They say oil and water don’t mix, which might make you wonder how to get rid of greasy stains. Luckily, soap is fat-based, so it’s good at getting all those grimy marks off your body. Shower gel does this too but in a slightly different way. So … exactly what is shower gel?
Shower gel is a type of liquid soap specifically formulated for your skin. It looks a bit like shampoo, liquid hand soap, or dishwashing fluid. But because it’s made for skin, it’s gentler and more luxurious than other kinds of liquid soap. It comes in three forms.
Types of Shower Gel
If you’re in the soap aisle at the grocery store or beauty shop, you’ll probably be confused by all those available products. Go towards the liquid shower soap section, pick up a few bottles, and read their labels carefully. You’ll find the described using one of three descriptors:
- Shower gel – best for normal to oily skin
- Body wash – best for oily skin in warmer climates
- Shower cream – best for dry skin in cooler climates
The main difference is in formulation and consistency. Body wash is the ‘lightest’ and has a see-through ‘watery’ texture compared to the rest. It works well in humid regions because it cools the skin and doesn’t feel sticky or clammy. It often has cucumber, citrus, or lemony ingredients.
These citrusy (and sometimes minty) additives keep your skin cool and fresh. The body wash sits lighter on your skin as well. And it washes off easily, which can be helpful in tropical climes where water may be salty or calcite-infused. Such homes should have a shower filter installed.
Shower gel is thicker than body wash. It has a more gelatinous feel, though it’s still a free-flowing fluid. It has a silky feel on your skin but can feel harsh and tight on dry skin. For that, shower cream works best, because it has a slick, lotion-like texture and better penetration.
How Cleansing Works
Both liquid and solid soaps are made using betaines, water, and ‘bubble makers’. The latter makes the lather. Soap is made by treating fatty substances with salt and heat, a process called saponification. Moisture evaporates, leaving a solid bar of soap. Liquid soap uses oils instead.
The oils are liquid at room temperature, while fats are solid at room temperature, and that’s what causes the main difference in appearance. It also means soap has a higher pH than shower gels, so soap dries out your skin more and may trigger allergic reactions.
Soap and shower gel both work through emulsification. They ‘lift’ dirt, loosening the bond between dirt and skin so that it sticks to the cleansing product and gets rinsed away. Foaming bubbles play a big role in ‘grabbing’ the dirt so you can wash it away.
Shower gel is often infused with essential oils and fragrances. These make is gentler on the skin and sometimes offers healing benefits, like anti-inflammation or anti-acne. They leave your skin feeling smooth and moisturized, even before you add a layer or body oil or lotion.
Some people like this supple feeling. Others get nervous about it. That ‘silky’ feeling makes them think they haven’t washed all the soap off. These buyers may prefer a body wash because there’s less of that satiny after-effect. On the other hand, shower gel is great for layering.
Lather It On!
Layering is when you use various products from the same brand to heighten your results. For example, by using soap, shower gel, perfume, and body cream from the same brand and variant, the scent lasts longer. This is especially true for aromatic shower gels, so don’t mix and match!
But how much is too much? With a bar of soap, you just rub the soap into your palms. Won’t you just dump the whole bottle of shower gel down the drain? Well, you know how people say you only need a pea-sized portion of toothpaste? With shower gel, you only need a few squirts.
The trick is to pre-wet yourself so the shower gel holds better. And don’t put it directly on your skin. Pour it onto a loofah, washcloth, or sponge. They foam better than bare hands, so you’ll waste less shower gel. Without a loofah, most of your soap will end up on the shower door.
Make as much foam as you can, then use your loofah or sponge to lather your body before rinsing off. Pro tip: If you have dry skin, lower your water temperature. If the bath-water is too hit, it will dry out your skin more and may trigger unpleasant skin conditions.
Here’s another tip: shower gel and body wash are great clarifiers. They open up your pores, releasing backed-up oil residue that may cause pimples. But just like soap, it’s a bad idea to use the same one for your face and body, even if the brands are the same. Keep them separate.
Upsides of Shower Gel
Packaging is everything, and shower gel is often packaged in sweet-selling, eye-catching, ergonomic bottles. On the upside, they look good in your shower caddy or bathroom cabinet. On the downside, the bottles are plastic, metal, or glass, and will probably end up in a landfill.
If you’re environmentally conscious, and if you didn’t just buy that shower gel for a meme, double-check the ingredients. Opt for SCI (sodium cocoyl isethionate) instead of SLS (sodium lareth sulfate). SCI is coconut-based and is gentler. SLS sometimes causes allergies.
Both these chemicals cause the ‘foam’ in your shower gel, and the more bubbles, the better. This might make you want to use shampoo instead of shower gel. It has a similar texture and is great for foaming. But shampoo is harsher than shower gel, and rarely has added moisturizers.
Shower gels frequently have skin softeners built into them as well. Clear shower gels and body are easier to clean off your showerhead because they don’t form scum. Instead, the bubble, foam, and wash away, leaving your skin supple and hydrated. They rarely react with hard water.
Cutting Down Costs
The one advantage of soap over shower gel is the price point. Soap is way cheaper than any bathing cream or body wash. Luckily, you can DIY your body wash using ordinary items from your pantry or bathroom cabinet. Try this recipe, with carrots, shea butter, lavender, and honey.
It has olive oil too, and its consistency makes it more of a body wash than a gel. It stays fresh for about two months. You need to keep your shower medium fresh as well. Whether it’s a natural loofah, a plastic bath mitt, or a sponge, it’s often damp, so it’s likely to get germs and mold.
After every use, wash your shower rag, rinse it thoroughly, and air it dries. This prevents contamination and mildew. Use light-colored loofahs or bath mitts, because it’s easier to spot dirt on them, which means you’ll put more effort into keeping them hygienic.
High-traffic bathrooms need a lot of maintenance, and it can be expensive. So instead of waiting for pricy, professional cleaners, establish basic bathroom hygiene. Once a day, check any bathroom areas you forgot to clean, such as your towel hooks, window sills, or shower chair.
It doesn’t seem like much, but that quick wipe-down while the bathroom is still steamy could save you hundreds in cleaning fees. Plus, shower gels wipe off far more easily than scummy soap. Sometimes just the humidity from the shower is enough to rinse off all the foam.
Balance Things Out
Shower gels and body wash are often sold in bottles or squeeze tubes. Meaning they occupy more space than bars of soap. So when you switch to shower gels, ensure you have space. You may need to build a shower niche or install a shower caddy. Keep them both spotless.
Why? They’re areas you’re likely to neglect, so sticky soap bubbles and dried out gel may pool at the bottom of your shelf. If it’s a floating caddy with a suction cup, check that it can support the weight of all your bath products. You’ll never just buy one bottle, and they quickly add up.
You could also consider buying your shower get or body wash in bulk. This saves money, and you can invest in a nice liquid shower soap bottle that you regularly refill. It also reduces waste from all those tiny product bottles you’d have bought. Keep one or two smaller bottles for flights.
If you do buy regular-sized bottles, you could check whether the bottle is recycled (or recyclable). You can also repurpose it for home use. Shower gel bottles can be re-used to store home-made enzyme cleaners, insect repellents, window-cleaners, or car-washing detergent.
Also, if you’re having a rash, feeling nauseated, or experiencing discomfort from your shower gel, it might be the fragrance. They’re usually scented using strong alcohol-based perfumes. Try an unscented body wash, or one with a mild ‘natural’ scent and see if that helps.
Shell Out In The Shower
Yes, shower gel costs significantly more than soap. But it offers advantages too. These include:
- Smelling better for longer.
- Offering extra hydration and moisturization.
- Providing more tailored variants for your skin’s needs.
- Reducing the risk of contamination from mucky leftover bar soap.
- Looking prettier on your bathroom shelves.
- Using natural alternatives to microbeads (oats, avocado, walnuts, almonds, etc.).
Which bar soap, shower gel, shower cream, or body wash did you use today? Snap a selfie with the bottle and share it with us in the comments!
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