You’ve probably tried just about every skincare product out there in the hopes of finding some kind of relief from rosacea. So, you’re probably wondering if there really is such a thing as “the best soap for rosacea.”
While there is no single product that works for everyone, there are definitely some guidelines that can help you pick a soap that makes sense for you.
That’s why this article doesn’t just give you a list of brands to buy.
Rather, this article gives you a very simple overview of soapmaking so that you can understand what makes a gentle or harsh soap. Having this information will make it easier to read a soap label and know what to look for.
I’ve been making my own soap for over 5 years now and in the process, I’ve learned how certain formulations can make or break your skin.
And even though I don’t have rosacea, my skin is sensitive. It doesn’t like a whole lot of fuss. I’ve come to understand some of the elements that make soap soothing, harsh and capable of making my hands burn/itch (yes, I’ve made bars that cleaned my hands so well that my skin barrier was clearly compromised!).
So, I hope that the tips and guidance in this article will help you get a better understanding of what to look for in a rosacea soap.
Note: this post contains some affiliate links and I earn a commission (at no additional cost to you) if you use them to make a purchase.
WHAT KIND OF SOAP IS GOOD FOR ROSACEA
Whether you’re using a natural/handmade soap or one that is more “mainstream” (for lack of a better term), the following factors determine how suitable the soap is for rosacea skin:
- Type of fats used.
- Surfactants used.
- Fragrances or essential oils used.
- Additives and preservatives.
1. Type of Fat Used
Soap is created when fats and lye are mixed together. The chemical reaction produces a fatty acid metal salt that is cleansing (source). The lye used for bar soap is sodium hydroxide and the lye used for liquid soap is potassium hydroxide (we’ll get back to this later).
How cleansing, drying or moisturizing a soap is determined by the types of saturated and unsaturated fats that the soap ingredients contain.
Overall, the most cleansing and drying fats that are often used in soaps are:
- Coconut oil: it has mostly saturated fatty acids – such as lauric acid – that produce a very cleansing soap. So, the more coconut oil a soap has – for example, if it’s the first fat in the ingredients list – then the more cleansing and drying the soap tends to be.
- Palm kernel oil: it has mostly saturated fatty acids that produce a very cleansing soap, but not as drying as coconut oil.
- Babassu oil: contains mainly saturated fatty acids that produce a very cleansing soap, but not as drying as coconut oil.
So, when choosing a soap, you want to watch out for the three fats listed above. Ideally, look for a soap that doesn’t have them. Or if it does, make sure it’s not the very first fat in the ingredients list.
Now, let’s talk about some fats that are more gentle and moisturizing in soap. These are the ones you want in a soap for rosacea skin.
- Olive oil: it produces a very gentle soap. The more olive oil a soap has, the more gentle the soap tends to be. Look for castile soap, which is a 100% olive oil soap.
- Butters: shea, cocoa, mango, kokum and other butters add more conditioning properties to a soap.
- Other oils: sunflower, evening primrose, rosehip, almond, safflower, jojoba, rice bran, hemp seed, hazelnut, soybean, grapeseed, avocado and apricot kernel oils produce soaps with mild cleansing and conditioning properties. Therefore, a soap formulated mainly with these oils is less likely to strip and irritate the skin.
Lastly, let’s talk about how these ingredients generally show up on labels.
- Natural or handmade soap: some brands list the name of the fat (e.g. olive oil) or they list it as “saponified olive oil.” Another option that some companies go with is to list the salt that is produced from the saponification process. So, you might see sodium olivate (sodium salt of olive oil) or potassium olivate (potassium salt of olive oil). The “sodium” names are for bar soap while the “potassium” names are for liquid soap. You will always be able to identity these salts in the ingredients list because of the “-ate” ending
- Big brands: big brands tend to list the salt name based on the fatty acid. So on Dove soap, you will see sodium laurate (the salt of lauric acid which is found in coconut, palm kernel and babassu oil). Dove soap also has sodium oleate (the salt of oleic acid which is found in olive oil, sunflower and other oils).
2. Synthetic Surfactants
If you’ve ever heard about sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate, then you’ve heard about surfactants.
To keep it simple, these are synthetic detergents that can be quite harsh and irritating for some skin types.
You will generally find them in soaps made by big name brands.
These are considered a big no-no for super delicate rosacea skin.
3. Fragrances and essential oils
Synthetic fragrances are considered a no-no for rosacea skin. So, if you see any “fragrance,” “perfume” or “parfum” in your soap’s ingredients list, it’s best to avoid it.
Now, when it comes to essential oils, there are some that have been found to help with rosacea. Nonetheless, they can still be very irritating for many people. So, you’re probably better off avoiding essential oils altogether.
However, you know your skin best. If you do want to try soaps with essential oils, the following have shown benefits for rosacea skin (source):
- roman chamomile.
4. Additives, preservatives and other active ingredients
Many natural additives can be very soothing and calming for rosacea. And the good news is that many companies use them in their soaps. Some of these additives are:
- herbs (calendula, lavender, neem, chamomile, feverfew, aloe vera, moringa, comfrey, green tea, burdock, turmeric, licorice).
- goat milk.
Now, here’s a list of things to avoid in soap (and other skincare products as a whole).
- alpha and beta hydroxy acids.
- sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate.
- radish root (sometimes used as a natural preservative in skincare products).
- all synthetic preservatives.
- peppermint (high in menthol) and eucalyptus oils.
BEST NATURAL BAR SOAPS FOR ROSACEA: GOAT MILK, AFRICAN BLACK SOAP, TEA TREE AND MORE
1. Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve
When I don’t have time to make my own soaps at home, this is the company I go to. All of their ingredients are organic and free of weird additives. As for preservatives they rely mainly on rosemary extract to keep the soaps fresh and prevent the oils in the soap from going rancid.
Here are five soaps from this brand that are worth checking out:
Simply Castile: unscented soap that uses only olive oil and sunflower oil.
Castile & Cocoa: unscented that contains olive oil, babassu oil and cocoa butter.
Castile & Shea: unscented soap that has olive oil, shea butter, sunflower oil, goat milk, castor oil, lavender and rosemary extract (preservative).
Milk and Honey Baby Soap: unscented soap that features sunflower oil, coconut oil, palm oil, goat milk, extra virgin olive oil, shea butter, cocoa butter and honey.
Sea Buckthorn & Tea Tree Soap: the reviews for this soap indicate that it’s been beneficial for people with rosacea. The main ingredients include coconut oil, palm oil, sunflower oil, sea buckthorn oil, green tea, turmeric, licorice root powder and tea tree oil.
2. Garden Path Homemade Soap
This brand has a soap specifically for rosacea that uses olive, palm and coconut oil as its fat sources.
The bar also gets extra soothing properties from three herbs: licorice root powder, aloe and chamomile.
3. Goat Milk Stuff
This family run brand is all about, you guessed it, goat milk! Although they have a variety of goat milk soaps, three of them really stand out as candidates for rosacea skin:
Organic Castile Soap: unscented soap made from raw goat milk and extra virgin olive oil. Any 100% olive oil soap is already super gentle. Adding in the goat milk just gives it more gentle, skin-loving properties.
Calendula Soap: unscented soap made from raw goat milk, olive oil (infused with calendula) and castor oil.
Purity Soap: unscented soap made from raw goat milk, coconut oil and sunflower oil.
4. Dudu Osun’s African Black Soap
African black soap is a plant-based soap that usually contains ingredients like:
- shea butter.
- cocoa pod ash.
- palm kernel oil.
However, as black soap has become trendier it can be difficult to find a brand that still uses many of the authentic ingredients.
That said, there is a Nigerian brand called Dudu Osun that is available in the U.S. You can get their bars here from Bulk Apothecary.
NOTE: the individual bars are scented while the 10 lb block (which you can cut into your own bars) is unscented.
BEST SULFUR SOAP FOR ROSACEA
Topical application of sulfur is approved by the FDA for rosacea. Although it’s not entirely clear how sulfur actually works, some experts think that it has an anti-inflammatory effect.
Overall, topical use of sulfur has been found to reduce inflammatory lesions and (redness) of papulopustular rosacea. In addition, for people who have a mix of rosacea and facial seborrheic dermatitis (which causes flaking and itching), sulfur also seems to provide relief from the dermatitis (source).
Sulfur soaps or cleansers can be obtained over-the-counter or from your doctor (for prescription strength). Below are two over-the-counter options you can investigate for yourself.
1. Heritage Store’s Hot Springs Sulfur Soap
This soap uses olive, coconut and palm oil as its fat sources. It is also infused with sulfur, yellow mustard powder, safflowers (or American saffron), sea salt and rosemary leaf extract.
2. Grisi Sulfur Soap
With 10% sulfur, this soap is one that some rosacea users swear by on some online forums.
Although the higher amount of sulfur makes it more potent, it may also be too harsh for some people.
FAQs ABOUT THE BEST SOAP FOR ROSACEA
What should I wash my face with if I have rosacea?
A gentle natural soap or a soap-free cleanser is generally better for rosacea. In addition, some people with rosacea find that oil cleansing or washing with honey, also provides relief.
Oil cleansing might help some people because it doesn’t strip the skin of its natural oils. In fact, the oils help to restore balance to the skin barrier.
As for honey, it’s anti-inflammatory properties can be very soothing to the skin. In addition, it contains small amounts of vitamins and minerals that may soothe the skin with regular use.
Is Dove, Cetaphil or Cerave okay for rosacea?
According to a paper published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, Dove’s sensitive skin bar, Cetaphil’s Gentle Skin Cleanser and Cerave’s Moisturizing Lotion seem to improve some aspects of skin health in rosacea patients.
However, the paper also notes that the studies done so far have been small and therefore, there is a need for larger studies that are run under conditions that are more scientifically reliable (i.e. randomized, double blind studies).
In addition, the Dove soap was tested together with metronidazole (an antibiotic). So, it’s not clear if the improved skin came from the Dove soap or the antibiotic.
Rosacea is a multifactorial skin condition that some experts believe must be tackled both externally and internally (some would say mostly internally).
So, while changing your soap may not fix your skin overnight, the right soap can support the overall health of your skin and reduce physical irritation that could trigger flare ups.
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