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You’re in the shower. You grab the body wash bottle and it blows out a raspberry instead of soap. So, you stare at the shampoo and you are there wondering if you can use shampoo as body wash. It’s time we ask the question about whether we can or can’t use shampoo as body wash. There are times when you find yourself in a bind and the question about can you use shampoo as body wash becomes a reality. What should you do, can you just use shampoo instead? Let’s find out more about this.
Brief History About Use of Shampoo and Body Wash
We’ve been washing our hair and bodies for as long as humans have existed. From health to beauty, we consider cleansers an important part of our daily hygiene, spending an average of $50-$60 dollars per month for personal care products.
Ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, and Romans ritualized and built bathing complexes dedicated to what for them was a social activity. They made cleansers of various oils and fats combined with alkaline salts and ash and took royal baths in milk and herbal scrubs. For centuries Castile soaps were used for both body and hair, with hairstylists boiling the shavings and adding herbs for fragrance and shine throughout the 18th to early 20th centuries.
However, liquid soaps weren’t marketed until the 1860s and shampoos weren’t far behind. By 1914, the first commercial shampoo was marketed to the public. The distinction between cleansers for hair and body was not defined until the advent of the marketing industry and modern-day research and development to produce products addressing hair and skin separately.
The word “shampoo” has its origins in the Hindi word, “chhampo,” which means to press or massage. It was a part of “the Turkish bath ritual.” Shampoo was created to replace soap as a less abrasive cleansing method for the scalp. Shampoo’s surfactants-surfactants are responsible for the suds and lather in soaps, breaking up oils and bonding them with water emulsify oil and dirt on the scalp to rinse away.
Up until about fifty years ago, soap and shampoo were practically one and the same, with formulas barely differing and a bar of soap being used for practically everything in cleansing needs. Yet, as formulations have become more specialized and sophisticated, products are now targeted towards specific and intended areas of application, such as face, body, and hair.
Ingredients and Composition of Shampoo and Body Wash
To prevent the surfactants from stripping the scalp and hair’s natural oils, most shampoos also include moisturizers. Shampoos are formulated to fall within a pH level between 4 to 7, only slightly acidic to neutral, which is perfect for our skin and hair.
The most common active ingredients are the two surfactants known as Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), which provide that sudsing effect, characteristic of most shampoos. Ingredients also include oils and moisturizers in order to provide nutrients and shine to the hair.
Similarities and Differences Between Shampoo and Body Wash
Though the formulas of shampoo and body wash are similar, they differ in that body wash contains exfoliants to remove dead skin and shampoo is better at dissolving sebum on the scalp. The scalp supports the few living cells of each hair follicle and the hair, which is made up of basically dead cells, by producing the needed oil that coats and penetrates the hair shafts, keeping them from becoming brittle and breaking. The skin on your body has fewer oil-producing glands and regenerates on a more frequent basis.
Thus, some shampoos can be drying to the body’s skin while others, designed to moisturize the skin may feel a bit slimier and harder to rinse off. Also, consider that some body washes contain exfoliants in order to work harder to remove excess oil and dirt from the body, something that would be too harsh for the scalp. The price of the product doesn’t seem to make a difference, either, as the ingredients are most often the same. Body washes are designed to be more durable in showers and are PH balanced for the body’s skin.
Interestingly, many online recipes suggest a combination of shampoo and body wash for bubble bath. Most bubble baths contain surfactants, so besides added essential oils and maybe exfoliants, shampoo can easily be interchanged with bubble bath.
Can I Use Conditioner as Body Wash?
So, while we’re at it, you might ask, “Can I use a conditioner as body wash?” In this case, you really would be better off replacing your body wash with shampoo and not conditioner. Though conditioner contains surfactants/soap, the purpose and effects of conditioner are the hair equivalent of lotion or body butter. Plus, with even more moisturizing agents and cuticle coating to lock in moisture, conditioners for body wash would be incredibly slimier than desired, and no one wants that!
While different, SLS and SLES are both sulfates. They are compounds, produced from both petroleum and plant-based oils, such as coconut and palm oil, neither of which are sustainable. Petroleum is highly implicated in climate change and palm oil plantations take up acres of tropical rainforests and limit the world’s capacity to transform carbons to oxygen.
Although naturally present in water, surfactants in wastewater introduce levels toxic to aquatic life into our water-ways. Also, small percentages of a carcinogenic by-product are often produced during the production of some surfactants but this has not been shown to cause cancer. However, SLS, being harsher than SLES, can irritate eyes, mouth, lungs and skin, causing inflammation, clogged pores, and even breakouts of acne.
Remember, while many people do not have a sensitivity to surfactants/sulfates and can generally use most commercially produced body washes and shampoos without ill-effects, lather and foam aren’t necessary for cleaning skin or hair. For sulfate-free alternatives, choose solid and oil-based soaps and shampoos rather than liquid or one of the sulfate-free options shown below.
Alternatives to Body Wash
If you’re looking for significantly different alternatives to body wash, there are plenty of options out there, many of which are beneficial to your skin and even some DIY options, as well. As we’ve learned, shampoo can substitute for body wash but consider some of the alternatives listed below.
While it doesn’t give much lather, natural clay has amazing cleansing abilities. Clay detoxifies and exfoliates, bringing out the skin’s inner glow. It is great for oily and combination skin. With a variety of clays to choose from, bentonite clay, rhassoul, French green clay, etc., it’s as simple as taking clay powder and mixing it with water.
Soapberry is another excellent and fun option. Also known as soap nut or wash berry, it is a small fruit that when crushed, boiled, and de-seeded produces an amazing and long-lasting soap-like lather. You can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to tailor it to your specific needs and taste. Soapberry also has a PH level of 5.5, which is great for the skin and is long-lasting, too.
For dry skin, an oil bath is a great solution. Oil has antibacterial properties, provides needed nutrients for the skin, and aides in retaining moisture. Oil cleansing works by dissolving oils and impurities. You can use anything from castor oil, coconut oil, olive oil, or even mustard and sesame oil.
The best part is you don’t have to use just one, but rather, mix several and whip up a nice self-care cocktail! Keep in mind that you should patch test any oil to assess your skin’s reaction, before using, particularly if you have sensitive skin.
Ayurvedic bath powder
Ayurvedic bath powder is of indian origin, but is now produced and shipped across the world. This powder does incredibly well at clearing the skin, from acne, blemishes, eczema, to discoloration. Ayurvedic powder is made from a combination of coarsely ground herbs, such as winter cherry, blue water lily, dried lemon peel, and nutmeg.
It is best to buy a commercially produced product, rather than make it yourself, as some of the ingredients can be difficult to find. Aside from these alternatives to body wash, there’s always an oatmeal powder/flour wash, milk, yogurt, and apple cider vinegar.
While the formula and durable capabilities of body wash might not be the best option as a substitute for shampoo, shampoo can be used on the skin, in general. So, the next time you’re in the shower or walking down the isles at the grocery and ask yourself “do I really need both shampoo and body wash, or just wondering if you can use shampoo as body wash, just know that the correct response may be “it depends on the situation”.
Ultimately, it’s recommended that you reserve shampoo for your scalp and body wash for your body, but if ever necessary (like when you find yourself in a bind), you can certainly use shampoo as your body wash. Just make sure to really wash it off before you’re done.