Raising the Bar (Soaps)

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Dove Gentle Exfoliating Bar
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Swedish Dream
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Drunk Elephant
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Bliss Original Blue Body Bar
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Joya No. 6 Black Soap
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Smith & Chang
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La Florentina Kitchen Soap Bar
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L'Occitane
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Chanel Coco Mademoiselle Fresh Bath Soap

Hard soaps, much like fancy lingerie, seem only to exist in the world of hotel vacations, powder rooms, the lives of people who have things like 'powder rooms,' and the realm of failsafe gift-giving. Hard soaps, in other words, don't really say young, and they don't say, "I'm a real girl with real economic concerns and a shoebox apartment!" So when Duane Reade has a colorful array of liquid soaps on offer—easy to use, inexpensive, and fairly mess-free—why venture into the unknown? Why plunk down the extra cash?  A story:

Last year, a friend gifted me with Jo Malone's Lime Basil & Mandarin Bath Soap for my birthday—a bar that smells so good, the amount of time I've spent sniffing the product could be classified as 'excessive' and/or 'troublesome behavior.' After I wrested my nose from Jo's sultry treat, I started to think that maybe me and my generation dismissed bar soaps all too hastily. Maybe solid cleansers deserved a moment in the spotlight, i.e. our bathrooms? We're older. We're sophisticated people. We can give ourselves the gift of bar soaps! Plus, they make you just as clean as liquids. So I sampled over 40 soaps in about as many days. My favorites below:

The Classic: I can’t help but stand behind Dove. The brand that does a lot to promote a positive female body image knows how to make an easy and economical product. I'm sticking to my mother's pick: the Gentle Exfoliating Bar. It's a quarter moisturizing cream, so your hands are left feeling healthy, clean, and hydrated post-wash.

Best Packaging: I have a weakness for packaging. But we all know good graphic design does not always go hand-in-hand with good products. However, in Swedish Dream’s case it DOES. Available in Sea Salt (used as a gentle exfoliator) and Seaweed (with marine-algae extract, a lighter exfoliant that will keep your paws nice and moisturized), the bars' subtle, clean, beachy scents stay with you all day.

Best Name: Drunk Elephant’s JuJu Bar and Pekee Bar are really great for sensitive skin. Both the exfoliating JuJu and the standard Pekee are made in the traditional “melt-and-pour” method (i.e. the process of soap-crafting that avoids the use of the chemical lye) and are colorant- and fragrance-free.

Couples SoapBliss’ Original Blue Body Bar is an ideal option for those looking for an...intimate shower situation: the raised “nubs” (their word, not mine) on one side of the lemon-scented bar make for easy, albeit slippery, mutual massaging. Sorry...

For the Man (or Goth) in Your Life: Dark colored soaps usually leave a similarly hued residue, so a soap dish is a must. (See, we're talking about freaking soap dishes, we are so fucking grown up!) Joya’s super chic No. 6 Black Soap comes equipped with its very own matching black porcelain dish. The New-York-based brand’s vegetable soap smells like vetiver, amber, and cedarwood, with a little fresh grapefruit thrown in. It smells cool and clean—the perfect man-scent.

For the Naturalists Among Us: Smith & Chang’s all-natural soaps are just as sensitive to the environment as they are on your skin. They look like you bought them at a local farm stand. Out of all of their scents, I found Colonial Lavender (see admission below), Heirloom Herb (good for an invigorating morning wash), and Patria Forest (advertised for men; made with lava/smells like stone) to be the standouts.

For the Kitchen: I have to admit, I'm a sucker for lavender. Give me something that smells like the purple flower and I’ll automatically think it’s the greatest product available. But that takes nothing away from La Florentina’s Kitchen Soap Bar, a throwback to the soap days of yore. The large block (which is admittedly difficult to turn in your hands) is meant to sit triumphantly sink-side so you can swipe your hands across, pick up some suds, then lather away. And though a fragrant soap is not ideal for kitchen work, nothing smells better than lavender. So there.

For Francophiles on a Budget: Can’t run off to the South of France? Bring (some of) Provence to you via L'Occitane's mid-priced Thé Vert & Bigarade Perfumed Soap—green tea with a hint of citrus—and the Bonne Mère collection (Honey and Verbena were my favorite). These smell great, they're relatively cheap (so you can experiment until you find the one that suits you best), and they are vaguely Gallic. Can't beat 'em.

The Fancy: Once again, Chanel shines—literally. The Coco Mademoiselle Fresh Bath Soap actually has shimmer in it. But it's vampire-in-sunlight sparkle, not 'Mango Kiwi Sorbet Body Splash' sparkle. Unfortunately for me (though likely fortunately for others), the glimmer doesn’t transfer onto your skin. But this step-sister to the Coco Mademoiselle perfume is a cool little present...to yourself.

Of course, no soap story would be complete without a reminder: please wash your hands before returning to work, and basically all day long if you're feeling sick. Cold season is upon us! Stay clean, stay healthy, and, most importantly, stay classy. Now you're using "gift" soaps every day. That's a pretttty good start. Happy washing!

—Elizabeth Brockway

Photos by Mathea Millman.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • lucinda veen

    I must be some sort of freak, because I'm 25 and I've preferred hard soaps to gels for years. A bar of soap, especially a pretty one, just feels so much more luxurious than goo in a bottle. (My favorite at the moment is Lush's Honey, I Washed the Kids, though I've been known to buy Claus Porto soaps just for the wrappers.)

  • VanessaV

    Big fan of bar soap right here! It lasts a while, it makes the whole bathroom smell good and it has less packaging (and usually less chemicals are used to make it). Right now I'm using L'Occitane's Shea Butter soap ($10 at Sephora) but I'm also a big fan of the Fresh soaps. Pick a smell you love and it literally makes your whole bathroom smell like it. Air freshener and body cleanser in one!

    • CFH

      Same attitude, same soaps!

  • http://www.fancyalterego.wordpress.com/ Heather P.

    I grew up in a bar soap household (albeit, it was Dial...which smells awful to me now), so I always used bar soaps. I guess I never saw it as a luxury until I moved out on my own and realized my roommates would tease me about being "like an old lady" with my flowery bar soaps. I never spent much on them (at least so I thought...$1/bar I guess is a lot if you aren't used to it), but they were a staple in my shower my whole life so I never thought of them as anything special.

    I'm a huge fan of the Yardley lavender bar soap. It smells great, leaves my skin feeling nice and clean, and lasts far longer than most bar soaps.

  • Samantha Klein

    I started using bar soaps a couple of years ago, mainly to eliminate packaging. But you guys are talking about hand soaps...I use mine in the shower! Current favorite is actually Yardley's Oatmeal and Almond. Exfoliates, smells SO good, and I can buy it at the grocery store.

  • leah

    loved this post! makes me wanna go out and buy a bunch of soaps and try them out:)

  • martin

    And what about amazing Nesti Dante? Leaves the skin super soft, smells great (smells like Italy to me), package is almost too beautiful to open, and they come in million kinds....favorite one, of course, the one with gold leaves. When Mae West said 'When in doubt, take a shower', I'm sure she referred to Nesti Dante kind of shower...

    http://www.amazon.com/Limited-Edition-Anniversary-Nesti-Dante/dp/B003HLNWSQ

    • bianca

      Nesti Dante soaps are truly exquisite! My favorites are Ginestra (broom), Cioccolata and Aque termali.

      • martin

        Oh, Aque termali is to die for!

  • Emma and Emily

    I am getting through foaming soaps so quickly, I might actually have to try using bar soaps more!

    http://www.emandthem.co.uk

  • SusyQ

    Try Keihl's Ultimate Man soap bar! I ended up loving soap bars because of it

  • melissa

    i realllyy like AESOP's huge bar of soap! it's a little pricey but it smells really good, and also gets the body clean without over drying...

    my family has been using Olay for YEARS, and i always get complements on my skin...

  • Aubrey Green

    I've always used hard soaps.

  • bluesky557

    I use bar soaps, but in the shower, not for my hands. In my experience they just create a gooey mess in the bottom of the soap dish. But in the shower they're divine. My favorites are Fresh's Lemon Sugar scent and Origins's Ginger Bar.

  • Simona Zar

    Love soaps! There's just something so gratifying about washing yourself while simultaneously worrying about the bar slipping and giving you a foot injury. Jokes aside, I'm a big sucker for soaps from the Scottish Fine Soaps Company, especially their exfoliating oatmeal one.

  • Erin

    I can't believe you did a whole article on bar soap without mentioning Lush. It's the brand that turned me on to bar soap in the first place. Alkmaar, Honey I Washed the Kids and Figs & Leaves are personal faves.

    • http://brushandbullet.com/ Teresa

      Alkmaar was my first Lush product! Gorgeous scent.

  • unvanquished

    I love the way bar soap looks and smells . . . until I use it a few times and it changes color and starts to crack and just gets gross looking. I think a pretty bottle of liquid soap is usually better. So many bar soaps come in liquid form anyway so I never feel like I'm missing out. I do like Dove though.

  • tiffanie

    I want to enter another contender: Shiseido's Honey Cake. It's been around forever & it looks like a jewel & and it smells like nothing else.

  • Jessica

    My favorite bar soap? South of France brand bar soap, in "Shea Butter." It smells sooooooo gooooooood!!! In fact it makes the whole bathroom smell good! And it feels great on my body. I love it.

    http://www.goodhealthnaturalproducts.com/south-of-france/

    Next favorite, the Yardley lavender soaps. So nice.

    Liquid soap is such a funny idea to me.

    I'm old enough that liquid soaps are "new" inventions. I grew up using bar soaps only, and the only time I ever saw liquid soap was in a public restroom.

    I changed to liquid soap just a few years ago for hand-washing at the sink, and I prefer it: bar soaps turn slimy in those soap dishes, slip around and fly into the sink or to the floor when using them, and are generally not as efficient as liquid soap.

    But in the shower, I still live for (South of France shea butter) bar soap.

  • Babou

    Santa Maria Novella soaps... unwrapping them feels so decadent...
    All the french "soap free" bars from dermatologic brands. I am using Ducray's bar at the moment and I love it's powdery but not to baby like smell...

  • That’s Not My Age

    I love a posh bar of soap!

  • http://www.reeftraveler.com/ Meredith

    I love bar soap. I've always preferred it. You must try the Nubian Heritage brand - found at Whole Foods. All of the scents are amazing, but my fave is the coconut and papaya.

  • J. Rose

    Saipua Saltwater smells like heaven.
    http://www.saipua.com/shop/

  • Aria

    Indigo Wild Zum Bar Goat's Milk Soap! Frankincense & Myrrh is probably my favorite – but there are so many great scents.

  • Anya

    Whenever we are in the South of France, the first thing I do is go to the Sunday markets and buy 12 bar soaps to bring back with me. My favourites are jasmine and lavender! Teenagers can use bar soap too...

PRODUCTS MENTIONED

Dr. Bronner's
Dr Bronner’s 18-in-1 Hemp Pure-Castile Soap
Jo Malone London
Jo Malone Lime Basil & Mandarin Bath Soap
Dove
Dove Gentle Exfoliating Bar
Anthropologie
Swedish Dream Sea Salt Soap
West Elm
Swedish Dream Seaweed Soap
Drunk Elephant
Drunk Elephant JuJu Bar
Drunk Elephant
Drunk Elephant Pekee Bar
Bliss
Bliss Body Bar
Joya
Joya Black Soap Composition No. 6
Smith & Chang General Goods
Smith & Chang General Goods Colonial Lavender Bar Soap
Smith & Chang General Goods
Smith & Chang General Goods Heirloom Herb Bar Soap
Smith & Chang General Goods
Smith & Chang General Goods Patria Forest Bar Soap
L'Occitane
L'Occitane – The Vert and Bigarade Perfumed Soap 125g
La Florentina
La Florentina Kitchen Soap Bar
L'Occitane
Bonne Mere Soap in Honey
L'Occitane
Bonne Mère Soap in Verbana
CHANEL
Chanel Coco Mademoiselle Fresh Bath Soap
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