benefits.

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