Best Soaps and Non-Soap Cleansers for Eczema
If you have atopic dermatitis, the most common type of eczema, you’re probably looking for a way to cleanse your skin that doesn’t make your symptoms worse.
“Ultimately, the wrong cleanser can make eczema worse and contribute to dryness, irritation, and inflammation,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology and associate professor at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
While the wrong cleanser can do more harm than good, “the right cleanser can actually moisturize the skin,” he adds.
Read on to find out the best way to cleanse atopic dermatitis to keep you feeling good even during a flare-up.
Why you should skip the soap
If you love a classic soap, here’s the bad news: Conventional soaps can be too harsh for people with atopic dermatitis and strip the skin of natural oils that help retain water. “Washing away these oils dries out the skin, which can leave you vulnerable to eczema flare-ups,” says Dr. Benjamin Ungar, director of the Rosacea and Seborrheic Dermatitis Clinic and assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine in Mount Sinai.
Additionally, the average pH of soap is between 9 and 10, which is considered alkaline, while normal skin pH is 4 to 5, which is more neutral, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology ( AAAAI). “Real soaps have an alkaline pH and can further disrupt the outer layer of skin,” says Dr. Illustrator.
Another concern is that soaps can contain sodium lauryl sulfate, which creates suds and is a compound that can irritate eczema-prone skin, the AAAAI notes.
Look for fragrance-free cleansers for sensitive skin
When you have eczema, just picking up some old non-soap drug store cleanser isn’t enough. “Because people with atopic dermatitis have sensitive skin that’s easily dehydrated and irritated, it’s important that the cleansing products used are geared towards sensitive skin,” says Dr. Hungarian.
You should also avoid scented cleaning products. “People with eczema are often sensitive to fragrances, so it is generally advisable to choose products that are as fragrance-free as possible,” notes Ungar.
Bottom Line: Look for a fragrance-free cleanser for sensitive skin. “It doesn’t guarantee it’s the right product because everyone is different and should see how their skin reacts, but it’s a very good starting point,” says Ungar.
Watch out for ingredients that can cause allergies or dehydration
In addition to warning signs like fragrances, people should keep in mind that a cleaning product may contain an ingredient that causes a skin allergy. “If someone notices that a product is making eczema worse, it may be worth seeing a dermatologist to assess whether further testing for allergies to specific ingredients might be useful,” says Ungar.
According to the National Eczema Association, the following ingredients can irritate people with eczema:
- tea tree oil
- cocamidopropyl betaine
- propylene glycol
Also, beware of super-sudsy detergents. “Foaming or sudsing cleansers are generally drying rather than moisturizing,” notes Zeichner.
6 soap-free cleansers for atopic dermatitis
Shopping for personal care products is often daunting, even without the added challenge of eczema. Here are some fragrance-free, soap-free cleaning products you can look for at the drugstore.
CeraVe Soothing shower gel for very dry skin
Approved by the National Eczema Association, this body cleanser contains omega-3 fatty acids to fight skin inflammation.
Aveeno Skin Relief shower gel
This cleanser contains oatmeal, a well-known home remedy for eczema. (The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that people with atopic dermatitis take a “colloidal” bath with finely ground oatmeal to relieve symptoms.)
Cetaphil PRO shower gel for skin prone to eczema
The aim of this body wash is to cleanse the skin without drying it out. The patented “Filaggrin” technology is said to help the skin retain its natural moisture.
Eucerin Eczema Relief Cream Body Wash
This non-lathering cleanser is notable for being non-drying and being extra gentle on eczema. It’s formulated with colloidal oatmeal and ceramides (fatty acids found in the skin) to lock in moisture.
Vanicream Gentle Body Wash
Another body wash approved by the National Eczema Association, this cleanser is free of all potential ingredients that people with eczema should flee from (dyes, fragrances, lanolin, parabens, sulfates, formaldehyde releasers).
Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Daily Cleanser
Some facial cleansers are too harsh for people with atopic dermatitis, but this one doesn’t irritate the skin while washing away dirt and bacteria.