The next time you’re in the market for a bodywash, instead of picking just anything enticing off the shelves (or whatever is marked down), dermatologists would prefer for you to really take your skin type into consideration. “A lot of things we would never do on our faces, we take little shortcuts on the body. We’ll buy a gel wash that’s on sale, even if we know we have really sensitive skin, but because it’s our body, who cares? And that’s just not the way to approach it,” says dermatologist Michelle Henry of Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York. She notices that many of her patients come to her with dry, itchy skin, thinking they have a rash, but they’re just using a drying bodywash with harsh detergents, like sodium lauryl sulfate (which is one of the strongest ingredients that can be used in this kind of stuff).
Not surprisingly, Henry recommends a gel cleanser for those with oily or acne-prone skin because they tend to be more drying, and a creamier wash for those with normal to dry skin to add in some extra moisture. But of course there are a lot more nuances to the formulations out there that can be considered when trying to find the perfect fit for your specific type of skin. The six experts we spoke to lay out your options below. And no matter which you choose, keep in mind, bodywash should not be overused (and not even necessarily used on the entire body). As dermatologist Emmy Graber, president and founder of the Dermatology Institute of Boston, puts it: For many people, “just doing the areas that are more prone to odors, like the underarms and the groin area, is enough, especially if they haven’t been sweating a lot that day.”
Best overall bodywash
Four out of the six dermatologists we spoke to recommended this bodywash for all types of skin. Dermatologist Sapna Palep of Spring Street Dermatology thinks it’s “so good for any skin type” because it’s a nonirritating formula free from parabens and sulfates. Angela Lamb, associate dermatology professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, explains that sulfates can be problematic for skin because they “are the strongest, most stripping, harshest ingredients within a cleanser.” She adds that when you create a product that’s sulfate-free, it’s not stripping the natural oils on the skin nearly as much” (and stripping the skin, of course, can cause dryness and further irritation). When you disrupt what’s called the “acid mantle barrier that we all have on our skin” with these heavy detergents, you end up with “cracked, dry skin,” according to Palep. This CeraVe wash cleanses the skin without disrupting that barrier. And even though the ingredients are top-notch, Palep appreciates that “it’s so cheap.”
Best exfoliating bodywash
Henry recommends an exfoliating bodywash for oily, acne-prone, and normal skin types because it can help scrub away some of the excess oil building up on the skin. “Someone with oilier skin or someone that’s acne-prone can use it every day,” says Henry. But even if your skin can handle more exfoliation than others, Henry still recommends “that you start out using it twice a week and gradually increasing based on your tolerance.” The last thing you want is to over-exfoliate and strip the skin. But the likelihood of that happening with this Dove wash, however, is low, and that’s why it’s a favorite among dermatologists. Lamb notes that while the Dove does have an effective detergent in it that can “pick up the dirt and excess oil,” it’s “not stripping and does have that coveted high-moisture content.” Dove formulates this product with what it calls Nutrium Moisture technology. And there also might be something to be said for what Dove calls its Nutrium Moisture technology, which supposedly helps your skin absorb the nutrients.
Best bodywash for dry skin
Lamb likes this hydrating wash from Dove because it adds moisture back into the skin with its Nutrium Moisture technology, but it’s also sulfate- and paraben-free, so it won’t be quite as stripping as other cleansers. “Bathing time is really critical” for these skin types, according to Henry, because this is an opportunity to quench the skin’s thirst. Palep even describes using this cleanser as “like washing your body with a lotion.” Henry thinks that within three to five days, you’ll know if a bodywash is working for you and giving you enough moisture, based on the way your skin feels to the touch. And while dry skin types may be inclined to switch to a gel in the warmer months, Lamb recommends that these folks still stick to the creamier formulations year-round.
Best bodywash for body acne
All six of the dermatologists we spoke to recommend salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide for body acne, but which one you use depends on your type of acne. If the bumps are fairly mild and not too red, bodywashes with salicylic acid are probably your best bet. “If you look at the skin and you can actually see what we call comedones, like those clogged pores” — like blackheads and whiteheads — “then I would recommend salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is going to go into the pore and try to cleanse that out,” says Palep. This Neutrogena bodywash has “the maximum amount of salicylic acid that you can get over the counter,” according to Palep, so it’s probably your best bet if your body acne is mostly made up of mostly clogged pores. (Those with body acne often already know if this is the case for them, because the acne tends to look less angry than the inflammatory acne we’ll get to below.) But since body acne typically occurs only on the torso and back, Palep recommends only using treatment washes on the affected areas. “People should not be using these gel cleansers necessarily for their whole body,” she says. The shins are more prone to what she refers to as “alligator skin,” which is extremely dry skin. A strong wash, like this Neutrogena one, might just exacerbate or cause dry skin on areas that aren’t quite as oily.
Benzoyl peroxide works best for those with inflammatory acne. “If you look at it and it’s juicy and red, I definitely recommend benzoyl peroxide,” says Palep. Lamb explains that “benzoyl peroxide is an active ingredient and an antibiotic, so it actually kills the acne bacteria on the surface that causes acne.” Three of our dermatologists recommend this PanOxyl wash for treating the aforementioned inflamed acne because it’s strong enough to treat without being unnecessarily drying, according to dermatologist Noëlle S. Sherber, co-founder of SHERBER+RAD and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at George Washington University. And keep in mind: Graber prefers a bodywash that only includes four percent benzoyl peroxide, instead of ten. While many patients think that the higher the percentage of benzoyl peroxide there is, the more effective it will be, Graber says that’s not necessarily true. “There was a study done a long time ago that shows that once you get above about 5 percent benzoyl peroxide, it didn’t work any better at killing the bacteria that causes acne; it just is more drying on the skin,” says Graber. But regardless of the percentage, Henry warns that benzoyl peroxide “can bleach your clothing, so don’t wear your fanciest pajamas.”
Best bodywash for sensitive skin
Those with sensitive skin can easily react to commonly found ingredients in body products, like fragrance. That’s why half of the dermatologists we spoke to recommend Vanicream’s bodywash. Graber calls this “the best way to go” for those with sensitive skin because it’s free of preservatives, formaldehyde, lanolin, fragrance, dyes, sulfates, and parabens, which are typically ingredients that those with sensitive skin are allergic to. Put another way, it’s a gentle cleanser that doesn’t have a lot of active ingredients in it, according to Henry. Of course, even though Vanicream checks all the boxes recommended for sensitive skin, you’re going to want to spot-test first, “just to make sure it doesn’t flare up your skin,” according to Graber, before rubbing it all over.