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body wash and shower gel

What is the Difference Between Body Wash and Shower Gel?

Back in the day, this would be considered a silly question to ask. Why would we even ask it, we had bar soaps! Bar soap was, and still is (for many), a one-size-fits-all type of product… You wanna wash your face, use bar soap; taking a bath, the same; washing your hair, why not!

Luckily for us, the personal hygiene industry has evolved, and continues to grow, giving us huge variety and, what seems like an unlimited supply of all kinds of products. Though this is generally a good thing, it presents a problem in itself as now we are faced with too many options (there’s no pleasing us, right?).

difference between body wash and showe gel

Too many options lead to confusion, and makes us come up with such ridiculous questions as – “What is the difference between body wash and shower gel?” One might also add “Is there a difference at all?”

I am here today to tell you that there is a difference. The main difference between body wash and a shower gel is in their texture, fragrance concentration, and most importantly, skin hydration! Body wash will moisturize your skin better while giving it a more superior cleanse.

What Are the Main Differences Between Body Wash and Shower Gel?

For those who are not into cosmetics, these two products are basically the same thing. While, there is some truth in this claim, there are several fines that distinguish the two. Both shower gel and body wash are a type of liquid cleansers, something like liquid soaps.

The use of these products for face and body cleansing is a kind of progress in the personal hygiene industry, compared to the already mentioned bar soaps. Because, even if they are made of natural ingredients (oils and fats), with minimal addition of chemicals, soaps contain substances that promote skin drying. With shower gel and body wash, this is not the case; they are skin-friendly, and you can use them every day.


The consistency of these two products is liquid, but shower gel has a bit firmer texture. In the form of fluids, the active ingredients can penetrate the deeper layers of the epidermis; it is easier to apply them to the skin, too. These liquid cleansers are usually packed in bottles or containers.

As for hydrating, a mild advantage is on the side of the body wash, precisely because of the texture. You can apply it with hands, for gentle skin cleansing. Otherwise, you can use both body wash and shower gel with sponges, washcloths, and poufs, for extra scrubbing.

Another difference worth pointing out is that the shower gel is intended just for showering (mind-blowing, right 🙂 ), but you can use it for the entire body cleansing. Most body washes, on the other hand, are designed for body scrubbing, not the hair (though there are exceptions, of course).


Both shower gel and body wash contain aromatic substances which give them pleasant smells; their concentration is higher in shower gels, though. After getting out of the shower, the fragrance will last for a while; sometimes it may feel as though you just sprayed on some fancy cologne.

This is especially true for shower gels, while body washes tend to have a milder or even neutral aroma.

Pros and Cons of Using a Body Wash

You are familiar with the fact that dirt can only be removed by water. It consists of dust particles, dead cells, and excessive oils from the skin. You can't clean it just with water because dirt is not dissoluble in water, just in oils and fats. That's why you need a fat-based product and why many people reach for bar soaps instinctively.

I used to be just like that but eventually shifted towards body washes. I love `em, first and foremost, because of the ease of application. Bar soap is a slippery devil, and you’ll most likely find yourself bent over, chasing it around the tub at one point of your shower.

Now, I have some back problems (and I’m sure some of you do too), so believe me when I say that being bent over under the shower is never fun (well sometimes it is but that's a whole different story 🙂 ).

Another significant advantage of body wash is that it does not dry out your skin. Yep, soap is a great solution, but body wash contains water-based ingredients, such as petrolatum, which hydrate the skin and prevent it from drying. If you find a proper body wash for your skin type, you’ll kill two birds with one stone.

I already mentioned the scent and how a shower gel may be a bit more intense in this department, as compared to the body wash. But this can be a double-edged sword. You see, the very ingredients which give them that irresistible smell can cause allergic reactions in some. If you have acne, pimples or overly sensitive skin, steering clear of a shower get that may further irritate your skin would be a good idea. (if you are looking for a body wash that is natural, suitable for all skin types but also smells good, you can take a look at the article I wrote on choosing the best smelling body wash).

Should You Use Body Wash If You Have Dry Skin?

If we go back to previously written facts, a logical answer to this question is YES. Body wash is an excellent product for people who have dry skin, and can also be used in those with a combined skin that is prone to drying. This problem usually occurs during the winter months, when skin is exposed to cold.

If you are among those with dry skin, you have to pay attention to the labels. You should use only those body washes free of parabens and synthetic fragrances, and it is desirable that the amount of sulfate  (SLS - Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) is minimal.

This component is responsible for that fantastic bubbly, soapy effect of the body wash, but it can affect the removal of natural oils from the skin. Then the skin becomes dry, lifeless, and prone to cracking. Therefore, choose products that have no distinctive odor, products made for baby skin, or just those labeled “organic/natural.”

Body Wash vs. Bar Soap vs. Shampoo

The skin and hair have almost the same texture. The difference is that the skin is renewed, and the hair is made of dead cells (the "live" part is under the scalp). But body wash can't be a decent substitute for a shampoo. As the name suggests, it is intended only for the body.

Still, no one can stop you from washing your hair with this product. But you won't get the desired effect — the same goes for bar soap. Simply, the active ingredients of bar soap, body wash, and shampoo can vary (although they have more or less similar composition) and affect the different skin and hair conditions.

The shampoo contains less antibacterial components and more surfactants. Surfactants mean surface-active ingredients. In other words, those are detergents. These components remove dirt from the skin and hair, leaving just enough natural oils to keep them hydrated.

The difference is that detergents from skin products have a higher pH value than those in shampoos. This means that body wash and soaps are more alkaline. So if you use them on your hair, it might get a bit dry, sharp and kinda heavy. Alkaline components from shampoo clean, take care of hair, and repair micro-damages, without removing all oils from it. Soaps “just” remove the dirt from the skin while body wash keeps it moisturized too.

It may seem like exaggeration that there are so many products for cleaning and skin care. But each one has its own purpose. Soaps were all-in-one cleansing products for centuries, used for the entire body. Today, there are specialized products for every part of the body. Each of them has improved properties and numerous benefits for us. We just have to find the right one for our skin type.

Igor Marcikic

I've struggled with acne and oily skin for the better part of my life. Along the way, I've picked up some valuable information, tips, and tricks, which helped me manage my "situation." This website is a way of giving back and trying to help others like me! Enjoy your stay, and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.