Most of us are washing our hands more often these days. It’s no wonder, then, that many people are suffering from dry hands—and the hand soaps that we’re using might be part of the problem.
“Water, and in some cases, the soap as well, are irritants to the skin,” says Dr. Roxana Daneshjou, a researcher and dermatology resident at the Stanford University School of Medicine. “You’re stripping away the oils on your skin that are the natural barrier, but you’re also exposing your skin to things that are irritants to it.”
Harsh cleansing agents, antibacterials, fragrances and dyes are all problem ingredients that can dry out your hands over time. Repeated exposure can even lead to small cracks in the skin that allow bacteria to enter, increasing your risk of infection.
From The Skincare Edit Archives
Fortunately, you can still make handwashing a hydrating and sensorial experience with one of the products in this guide—which all happen to look great on your countertop as well. Scroll on for what to look for in a hand soap, and the best products I’ve found.
The Hand Soap Edit
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What to Look for in a Hand Soap
Not all hand soaps are created equal. To find a non-drying formula, look for the following:
- Liquid: Liquid soaps are less drying than bar soaps because they have added moisturizing ingredients and a lower, less alkaline pH level.
- Sulfate-free: Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) are harsh, lathering detergents that remove dirt and grease—and your skin’s natural oils along with them. Gentler alternatives include ammonium laureth sulfate (ALS), coco-glucoside and sodium coco-sulfate.
- Skin-softening ingredients: Humectants and emollients such as glycerin, aloe, coconut oil, shea butter and vitamin E will all help to replenish moisture and soften your skin.
- Non-antibacterial: Not only can antibacterial agents (such as triclosan) be drying and irritating, they’re also unnecessary. According to the FDA, there’s no proof that they are any more effective than regular soap. After all, the purpose of handwashing is not to kill bacteria but just to physically remove it from your hands.
- Low in fragrance: Although scent makes handwashing more enjoyable, it can be irritating (just like in facial skincare). Avoid soaps that list fragrance among the first few ingredients, and if you have reactive skin, stick with a fragrance-free formula.
- Dye-free: Artificial colourants are linked to skin sensitivity and inflammation.
The Best Hand Soaps of 2022
Grown Alchemist Hand Wash
- What it does: Grown Alchemist Hand Wash is a gentle hand wash that leaves skin thoroughly clean, softened and soothed.
- Key ingredients: Sodium PCA, hyaluronic acid, sweet almond oil, coconut oil.
- Scent: Rosemary, cedarwood, clary sage, fennel, geranium, sweet orange.
- Editor’s notes: If you’re looking for a fragrant hand soap that’ll look great on display, this is one of the most popular options. It has the texture of a gel, smells incredible thanks to its essential oil blend, and comes in chic, gender-neutral packaging. Like everything else from the brand, it is made in Australia from organic, plant-based ingredients.
Soapply for Credo Hand Wash
- What it does: Soapply for Credo Hand Wash is a liquid hand wash that creates a luxe lather to fully cleanse your skin.
- Key ingredients: Coconut oil, olive oil, jojoba oil, glycerin, aloe.
- Scent: Fragrance-free.
- Editor’s notes: This oil-based soap is crafted from a 300-year-old recipe, updated to incorporate food-grade organic oils. With its rich lather and fragrance-free ingredients list, it is especially suitable for sensitive skin and people with allergies. Bonus: $1 from every purchase goes toward water, sanitation and hygiene initiatives in Ethiopia.
REN Atlantic Kelp and Magnesium Energising Hand Wash
- What it does: REN Atlantic Kelp and Magnesium Energising Hand Wash is a gentle, sulfate-free hand wash that cleanses, moisturizes and revives tired hands.
- Key ingredients: Glycerin, magnesium PCA, kelp extract.
- Scent: Rosemary, geranium, clary sage.
- Editor’s notes: Just like the brand’s bestselling body wash of the same name, this hand wash is comprised of only clean ingredients. Think: moisture-binding magnesium, skin-protecting kelp extract and ultra-mild cleansing agents. It has a fresh, herbal, spa-like scent (which is 100% natural).
Keys Soulcare Renewing Body + Hand Wash
- What it does: Keys Soulcare Renewing Body + Hand Wash is a cream-gel cleanser that purifies, hydrates and nourishes the skin. It can be used as both a hand soap and a body wash.
- Key ingredients: Glycerin, shea butter, cocoa butter, sunflower seed oil, vitamin E, honey.
- Scent: Sage, oat milk.
- Editor’s notes: Dry skin will appreciate the creamy texture and rich lather of this multipurpose cleanser. Developed by a board-certified dermatologist in partnership with Alicia Keys, it is packed with hydrating ingredients (including plant butter-derived fatty acids as well as humectants from Manuka honey).
Paume Exfoliating Hand Wash
- What it does: Paume Exfoliating Hand Wash is an exfoliating hand cleanser that gently polishes and hydrates as it cleans.
- Key ingredients: Cellulose, safflower oleosomes, aloe, glycerin.
- Scent: Cedar, lavender, rosemary, orange, lemon.
- Editor’s notes: With its biodegradable cellulose microbeads, this hand wash acts like an ultra-mild exfoliator for your hands to make them softer and smoother. It also produces a mild cleansing foam, sans sulfates, and deposits long-lasting hydration from stabilized, plant-based emollients. Bonus: it’s refillable, too.
Follain Everything Soap
- What it does: Follain Everything Soap is an all-natural, biodegradable soap that can be used on both the hands and body.
- Key ingredients: Saponified coconut oil, saponified olive oil, glycerin, saponified jojoba oil, aloe.
- Scent: Lemongrass or Lavender.
- Editor’s notes: As the name suggests, this multipurpose formula can be your go-to soap for everything—it works not only as a hand wash but also as a shower gel, dish soap, pet shampoo, carpet cleaner and laundry detergent. The ingredients couldn’t be more natural (a blend of saponified oils and essential oils), and it comes in a pump bottle that is designed to be refilled.
UpCircle Hand + Body Wash
- What it does: UpCircle Hand + Body Wash is a 100% natural hand wash that leaves skin fresh, clean and soft. It can be used on both the hands and body.
- Key ingredients: Saponified oleic acid, saponified coconut oil, glycerin, kiwi water.
- Scent: Orange, lemongrass, peppermint.
- Editor’s notes: This brand is all about “upcycling”: using repurposed natural ingredients to give them a new lease on life. In this product, it’s kiwi water—a byproduct of the juicing industry that has soothing, anti-inflammatory benefits. It’s combined with saponified oils to create a lathering, moisturizing wash.
Susanne Kaufmann Hand Soap
- What it does: Susanne Kaufmann Hand Soap is a mild, sugar-based soap that keeps the pH level of the skin balanced and protected.
- Key ingredients: Glycerin, wheat germ oil, aloe, horsetail extract.
- Scent: All-natural fragrance blend.
- Editor’s notes: It’s definitely a splurge, but this award-winning hand wash is exceptionally mild and made in Austria from the highest-quality ingredients. It’s formulated at a neutral pH to ensure that it doesn’t strip your skin, and a little goes a long way (which helps to justify the price point!). It comes in glass packaging, and is refillable to minimize waste.
Alaffia EveryDay Shea Hand Soap
- What it does: Alaffia EveryDay Shea Hand Soap is a natural liquid soap that thoroughly cleanses, moisturizes and protects your hands. It can also be used as a body wash.
- Key ingredients: Moringa leaf extract, shea butter, coconut oil, argan oil.
- Scent: Lemon Verbena, Peppermint Tingle, Lavender Spice, Vanilla Passion, Honeysuckle or Mandarin Mango.
- Editor’s notes: This budget-friendly buy is surprisingly moisturizing and lightly foaming. It’s created from the brand’s signature fair-trade shea butter and other natural ingredients using traditional saponification methods. Plus, each purchase helps to support community empowerment projects in West Africa.
Detox Mode Impossible Soap
- What it does: Detox Mode Impossible Soap is a nourishing, gentle cleanser that leaves skin feeling silky, not stripped. It can be used as a hand soap as well as a body wash.
- Key ingredients: Calendula, avocado oil, sweet almond oil, plum seed oil, olive oil, gluconolactone.
- Scent: Cedarwood, bergamot, sweet almond.
- Editor’s notes: Made by the team behind the clean beauty retailer The Detox Market, this gel soap fulfills their exacting ingredient standards. It’s non-stripping, works into a lush lather, and smells invigorating thanks to the aromatherapeutic oil blend. It comes in a glass bottle, and two sizes of refills are available.
Milk + Honey Hand Soap No. 35
- What it does: Milk + Honey Hand Soap No. 35 is a gentle hand soap that thoroughly cleanses without drying or irritating the skin.
- Key ingredients: Saponified coconut oil, saponified oleic acid, glycerin.
- Scent: Blood orange, ginger, lemongrass.
- Editor’s notes: This product looks and feels like a luxury hand soap, but is more affordable than you’d think. As a mild castile soap, it’s made from simple, natural ingredients and no synthetics. The essential oils that give it an invigorating scent also do double-duty to fight bacteria and calm inflammation.
Compagnie de Provence Fragrance-Free Liquid Marseille Soap
- What it does: Compagnie de Provence Fragrance-Free Liquid Marseille Soap is a liquid soap that produces a fine lather and gently cleanses the skin.
- Key ingredients: Saponified coconut oil, glycerin, coconut oil.
- Scent: Fragrance-free.
- Editor’s notes: French Marseille soap—which is traditionally made in a cauldron without detergents or synthetics—is prized the world over, and this is one of the purest formulas you can get. It’s 99% natural, unscented and dye-free, so it’s safe for even delicate skin to use on a regular basis. It comes in a glass bottle, and is refillable.
The Handmade Soap Company Hand Wash
- What it does: The Handmade Soap Company Hand Wash is a gentle hand wash that cleans, nourishes and protects the hands.
- Key ingredients: Betaine, glycerin.
- Scent: Lemongrass & Cedarwood, Lavender Rosemary Thyme & Mint, Grapefruit & May Chang or Bergamot & Eucalyptus.
- Editor’s notes: This mostly-natural liquid soap is made in Ireland and comes in charming, vintage-inspired packaging. Rather than SLS, it cleans with the gentler ALS, which produces a hydrating, satisfying lather.
Dr. Bronner’s 4-in-1 Organic Sugar Soap
- Details: Dr. Bronner’s 4-in-1 Organic Sugar Soap is a gentle, moisturizing soap that produces a creamy lather. It can be used as a hand soap, body wash, face wash and shampoo.
- Key ingredients: Sugar, white grape juice, coconut oil, sustainable palm oil, olive oil, hemp oil, jojoba oil, vitamin E.
- Scent: Peppermint, Lavender, Lemongrass Lime, Tea Tree or Baby Unscented.
- Editor’s notes: Think of this sugar-based soap as a more skin-friendly version of the brand’s classic Castile Soap (complete with the same quirky label). So you don’t need to dilute it—the ultra-mild, low-lathering formula can be used directly all over the body.
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