Soapless Cleansing

Image by, courtesy of Marjon Kruik

When water alone isn't enough for cleansing, most of us reach for soap, or what we think is soap. You may be surprised to find that many of the cleansers you use are actually detergents or synthetic soap substitutes. Like soaps, detergents attract dirt and oil, lifting it up so that it can be rinsed away. There are many alternatives for soap whether you need to clean your face, body or hair.


Synthetic detergents differ from soap in several ways. Soap is made from fat, salt and oils, while detergent cleansers do not contain fatty acids as soaps do. Soap is more alkaline, while detergents can match the pH of healthy skin. Soap can leave a residue on skin or other surfaces, while detergents rinse away more cleanly. Soap is usually less expensive than detergents.


Because it is alkaline and may leave a residue, soap may irritate sensitive or dry skin, while detergents are more likely to be gentle. Premium soaps may have added ingredients, such as additional fats, to overcome the drying effects of soap. Harsh detergents, however, can be irritating to sensitive skin. It makes sense to use the most gentle cleanser possible that gets the job done.

General Cleansing

Several soapless cleansers are produced commercially. These may be in solid form, such as the Dove Beauty Bar or Zest Deodorant Bath Bar, or liquid form, such as Oil of Olay or Neutrogena body washes. Some soapless cleansers, such as Cetaphil or pHisoderm, are very gentle and recommended for facial use and sensitive skin.

Oil Cleansing Method

The oil cleansing method (OCM) uses oil to clean the face. Based on the principle that oil dissolves oil, the OCM uses a mixture of castor oil and olive or sunflower seed oil. The more oily your skin, the greater the percentage of castor oil you should use; start with a blend of half castor oil and half olive or sunflower seed oil and adjust as necessary. Place some of your oil blend in your hand, then rub your hands together and gently massage the oil into your skin. Next rinse a clean washcloth in hot water, wring it out and place it on your face. The heat from the washcloth will open your pores and help remove the oil and any dirt. Repeat as needed when the washcloth cools until all of the oil is removed. If your skin feels dry after cleansing, you can massage one drop of your oil blend into your face, and you may want to consider decreasing the proportion of castor oil. Oil cleansing can be used on the entire body, and you may prefer to use an oil cleansing product designed for body use such as Alpha Keri Shower and Bath Oil.

Hair Care

Most shampoos are detergents rather than soap-based products. An alternative cleansing method for the hair is baking soda, a mild alkali, dissolved in water. Using a rinse containing apple cider vinegar will restore the natural acid balance of the scalp and seal the hair shaft without the need for additional conditioners.