It sounds simple, but keeping your hands clean is one of the most important ways to prevent getting sick or spreading germs to others. In fact, we're all meant to be washing our hands at least five times per day, for a minimum of 20 seconds per session.
It's no wonder, then, that a lot of us are suffering from dry hands—and the soaps that we're using might be part of the problem.
"When you wash and dry the skin over and over again, you eventually leach out all of its natural lipids and it can become dry and brittle," says Dr. Harvey Lui, a professor in the Department of Dermatology and Skin Science at the University of British Columbia. Factor in soaps that "over-clean" with harsh ingredients, and you're bound to experience dry, tight and irritated skin.
That's why I've put together this guide. Scroll on for what to look for in a hand soap, and the best products I've found.
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:
- Liquids: In general, liquid soaps tend to be less drying than bar soaps because they have added moisturizing ingredients and a lower, less alkaline pH level.
- Low in sulfates: 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.
- Low in fragrance: Although scent makes handwashing a more enjoyable experience, it can be irritating (just like in facial skincare). Therefore, I recommend avoiding soaps that list fragrance among the first few ingredients.
- Dye-free: Artificial colourants are linked to skin sensitivity and inflammation.
Antibacterial formulas aren't necessary. 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.
The Best Hand Soaps of 2021
Grown Alchemist Hand Wash
- Details: Grown Alchemist Hand Wash is a sulfate-free gel that comes in chic, gender-neutral recyclable packaging. Like everything else from the brand, it is made in Australia from organic, plant-based ingredients.
- Key ingredients: Mild surfactants, sodium PCA, hyaluronic acid, sweet almond oil, coconut oil.
- Scent: Rosemary, cedarwood, clary sage, fennel, geranium, sweet orange.
REN Atlantic Kelp and Magnesium Energising Hand Wash
- Details: REN Atlantic Kelp and Magnesium Energising Hand Wash is a hydrating, mineral-rich hand cleanser comprised of only clean ingredients (just like the brand's popular body wash of the same name). It's sulfate-free, and packaged in a recyclable plastic bottle.
- Key ingredients: Mild surfactants, glycerin, salt, magnesium PCA, plankton extract.
- Scent: Rosemary, geranium, clary sage.
Susanne Kaufmann Hand Soap
- Details: Susanne Kaufmann Hand Soap is an exceptionally mild hand wash formulated at a neutral pH level to ensure it doesn't strip your skin. Not only is it made from renewable raw materials, it also comes in refillable glass packaging to minimize waste.
- Key ingredients: Mild surfactants, pentylene glycol, glycerin, wheat germ oil, horsetail extract, aloe.
- Scent: All-natural fragrance blend.
NUORI Enriched Hand Wash
- Details: NUORI Enriched Hand Wash is a fresh and hydrating gel soap that is made from 100% natural ingredients, and no sulfates. Everything from this brand is produced in small batches every 10 to 12 weeks in order to maximize both efficacy and purity.
- Key ingredients: Pentylene glycol, glycerin, white tea extract, grape seed oil.
- Scent: Orange, lemon, bergamot, geranium.
Soapply for Credo Hand Wash
- Details: Soapply for Credo Hand Wash is an oil-based soap 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. Bonus: $1 from every purchase goes toward hygiene initiatives in Ethiopia.
- Key ingredients: Coconut oil, olive oil, jojoba oil, glycerin, aloe.
- Scent: Fragrance-free.
Dr. Bronner’s 4-in-1 Lavender Organic Sugar Soap
- Details: Dr. Bronner's 4-in-1 Lavender Organic Sugar Soap is a sugar-based soap that can be used not only on your hands, but also your face, hair and body. Think of it as an ultra-mild, skin-friendly version of the brand's cult classic castile soap (complete with the same quirky label).
- Key ingredients: Sugar, white grape juice, coconut oil, sustainable palm oil, olive oil, hemp oil, jojoba oil, vitamin E.
- Scent: Lavender.
Noodle & Boo Healthy Hand Wash
- Details: Noodle & Boo Healthy Hand Wash is a creamy liquid soap that nourishes sensitive skin of all ages (so it can be used by kids and adults alike). It's sulfate-free, infused with soothing botanicals, and ideal for frequent handwashing environments.
- Key ingredients: Mild surfactants, glycerin, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, aloe, honey, calendula.
- Scent: Phthalate-free synthetic fragrance.
Milk + Honey Hand Soap No. 35
- Details: Milk + Honey Hand Soap No. 35 is a gentle castile soap for your hands made from simple, natural ingredients. The essential oils that give it an invigorating scent also do double-duty to fight bacteria and calm inflammation.
- Key ingredients: Mild surfactants, glycerin, salt.
- Scent: Blood orange, ginger, lemongrass.
Compagnie de Provence Fragrance-Free Liquid Marseille Soap
- Details: Compagnie de Provence Fragrance-Free Liquid Marseille Soap is a 99% natural and unscented version of the traditional French Marseille soap. With water, it transforms into a gentle lather to cleanse and soften even the most sensitive skin.
- Key ingredients: Glycerin, coconut oil.
- Scent: Fragrance-free.
The Handmade Soap Co. Lemongrass & Cedarwood Hand Wash
- Details: The Handmade Soap Co. Lemongrass & Cedarwood Hand Wash is a mostly-natural liquid soap that produces a satisfying lather. Rather than SLS, it cleans with the gentler ALS, and is packaged in recycled plastic with a vintage-inspired label.
- Key ingredients: Ammonium lauryl sulfate, betaine, glycerin.
- Scent: Lemongrass, cedarwood, geranium, patchouli.
NOTO The Wash
- Details: NOTO The Wash is an all-in-one option for your hands, face, hair and body. This all-natural, organic formula creates a mild foam, and is high in aloe to replenish lost moisture. It also features select essential oils with antibacterial properties.
- Key ingredients: Aloe, mild surfactants, glycerin.
- Scent: Cedarwood, coriander, bergamot, black pepper.
CAMPO Energy Hand Wash
- Details: CAMPO Energy Hand Wash is a castile-style hand soap infused with an aromatherapeutic essential oil blend. As such, it cleanses with saponified oils rather than sulfates, producing a soft and nourishing lather while it uplifts your senses.
- Key ingredients: Saponified coconut, olive and jojoba oils, glycerin, aloe.
- Scent: Orange, cedarwood, lavandin, rosemary, eucalyptus, bergamot, neroli, sandalwood.
Swedish Dream Sea Salt Hand Soap
- Details: Swedish Dream Sea Salt Hand Soap is a liquid soap that brings a beachy scent and aesthetic to your bathroom year-round. It's sulfate-free, generously lathers, and hydrates with lightweight humectants and plant extracts.
- Key ingredients: Mild surfactants, glycerin, aloe, sea salt, calendula extract.
- Scent: Beachy synthetic fragrance blend.
Abhati Suisse One Hand Washes the Other Hand Wash
- Details: Abhati Suisse One Hand Washes the Other Hand Wash is a rich, all-natural soap that is sustainably produced in Switzerland. It gently foams in contact with water and is pH-balanced to prevent dryness. It's also long-lasting, as just one drop is enough to thoroughly cleanse your hands.
- Key ingredients: Mild surfactants, glycerin, salt, sodium PCA, moringa leaf extract, vitamin E.
- Scent: Synthetic and naturally-derived fragrance.
Alaffia EveryDay Shea Lemon Verbena Hand Soap
- Details: Alaffia EveryDay Shea Lemon Verbena Hand Soap is a moisturizing and lightly foaming liquid hand wash with a citrusy scent. It's created from fair-trade shea butter and other natural ingredients using traditional saponification methods. Plus, each purchase helps to support community empowerment projects in West Africa.
- Key ingredients: Moringa leaf extract, mild surfactants, shea butter, coconut oil, argan oil.
- Scent: Lemon verbena, lemongrass.
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