We’ve all been taking a little more time to wash our hands recently. If you’ve found yourself becoming more discerning about what you use to wash yours with, you’re not alone. However, the popularity of high-quality bar soap was already growing before the pandemic struck. “We’ve definitely seen more interest in recent months as people strip back to basics with beauty routines,” says Abi Buller, a writer at strategic foresight consultancy the Future Laboratory. According to Buller, consumers are now “prioritising long-lasting, reliable products that appeal to both hygiene and sustainability concerns.”
But with big beauty brands like Aesop, Le Labo, and even Chanel releasing bar soaps, it’s hard to know what to look for. “I’ve definitely observed a rise in the popularity of handmade bar soaps in particular,” says Samantha Newell, co-founder of Yard + Parish, an ethical retailer for independent Black-owned UK businesses. “Customers are becoming more informed and want to know that what they’re putting on their bodies is natural, ecofriendly, and has properties that target specific skin problems. Smelling ‘good’ just isn’t enough anymore.” We enlisted the help of 11 experts, from homeware entrepreneurs to ethically conscious bloggers, to help us choose the best bar soaps to buy for your shower, bathroom, or even your kitchen sink. Read on for the best shower-friendly and travel-appropriate bar soaps, the best ethical and vegan bar soaps, and the best bar soap to buy as a gift.
Best overall bar soap
When asked for their favourite bar soap, two of our experts chose this product from Margate-based skin-care brand Haeckels. “It’s a vegan, exfoliating seaweed soap that comes in the shape of a large block,” says perfumer and designer Maya Njie. “It smells of the sea, with peppercorns and coriander seeds in the mix, and it makes a shower or bath even more pleasurable.” Aside from the smell, the presence of the seaweed – along with aloe vera and tea tree – actively hydrates skin, while the botanicals are natural exfoliants. “It leaves your skin thoroughly cleansed and soft,” says Harriman & Co.’s Tommy Pang, who also praises the soap’s eco-credentials. “It’s vegan friendly, ethically produced and free from parabens, SLS, and palm oil, with 100 percent recyclable card packaging.” Soaps come in two sizes, with the option of a 80g “travel size” bar or a formidable-looking 320g block to cut to size.
Best high street bar soap
“I like Lush because they’re fairly accessible when it comes to wanting to be more sustainable,” says Tolmeia Gregory, environmental activist and sustainable fashion blogger. All of Lush’s soaps are ethically bought, cruelty-free, and vegetarian – Gregory even takes a container with her to the store, to eliminate waste. “I’ve had a solid soap from them for over six months which I use in my shower,” she says. “It’s still going strong and leaves me feeling squeaky clean.” Gregory’s favourite Lush flavours are the ones on the citrus end of the spectrum – try their intense Lemon Zest or orangey Karma bar.
Best bar soap for sensitive skin
A common complaint about bar soaps is that they can dry out the skin. Not so with Herbivore’s ‘Gentle’ bar, which uses the iron oxide and silica in French pink clay to combat common skin complaints. The bar has a fan in influencer and entrepreneur Nià The Light, who says it forms a core part of her beauty routine. “I always take this bar when I travel,” she says. “I love the packaging, the scent and how it makes my skin feel.”
Best bar soaps for the shower
While you might think of soap on a rope as a last-minute Christmas stocking filler, this artisan version from Soap Daze is far from a gimmick. “It’s a new take on the classic – vegan, all-natural, and just brilliant,” say Venner Store co-founders Lucie Beeston and Tiff Howick, who recommend the Lemongrass and Patchouli option. “When it’s left hanging in the shower it scents the whole room with citrus.” Olivia Riley, of sustainable clothing and lifestyle store Sancho’s, is another fan – although she prefers Cedarwood and Grapefruit. “The warm, earthy scent of cedarwood with the stimulating and revitalising scent of grapefruit will automatically relax and revive you,” she says. “If you hate soapy mess, it’s a perfect zero waste alternative to a hanging plastic bottle of shower gel.” All soaps are long-lasting and feature a cotton rope, plus the option to order “wrapped” or “unwrapped” – saving you £1 if you go packaging-free.
Specially designed for use in the shower with shelf-friendly sizing and a long-lasting lather, Baron’s soap bars are also perfectly suitcase-sized for when you feel comfortable to travel again – they even come with the option of adding a handy travel pouch. “Baron’s objective is to enable the user to travel lighter,” says Tommy Pang, a keen advocate of the soaps. “They want to reduce single-use bathroom products, whilst providing a soap that will cleanse and leave the skin lightly scented.” The affordable soaps come in a range of scents, from Verbena to Oud to Aloe – all are triple-milled, with responsibly sourced ingredients and recyclable packaging.
Best bar soap for the bath
“I love this soap,” says Kate Bradbury, owner of Felixstowe concept store Tea and Kate. “Its colour is beautiful, and its rich clove and orange smell stays with you all day – it’s a special treat using this soap, and is my favourite in a big bubble bath.” The soap is handmade in the Netherlands, with 100 percent natural ingredients and a firm chia seed scrub, and packaged in a natural-linen cloth bag.
Best exfoliating bar soaps
Besma Whayeb, founder of ethical lifestyle blog Curiously Conscious, chooses Latvian brand Mádara when looking for eco-conscious cosmetics. “Mádara recently swapped out palm oil, a crop that is heavily contributing to deforestation, from all of its soaps,” she says. “This one is my favourite to use in the shower. It smells so good, and the black lava sand acts as a great natural exfoliant.” As well as being palm-oil-free, the bar is also gluten-free, cruelty-free, vegan-friendly and nut-free – good news for those with allergies, as many vegan bar soaps don’t tick that last box.
Whether for gifting or for a little self-care, Nathalie Bond’s ‘Unwind’ is perfectly targeted at stressed-out or hard-worked bathers. “Scented with relaxing lavender, it contains whole lavender buds to gently exfoliate,” say Beeston and Howick. “It’s great for hands, and gentle enough to use on your face. If you were looking to give a bar of soap as a gift, this should be it.”
“The benefits of high-quality handmade soap are unmatched, and Tanaka’s are fantastic,” says Newell. Tanaka’s soaps are undeniably good-looking – but while also being handmade, they’re filled with inventive (and totally vegan) natural ingredients, too. Newell recommends the Detoxifying Bar, an “absolute gem” containing activated charcoal, bentonite clay, and tea tree oil, as well as the Healing Bar, which counts turmeric, frankincense, ginger, and poppy seeds among its ingredients.
Best African black soap
“This soap is essential for any list, as it’s a West African classic that tackles different skin conditions,” says Maya Njie. “It’s been used for centuries and is known as a bit of a wonder product – but be sure to get the real deal.” According to Njie, the “real deal” is this one from Kokoa, made authentically with charcoal cocoa ash in Ghana. The ash in the soap acts as a natural exfoliant, while ingredients like shea butter ensure the skin stays moist without overproduction of oil.
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