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 Soap: Bliss’ 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!
Photos by Mathea Millman.