While studies have yet to discover exactly what causes eczema in the first place, experts have learned how to lessen the appearance of dry, flaky skin — aka Atopic Dermatitis. Careless ingredients and irritating additives will likely make matters worse, while the best soaps for eczema can help to hydrate and nourish skin so the effects are less noticeable. The question then becomes: Which soaps are actually gentle? — especially because virtually all soaps are marketed as "hydrating" and "nourishing," even when they're not at all suitable for sensitive skin.
To help answer this question and learn more about eczema, I reached out board-certified dermatologist and RealSelf contributor, Dr. Joel Schlessinger via email. "Eczema causes excessive dryness and sensitivity, so any area experiencing irritation, itching, or a visible rash requires extra care," Dr. Schlessigner explained. "This means every product, soap included, needs to be thoughtfully selected if it’s going to come in contact with skin affected by eczema."
I'm of the belief that everyone should be checking the labels on their skin care products, but especially for those with eczema, all ingredients should be recognizable, pronounceable, and serve a purpose. Natural products for eczema tend to be many people's go-to because they're free from synthetic additives; on the other hand, manufactured chemicals are common triggers for eczema rashes, so scanning the list for your known allergens is a great place to start. "Natural soaps and cleansers may be effective when it comes to eczema, but the success of these products is likely due to the lack of irritating ingredients," says Dr. Schlessinger. "Products don’t necessarily need to be natural to be safe for eczema, and not all natural products are safe for those with eczema."
A body-friendly soap will also respect your skin's natural microbiome and pH levels. The surface of your skin has a population of microscopic bacteria, some of which are actually beneficial and essential in keeping your skin healthy. Aggressive hygiene products (like antibacterial soap and overly-stripping surfactants) can actually kill off your beneficial microbes, which can worsen the effects of eczema. For that reason, steer clear of any harsh antibacterials — or anything that might alter pH, which also contributes to a healthy microbiome. According to scientists, skin should be slightly acidic, with a pH in the general range of 4 to 6.
With all that in mind, these are some of the best soaps for people with Atopic Dermatitis; they're gentle, free from common irritants, and respectful of your skin's inherent functions.
1. The Best Overall Soap For Eczema
The number-one best soap for eczema comes with hundreds of rave reviews and a 60-day satisfaction guarantee. Wonderfully Natural African black soap is effective because, instead of stripping the skin, it nourishes it with naturally-occurring antioxidants, vitamins, lipids, and acids.
While it contains palm kernel and coconut (which are slightly antibacterial and anti-fungal to keep you clean), this soap is also loaded with hydrating butters and oils to heal and hydrate irritated skin. It also has plantain skin ash to exfoliate away dead cells, and since it comes in a 1-pound bar, you'll be set for quite a while.
Reviewers say: "I bought this soap for my boyfriend who has very bad eczema. When he travels (which is often) his eczema would really flare up and he would spend the majority of his time away in extreme discomfort. After doing some research I read that African Black Soap could provide relief for eczema and since he has been using this soap religiously he has not experienced any bad flare ups. This soap is a godsend! I have this soap in every bathroom, in all his travel bags, and it is the only soap he uses now."
Ingredients: Palm oil, cocoa pod, palm kernel oil, coconut oil, unrefined shea butter, plantain skin ash, purified water, vitamin E, sodium
2. The Pick With The Best Value
If you're looking for a great deal on individual bars, Grandpa's pine tar soap costs under $16 for six — that's less than $3 a bar. That said, don't be fooled by the price. This pick creates a rich lather that cleanses your skin, but it's free from synthetic coloring and perfumes. It's especially effective for eczema due to the addition of wood tar from pine trees, which has been used for its medicinal properties for over 2,000 years. This ingredient is anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and slows mitotic activity — which means it helps skin to produce new cells at a healthy rate. Finally, this soap can be used for body, face, and hair, so you're getting a lot of bang for your buck.
Reviewers say: "I haven't been back to [my dermatologist] in five years. Why? Old wives [tales] are sometimes right! Every time my skin starts to dry out, I switch to Grandpa's and in three days I'm back to normal. Love this soap!"
Ingredients: Sodium Palmate, sodium cocoate, water, glycerin, Pinus Palustris Wood Tar, sodium chloride, sodium gluconate, and potentially sodium palm kernelate.
3. The Best Option For Acne-Prone Skin
Science has shown that tea tree oil can be an effective treatment for acne due to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties — but it has also proven to be a reliable, safer alternative to harsh topical antibiotics when it comes to treating rashes, dry skin, and irritations.
If you suffer from both eczema and acne simultaneously, New York Biology tea tree body wash utilizes 5-percent pure tea tree oil along with other healing essential oils; the result, according to reviewers, is a non-drying, nourishing liquid body wash that soothes irritated skin, removes unwanted odors, keeps fungal infections in check, and helps to clear up eczema. Since it comes in a convenient pump bottle, it travels well and is easy to use all over the body.
Reviewers say: "I bought [this] for my son who has eczema and scratches after he showers, even after putting cream on. This has helped reduce the itching and his skin has gotten better. With continued use, his skin has improved considerably. [After two months of use] he is almost clear. I've tried other tea tree body wash and this one has been the best."
Ingredients: Aqua, Melaleuca Alternifolia Seed Oil, Cocos Nucifera Water, Saponified Cocos Nucifera Oil, Olea Europaea Fruit Oil, Simmondia Chinensis Parkii Buter, Cocoa Seed Butter, Butyrospermum Oil, Vaccinium Macrocarpon Oil, Punica Grantum Seed Oil, Plukenetia Volubilis Oil, Linum Usitatissimum Oil, Hippophae Rhamnoides Oil, Tocopherol, Azadirachta Indica Oil
4. The Best Soap For Extra-Sensitive Skin
For those who are concerned with preserving their skin's pH and protecting natural barriers, Dr. Ohhira's probiotic Kampuku beauty bar is well-worth the splurge. Using the fermentation of natural ingredients, this soap replenishes the microbiome (read: topical probiotics) so skin is better able to heal and protect itself. It's also optimized to keep the skin at a pH of 5.5, so the ecosystem can thrive. Finally, provided you don't have any food allergies, this soap is ideal for especially sensitive skin because it's made with food-based ingredients like wild strawberry, apricot, seaweed, and Chinese cabbage.
Reviewers say: "A God-send for eczema sufferers... Wonderful probiotic soap! I struggle with eczema on my eyelids and back of ears - both very sensitive places. This soap eases the pain and burn and effectively rids the area of bacteria. My eczema was noticeably better after the first time I used it. I use it daily and continue to see result."
Ingredients: Sodium Palmate, Sodium Cocoate, Probiotic Extract (apricot, mugwort, brown seaweed, oleaster, plum, wild strawberry, mulberry, sea tangle, Chinese bayberry, wild vine, Chinese matrimony, shiitake mushroom, chinese cabbage, loquat), Water, Caramel.
Also Great: An Eczema-Friendly Moisturizer For Afterwards
According to Dr. Schlessinger, following up with an eczema-friendly moisturizer is beneficial. "It’s important to remember that hydrating after washing is essential for everyone, but even more so for those with eczema. The La Roche-Posay Lipikar eczema soothing relief cream is another product accepted by the National Eczema Association that performs well because it has 1-percent colloidal oatmeal which protects skin, calms irritation, and alleviates itching."
Reviewers say: "As a life-long sufferer of eczema and psoriasis accompanied by dry skin, I have tried just about every type of cream out there. This product by La Roche-Posay has now probably earned its place as my favorite skin moisturizer."
Ingredients: 1% Colloidal oatmeal skin protectant, La Roche-Posay Prebiotic Thermal Water, Aqua Posae Filiformis, Shea Butter, Glycerin, Niacinamide
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